What representations of disability are offered in "The Elephant Man" (1980)?

Essay by ihaveabigbuttHigh School, 12th gradeA+, November 2005

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"The Elephant Man" is set in 1980, in the Victorian era where circus shows containing circus 'freaks' were common. The text begins with a montage of disturbing and provocative images, coupled with pounding and eerie music creating an unnerving atmosphere connoting the horror and thriller genres. The soundtrack is mainly non-diagetic, with exceptions of Merrick's diagetic breathing to show his nervousness, further creating a sinister image of the film in the minds of the audience. Adding to this image is the shock and horror of the audience of the circus show, causing the elephant man's section to be closed. The police presence creates a dark image, indicating danger. This could reflect the audiences views of physically and mentally disabled people at the time the film was made, as most people at the time would have viewed them as dangerous and as outcasts.

An enigma code is created throughout the first half of the film, as the audience do not see 'the Elephant Man' (John Merrick) directly.

The film being shot in black and white reflects the Victorian era the film is set in, and it reflects the 'black and white' views of disabled people of the era.

The audience are positioned to empathize with John Merrick, and to take note of how he is treated by those in his life. Before Treeves takes Merrick on as his 'project', Merrick is always shown in the dark, and covered up, whereas Treeves is shown in light and is a very successful doctor. David Lynch has used Barthes' theory of Binary Opposition throughout the film, with the black and white film, the dark and light of John Merrick and Dr Treeves and the views of good and evil in the film.

The typical 'freak' stereotype of disabled...