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Ray Wolfe's Online Guide To Eraserhead

Ray Wolfe's
Online Guide To Eraserhead

Ray Wolfe





Like a fine painting, sculpture or other work of art, the David Lynch film Eraserhead has many interpretations yet one explanation.
The purpose of this book is not to claim the discovery of Lynch's mindset or reasoning for making this movie, but rather to offer one possible interpretation which hopefully makes the film a little more understandable and a lot more fun to watch.
It is also my intention to inspire others to start their very own cryptic journey through the land of Eraserhead.


ii Glossary

Before any decyphering of the storyline can take place, we must first take a look at each individual character and item within the story and figure out what they each represent.

  • Henry represents Henry. Nothing confusing here.
  • The Workman represents God or, more specifically, a god. Similar to Greek mythology.
  • The "Rock" symbolizes the dwelling place of the god. This could mean heaven, but most likely it represents a church.
  • The "Worms," (which are different from the Baby), are symbolic of sin or an evil deed.
  • The "Baby" is in reality not necessarily an actual thing. It represents the outcome or consequence of a sin or evil deed. It could be an actual baby,which is the outcome of sex, or a condition, such as a disease.
  • The Radiator represents suicide, not death mind you, but the actual act of suicide.
  • The Chipmunk Girl - she is Death.
  • The Dead Tree in dirt, which is on the nightstand, is a religeous symbol, similar to a cross or a statue of a Saint.
  • Electric Lights: in all of David Lynch movies, electricity is good, darkness is evil.


iii The Story

In order to explain all of the quirky symbolism which one plentifully finds in this movie, it is easiest to divide the film into six chapters. Each chapter is determined by grouping common events or scenes found in the film in chronological order. Each chapter is split into two parts: "The Scene" and "The Hidden Meaning".
In The Scene portion, the actual story or script will be retold making it easier to discuss the symbolism. In
The Hidden Meaning portion, all the symbolism found in that particular chapter will be discussed and interpretted individually. And now . . .


Chapter One Henry's Confession

The Scene:
The film opens with Henry's head floating in space with the rock superimposed over his face. We explore the rock only to find the wierd workman living inside. The workman is constantly looking out his window. Henry opens his mouth. A worm comes out. This makes the workman start up his machinery. The machinery takes the worm from Henry and casts it into a deep mudhole.

The Hidden Meaning:
This chapter begins with Henry thinking or focusing on church. Church is where he knows god can be found. God is always watching his creations (out of his window). Henry confesses his sin (the worm leaves his mouth). God puts forgiveness to work and henry's sin is cast away, (into the mudhole), and forgotten. God also puts the consequence of Henry's sin into being which we will discover in the next chapter.


Chapter Two Hello Henry

The Scene:
In this part of the film we are introduced to Henry. We observe him walking home, checking his mail and entering the elevator to his apartment. The lights in the elevator flicker. He "chats" with his neighbor and enters his apartment. In his apartment he turns on some music, dries his socks on the radiator and looks through a drawer for Mary's picture. The apartment itself is rather boring in its decor: a bed; a nightstand; a dresser; a recordplayer; a radiator; and a window which is bricked-over.

The Hidden Meaning:
This chapter shows us Henry's loneliness. He does not receive any mail, and we get the impression that he never does. He enters the elevator and the lights flicker indicating an evil presence. He is very nervous around his neighbor, probably because he does not want her finding out about his sin. Upon his entering of the apartment, he dries his socks and contemplates suicide, but only briefly,(stares at the radiator), as a cure for his loneliness. The bricked over window reinforces this loneliness. Then he remembers Mary. While looking through his drawer, he drops a stone or coin into a pot of water. This is probably a supersticious gesture such as making a wish by tossing a coin into a fountain.


Chapter Three Mary's House

The Scene:
Henry is invited to Mary's for dinner. Here we meet Mary's strange family: her angry mother; her happy-go-lucky father, Bill; and her quiet, and possilbly dead, grand mother. Henry is asked to carve the chicken for dinner. It begins to move and starts bleeding when Henry stabs it with the fork. Mother asks to speak to Henry just as the lights flicker, then turn off. It is then when we discover by the mother's confrontation that Henry and Mary had sex and there is a baby.

