Is it a nightmare or an actual view of a post-apocalyptic world? Set in an industrial town in which giant machines are constantly working, spewing smoke, and making noise that is inescapable, Henry Spencer lives in a building that, like all the others, appears to be abandoned. The lights flicker on and off, he has bowls of water in his dresser drawers, and for his only diversion he watches and listens to the Lady in the Radiator sing about finding happiness in heaven. Henry has a girlfriend, Mary X, who has frequent spastic fits. Mary gives birth to Henry’s child, a frightening looking mutant, which leads to the injection of all sorts of sexual imagery into the depressive and chaotic mix.
Filmed intermittently over the course of a five-year period, David Lynch’s radical feature debut stars Jack Nance as Henry Spencer, a man living in an unnamed industrial wasteland. Upon learning that a past romance has resulted in an impending pregnancy, Henry agrees to wed mother-to-be Mary (Charlotte Stewart) and moves her into his tiny, squalid flat. Their baby is born hideously mutated, a strange, reptilian creature whose piercing cries never cease. Mary soon flees in horror and disgust, leaving Henry to fall prey to the seduction of the girl across the hall (Judith Anna Roberts). An intensely visceral nightmare, Eraserhead marches to the beat of its own slow, surreal rhythm: Henry’s world is a cancerous dreamscape, a place where sins manifest themselves as bizarre creatures and worlds exist within worlds. Interpreting the film along the lines of Lynch’s claims that it’s the product of his own fears of fatherhood may make Eraserhead easier to digest on a narrative level, if need be.