Diving Into the Surreal World of David Lynch

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David Lynch is one of the more if not the most unique filmmakers out there. It’s probably guaranteed that most younger audiences don’t know his work because of it either being too odd or just due to the fact that his last film was released in 2006. The core audience for David Lynch is always really interesting to me because it seems like either people know him originally from his movies or from Twin Peaks and they were slowly sucked into the world he always manages to create. My first experience with anything Lynch was Twin Peaks, and I just simply didn’t get it. From the pilot alone, I didn’t understand the over the top acting, the soapiness of it, I just didn’t get what the show was at that time. I only made it through the first 4 episodes then gave up. But over the the past few years or so I’d definitely say my taste has broadened when it comes to anything film or television, I’m willing to watch more surreal things or maybe just things that weren’t always what I would usually watch. So somewhere at the beginning of this month, with the return of Twin Peaks taking place, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to watch (and rewatch some), Lynch’s filmography to see what I would think of them.

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9. The Straight Story (1999)

This is probably the least Lynch feeling movie of all the ones in his filmography, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I wouldn’t say any of David Lynch’s movies are actually bad, you can feel there was work put into each film and that they’re art that Lynch himself wanted to make. I’m putting this one last only because it’s the one that left the least amount of impact in my mind after I had finished it, which doesn’t mean there wasn’t an impact, it just wasn’t as strong as some of the others. This is still a beautiful movie and one that I think a lot of people should see. It’s also Lynch’s one and only family movie??

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8. Blue Velvet (1986)

I’ll probably be killed for saying this, but I think Blue Velvet is an overrated movie. A lot of people state this as an all time best and a classic, but I’m sorry I just don’t see it. I won’t say I didn’t enjoy certain parts of the movie but overall it left me with kind of an empty feeling, but not in the way I think it was aiming to. If I was to name one person that I thought was the best in this it would no question be Dennis Hopper. He gives his all to be an insanely creepy psychopath and it works because he really does serve as the evil underbelly to this whole movie. Isabella Rossellini is an actress I always enjoy watching but I oddly felt like she was underused in this, she kind of introduces us to the main conflict of the movie but never really does much else once we get to the actual conflict which is Dennis Hopper. Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern are also great in this as they always are in everything. What I do like about Blue Velvet is the tone and the atmosphere it presents, I just don’t think it pays off in a way that I felt satisfying in the end. This film is a nice Lynch film to watch if you’re trying to get into his work, but I don’t think it’s the best he has to offer.

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7. Eraserhead (1977)

Eraserhead is another example of a film I appreciate but don’t love. It’s a nice debut that sets up for what’s to come in Lynch’s career but similar to how I feel with Blue Velvet, it never leaves me with much by the end. It’s not anything new to say a David Lynch movie is strange and surreal, especially considering most of them are, but Eraserhead has a kind of surrealism and strangeness that’s hard to explain. Ultimately the film is about fatherhood and the obstacles of it, even if it may not literally show you that. I’d recommend this to someone who was looking for a solid debut from a talented director or as an example of how to make a good debut film, but I still can’t say this is one of my favorites from Lynch.

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6. Lost Highway (1997)

Something that Lynch is really good at is reverting your expectations and I think that’s what Lost Highway does best. The directions this movie went in were not at all what I was expecting, which is both good and bad. Good in the sense that I like not knowing too much when watching a movie and just being genuinely surprised by things that occur, which happened a good amount of times in this. Bad in the sense that the film can tend to go in a direction that I didn’t expect but also don’t love. It’s still hard for me to form a complete opinion on this film because I still don’t really know completely what I thought of it and I think that’s why it’s so low on this list. I actually made a lot of comparisons in my mind with another Lynch film, Mulholland Drive, when I was watching this. They’re oddly similar in theme, they both toy with dreams and have a sort of noir theme to them (Lost Highway plays with noir a little more though), which are things I love about both of them but I think one maybe just accomplished those things a little better than the other. I’m thinking that I need to give Lost Highway a rewatch sometime in the near future and see what I get out of it, because with my first viewing of it I was left a little cold. Although it probably didn’t help that this followed after some Lynch films that I really loved and my hype was probably heightened. I do think that Patricia Arquette was the star of this movie for me though, any time she would pop up on screen I would be fixed with what was happening, she just has something about her. I think that with Lynch’s 90s/00’s films he was really able to present some great female characters and Arquette is one perfect example of that.

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5. The Elephant Man (1980)

Probably the saddest of Lynch’s films and most definitely the Oscar friendly one of the bunch. Similarly to The Straight Story, this film isn’t filled with the usual Lynch-isms that you’d expect, it’s a fairly stripped back look at an outsider living in a world and time that didn’t accept him for who he was. John Hurt perfectly plays John Merrick, a man who’s disfigured and mistreated by everyone that he meets. I wasn’t expecting to love this as much as I did going in just simply because I don’t think I was wanting a simple Lynch movie, but once I got into the film I was so taken away by the story and performances that it wasn’t a worry. Like I said, this is John Hurt’s movie, he is the center of it. Anthony Hopkins also delivers a spectacular performance as the surgeon that kind of takes him under his wing. I would highly suggest this one, even to the hardcore Lynch fans.

