The Elephant Man

Movie Poster

I feel an incredible need to write about this after watching it on DVD, before it fades in my memory. The Elephant Man is an old 1980 black and white movie that tells the true story of John Merrick, a severely deformed man in 19th Century London.

The immaculate detail and labourious task of researching and replicating the appearance of the Elephant Man, in a time where prosthetic make-up was in its primitive stages ought to grant it an Academy Award for Best Make-Up but that was in an era where the category wasn’t even set up yet.

The movie really doesn’t escalate into anything dramatic and pretty much hinges on the life of John Merrick, first as a circus freak, and then taken under the care of Frederick Treves (played by Anthony Hopkins) at the London Hospital. What was deeply thought-provoking was the fact that how sometimes we all have a self-centredness that renders what we assume is objective and valuable ironically the opposite. How we think advocating change would bring good to others, when really, it only serves our own purpose because the view is from within. Treves questioned if he was no different from the circus manager, because his good intentions only serve to draw greater attention to John Merrick, albeit they come from a different class of people. The fact that the Elephant Man remained a perverted representation of the human form, only housed in a legitimate vicinity, was a painful reminder to me that this was a man whose fate had been pretty much sealed the moment he was born.

John Merrick suffered immense cruelty from people who made use of him for the wrong reasons, constantly mocked at and frightened of others as much as they are of him. For me, the tear-jerking moment was when he was invited to have tea at Treves’ house with his wife, and the Elephant Man said to her that he wished his mother was there to see him with such wonderful friends, that perhaps she would love him for who he is upon seeing that, because he had tried so hard to be good. The desire for his mother’s acceptance is so untainted and pure, like a child, that my maternal instincts kicked in, developing a sort of imaginary love for this child trapped in a monstrous body.

He only wished that he could sleep lying down.

An act that we’ve all taken for granted was one that would kill him.

Can anyone imagine what’s it like to be him?


No way anyone would even come close to understand what it’s like to be ridiculed, ill-treated, viewed with fear and scorn, and the physical discomfort (even this word is an understatement) of having an engorged skull, a displaced bone and wisdom tooth resulting in an inability to move the jaw, breathing issues, skin problems and a list of other physical inconveniences.

This story marks the triumph of human dignity over all the hatred, prejudice, ignorance and fear.

Movie Poster

Watching behind-the-scenes interviews was highly enlightening because I feel a sense of victory for the team when they discuss in retrospect the initial problems, fears, concerns faced from the time the script was born, to pitching the story, casting, make-up, choice of shooting in black and white and so on. What was particularly interesting was their explanation for shooting in original black and white. It helped to set the old Victorian mood, and indeed gave the set a sort of character and aged-ness that was endearing. The other reason was to ease the gangrenous appearance of the make-up for the Elephant Man because it was believed that what some would find repulsive and unacceptable in colour would be less so in black and white.

It took 12 hours to put on the make-up and 20-hour work days to try and get the prosthetics right so that it was realistic and do-able on the actor's face.
It took 12 hours to put on the make-up and 20-hour work days to try and get the prosthetics right so that it was realistic and do-able on the actor’s face.

They borrowed the one and only cast model of the original Elephant Man from the museum for the make-up artiste to work his mold and create parts for the actor. It was a huge challenge creating something that was as close to the real thing as possible, and it made me realise that when you really put your heart, mind and soul into something, anything can be done. The human will is extremely powerful and more often than not we fail to exercise it to its fullest potential.

The actor who played the Elephant Man. He is very sense the typical British man with a dark sense of humour that brinks on arrogance, evident from behind-the-scenes interview.

John Hurt is the actor who played the Elephant Man. He is very sense the typical British man with a dark sense of humour that brinks on arrogance, evident from behind-the-scenes interview.

I have a lot of respect for John Hurt, the actor who played The Elephant Man, for sitting through 12 hours of make-up and then going on set to deliver his performance. For us, 12-hours is a full working day. For him, the day has just started. The commitment and passion he put in for the role is immensely inspiring and for all that is worth, he is totally unrecognisable and convincing as John Merrick.

Dashing and effortlessly stunning.

Dashing and effortlessly stunning. Anthony Hopkins plays the surgeon Frederick Treves.

