There are many reasons to love David Lynch, not least his work with meditation therapy for veterans and his tireless creativity in all areas of the arts. However, like most of his fans, the main reason that 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 often regarded as opaque and perplexing by both critics and audiences, but working too hard to decipher scenes – and even plotlines – is a mistake. His work is not a series of puzzles to be unpicked, but a collection of intense (and often frightening) worlds to experience with an open mind.
A trope that is very familiar to Lynch fans is transformation, with changes in circumstance, space and time that strike a familiar chord with those who have experienced any degree of upheaval (surely most of us). The weird pang you feel when you understand that something has changed forever, the sideways feeling that something is wrong. Change is difficult for almost everyone, 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 that change occurs, we are in no doubt that the effect on the character is profound. This gives Lynch’s work an emotional power that can come as a surprise amidst the strange and difficult contexts in which it is presented. If I was to count the ways I love him, I would list the black humour in much of his work, the powerfully unusual visuals, the atmospheric significance of sound, the repeated use of unfashionable or forgotten actors… I could go on (and on, trust me). But, above all, it’s the theme of transition and transformation that fascinates me every time.