The film is based on the life of Joseph Merrick, who lived from1862 to 1890. Due to extreme physical deformities he was presented in carnival freak shows as the Elephant Man. After becoming acquainted with a surgeon, Dr. Frederick Treves, he became a permanent resident in London hospital, as a guest rather than as a patient. Through friendship with the actress Madge Kendal he gained popularity in London's high society.
The film was financed by Mel Brooks, which gave David Lynch his first big break. Mel was given the script by his wife, and he liked it, but he had never heard of Lynch and said that before approving him as director he had to see something he had made before. Mel watched "Eraserhead" in a private screening, and Lynch was so nervous that he waited outside. When the film finished Mel burst through the doors, hugged him and said, "You're a madman. I love you. You're in." Wow! Love at first film?
The film was a big commercial success, thanks to the participation of great actors like Anthony Hopkins and John Hurt. It's very poignant, a sad film with an uplifting message.