Henry’s Window Is The Key To Eraserhead

Mary and the Baby with the window

For many people, Eraserhead is an arty, confusing, and horrific film. They find it difficult to watch, and are just generally repulsed by the entire affair.

So perhaps it’s no wonder that after 37 years, the film is still a cinematic mystery. There is no general agreement about what it all means. The film has become highly influential —launching David Lynch’s career and the phrase “Lynchian”—but yet it remains a great unsolved puzzle.

Recently, I’ve realized that Eraserhead has a profound and positive message. It’s a message many people can relate to and which has the potential to resonate powerfully within their own lives.

Sound crazy? Yes. But stay with me.

Many people believe that Eraserhead is primarily about the anxiety of becoming a parent. Specifically, they believe that the film depicts a fear of fatherhood and the responsibilities that role entails. And they are right, to a certain extent—the film most definitely raises those issues.

But in a recent interview, David Lynch states that, to date, no one has come up with his interpretation of Eraserhead. While there are many theories about the film, none of them reflect his personal vision for it. Therefore, the film must be more than an exploration of the horrors of child-rearing. Lynch’s true intention remains a mystery.

I believe that’s because Lynch has hidden his clues very well in the film.

Eraserhead, it seems to me, is largely about fear and the effect that emotion has on the mind. I think the film shows how we can confront fear, destroy it, and embrace bliss.

My reasoning:

David Lynch’s surreal films are filled with abstractions, symbols, and codes. And his films are intensely psychological. This is especially true of Eraserhead. David Lynch describes the film as “A dream of dark and troubling things.” I would emphasize the word “dream” in this synopsis. I believe the film takes place entirely within the mind and that everything we see represents the way Henry’s mind works.

The Man in the Planet staring out the window

The film opens with a puzzling sequence. While Henry’s head floats in space, a strange, deformed character called The Man in the Planet stares out a window and pulls some levers, causing a weird creature to come out of Henry’s mouth, a puddle to appear, and the creature to splash into it. It is then birthed into Henry’s world. It is a creature which looks very much like the Baby that Henry stabs at the horrific climax of the film.

In Eraserhead, the Baby drives Henry’s wife away. It keeps him trapped in his room. Henry fears that it will replace him. It stops him from pursuing an affair with his beautiful neighbor. It mocks him.

So Henry stabs it and kills it.

This is why many people find Eraserhead too terrible to watch.

But what is this creature, the Baby, and why was it created?

From the opening sequence we know that The Man in the Planet lives in a shack with a puddle of some sort outside of it. He stares out of a window. Henry appears to scream and The Man in the Planet reacts to something he sees outside. But we don’t know exactly what it is. We just know that afterwards he pulls the levers, creating the creature.

We don’t find out what he was reacting to until late in the film.

Henry with his back to the window

Throughout the movie, we are repeatedly shown ominous shots of a window in Henry’s apartment. It appears to have paper bricks plastered on the outer glass of the window.

At the beginning of the third act, the bricks seem to disappear and Henry finally looks out the window. He sees an assault in the street by a puddle.

If the movie takes place within Henry’s mind, then the bricks represent an attempt to repress something. When the bricks are take away, we see what was hidden behind them.

So when Henry kills the Baby, what is he actually killing? Does the Baby perhaps represent something else?

I believe that Henry is killing the fear within his mind when he kills the Baby.

David Lynch has repeatedly stated that Eraserhead is his Philadelphia Story. And for him, Philadelphia was a place of fear.

Fear, and therefore the Baby, was created by witnessing a violent assault in the street. The Baby’s “parents” are the violent act and Henry’s reaction to it. Throughout the film Henry represses the true source of his fear.

Henry staring out the window

After the Baby is stabbed, a strange white substance begins to ooze from its organs, engulfing its body. Its head tries to escape from it.

That substance is very similar to the substance on The Lady in the Radiator’s cheeks. The Lady in the Radiator is a source of comfort to Henry. She smiles and stomps on creatures that look like the Baby. Therefore, she destroys fear, as Henry would like to do. Her power, and the white substance, emanates from her smile. It is a source of bliss.

Once Henry faces fear in the climax, he sees it for what it truly is—a dark planet. It begins to blow apart, and The Man in the Planet is eventually overcome by the same substance as the Lady in the Radiator’s cheeks. Henry then embraces bliss, literally.

Therefore, the film is ultimately about confronting fear, destroying it, and embracing bliss. A powerful and inspiring message for anyone who, like Henry, lives in a world of fear—you can get out of it.

I’ve written a lengthy analysis of Eraserhead, describing my journey with the film and how I arrived at my interpretation. I’ve also included an annotated script, which I created by watching the film and transcribing what I saw. You can read my Eraserhead essay and script transcription here.

David Johnson

Written by David Johnson

David Johnson is an Emmy Award-winning writer/producer based in Olympia, WA and longtime David Lynch fan. He once dissected Eraserhead LIVE at SIFF.

Comments

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  1. Yep, and this: “It’s not so bad, as long as you can keep the fear from your mind,” Agent Cooper to Diane as he lies on the floor, shot and bleeding, in Episode 8 (May the Giant Be with You).

    I talk about The Lady in the Radiator scenes in the “Breaking the Code” and annotated script sections of the longer essay linked in the article above. Here’s the direct link:

    https://cinematicdetective.wordpress.com/2014/11/04/turning-the-nightmare-into-a-dream-eraserhead-revisited-2/

  2. I had the same deep realization. Dreams defy our punishing reality, with it’s limits and boundaries. Without dreams we would be the victims of our own fear and fear is fueled by the prison cell of rationality. Dreams defy logic and defy reason which allows bliss within our tortured struggle to survive and maintain our civilized facade.

  3. I do not believe the Lady in the Radiator is a source of joy for Henry. I believe he is profoundly confused by her. Look at his expression when the smiley lady approaches him. He’s expressionless, almost confused. Her cheeks are exaggerated into a smile — as if she’s a little girl. She’s a dancer — as if she’s a little girl! She hugs him, she wants to love her Daddy. I believe the radiator lady is the baby grown up as a small child. She has a naive and magnetic attraction to Dad, as if he’s some sort of hero, but it was really the Man in the Planet (his sexuality) that caused birth to her. He knows he is no hero, just profoundly confused by this smiling, vibrant little girl (who will grow to be like her mother, and we saw her mother and her mother’s mother earlier when Henry is invited over for dinner, and we know how they turned out). I think the movie is about the horror of sexuality and procreation.

  4. The lady in the radiator is the enemy, offering a false promise that: “in heaven everything is fine”, suggesting that God has no place in this world, that he turns his back because it’s not in his backyard. It is here that the viewer needs to disentangle themselves and realize what Lynch is doing. Morality is our personal view of the world, and it is important not to take unjustified leaps. Lynch, in the eyes of the protagonist, presents our world’s hope for a true and just God, but there is little in religion to substantiate this claim. Christian/Greek/RomanMayan/Hindu etc. gods and goddesses were usually at war, usually demonstrating the folly of man in creating such beings in man’s own likeness. Lynch presents the unknown alien, Lynch says, here are the limits of your own understanding that you can’t be at peace with.You used to be fine with a dead dog playing with it as if it were alive, playing God, well here you are now! That’s not bliss, that’s a lack of memory, and a lack of care in carrying one meaning and applying it the same way in the same situation, a lack of grammar/editing, and it may very well happen again when we don’t know the same rules and use the same rules.

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