Captain Spaulding's Favorite Movies

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This is something I've wanted to do for a very long time, but I made an arbitrary goal to wait until I'd seen 5,000 movies. I hit that mark several months ago, yet continued to put off making this thread. Part of that is because of the enormous time commitment it's going to require for me to complete this journey in a satisfactory manner. A reluctance to close this chapter of my life, however, has been the biggest reason for my procrastination. Movies have always been a part of my life, but over the last decade or so they've become an obsession. Joining this forum and cramming for countdowns and interacting with so many knowledgeable movie lovers turned that obsession into an addiction. If I could mainline celluloid directly into my veins, I would. Now I'm ready to kick the habit. It's time for me to pursue other goals and devote more attention to other hobbies/interests.

I'm treating this favorite movies thread as a dissertation, of sorts -- a culmination of years of obsessive movie-watching and perhaps even a swan song to the forum. I'll be revisiting the movies and writing about them at length in the hopes of learning more about each film and discovering why it is I love them. For me, the reasons behind people's favorites have always been far more interesting than the movies themselves. Rankings are often just a distraction, so I'll be presenting these favorites out of order. That flexibility will keep things more interesting for myself. Once I'm done, which will probably be over a year from now, I'll attempt to rank them in order. Hopefully others enjoy this long, personal, cinematic journey on which I'm about to embark.


(Quentin Tarantino, 1994)

Pulp Fiction took my virginity.

That watershed moment occurred in 2005, over a decade after Quentin Tarantino had injected a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the film industry, forever altering the landscape of cinema. At that point in my life -- eighteen years of age, freshly graduated from high school, bagging groceries part-time -- watching movies was simply a pastime born from a dearth of recreational activities in a small town. The only directors I could've named were Spielberg and Shyamalan; my viewing choices dictated by the stars on the posters or the flashy trailers on television. Pulp Fiction changed that. Never before had I watched a film with such a strong writerly voice. From the instant Honey Bunny threatened to execute every motherf**king last one of us to the departing shot of Jules and Vincent slipping their nine millimeters into the waistbands of their dorky shorts, I sat on my couch -- transfixed, mesmerized, forever changed -- blood from my broken hymen splattered across the living room walls like the remnants of Marvin's exploded head in Jules's Chevy Nova. Every movie I watched prior to Pulp Fiction had simply been foreplay. This was cinema of an entirely different caliber. A door had been opened, a new path unveiled. My journey to becoming a cinephile had officially begun.

For the first time I began to seek out movies because of the people behind the camera, beginning with the memorably named Mr. Tarantino. ("The single most influential director of his generation," according to Peter Bogdanovich.) I rented Reservoir Dogs, Jackie Brown, the still-new Kill Bill Vols. 1 & 2. I bought the DVDs, watched the special features, listened to the interviews. Each time QT praised a film or filmmaker, which was often, I added those films to my watchlist. When he referenced blaxploitation, French New Wave, or some other movement or genre, I studied them. And throughout that time I continued to revisit the impetus behind my newfound movie fandom: Pulp Fiction. In short order it catapulted to the top of my favorites. All these years later, after consuming thousands of movies, Tarantino's pop cultural phenomenon remains atop the podium.

Pulp Fiction isn't a movie of great thematic depth. Style supersedes substance; personality outweighs craft. The circular narrative, while rewarding to re-watches and utilized to greater effect than perhaps any other film, was no longer novel by the time I encountered it. The eclectic soundtrack is excellent, as Tarantino has always had a knack for popularizing forgotten songs from the past, much like he does with faded movie stars, but great tunes have little to no bearing on my appreciation of a film. The redemptive theme connecting all three stories doesn't strongly resonate with me; nor does the honor-among-thieves throughline. Why, then, do I love Pulp Fiction so much?