The Hidden Meaning:
It is uncertain if the strange happenings are what is really going on in Mary's house or if it is simply how Henry is viewing the entire encounter. The latter explanation seems to work better. Henry is nervous because he does not know how much the parents know about he and Mary or what they will do to him if they do know. He sees Mary as very nervous, constantly figiting. He sees mother as stern and angry, almost as if she is interrogating Henry the entire night. Bill seems indifferent. There is one occasion, at dinner, where Bill gives Henry the chicken to carve. This symbolizes the giving of his daughter to Henry. Henry sees himself ruining this gift in some way. When mom confronts Henry, the lights go out - Henry knows trouble is coming. When mother starts nibbling Henry's ear, he probably is simply fantasizing. You see, just the memory of what he and Mary did is enough to turn this lonely man on.


Chapter Four Life with Baby

The Scene:
Here we find Mary taking care of the baby. Henry comes home and finds a little worm in his mail box. He hides this from Mary when he comes in the door. Henry looks at his family them stares at the radiator. Mary asks if there was any mail and Henry lies. Later that night, Henry puts the little worm in a jewelry box on his dresser. He has no idea that Mary knows what he's doing. Even later in the night, Mary goes crazy trying to sleep with the baby's crying, so she leaves Henry to go live with her parents. In his lonliness, Henry goes to sleep thinking of his sexy neighbor. The next day, Henry finds out that the baby is sick. Now he has to take care of it. Henry sits by its side all day. The baby lets Henry get up, but it won't let him leave the apartment. So Henry checks the little worm in the jewelry box, turns out the light and goes to sleep.

The Hidden Meaning:
In this chapter we find Mary taking care of Henry's problem or condition. During this time Henry sins again,(the little worm). Even though it is just a little sin this time, Henry hides this secret from Mary. He then comtemplates suicide again. This time it seems a little more appealing means of escape. Mary confronts Henry about his sin and he lies to her, (the mail). Later that night we realize that Mary knows about the sin. She becomes frustrated because while she is trying to help Henry with his problem, (baby), he is continuing to do what he did before, so she leaves him to deal with his problem himself. Henry finds there is quite a bit involved in caring for his condition. What's more, he cannot ignore or leave his condition anymore.


Chapter Five The Dream

The Scene:
Henry goes to sleep and dreams a strange dream. In this dream he watches the radiator intently. In it he sees a stage. On the stage is a chipmunk woman dancing. As worms fall from the ceiling, she steps on them. The dream then takes Henry back to his bedroom where he finds Mary figiting next to him. He reaches over and finds Mary is full of big worms. He then sees the little worm in the jewelrybox come alive and start dancing around. The worm opens its mouth and eats Henry. Next, the dream puts Henry in his apartment. There is a knock at the door. It's the sexy neighbor wanting to spend the night. Henry has sex with the neighbor but struggles to keep her from noticing the baby. Now back to the stage where the chipmunk girl sings of heaven. Henry steps onto the stage and touches her hand. He sees bright a light. Then the wierd workman appears. All the worms leave the stage. A giant tree is brought out. Henry gets nervous and his head flies off. The baby's head appears in it's place. The tree starts bleeding and Henrys head disappears. His head falls from the sky. A boy finds it and has it made into erasers.

The Hidden Meaning:
This chapter is probably the most important of the six. In it, Henry thinks very seriously about suicide. With suicide will come death (the chipmunk girl), but death will stomp out all of Henry's sin (worms). Henry then finds that his problem has corrupted his life with Mary, (the worms have infested even her). His "little" sin then taunts him in his dream, reminding him of what he did. Henry tries to "get to know" his neighbor, but even in his dreams his "condition" (baby) haunts him. He does not want his neighbor to know about his problem. Now back to death, which reminds him again that death will solve his problems, ("in heaven, everything is fine"). He begins to accept this. Death gives him a little taste of what it would be like with a warm, bright light. God (the workman) now intercedes in the dream. He and Henry carry on a silent conversation. God tells him,"Hey, I can get rid of that sin (worms) for you. Remember what i did for you" (large dead tree appears on stage). "But you don't know what I really am," says Henry, "Inside I am horrible (Baby's head replaces Henry's). "But remember my sacrifice." says god (Tree bleeds). "No, no," says Henry, "My whole existance should be rubbed out" ('eraserhead'). Refusing God's intervention, Henry wakes up.


