Its a heart touching story of a guy whose mother was struck by an elephant while she was 4 months into pregnancy. Hence the deformity. He has an over sized head and its so big and gross that it is quite a moving sight to see him live. His face and body is all contorted while his legs and feat are too thick and its very hard for him to walk too. An owner of a freak show in London finds him and puts him on his show to collect money. The movie intially moves very slow and they keep on showing you the glimpse of the Elephant Man but never show you his face and body completely. Once he is seen by a surgeon, who wants to analyze him in his laboratory and who finally takes him away - he is show to the audience in complete form and its so heart touching that your heart cries out for him. He is in such a pathetic state, yet he is a very nice man to know. He communicates very politely, has interest in art, ends up making a replica of a church which is visible from his hopital room's window from cardboard boxes. Surgeon actually takes him to his home too to let him meet his wife and see his family pictures. Where John Merrick (The Elephant Man) shows them his beautiful mothers picture too, thats the only one thing that he had.
He is again captured and taken to a distant place by the freak show owner. Again he gets back to his regular life, put in a cage like an animal. Some his counterparts who themselves are a part of the show because of their physical deformities set him free and he makes his way back to London. The effort he puts in to get back to his life with the surgeon is eye opening. It shows us the will to live and survive. All the trouble he faces on his way back, people shout, kick, spit on him and he pleads "I am not an animal, I am a human being" - I will never forget those words ever in my life, the way he says them. Finally, he joins the hospital back and we believe that his life is going to change and for better. But I guess thats not something so easy to come and his story comes to a sad end. You've got to see it to believe it.
The movie got 8 Academy Nominations including Best Picture in 1980.