First answer: dialogue. In most films, exposition is all that spills from a character's mouth, as Screenwriting 101 teaches that every spoken word should either advance the plot or provide characterization. Tarantino sets ablaze such textbooks, allowing his characters to talk at length about potbellies and failed TV pilots while rarely addressing the story at hand. Stock characters -- gangsters, dealers, boxers, molls -- transform into living, breathing entities because they talk like normal, everyday people. And what a joy it is to eavesdrop on those conversations! The pop-culture references, the fascinating topics, the crude poetry of the language. Even the purported randomness is an illusion, as much of the dialogue is deceptively functional, either foreshadowing things to come (e.g. Jody's needle fetish paying off with the ultimate piercing when Mia's heart is kickstarted with a syringe) or adding weight to later events (e.g. the foot-massage rumors establishing the precipitous stakes of Vincent's date, and likely explaining why he needs to shoot up beforehand in order to calm his nerves).

Second reason: humor. Pulp Fiction defies easy classification, but to me it is first and foremost a comedy, yet people rarely label it as such. Perhaps that's because of the rambling nature of the long-form jokes (e.g. Captain Koons's gold watch monologue), the inconspicuous punchlines (e.g. "I didn't go into Burger King" immediately segueing into remarks about Amsterdammers drowning their fries in mayonnaise) or the prevalence of dark, violent subject matter. However, even in the film's darkest moments, like the pawn shop sequence or Mia's overdose, humor provides levity. When Lance demonstrates how to deliver the adrenaline shot into Mia's chest by repeatedly miming a stabbing motion, Vincent cluelessly responds, "I gotta stab her three times?" The script's ability to consistently extract laughter from intense, f**ked-up situations is one of its greatest attributes. Case in point: Vincent accidentally shooting Marvin in the face. The first time I watched Pulp Fiction, I was so shocked by the unexpectedness of that scene that it took a few seconds for me to burst into laughter, like delayed thunder after a flash of lightning. Even without the benefit of surprise, that detonation of skull and brain remains the funniest moment in the film for me. In fact, the entire last chapter, "The Bonnie Situation," is almost non-stop hilarity, largely thanks to Jules Winfield's boiling frustrations with his blundering partner in crime.

Tarantino has said, "When people ask me if I went to film school, I tell them, 'No, I went to films.'" The man dropped out of high school at age sixteen, yet went on to become, in the words of Roger Ebert, "the first rock-star director;" his last name transforming into an adjective -- "Tarantino-esque" -- to describe imitators of his trademark style. He's a movie geek who grew into a movie god, watching and studying a variety of films from a young age, later working in video stores and movie theaters until eventually catching his big break. That passionate movie fandom is the electricity that powers his entire career. So leave it to a movie obsessive like Tarantino to concoct an entire feature around peripheral characters from your standard crime flick, essentializing the inessential by stitching together superfluous scenes from the cutting-room floor. Leave it to Tarantino, who likely grew up viewing the characters on the silver screen as his own surrogate family, to instill personalities into those unimportant side-characters, envisioning how they spend their time in-between the traditional scenes of plot. (What do hitmen talk about on their way to a job? Where do they eat breakfast after they carry out the hit?) Leave it Tarantino, ultimate movie geek, to color outside the lines, instantly converting millions of others into hungry cinephiles by serving up a film so cool, so brash, so rife with reverence for cinema's past, yet so eager to break all the rules and blaze new ground.

I've lost count of how many times I've watched Pulp Fiction. Due to its length and structure, I often watch just one chapter at a time nowadays. If I'm thirsting for a five-dollar milkshake, I visit "Vincent Vega & Marsellus Wallace's Wife." If I feel like getting kinky with the gimp, I go with "The Gold Watch." If I have a dead body to store, I'll drop by Jimmy's house in "The Bonnie Situation." New details and nuances reveal themselves on almost every watch. It took many viewings before I noted the rumbling motorcycle that precedes the Prologue, always mistaking it for random traffic before making the connection that the first sounds we hear in the film are also the last sounds we hear chronologically as Butch and Fabienne speed away on Zed's chopper. When re-watching the film in preparation for this essay, it finally dawned on me how phonetically similar Fabienne is to Adrian. Now I can't rid myself of an imaginary scene where Butch, with his best Stallone impersonation, calls out to his girlfriend from a boxing ring. Due to recent controversies, the confederate flag on the pawn shop wall that consumes the background as Butch wrestles with his conscience, debating with himself whether or not to save Marsellus from being raped and killed by sadistic hillbillies, seems more than ever a conscious choice from Tarantino, drawing attention to the flag's racist history. Wild theories about what's in the briefcase still abound, and I've even seen theories that the katana Butch selects as his weapon of choice is a Hattori Hanzo sword from Kill Bill.

