John Hurt has been unforgettable in a number of roles, but never more so than in The Elephant Man. It is the one where he is unrecognisable, both facially and in voice, yet retains something of his essential self in spite of this, coming through in the gentleness of speech and the expression of the eyes of John Merrick, the central character in David Lynch's unique film. At times it is hard to watch, Lynch captures the cruelty of human nature so precisely and unflinchingly. I dread seeing the scene where the crowd bursts into his rooms and he is humiliated to a kind of grotesque waltz, and this tone continues for quite a time. Yet there is great kindness shown him as well, by Dr. Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins), an actress played by Anne Bancroft, and ultimately by the theatre-going public, in a very moving tribute to him. That goodness has the upper hand is perhaps suggested by the fact that the "owner"'s assistant, a young boy played by Dexter Fletcher - who a few years later would be so memorable in Jarman's Caravaggio - is the one who frees him at considerable risk to himself. This inclines towards the view that youthful innocence contains a degree of compassion before society coarsens it, although other children in the film contradict this. In the end it is unfathomable, although the theme of man's cruelty is certainly an important one. But it is also about the human spirit, and the value of gentleness, and how charity is the greatest virtue, as well as implying a comparison of the mores of different eras. All these things are sublimely brought out, culminating in the symbol of the model cathedral Merrick is building. The scene where he recites the 23rd psalm is one of the most revelatory in all cinema - a startling, unbearably moving moment. Hopkins and John Gielgud are very good, but the spirit of Merrick and his example of rising above the severest handicap are what make the deepest impression.