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Movie Geek : how I see David Lynch

Date/Time Permalink: 01/26/07 12:56:50 pm
Category: Geek Culture

Ah, these uncultured American philistines. Because they will not think, because their attention span is tailored to VH1 countdowns and YouTube clips, they get what they ask for. David Lynch's latest work, "Inland Empire", saw only limited release in the United States, and is now doomed to be straight-to-DVD. Never mind getting the opportunity to see it in a theatre; I'll be lucky to encounter it in a video store at all.

I was reminded of this when I saw the story on David Lynch's new book over at the Linux and Things blog. Lynch's fan base does seem to contain a lot of geeks. He might as well; he sails over everybody else's head like a Saturn V rocket. I remember well attending the 2001 release of Mulholland Drive in a grimy Las Vegas screening, and wondering at the befuddled kids staggering out of the theater in discouragement. They were mumbling to each other that they had no flipping clue what the show was about. Poor blighters, I thought, nobody taught them how to play with ideas. If it isn't simplified to Dick and Jane lived happily ever after they walk out stumped.

The only thing worse than seeing people not get it is seeing somebody's clumsy attempt to get it. You see analysis of Lynch movies here and there on line, invariably writing the whole story off as a long dream sequence. I'm sorry, but you have to do better than that. Lynch thinks much bigger.

Well, I'm just as egotistical as the next film geek, so here's my own brand of that beer. Standard spoiler warning if you haven't seen these movies blah blah blah. This is my Unified Theory of Lynch. If you disagree, well, you should, because I'm talking out of my gluteus. The point isn't to be correct, because there is no correct answer to "what do David Lynch movies mean". The point is to frolic on what Larry Niven would call a "playground of the mind". To play with ideas as if they were toys.

Here we go:

First off, Lynch is a moralist. He tells stories of sin, redemption, and punishment. Except that his moral view is almost Lovecraftian. The god/gods in charge of this universe might be pure, or evil, or crazy, or just plain beasts. These Galactic entities nevertheless lay out the morals and we puny humans have no choice but to follow them or suffer the consequences. Sometimes they act like Greek gods on Mount Olympus playing games. Sometimes they're insanely hideous monsters. Have you ever noticed how repulsive another religion's Deity is in a religion that's very foreign to your own? Sometimes these beings are merely presented through this kind of filter.

This theme goes all the way back to Eraserhead: the couple commits adultery and are punished with a demonicly horrid and malign baby, which must be killed to be escaped...and even then, they only escape into a deeper realm of hell that is their only destiny to start with. In the Eraserhead universe, the god is very close to an Old testament Jehovah, torturing His minions with sex. The victims have no choice, they are thrust together by circumstances set up by the god. But they're made to suffer for their transgressions nonetheless.

Blue Velvet continues the theme, but this time the god is the traditional grassroots heartland dime-store tacky god, the one we white folk think we're singing those cheerful hymns about. This almost sanitized universe plays out a pat moralistic tale all nice and safe for we little people with our monkey minds. The bad guys are just generally bad all around, they get their comeuppance at the hands of the good guys, all's swell. The Golden Rule and Sunday school, held up to a mirror so we can see how naive it all is. A reprise of this theme was done for Twin Peaks, or at least, it started that way.

In Lost Highway, the only god we meet is one whom we're almost sure is not in charge. Kind of a Loki or Pan figure, mr Nameless (without eyebrows) selects one mortal as his/its personal toy, and proceeds to play with him like a child playing with a bug. We sense Fred/Pete always teetering on the edge of death, with danger all around, only to be saved by the mirthful, mischievous figure who nevertheless won't let him get too far away. Instead, he's placed on yet another path to even more danger, and is then watched with great amusement to see what reaction he will have. The 'sin' here, what little there is, is intrigue or perhaps curiosity - remember that Fred starts out suspicious of his wife. And the malign figure here either punishes or rewards that 'sin' (depending on how you look at it) by providing the puny mortal with more input than his tiny little brain can handle.

In Mulholland Drive, there is finally no god visible at all...but we can tell he was here! He left us a present; the little blue puzzle box. This box stirs the reality of all around it like a spoon stirring soup. It is even capable of rearranging time, so that effects cause causes. The box functions on many levels: a practical joke? a tool of power? a judgment? a toy? It's existence is only partly in the few dimensions we can perceive, and might even have been dropped here in this universe by accident. But it puts a harsh penalty on Betty for her egotism and pride in patronizing Rita on every possible level.

But what? Betty did a naughty - how could I say such a thing? Well, she's in Hollywood nurturing her vanity by exploiting the contest she won in order to get here and the connection she has with her aunt. When she discovers the lost Rita, all she does is adopt her into a private fantasy world of Nancy Drew sleuthing - a responsible person would have handed her over to the police straight away. Betty is so full of ego that she never once asks herself if she deserves to be rich and famous. After the "timequake" released by the blue box, she proves herself unworthy by hiring a hit man to kill Rita for the crime of ending up where she'd hoped to be.

There, that ought to get everybody thinking. I'm looking forward to the other explanations that you public folk might have. But if you have a better idea, it had better explain a lot... none of this Wizard-of-Oz it-was-all-a-dream bunk. And getting this out of our systems will keep us tied over until we are deemed worthy to behold Lynch's latest creation.


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