There are lots of real-life reasons to love David Lynch, not least his work with meditation therapy for veterans and his boundless creativity in all areas of the arts. However, like most of his fans, the main reason I love him is for his film and TV output.
David Lynch’s work has a quality I find fascinating – it truly accesses the subconscious. His work is described as ‘head-scratching’, ‘surreal’, ‘perplexing’ by critics and audiences alike, but they’re working too hard to decipher scenes that should wash over them like a sea of weirdness. It’s never a puzzle to be unpicked, just a world to experience
A trope that is very familiar to Lynch fans is transformation, with changes in circumstance, space and time that strike a familiar chord with anyone who has experienced upheaval of any kind – a regrettable decision, a sudden change of circumstance. The pang you feel when you understand that something has changed forever, the sideways feeling that something is wrong. Change is difficult for all of us, and transformation is such a common theme in Lynch’s work that the overall effect is both familiar and unsettling.
Consider Laura Dern’s character in Inland Empire. The lines between her real and imagined life blur further and further until neither she nor the audience know who she really is any more. Her bewilderment is painful to watch, and strangely familiar even to those of us who’ve lived the easiest and most uneventful of lives. Or Coop’s dislocated and parallel lives in series 3 of Twin Peaks… (if the season finale wasn’t the most chilling and unsettling thing you’ve ever seen, then I would sincerely like to know what was). Sometimes we see the transformation happen before our eyes – the mysterious cowboy waking Naomi Watts from her slumber in Mulholland Drive, Laura Dern’s gradual descent in Inland Empire. Sometimes the change is figurative – think of Bill Pullman vanishing down the dark corridor in Lost Highway. Change may even come courtesy of a plug socket… (one of Agent Cooper’s many transitional moments).
However change happens, we are in no doubt that the effect on the character is profound. In a small way, we feel we have changed too. If I was to count the ways I love David Lynch, I would list the black humour in so much of his work, the powerfully unusual visuals, the atmospheric significance of the sound-tracking, the repeated use of unfashionable or forgotten actors…. and I could go on. But, above all, it’s the theme of transition and transformation that fascinates me every time.