Finally, I’ve never been a fan of Anthony Hopkins because he is most memorable to me as Hannibal Lecter and I don’t really like intelligent, psychotic serial killers. But after watching this old movie, my ignorance is replaced with a new found admiration. He is very engaging, handsome, charming and unpretentious in his role as Frederick Treves. His eyes are so telling, he really doesn’t need to say anything.

Watch the trailer again and see how his eyes reflect disbelief, horror, sympathy and love upon first laying eyes on The Elephant Man.

39 responses to “The Elephant Man

  1. hihi!jie jie can u pls make a msn? plsssssssssssssssss!!!!!!!!!1

  2. haz, i think you juz made me wanna watch this movie~

  3. I bought this DVD many years ago, and this movie never fails to bring me to tears every single time.

    John Hurt was totally unrecognizable in this movie. I knew him because of the Alien movie aka the first victim.

  4. hi!! i love love love this movie too. glad you enjoyed it:)

  5. the 12 hrs of make up really lure me wanna watch it, but i dunnoe where can i find it, maybe in the library.

  6. I’ve heard of this movie before and it’s always one of those that come up in conversations about human nature etc. “did you watch elephant man?” and then followed by “you should REALLY watch it”, but I never did. After reading this review of sorts, it is firmly on my next movie-marathon list. So thanks for writing this 🙂

    Hopefully it’s easily available at video-ezy or something!

  7. The elephant man….hmmmm….
    Never watch tis b4
    Will try to find it….

    Support u oways!

  8. hey hey hey, i would b taking one day leave again to take care of my niece, hahaha Do u have a niece or nephew btw?

  9. hey joanne (:

    thanks for the movie introduction and also your previous reply bout the show timings of the programme (:
    what are you presently working on? (:


  10. Joanne:

    Heya 🙂 you make me want to watch this film too!

    P.S. Just asking you something, yesterday my mum’s fren saw you filming at xxx. If you can, can you tell me whether you will still be filming there? Dun worry, wun go there and find you xD
    Hope everything in life is going on smoothly for you!

    Stanley 😀

  11. yeah i oso like Mr Treves in this mv, he is charming, the way he carrys himself in this mv, u know it is quite depressing after watching this mv, shows how cruel the society can sometimes b.

  12. You totally made me wanna watch the movie, after i watched the preview of that video, made my feelings soo mixed up.. I dont know how to say but this entry is really good..

  13. I think the real Elephant Man is Joseph Merrick and not John Merrick..

  14. joanne… do u like horry movie? you can watch “drag me to hell”… a nice show too

  15. 好棒的video!

  16. hmm.. You make the movie sounds great. I’d go and search for DVD and watch it. Thanks for your recommendation.

  17. hi joanne! if you really enjoyed the elephant man, you should check out the director david lynch’s other works- in particular the tv series twin peaks (which i intend to buy the dvd boxset someday haha!) and the movie mulholland drive, starring naomi watts.


  18. Hi Joanne Jie-Jie!

    The movie seems to be great! Glad you enjoy it! Happy bcos you are happy! 🙂 How long do you watch a movie once? Just one thing to tell you, I know currently the “S’pore Blog Awards” is back. Actually, in all blogs, I will choose you cos you share about what you read, what you see. But cos some celebrities is the idol I like so maybe I will vote for them but you also, I dunno how to nominate, everytime I go there, I just saw the names, and dunno how to nominate, can you explain to me how to nominate by reply here? Cos I really want to vote for you.

  19. hi ,what happen to you? Never hear from u almost a week now. I thought u update yr blog quite often. I wonder what has happen.

  20. Hi Joanne,

    I’ve watched that film before when I was in secondary school, my teacher played it for us to watch. At first, I thought it was just an old fim, will be very boring. But after watching the first few half of the film, I realised how sad and rejected the elephant man felt. I sympathise him. That’s why we should be graeful for wat we are, not wat we have. Support u all the way!!

