The dinner itself is a kind of perversion. It consists of chickens – of a sort. They are only the size of a fist and, Bill says, man-made. “Damnedest things, but they’re new.” Man, trying to extend his manipulation into every corner of nature, has produced a parody.
The film’s central symbol for that active part of the human mind, responsible for the disruption and perversion of the natural world – and for the unbalanced, faulty technology which has been the agency of that perversion – is the Man in the Planet. This figure, a grotesque mutant, is a barely moving, twitching creature who sits in a ruined, decaying room with control levers in front of him. He is the repulsive inhabitant of man’s own mind. By manipulating his levers he initiates the action of the film; he is “in charge” of this world whose motion has become mechanical rather than living. In the film’s final moments, it becomes clear that the Planet itself is not even spherical, but distorted, elongated – shaped something like a head, a dark inorganic head. This creature, embodying the force responsible for corrupting the natural world, stands as the film’s devil. But he is also a vital part of man. The horror of this nightmare is the horror of man facing the monster in himself, a confrontation which finally leads to an act of self-destruction to end the horror.
Opposing this devil is a second symbolic figure, Henry’s “angel”, the sexless woman who inhabits his vision of Heaven. The devil’s second appearance in the film blocks Henry’s attainment of this Heaven. His third and final appearance shows his control lost, the world destroyed and Henry “freed” at last. But before this sequence can be understood, and the nature of the climactic act of self-destruction comprehended, the second aspect of the film’s vision of corruption must be examined.
The perverse sexuality which pervades the film is the key to understanding the meaning of ERASERHEAD. To begin at the beginning: the film opens with images of conception and birth. In the beginning there is space, the Planet – and Henry floating in nothingness. The conception is already corrupt; the sperm comes not from the penis, but is rather drawn mechanically from Henry’s mouth (the head) by the Man in the Planet’s manipulation of his levers. The head which attempts to reshape the natural world here tries to control the very processes of reproduction. The sperm itself is an over-sized, clumsy parody of the real thing. It drops into a water-filled cavity in the Planet’s surface, submerging in a stream of bubbles which fade to darkness.