Michael Madsen's Vic Vega from Reservoir Dogs was initially written to be the main character in Pulp Fiction, but due to Madsen's commitment to the Kevin Costner western Wyatt Earp, the script was tweaked and a Vega brother was born. Meanwhile, Laurence Fishburne turned down the role of Jules Winnfield, and Paul Calderón, who would settle for a small part as the bar owner, nearly stole the role from Samuel L. Jackson with a strong audition. It's likely that the magic of Pulp Fiction would've evaporated had the cinematic alchemy been altered with the wrong casting choice. Simply put, no actor enunciates Tarantino's dialogue as powerfully as Samuel L. Jackson. His tongue converts every syllable into musical punctuation. As for Madsen, he's simply too hardened, too threatening. He lacks the goofy charm that Travolta brought to the role. I doubt viewers would've fully let their guards down with Madsen in the lead, which is necessary if we're to find the character endearing and amusing. Jules and Vincent are gangsters, hired killers, "the tyranny of evil men." Yet we love them and enjoy hanging out with them. That's a testament to the script and the performances. In fact, that hang-out quality is the single biggest reason I love Pulp Fiction. It will likely always be my #1 favorite, my go-to desert island selection, the one movie I could re-watch every day of my life without fatigue or boredom. It is, in the words of Jules Winnfield, "some serious gourmet s**t."

Favorite Scene/Sequence:

The Jack Rabbit Slim's sequence isn't just my favorite moment of Pulp Fiction, it's my favorite moment in any film ever made. I was so disappointed when I first discovered that the restaurant doesn't actually exist. It's a movie lover's paradise, "a wax museum with a pulse," where pop cultural icons of yesteryear serve patrons of today. The entire sequence, from the moment Vincent and Mia pull into the parking lot to their iconic dance contest, lasts almost twenty minutes, yet I'd be happy if it lasted two-plus hours. Those scenes perfectly embody the laidback cool of Tarantino's cinematic world. We're just the third wheel on a date, dining on bloody burgers from inside a vintage convertible while a Ricky Nelson impersonator performs on stage.

Favorite Quotes:

“It was a foot massage. A foot massage is nothing. I give my mother a foot massage.”
“It’s laying your hands in a familiar way on Marsellus’s new wife. I mean, is it as bad as eating her p*ssy out? No, but it’s the same f**king ballpark.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, stop right there. Eating a bitch out and giving a bitch a foot massage ain’t even the same f**king thing.”
“It’s not. It’s the same ballpark.”
“Ain’t no ****ing ballpark, neither. Now, look, maybe your method of massage differs from mine, but you know touching his wife’s feet and sticking your tongue in her holiest of holies ain’t the same f**king ballpark. It ain’t the same league. It ain’t even the same f**king sport. Look, foot massages don’t mean s**t.”
“Have you ever given a foot massage?’
“Don’t be telling me about foot massages. I’m the foot f**king master.”
“You given a lot of ‘em?
“S**t, yeah. Got my technique down and everything. I don’t be tickling or nothing.”
“Would you give a guy a foot massage?”
“F**k you.”

