Tucked away at the heart of the feel-good movie category is a subgenre that celebrates the inner beauty of the physically grotesque. This trope was popularized by classic French literature like Beauty and the Beast and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Since then, it has seen countless cinematic variations, such as Mask (1985), Penelope (2007), and Beastly (2011).
Part of what unifies these films is that their arcs tend to follow the same trajectory. The unattractive subject is cast out from the world until they meet someone who sees them for who they really are. Ultimately, this compassion changes the lives of everyone involved for the better. In The Elephant Man, however, the expected cathartic resolution is a bit more complicated.
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Over the years, I have desperately sought to make sense of the madness that is David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. Sometimes I would get frustratingly close to what I perceived to be its true “meaning”—the person behind the dumpster represents the crisis of homelessness in Hollywood, or, wait, no, they represent the obscured lines between nightmare and reality, or wait—only to realize I was right back where I started.
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