Title: The Key to Eraserhead
Mary says,

Is Mary X Dead?

In Lost Highway, we are famously told that “Dick Laurent is dead.” In Eraserhead, Lynch doesn’t reveal his cards so openly, but there are clues that Mary X kills herself.

JA Fairhurst

I heard that, “Dick Laurent is dead.” Only he isn’t. But he will be. And then I will tell myself that, “Dick Laurent is dead.” But when I hear it, he will be alive again. And thus the loop of David Lynch’s Lost Highway continues.

In film, we can be told somebody is dead, yet they are alive. We can see them die, yet they can come back to life. So it stands to reason that even when we are not told of nor shown the death of a character, they might be dead.

Is Mary X dead? Not at the beginning of Eraserhead, but after she leaves Henry’s room? Did she kill herself?

“But there’s no evidence…”, you might say. The evidence is subtle, but it’s there.

Mary has gone mad, (“I’m going crazy.”) All she “needs is a decent night’s sleep.” Of course, night is the time of death and sleep is often compared to death, but that alone would be reaching.

In The Key to Eraserhead, I show that the film is based on a “mystery” literary text. In the mystery text, the main character would like to commit suicide, but he does not “do what he wants to do.” The character’s girlfriend, however, does what she wants and kills herself.

In Eraserhead, just before Mary leaves, she tells Henry, “I’ll do what I want to do.” Henry is horrified at hearing this. Mary clearly wants to kill herself rather than be imprisoned with the baby or to abandon it and face the wrath of her mother.

“I’ll do what I want to do” could be Mary threatening to kill herself just before she closes the door behind her.

When we see Mary next, she is not herself. She’s wrapped in the white sheet (wrapped in plastic?) like a straightjacket, makes odd noises while chomping her jaw, and squeaks loudly when she rubs her eye. As it turns out, there is a line in the mystery text that talks of corpses in white sheets, speaking gibberish, and squeaking. Is Mary a a dead spirit in this scene?

Henry says, “move over. Move Over!” If a ghost or lost soul is trapped between this world and the next, urging it to “move over” makes sense.

Finally, when Henry is with The Beautiful Girl Next Door, she asks him where his wife is. Henry says, “She must have gone back to her parents again. I’m not sure.” And no, he’s not sure of her fate.

Nobody has told or shown Henry that Mary is dead.  We haven’t been shown or told either. But there is evidence that she killed herself – just like the young woman in the “mystery” text.

So does Mary kill herself? The answer is “maybe”. The only thing we know for sure is that she will do what she wants to do.

In Mary’s place, what would you want to do?