“What does Marsellus Wallace look like?’
“What country are you from?”
“'What' ain’t no country I ever heard of. They speak English in ‘What?’”
“English, motherf**ker! Do you speak it?!
“Then you know what I’m saying. Describe what Marsellus Wallace looks like!"
"What? I–
“Say ‘what again!’ Say ‘what’ again! I dare you! I double-dare you, motherf**ker! Say ‘what’ one more god damn time!’
“H-h-he’s black. He’s bald.”
“Does he look like a bitch?”
[Jules shoots the man in the shoulder] “Does he look like a bitch?”
“Then why you trying to f**k him like a bitch, Brett?”

“Don’t you hate that?”
“Hate what?”
“Uncomfortable silences. Why do we feel it’s necessary to yak about bulls**t in order to be comfortable?”
“I don’t know, but it’s a good question.”
“That’s when you know you’ve found somebody really special when you can just shut the f**k up for a minute and comfortably share silence.”
“Well, I don’t think we’re quite there yet, but don’t feel bad, we just met each other.”

“And what is your name?”
“Butch. What does it mean?”
“I’m American, honey. Our names don’t mean s**t.”

“I’m going to get medieval on your ass.”

“Jesus Christ.”
“Don’t blaspheme.”
“God damn it.”
“I said don’t do that.”

“I used the same f**king soap you did and when I finished the towel didn’t look like no god damn maxi pad!”

“Well, I’m a mushroom cloud-laying motherf**ker, motherf**ker. Every time my fingers touch brain, I’m ‘Superfly TNT.’ I’m ‘The Guns of the Navarone.’ In fact, what the f**k am I doing in the back? You the motherf**ker who should be on brain detail!”

“Want some bacon?”
“No, man, I don’t eat pork.”
“Are you Jewish?”
“Nah, I ain’t Jewish. I just don’t dig on swine, that’s all.”
“Why not?”
“Pigs are filthy animals. I don’t eat filthy animals.”
“Yeah, but bacon tastes good. Pork chops taste good.”
“Hey, a sewer rat may taste like pumpkin pie but I’d never know ‘cause I wouldn’t eat the filthy motherf**kers.”

“There’s this passage I got memorized. Ezekiel 25:17. ‘The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who in the name of charity and good will shepherds the weak through the Valley of Darkness for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you.’ Now, I been sayin’ that s**t for years. And if you heard it, that meant your ass. I never gave much thought to what it meant. I just thought it was some cold-blooded s**t to say to a motherf**ker before I popped a cap in his ass.”

This is going to be a great thread. Love and agree with everything you said about Pulp. I still remember my manager at Blockbuster telling me Tarantino was bringing dialogue back to movies. I don't think I put my finger on it at the time but I think Pulp is what made the script and characters the most important aspect of a good movie for my taste.

It is, indeed, endlessly funny. I mentioned that Burger King line, last time I saw it, as an example of why the script is so great and why I consider Pulp a comedy.

I go between the date and the closing sequence as my favorite in the film, so I agree with your choice.

Great write-up. Can't wait till you talk about OUATITW and Boogie Nights. Although, the way you write and the passion you write with will even make me tune in for Devil's Rejects.

Can't wait till you talk about OUATITW and Boogie Nights.
Temper your enthusiasm for the inevitable Boogie Nights write-up. There's a strong likelihood it'll just be me reminiscing about all the best porn I've ever fapped to in my life, while debating whether I prefer bush or no bush.

Pulp Fiction from the get-go. Hell yeah! I'm gonna love this thread.
“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place and I don't care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done!” ~ Rocky Balboa

Temper your enthusiasm for the inevitable Boogie Nights write-up. There's a strong likelihood it'll just be me reminiscing about all the best porn I've ever fapped to in my life, while debating whether I prefer bush or no bush.
Ooh! I get to use one of my favorite quotes of all time : "CAN'T WAIT!" - Bart Scott

Looking very forward to this sir. You're one of the few writers on here entertaining enough to make me read all of that. It looks like you're putting more effort into this than any other favorites thread I've seen so far.

Once you talk about a movie I love this will be great

This thread is already, as I expected, a thing of beauty. Love your writing and I know we share a lot of favourites, so this was always going to be a pleasure.