    Kurt, ur everlasting fan

  21. princessthailand

    Last year, i watched tat film before… It was touching…

    I cant believe tat bad man bring people to his hospital room just to earn $ just to show d world tat he’s a freak. But in fact he has a heart of gold.
    Even a popular singer gave him a photo of him…

  22. 你好,薇秀。来到你的博客真不容易,为什么我们中国的粉丝都很难打开你的博客。希望这个问题可以得到解决。

  23. hi, a wife look into the mirror and said to her husband,’i look ugly, and the husband say ‘u oli look into the mirror once awhile and i see u everyday.

  24. hi Joanne , i think you should be the guess for 《艺点心思2》 , be a breave girl , challenge your self.

    James Lau

    • Dear James,

      Was supposed to be, but due to some programming changes they didn’t go on with it.


  25. gd morning 2 u , no more upcoming programme arh…

  26. hi ,i just brought some vdc yst,just to kill my time at home, now like not much new nice show , maybe there is , if yes, what new nice show have u watched? 😛

  27. Hi Joanne,

    It brings back childhood memories when i saw this show with my folks and i had to admit it brings tears to me on the trials which he went through.

    It was freaky and frightening but beyond all that its his human spirit and courage that carries on that encompasses that nothing is impossible.

    Makes one think deep and reflect as well.



  28. Hi Joanne,

    John Hurt & Anthony Hopkins both came from the British theatre background…..intense actors.
    John’s key role came from the quite disturbing movie of critical acclaim “Midnight Express” (1978) before Elephant Man. Hopkins certainly hit a raw nerve the world throughout with his chilling potrayal of Hannibal Lecter but dont dismiss his works such as Remains of the Day (paired with the awesome Emma Thompson), Shadowlands (with Debra Winger), Howards End, Amistad……Highly recommended. For further study, you can check out

  29. I jus happen to see The Life style’s article on “celebs who blog” and decided to take a look at your blog. Great review for the elephant man movie. I feels like to watch the movie after i saw your review.

  30. sob sob my class is going to start soon.

  31. hi Joanne,

    I heard of your blog in the papers, and you do write excellently. I’ll be following your updates.

    Just one minor quibble, could you left indent your text instead of centralising them? It’d be much easier to read.


  32. hi joanne, will you reply email when fans send it to your address?

  33. Joanne Peh, What We Believe

    We believe in the essential wholesomeness of the human body and all its functions.

    We believe that sunshine and fresh air in immediate contact with the entire body are basic factors in maintaining good health and happiness.

    We believe that the presentation of the male and female figures in their entirety and completeness needs no apology or defense and that only in such an attitude of mind can we find true modesty.

    Definition of a Nudist

    A nudist is a person who believes that clothes are neither normal nor natural to the human being, but may be worn when special circumstances of environment or physical comfort would indicate the propriety of so doing. He does not conceive of the human body as being in anyway shameful in itself but carefully distinguishes between decent and indecent exposure. He accords to every part of the body an equally normal naturalness wholly devoid of any vulgarity or obscenity. In this view an elbow, a pubic arch, or a nose are equally respectable; a thyroid, a testicle, a mammary are just so many glands each with its particular but equally splendid function to perform.

    The nudist holds that sun and air bathing are essential to the maintenance of health at its best; that there is no essential reason why the sexes should be segregated. He therefore believes and practices a non-segregated or social nudism in games, swimming, sun and air bathing and in outdoor sports generally; while in the home, within the family circle, he cultivates the clotheless life as being the normal life. The nudist believes, and hopes, that the limits within which nudism may be practiced with propriety will gradually broaden until the practice of social nudism becomes a common lifestyle.

  34. hi joanne!
    may i know you use what camera to take photos?

  35. i think i m going crazy ,12 hrs of work , and no handphone during office hrs.

  36. Hi

    Coincidentally Micheal Jackson was rumoured to have the bones of the actual John Meerick..i wonder what’s going to happen to them now..

  37. Dear Joanne, how much is the Elephant DVD cost? It seems that Elephant movie was shown in 50s:)

  38. Dear Joanne, how much do u buy the Elephant DVD cost? Do they have the stock?It seems that Elephant movie was shown in 1980:)I thought Elephant Man was in 50s.:) Tks for putting up the video on your blog:) Right now I am watching the Elephant Man:) All the cast members are so emotions:) I never heard of this movie 🙂

    Cheers: Debbie Wee 🙂

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