By Amanda Whitaker
There are few people with as many jobs as David Lynch. Director, writer, composer, painter, furniture designer, cartoonist, avid coffee drinker — Lynch has done it all.
He is most known for his films, which include “Eraserhead,” “The Elephant Man,” “Blue Velvet,” “Mulholland Drive,” and, most recently, “Inland Empire.”
However, Lynch is also well known for his very healthy dosage of crazy.
Lynch’s films thrive on this crazy. Tragedies that continually represent his ideals that life is complicated, should be complicated, and in many cases, unexplainable, a common theme in every Lynch film is the characters’ inclinations to condemn themselves to worlds of darkness and confusion by yielding to their own dark desires.
Another common theme that every film shares, however, is the characters’ searches for happiness, love, and beauty. This aspect provides elements of hope and redemption in contrast to the darker elements that are immediately associated with Lynch’s works. Overall, the styles of Lynch films feature the abandonment of objective realism and the simultaneous channeling of emotional realism through these elements of tragedy and hope.
The portrayal and presentation of these themes and styles, however, is where Lynch begins to lose people. In a dream sequence in “Eraserhead,” the main character’s head pops off, falls from the sky, is found by a boy who takes it to a pencil factory, and is then used as an eraser (giving the film its name). In “Inland Empire,” there are random interjecting scenes of a family of rabbit-people in a small living room who speak only in abrupt non-sequiters followed by a laugh track. Even in “Blue Velvet,” one of Lynch’s most coherent films, there are seemingly random shots of a candle in between certain scenes.
There is a certain bravery to watching a Lynch film because by the end, you might have absolutely no idea what just happened. While you’re still thinking about it days and even weeks later, you still may have no idea what just happened, but you’re definitely as intrigued as when it did happen.
Lynch’s incredible ability to provide a portal into his unexplainable crazy and keep us intrigued is what makes him one of the most important and original filmmakers of the current era. He is a master manipulator. Take a look at any of his films and go over the basic literal, sequential plot: “Eraserhead” is about a man experiencing a bizarre sequence of events after his angry wife leaves him with their newly born mutant child; “Lost Highway” is about a saxophonist who is accused under bizarre circumstances of the murder of his wife; “Mulholland Drive” tells the story of an aspiring actress, who is subjected to bizarre events after meeting and befriending an amnesiac.
There are conclusively recurring themes in Lynch films, but the only thing that can always be expected of his films is that bizarreness will ensue. Through sounds and visuals, Lynch takes the bizarre, the surreal, and the unexplainable, warping and often perverting what his audience sees, and makes us feel it. That is what good directing is all about.
Unfortunately, Lynch’s talent is often compromised by objectors who dismiss his films simply because they do not understand them. What’s interesting about this argument is that nobody understands Lynch’s films, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Lynch rarely gives interviews, and when he does, he refuses to mention anything about the meaning of his films. On the DVD insert of “Mulholland Drive” was a list entitled “Suggestions,” and 10 tips on how to understand the film. Clearly, there are stylistic choices at work here, not directorial failures.
There are no films like Lynch films. Lynch himself is a tour guide through creepy worlds of pandemonium and perplexity, but perhaps the creepiest thing about the tour is the familiarity of it all. Through the talking rabbits and falling heads, there is an inescapable sense that while we are not literally living in the worlds that Lynch presents to us, we are emotionally existing within them—confusion and all. Ultimately, we can only assume that Lynch knows what he’s doing and why he’s doing it, so I would invite the naysayers to accept their confusion as part of the entertainment and enjoy the peculiar trip that is a Lynch film.