Why I Love David Lynch
I got into David Lynch through my brother and his long time friend. I started slow. I watched Mulholland Drive, didn't really get it and went to bed slightly annoyed that it had so successfully bamboozled me. This admittedly wasn't that hard. I have never been all that sharp at anything, let alone dissecting the work of an artist of the highest quality. I did however make a mental note to try harder next time.
This came in the shape of Twin Peaks, the recently revived, long thought dead TV show of the early 1990s. This I found easier. The descent into pure nightmare logic was not so sudden or so all encompassing. Still, there was an undercurrent that constantly sought to make its way out of the dream world and into our stodgy, soggy toast and corn flakes workaday reality. People talked backwards and spoke in cryptic, winding lines. An ominous shape flew behind the curtains, protecting the darkest secrets. Here I learned about BOB and MIKE and The Man From Another Place. Laura Palmer remained here, stuck in time, following her murder at the hands of her father.
I was watching Lost at the time I became wrapped up in Twin Peaks. As much as I love Lost - and champion its uncanny bravery at keeping an audience waiting - it did not compare favourably. This was at the time when Lost's creators and showrunners did not have a firm future. The possibility of the show being cancelled was very real. While Lost would find its stride and finish unreasonably strongly (there will be an article forthcoming that will put this issue to bed and tuck it up for a goodnight hug), at the time it felt like there was a lack of real direction. Twin Peaks was something that was operating on another level besides what the next mystery was. David Lynch and Mark Frost were getting at something permanent and real, with depths that kept on down and down and down.
That the show is perhaps the most spiritual of any of David Lynch's work remains a point in its favour. The mystery is venerated, yes. It is a holy thing. But it is only of use to us in what it says about us as travelers on this journey. And Twin Peaks has so much to say in that regard. The Black and White Lodge exist together at the same time. Good and evil side by side. While there are references to Hawk's beliefs as a Native American and Christianity later in season 2, the mythology of Twin Peaks is largely a creation of David Lynch and Mark Frost. This is to its credit. One problem I had with Lost through the years was its reliance on traditional Christian symbols and concepts to bolster its storytelling. This felt to me like dragging a beautiful dream into mucky real life, with all the problems that come from using a real world religion to make comments on life and death. Twin Peaks is a show of staggering purity. Once you are in that world, you are in it, even more so with the revival. It is like a bad dream. You get lost and don't know how to escape, but as long as you believe in yourself you will find a way.
I want to talk for a moment about the genius of Agent Cooper's escape from the Black Lodge. This was as visually stunning as anything Lynch has put on film and answered the biggest question in the show right up front. (So take that you moaning gits who claim the new Twin Peaks hasn't "answered" anything. Sheesh. Remember how infuriating those people were with Lost? Well, they're back!) Coop's journey back to reality goes through the body of Dougie who is, if I'm following this correctly, a creation of evil Coop, to trick the Black Lodge into taking Dougie instead of him. Dougie is a low down type. He gambles and he cheats on his wife, played by the gorgeous and brilliant Naomi Watts. Coop comes back to life when he spies coffee, and still has his steely determination and skills to protect himself and his wife from a dwarf hitman. This is an odyssey that will surely see Coop return to Twin Peaks and best his evil doppelganger in combat.
The chances that Lynch and Frost take with the storytelling in the revival are astonishing. There is no exposition, explanation or consideration for the dullard. This is all hardcore Lynch, in the same style as the great INLAND EMPIRE. Prior to the new Twin Peaks, this was his best work. I was worried that the revival would be nostalgic and sentimental. Well there is NONE of that. Keep up son, don't shame yourself. And those doubting Lynch's ability to pay off a slow burn have clearly never seen any of his films. Think of the insanity of INLAND EMPIRE and the terrifying realization that something very bad has happened. He doesn't leave you high and dry, he brings you all the way there. The new Twin Peaks is the best work David Lynch has ever done. It is mind shattering and savage and full of heavenly beauty.
Let's talk about some of Lynch's other films. First, let's prove that Lynch is as versatile as anyone and can do any style. Just take his underrated work on the science fiction epic Dune, or the completely grounded and gorgeous Straight Story or the sad, desperate Elephant Man. It's not that he can't make sense. His films always make sense to those who are ready to receive them. They are coded in dream logic. If you stop trying to assess things from a literal, objective position and embrace the beauty to be found in dreams, you will understand everything there is to a David Lynch movie.
Eraserhead was one of the early films I saw by David Lynch. It is about, among many other things, the natural fear of fatherhood and the fragility of early life. It is remarkably close to being a Horror movie, even while its unusual storytelling doesn't allow too many comparisons to other examples of the genre. It is supremely frightening, very beautiful to look at and with many twists and turns that you will never forget. (Trivia note: Mel Brooks was so impressed by Eraserhead that he wanted Lynch for Elephant Man. Yes, that Mel Brooks!) I have had a fear about being a father for many years, and this film expresses that fear so on point.
The Lost Highway was for many years my favourite David Lynch movie. It takes all of your expectations and puts them in a bag and throws that bag down a long river. And Richard Pryor is in it! This was the foundation for what Lynch would do in Mulholland Drive, INLAND EMPIRE and the new Twin Peaks. Switching characters and seemingly impossible to follow, this is the slow realization of evil that lives in the heart of a man. The characters switch and you might think "OH THIS IS BULLSHIT," except it isn't. Put the pieces together and realize the full extent of the greatness of Lynch and how there is a very clear story if you want one. For the rest of us who are happy to swim in the maddening ocean of David Lynch we can just experience it like a dream. Check out the amazingly creepy Robert Blake in maybe the best scene in the movie.
I have for films, music and books something I call the dream test. If it comes to me in a dream, I know it has gotten to me, right down to the bottom. I dreamed about BOB, about the Mystery Man and I dreamed of the weird chicken baby in Eraserhead. But I dreamed most about Laura Dern in INLAND EMPIRE. INLAND EMPIRE is at the moment, the last film that David Lynch has done. Prior to the Twin Peaks revival, it was his densest, most thoughtful work. It is terrifying and strange. There is a linear story you can piece together, if you wish. But really the fun is to be had in completely submerging yourself in a nightmare world where everything is skewed. The Black Lodge exists in many of David Lynch's movies, even if it doesn't have the appearance of red curtains and black and white floors. The evil is the same. INLAND EMPIRE is about movies, about America and about a woman who becomes lost in her art. It is as stunning a film as you are likely to find.
I recommend you, for once, do not listen to Roger Ebert. He never understood the greatness of Lynch's work. Explore it for yourself, open your mind and spirit to the possibilities. It is some of the most entrancing, mystifying work you will ever see.