It is about the life of a man (John Merrick) who has a mass deformity of his body, which is thought to have been caused by his mother being hit by an elephant while she was pregnant with him. John is taken in by a surgeon who rescues him from a freak-show and supplies him with a home and kindness, which helps him to reveal his true character of intelligence and personality which is concealed behind his monstrous form.
This film was made in 1980 and directed by David Lynch, who uses his creative talent to help the audience empathize with John and prove that looks can be deceiving, which is the underlying theme of this film.
This film is not about transformations and actually seeing a person change into an animal through special effects or mechanics, it is based more on the form of the body and how different the anatomy of John is; the way his spine curves and the mass lumps and tumors on his head and face disfigure him.
The way John is kept out of the audiences view until the big reveal adds mystery to his character, especially when all that can be seen is his silhouette in the lecture scene. The audience can see the general shape of his body and the way it deforms.
Throughout the film, there are deep emotional themes and messages. For one, even though John was rescued from the freak-show, he is still essentially on display as all of the staff want to see him. This is worsened by the hospital night porter who starts showing off John to his drunk friends at night, making them pay as if they were actually going to a show. Just as John is beginning to feel 'normal' and like he fits in, he is made a freak all over again. The NYT says: 'retarded as well as misshapen because of his inability to speak coherently'.
There is also the way John is treated as dumb and lumbering, just because of his speech and walking disabilities due to his deformity. But when Dr. Frederick Treves teaches him to talk, his true character comes forth. Film4 said 'David Lynch's The Elephant Man raises myriad questions about medicine, the notion of vainglory and society's prejudices and asks us to wonder whether, over a century later, matters have improved.'
Overall, i quite enjoyed this film. I liked the makeup effects used to create the elephant man, and the way the film played on emotion towards that character. IMDB also thought this about the film, saying: 'The Elephant Man is a perfect film. It is sorrowful but it apologizes not at all for it. It is a film about where our empathy stems from, a film that asks you to feel sorry but rebukes you for your blind pity. It asks you to respect Merrick, not cry for him.'