I can relate to your enthusiasm for Pulp Fiction in so many ways, in how it opened the door for a new world of cinematic exploration. I've told the story on here before I think: Michael Madsen was on the UK Big Brother and had to do a challenge to the tune of "Stuck in the middle with you" and my mum made a comment about how it was from some famous film. I looked up the film and watched it out of curiosity, I was blown away by just how cool it was. Next up, Pulp Fiction, again I had never seen anything like it.

I still have a deep admiration for Tarantino and no matter how many new directors I discover and enjoy, I still find myself enjoying countless rewatches of his films. In the last few weeks I've revisited Reservoir Dogs, Inglourious Basterds and Kill Bill.

Like you, Pulp Fiction is a film I've seen countless times, definitely more than anything else. I absolutely love it and it will always have an important place in my heart. Just an awesome, awesome film.

I watched about an hour or so of Pulp Fiction a couple of weeks ago and I was surprised just how much of the dialogue I could still recite along with the film. I've probably not seen it 15 years or more but I watched it so often in the 90's (and listened to the soundtrack) that most of it is still in there.

It's also one of the few films I saw more than once at the cinema. The buzz coming out of Cannes when this was shown was incredible and I couldn't wait to see it.
5-time MoFo Award winner.

I'm only 19, but my mind is old
I, along with many others, had a similar moment with Pulp Fiction. It's one of the handful of films that steered me on my path to cinephilia. This film along with a very specific moment in Yojimbo where a dog carries a severed hand down the road stick out to me as moments where I started to care more about who was behind the camera than who was in front of it. To this day, actors and actresses mean way less to me than directors. Breathless, 2001, A Clockwork Orange, and Aguirre are some others.

Pulp Fiction was my first favorite film, because it was one of the first that made me care about films. Honestly, it might the reason I care about art just in general if I'm being honest. That film, along with talking with a friend of mine that I had known for awhile, but became much closer with at the time, about Pulp Fiction, and music, and tv shows, and whatever else is what gave me the little nudge into checking out things I might not have checked out before. I started listening to Zeppelin and Nirvana, I started watching Dexter, and all of these things led me to start really thinking more about what I was watching and listening to. My taste has grown since then and I might not love all these things the same way, but I am forever grateful for that short period of time where all those things were new to me.

I'm only 19, but my mind is old
Temper your enthusiasm for the inevitable Boogie Nights write-up. There's a strong likelihood it'll just be me reminiscing about all the best porn I've ever fapped to in my life, while debating whether I prefer bush or no bush.
There's a happy medium when it comes to bush, but really there is no wrong answer. It comes down to what works best with the whole surrounding area. I don't wanna get too graphic, but it's similar to a man's face. Some faces look good enough that they don't need to be covered up, but some faces need a little extra hair to make things interesting.

(David Lynch, 1980)

Even as a kid, the highlight of fairs and carnivals was never the rides, but the freak-show side attractions. Fork over a few dollars, step into a tent or behind a curtain, gawk at the bearded lady or "the world's smallest woman." Walk past shelves of deformed creatures floating in formaldehyde. Get a glimpse of a two-headed snake or a cow with an appendage protruding from its neck. I used to overhear strangers make remarks like "depressing" and "disturbing;" meanwhile, I'm standing there mesmerized by an alien fetus. When I last attended the local fair a few years ago, I was disappointed but not surprised by the absence of such taboo attractions. Their popularity peaked over a century ago. The majority of "freaks" at the fairs and carnivals I've attended have been animals, not humans. It seems that variation has been phased out as well in recent years. Modern-day freaks tend to be "self-made" through body modifications, while the outdated display of disabilities and deformities has migrated from fairgrounds to reality television, particularly those found on TLC that document the lives of dwarfs, the morbidly obese and individuals suffering from large tumors or other unusual ailments.