Chapter Six Henry's Solution

The Scene:
Upon waking up, Henry finds himself alone with the baby. Remembering his dream, he tries to visit his neighbor. No one answers and the baby laughs at Henry. Henry then hears the neighbor in the hall. He opens the door only to find the neighbor with a "friend". The neighbor looks at Henry and sees him with the baby's head. Henry goes back into his apartment and watches them through the keyhole. Frustrated, Henry gets a pair of sciccors and cuts open the baby's wrapings. The baby struggles. Henry pokes its organs to try to put it out of its misery. The lights flicker, then shut off. Henry has a vision of the asteroid. Inside he finds the workman trying to stop his machine without success. Henry is then standing in a bright light. He hugs the chipmunk girl and everything goes dark.

The Hidden Meaning:
In Henry's dream his only solace was the affair with his neighbor, so he tries to make his dream a reality. He (the baby) laughs at himself. He tells himself that he is stupid if he thinks anyone as nice as his neighbor would go out with someone as horrible as him. When the neighbor arrives home, Henry finds that she already has a lover and he suspects she only sees him as the horrible sinner that he is anyway. With that he decides to remove his problem, "cut it out" if you will. Based on the dream there is only one way to end his torment: death. He stabs himself. Evil runs rampant in Henry's apartment (lights flicker on and off). Henry sees God trying to stop the guilt and consequence that he put into motion at Henry's confession. The consequence was only meant to keep Henry from sinning again, not meant to cause his death. (This imperfection in the god is why the workman symbolizes more of a mythological god rather than the One True God.) The chain of events cannot be undone, however, and Henry embraces death.


The Numerology of Eraserhead

One of the oddities of this film is its unusual tendency to revolve events around the number 13:

  • When Henry enters the elevator and pushes the button, it takes 13 seconds for the doors to close.

  • In Henry's dream, he hears a knock at his door. He opens the door and looks out into the hallway.
    His neighbor appears out of the darkness 13 seconds later!

  • During the same scene the neighbor has two lines seperated by a long pause,
    "I locked myself out of my apartment."
    (Start counting now. 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12-13)
    "And it's so cold."

  • Henry's apartment number is 26. (2x13=26).

  • Mary's address is 2416. (2+4+1+6=13)!!!

  • There are also other examples, but I will leave them for you to find.


Classic Scenes

David Lynch is more than simply a Producer, Writer and Director. He is an Artist. By using the camera, lighting and visual effects he creates images which, if they could be captured in a single frame, would be truly a work of art. By using many of the elements of design, such as balance, contrast, depth, symbolism, Mr. Lynch creates a private gallery of stunning visual masterpieces. A few examples of these scenes are given below:

  • Look for the scene at Mary's house where we see Mary crying in the backgound and her dad's face grinning in the foreground.

  • While Henry is being questioned by Mary's mother, Mary walks into the hall to join them. A longer look will show that a pipe is in the foreground and is completely seperating Mary from her Mother and Henry.

  • When Henry arrives at Mary's house she is very angry with him as long as she stays behind the screen in the kitchen door. Once she steps around this barrier, she is pleasant and smiles.

  • One of the best scenes in the entire film is when Mary leaves Henry. She walks over to the bed (while Henry is it) and starts pulling at the footboard. She looks like she is behind bars or in prison trying to get out. After what seems like an eternity, we find that she was simply trying to get the suitcase out from under the bed.

  • Somethinghing That Makes You Go Hmm...
    In Mary's house her clock has only one hand, but in her kitchen she has two stoves. Hmmm.

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