– David Lynch. Lynch on Lynch, Faber & Faber Ltd., 1997, page 15.
Every year on this blog, usually through the summer, I re-visit a handful of films by a director I find especially intriguing. Usually, these are artists who have had a considerable impact on the film industry, and especially genre-filmmaking.
In the past, we’ve seen Friedkin Fridays, re-examining William Friedkin’s career, a re-assessment of latter-day John Carpenter films (1987 – 2001), and last year, I offered a detailed retrospective of the cinema of Brian De Palma. This year, our subject is David Lynch, another director with a singular sense of style and personality.
What interests me most about Lynch is the artist’s unnerving and unerring capacity to express what I term “dream sense.” Movie viewing has often been likened to dreaming with “eyes open,” and human dreams convey a certain logic, flow, rhyme and reason. The Lynchian dream-sense, honed by the filmmaker’s waking dreams, taps into this rich and subconscious language of phantasms.
Our dreams come in a variety of forms, and Lynch’s films often mimic these shapes. Consider that dreams may be interpreted, in both myth and literature, as predictions or prophecies of the future (Dune ), messages from Gods or otherworldly creatures (Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me ), reflections of the repressed subconscious(Mulholland Drive ) and even outlets for psychic guilt (Lost Highway ). Lynch’s films frequently deploy “the dream sense” to carry such thematic concepts; so much so that film criticism in regards to this artist becomes a study in symbols and oneirology.
And to what purpose does Lynch often apply his “dream sense” in his works? Well, that’s the question of considerable interest here, one that we shall examine further. As many critics and scholars before have suggested over the decades, the director seems very concerned with the gulf between appearance and meaning; between surface and underneath. The Lynchian dream-sense is a way at getting at that gulf; of traversing it.
Mulholland Drive, for instance, is a meditation on a society of lies and illusions in Hollywood, and “the dream sense” expresses this idea, revealing how even identity itself can’t be taken for granted in a world of illusion. Likewise, in Blue Velvet’s famous first shot, the director takes the viewer from the surface image of an apparently “normal” American suburb (white picket fences, green lawns) into the teeming, roiled underneath world, where insects teem and toil with seemingly unrestrained energy. Both worlds exist simultaneously, but the underneath is the world Lynch returns to again and again.
On the contrary, the artist has excelled at transforming the conventions and tropes of many genres (sci-fi epics, soap operas, film noirs) on their head, thereby investing them with new life and new meaning. There’s nothing conventional at all about Lynch, and his films reflect that.
So that’s the terrain. If you wish to join the upcoming conversation, catch up on your Lynch over the holiday weekend, especially Dune, Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive and Blue Velvet. It’s a strange world…