Recently I declined my friend's invitation to a New Year's Eve party despite the tantalizing promise of single ladies and a hot tub. I pretended that I was being extra cautious about COVID but a mystery rash that had spread across my arms and torso was the real reason. I was simply too self-conscious of those ugly red splotches; too embarrassed that one of the women might wrinkle their nose at me in disgust. Imagine being John Merrick, The Elephant Man, and having every woman you encounter shriek or sob at the sight of you. As Carr Gomm says in the film, "No one could possibly imagine it. I don't believe any of us can." We stare disapprovingly at our own reflections and some pay thousands for plastic surgery to fix those minor imperfections. Again: imagine being The Elephant Man, or The Lobster Boy, or The Human Torso, or any other famous freak throughout history. Imagine having a deformity so severe that it's impossible to live a normal life, work a normal job, sleep in a normal manner.

(The real Joseph Merrick, in all his handsome glory.)

That mystery rash of mine eventually disappeared, but for a few distressing days I was like, "This is it! These splotches are gonna spread all over my body! I'm gonna be Rash Man for the rest of my life!" Just because I wasn't born with a disability or deformity does not mean that I'll escape life unscathed. Fate could screw me over at any time via a disfiguring car crash or some other unfortunate accident. Perhaps most likely, my own body could betray me. My grandmother had part of her jaw removed due to cancer, and for the last 2-3 years of her life refused to do her own shopping because people -- children, especially -- would stare or recoil in disgust. Such a fate could await any of us. That's partly why I find The Elephant Man so empowering. If massive tumors spring forth from my flesh tonight as I sleep, will I hide from the world? If a bear claws me across the face while I'm hiking with my dog, will I possess the fortitude to withstand the naked revulsion from passersby? I'm almost positive the answer is no. Hell, I let a simple rash cock-block me a few weeks ago! I possess none of Merrick's courage or strength.

Like David Lynch, I've always been attracted to anything unusual. I find beauty in the grotesque. I also admire those who invite the judgmental stares of others by unabashedly waving their freak flags in public. I wish I could be more like those people, but due to strong social anxiety, I curtail my weirdness since it only leads to more attention and more anxiety. That likely explains my fascination with freak shows and why I don't consider them degrading, but inspiring. Clearly some freaks were mistreated, and The Elephant Man explores that dark underbelly of the business through its portrayal of Mr. Bytes, who repeatedly refers to John Merrick as a personal possession and treats him like a subhuman creature. Most freaks, however, including the real-life Joseph Merrick, chose to exhibit themselves and made quite a bit of money from it. (Admittedly, it's not like many of them had a long list of viable career alternatives. I read that Merrick at one point tried to make a living as a door-to-door salesman. If true, that's one TLC reality show I'd watch in a heartbeat.) While displaying deformities and disabilities for profit is obviously exploitative to some degree, I see it as a paean to uniqueness. If others find such exhibits disturbing or demeaning, that's on them. Freaks will always be subjected to long gazes from the public. Forcing that same prying public to pay a fee in order to indulge their curiosity is, in my opinion, a way of transferring power to those deemed less fortunate. We should celebrate abnormality in all forms instead of treating it as an object of shame or derision.

Interestingly, Lynch employs sideshow tactics of his own, hiding Merrick behind disguises and curtains, consistently keeping him out of frame and whetting our curiosity through shadowed, silhouetted glimpses. The camera's focus on the extreme reactions to Merrick's appearance adds to the sensationalistic approach, along with the dehumanizing references to "it" instead of "him." We expect a monster because the film has built him up as a wheezing, unintelligible monstrosity. Finally, over thirty minutes into the film, "the terrible Elephant Man" is shown in plain sight . . . and he's just a shy, kind, gentle soul with a remarkably strange appearance. Expectations subverted. Our judgmental nature has been revealed. Point made, Mr. Lynch. The movie's primary theme could be boiled down to the old adage, "Don't judge a book by its cover," but that's nauseatingly cliché. Thankfully, the script provides us with a poignant metaphor: the St. Philips cathedral, obscured but for a solitary spire by a brick wall outside Merrick's window -- and which Merrick, both in the film and in real life, built an impressive model of by relying on his imagination -- symbolizing the beautiful soul obscured beneath the disfigured body.

