Daily Dialogue — August 7, 2011

August 7th, 2011 by
“Never. Oh, never. Nothing will die. The stream flows, the wind blows, the cloud fleets, the heart beats. Nothing will die.”

– John Merrick’s mother (Phoebe Nichols), The Elephant Man (1980) screenplay by Christopher De Vore & Eric Bergren & David Lynch, based on the book “The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences’ by Sir Frederick Treves and “The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity” by Ashley Montagu

The actual scene is here.

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week is deathbed scenes, suggested by Gabe.

Trivia: The last lines, spoken by Merrick’s mother, are quoted from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, “Nothing Will Die.”

Dialogue On Dialogue: Two things. First Merrick’s choice to sleep in a reclined position is an act of suicide, but also for those fleeting moments a chance to feel some semblance of normalcy. It is profoundly sad, made all the more so because his final moments are spent in solitude, no dialogue. Second I wonder perhaps if director David Lynch chose to end the movie with a transcendent moment amidst the stars and recalling Merrick’s mother’s words to give the viewer a shred of an upbeat feeling… or if the poem actually intensifies the sense of sadness through the beauty of Merrick’s courageous final act to claim his own humanity.

3 thoughts on “Daily Dialogue — August 7, 2011

  1. Phil says:

    I always liked the deathbed scene in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly…when Lee Van Cleef puts the pillow over the guy who hired him to kill the guy who hired him to kill him.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLgJ7pk0X-s

  2. Teddy Pasternak says:

    What a great film this is. If I remember correctly, in an interview I heard with Mel Brooks, the studio wanted Lynch to eliminate the opening scene with Merrick's mother and the elephants and also this last coda with the stars and the poem. Brooks, who had hired Lynch after seeing Eraserhead, defended Lynch and said no one should tell such a great artist how to make his picture, so the scenes remained.

    I don't know if the coda gives the viewer an upbeat feeling or not. It does feel necessary for the pacing of the film. It would have felt a bit abrupt ending the film without it. This way, it gives us a moment to reflect and let the last scene sink in. We're at peace with him being at peace.

    The previous scene with the theatre performance dedicated to him was the pinnacle of his existence, really. It couldn't get any better than that for him. At that moment he was accepted as a fellow human being. Whether or not it was genuine or just another version of a freak show, that's the question.

    The tie-in with that high point, the realization he soon will die, and him finishing building the model of the cathedral is beautifully done. Like you so eloquently expressed, this last act was his way of claiming his own humanity.

    One of my favorite films of all time. A very nice end to an interesting week of daily dialogue. Thanks!

  3. Ray says:

    What Teddy said about this being Merrick's way of choosing to go out at the high point of his humanity. I haven't seen this movie in many years, but I've always thought that this scene maybe couldn't work as well with modern audiences now that sleep apnea is a more commonly known affliction. Even with severe apnea, you can no more commit suicide by sleeping on your back than you could by trying to hold your head in a tub of water. But in 1980, the more naive idea that there was a disease that, "oh my God, if he sleeps normally he will stop breathing and DIE" means there is always a dreadful shadow hanging over his bed every evening.

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