Thursday, May 27, 2010

The David Lynch Dossier: Dream States and Underneaths

"Waking dreams are the ones that are important, the ones that come when I'm quietly sitting in a chair, gently letting my mind wander. When you sleep, you don't control your dreams. I like to dive into a dream world that I've made or discovered, a world I choose."

- 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 [1984]), messages from Gods or otherworldly creatures (Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me [1992]), reflections of the repressed subconscious(Mulholland Drive [2001]) and even outlets for psychic guilt (Lost Highway [1997]). 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.

David Lynch's film career has spanned the years 1977 - 2006, and during that time he has been nominated for "Best Director" by the Academy Awards three times (for The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive). But that doesn't make his work, necessarily, mainstream.

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.

I recently watched Dune on Blu-Ray for the first time and it was a revelation. All previous prints of the film looked muddy -- as though the film stock itself had been processed through the sands of Arrakis. This new edition of the film, however, reveals the depth and breadth of Lynch's original vision; one that showcases the history, architecture and "underneaths" of no less than five galactic cultures. It's an amazing work of art, and I'll be reviewing it here, as soon as I get over my bloomin' deadline.

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...


  1. You've pretty much pinned down the overall feel of Lynch's films, Mr. Muir. He's a director whose works I'm always excited to delve into. You never know what's in store, and afterwards you're never exactly sure of what you did see. A fascinating man who has created equally intriguing pictures. Great work!

  2. "I don't know if you're a detective or a pervert..." Ah, I am really looking forward to reading your thoughts on BLUE VELVET, my fave Lynch film. He's an intriguing filmmaker and a hard one to pin down. He seems to rely a lot of intuition and is guided by his dreams and the ideas he gets while meditating so that may explain why the subconscious plays such an important role in his films.

    I look forward to this series!

  3. This is going to be something great to get into this summer, John. Also, it's good to hear that the Blu-ray Disc of DUNE is as amazing (HD-wise) as I hoped it would be (got to get my hands on that one, soon). Looking very much forward to this series, my friend. Thanks for this.

  4. Hello my friends! Thank you for the comments!

    Joe Monster, J.D., and Le0pard13: I am so glad to have you all aboard for this summertime look at the films of Mr. Lynch. It should be a lot of fun! I love Blue Velvet too, J.D. and I can't wait to get to that one. Right now, Dune has me jazzed...


  5. I've updated my Netflix queue accordingly. Good luck getting the book out the door!

  6. Hey Joe!

    Thanks, buddy. I'm still working, working, working on the book...but soon it will be done!


  7. You nailed it, man. Lynch is one of my favorite directors and "Lost Highway" is one of my favorite films. Many see a movie like "Lost Highway" or "Mulholland Dr." and declare it makes no sense. Yes, Lynch's films can actually be parsed. There's always a logic in play, but often it's—as you say—dream logic. When I first watch one of his films, I try not to analyze it. And I always find that, while it may not seem sensical, it always makes an emotional sense. I might not understand it—but I get it.