If not for The Straight Story, The Elephant Man would be David Lynch's most conventional film. We're treated to a few Lynchian flourishes -- the industrial nightmares and the bookends, in particular, feel like leftovers from Eraserhead -- but this is a surprisingly accessible film from a director synonymous with weirdness. In lesser hands, this story might've come across as mawkish Oscar bait, instead of a powerful melodrama brimming with humanity. The stark black-and-white cinematography is wonderfully evocative of the Victorian setting, and the soundscape adds a ton of atmosphere. Exterior shots are often fraught with peril -- howling winds, thunderstorms, looming smokestacks, threatening machinery -- since that's when Merrick is most vulnerable, while interior shots typically reflect a sense of security. The opening score -- a carnival-inspired theme with ominous undertones -- perfectly sets the mood. The make-up and prosthetics, designed from original casts of the real-life Elephant Man and requiring 6-8 hours to apply each day, were so exceptional that they led to the creation of an annual category at the Academy Awards to reward make-up artists for their outstanding contributions. John Hurt gives an all-time great performance, ensuring that viewers see the man and not the prosthetics. We easily fall in love with the character and after a certain point barely even notice the tumors and warty growths.

If I have a nitpick with the film, it's the surface-level moral conflict that Treves wrestles with when questioning if he's turned Merrick into a sideshow attraction all over again. "Am I a good man or a bad man?" he wonders aloud. "Who is it all for? Why did I do it?" It's an interesting question, but the film only pays it brief lip service, soon re-introducing the villainous Mr. Bytes to whom Dr. Treves has compared himself, exposing the two-dimensional simplicity of the internal conflict. There's never any indication in the film that Merrick is uncomfortable with the frequent visits from strangers. If anything, those human interactions are healthy to his mental well-being. (Although I love the subtle detail of the wealthy couple's cups trembling in their hands as Merrick pours them tea. "If you have a chill I could close the window.") The script was partly adapted from the journals of the real-life Dr. Treves, so naturally he comes across as a kind-hearted, compassionate saint. Despite the source material, the film is full of historical inaccuracies. (It doesn't even get Merrick's first name correct!) That's par for the course with almost every based-on-a-true-story screenplay. Inaccuracies don't bother me in other films and they don't bother me here. However, the knowledge that Joseph Merrick existed in real life and bore the same physical afflictions certainly adds an extra level of poignancy to an already emotionally affecting film. John Hurt has said, "“If you manage to get to the end of The Elephant Man without being moved, I don’t think you’re someone I would want to know.” I wouldn't go quite that far, but it is difficult for me to imagine any but the most cold-hearted, cynical viewers not responding to such a deeply humane film.

Favorite Scene/Sequence:

A few choices come to mind. The Romeo & Juliet scene is extremely touching. When the night porter brings paying customers from the bar to Merrick's room and they dance and mock and pour alcohol on him, the score mutating into an increasingly deranged carnival theme as the carousel of humiliation goes round-and-round, is an excellent, highly memorable scene -- albeit a distressing one. My favorite scene, however, and the one which provokes a strange watery sensation for my eyeballs, is when Merrick is invited to the Treves house to meet and have tea with Mrs. Treves. It's the first moment that we witness Merrick experience a true moment of normalcy and down-to-earth kindness. The script lays it on thick when Merrick shows Mr. and Mrs. Treves a picture of his mother and he wonders aloud if she could love him as he is, yet I get emotional almost every time despite my usual resistance to such heavy sentimentality.

Favorite Quotes:

"People are frightened by what they don't understand."

“Oh, Mr. Merrick. You’re not an Elephant Man at all.”
“No. You’re Romeo.”

“I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being. A man. A man!”

“Mr. Treves, don’t worry about me, my friend. I am happy every hour of the day. My life is full, because I know that I am loved. I’ve gained myself.”