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4. Wild At Heart (1990)

Whenever I watch Wild At Heart, I can’t help but think of it as David Lynch’s version of True Romance. I mean think about it, both films center around a couple madly in love that are on the road with a group of people after them. Sure the ladder may have more cocaine and gangsters talking in Tarantino language, but you know what I mean. Like any of these films, Wild At Heart is hard to pin down. One part of it is a steamy passionate love story between two people while another part is a crazy Lynch fever dream of the world surrounding them that’s loosely based off of Wizard of Oz?? Laura Dern and Nicolas Cage star as the couple in love and they shine as they embark on a road trip full of sex and dancing. They’re the heart of this movie (no pun intended), and they keep it going. Luckily for the world, this was released at a time when Nicolas Cage was still making good films and actually considered a good actor, so there’s nothing to worry about there and Laura Dern, as always, is radiant and kind of crazy, which I love. But strangely enough the standout performance in this was Diane Ladd (Dern’s real life mother), as the lunatic lipstick face painting mother of Dern’s Luna. She brings an insanity to this film that I didn’t think was possible, it’s truly a great part to experience. While I do enjoy this one, I don’t think it’s a perfect film. While I do love the craziness of the film in general, I think it tends to drag in the middle when a certain character played by Willem Dafoe shows up, who’s great as always but almost seems unnecessary. I also think the ending could’ve used a bit of polishing to give it that extra punch of satisfaction. But nonetheless, I still think Wild At Heart is a really fun, wacky time of an experience.

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3. Inland Empire (2006)

Look I’m just gonna come out right now and say it, I didn’t know what the fuck was going on in this movie. Yet somehow I really enjoyed it? I myself kind of wonder why I put this one so high on the list due to the fact that I don’t understand really what the movie is or what I went through while watching it. The only legitimate reason I can come up with for giving this one such a high spot is that it left an impression on me and weeks after watching it I’m still thinking about it. There’s a cast here and there, but the star and titular character of Inland Empire is really Laura Dern. With this being her third project she’s done with Lynch, I think this is their best work together. I will say though, this most definitely isn’t a movie for most people, I mean I can sit through a lot of things and I barely got this. With it’s three hour run time and just the fact that it’s Lynch at his Lynchiest, (and by that I mean being so abstract nothing makes sense), it’ll probably be a hard sell for a lot of people, and that’s okay! I think the audience for this is hardcore fans of David and that really know his work and what he’s about, which I sort of am? So I’m not sure if I’d suggest this one as much as say if you’re going through Lynch’s filmography, maybe save this one for last.

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2. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)

When I first tried to watch Twin Peaks, I really didn’t understand it. I didn’t get why it was so over the top, why it was so dramatic and I hadn’t even really seen any of David Lynch’s work yet. I’ve said it before, but I’ve found that over the years my taste in really everything has evolved (like it does with most people), and I’ve been able to appreciate art that maybe isn’t as simple as it could be. So when I first watched the show I really couldn’t get into it because I wasn’t able to look past the intentionally soapy qualities and the weirdness of it. When I decided to go back and give it another shot earlier this year I ended up falling in love with it (if anything mostly just season 1). I wasn’t sure what to expect going into Fire Walk With Me, especially since I’d heard that it didn’t receive the best feedback when it was first released. So I was genuinely surprised when this turned out to be one of my favorite movies, wow is this thing powerful. If there’s anything I really took away from this movie it’s that Sheryl Lee gave the performance of a lifetime in this and can act her ass off! Not only did she hold this movie up by her shoulders but she was also able to show us things about Laura Palmer that we didn’t see in the show, she made us feel bad for her while also hating her at times. I also just think this is a great companion piece to the show, sure it doesn’t tell us what happened to Cooper or really anyone in the town other than Laura, but I think that’s alright. I myself really love that this film wasn’t made just to answer everyone’s dying questions of where season 2 left us, Lynch cared about Laura Palmer and wanted to show us her story. Now, it’s not a perfect film, I think some of the scenes that were cut (which you can watch in The Missing Pieces), really should’ve stayed in to add a little more depth. Although I do love Agent Cooper and David Bowie for that matter, you could’ve almost cut them out of the film and just made this strictly a Laura Palmer movie, even though really the Cooper portion of the movie is only in the first half hour or so. Another thing to mention is that this is not the tv Twin Peaks that a lot of people were used to when going into this, this really shows the dark underbelly of the town, it’s gritty and sometimes hard to watch. I’ll say it, this is one of the best Lynch movies and it’s a shame if you haven’t checked it out.

mulholland-drive-weird-hand-thing.png1. Mulholland Drive (2001)

Surely I’m not the only one who thinks this is not only a great Lynch film but also just a great examination of story telling and playing with your audience. Even though there is what you could call a twist in the back half of the film, I’d say this is one of the easier Lynch films to follow. Sure there are still some things that don’t add up/are confusing (what’s the blue box?? Who’s the old lady behind the diner?? Why did the old people attack her in the end??), but it’s clear what the moral of this story is. I’ve figured out over the course of watching his movies that Lynch really likes the idea of dreams. Mulholland Drive is all about dreams and for a good chunk of it, is one. I think he played with the idea in Lost Highway as well but for me it didn’t work quite as well in that as it did in this. It might help that Naomi Watts gives an oscar worthy performance in this, with playing two different roles that feel so distant from each other yet the same. There’s also great performances from Laura Harring, Justin Theroux and a whole bunch of other actors. If you haven’t had a chance to see this one yet I would highly recommend it and just say that you’re going to need to give all your focus to this one, I promise it’s worth it by the end.

 

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So that’s my ranking of David Lynch’s filmography! Hope you enjoyed it and I really hope you’re watching the new season of Twin Peaks because it’s really something else. If you have thoughts don’t be afraid to leave comments! Have a great rest of your week.

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