David Lynch can’t be described without eventually going through the word “weird”. If you’ve seen his TV show Twin Peaks you get it, although from what I’ve seen that’s as normal as he gets. He’s known for bringing an unprecedented level of surreal discomfort to audiences which is… cool? It’s definitely an artistic achievement. Feeling along with a character trumps being told about their feelings. Using the camera, lighting, and sound to achieve this is Lynch’s specialty.
But are the movies any good? Ehhh… sometimes. They always include moments of interest, but he can get so caught up in demonstrating his daring techniques that he forgets to give the whole thing a purpose. When he starts with the basics of good stories and adds his weirdness from there, great stuff can happen.
A weak-willed man tries to get by in an industrial hellscape. When he is invited to his girlfriend’s house for the first time in a long time, he is cornered into helping raise the mutant child to which she supposedly gave birth. She leaves him alone to watch the baby in his apartment, and its constant cries and horrific appearance drive him insane. Believe it or not I have just accurately described almost the whole plot of a real movie.
Every sight and sound tries to convince you to stop watching. Every interaction is full of interpersonal strife. The sound outside makes you feel the characters’ constant stress with them. The baby is physically hard to look at and hear. Basically it all feels like a diseased mob surrounding you, closing in. I was kind of blown away. If you want to be impressed by how off-putting a movie can be (or really want to become horrified of having children), this is for you.
The Elephant Man
Based on the true story of Joseph Merrick, a severely deformed man in Victorian England who went from circus freak to medical subject to high class curiosity. His doctor tries to earn his trust and keep him from getting exploited as he seeks safety, friendship, and love.
Lynch sticks to his strength adapting a story that is inherently uncomfortable. This time though he tries to slowly bring in sympathy and admiration for Merrick, played by an unrecognizable John Hurt. Anthony Hopkins seems very natural as a Victorian doctor and sells his conflict that propels most of the story.
It asks a lot of questions about whether we should protect vulnerable people from decisions they can’t understand, and what society’s obligations are to the least capable human beings. Instead of answering these questions though it kinda just uses them to bum you out. It seems to be a skillful adaptation of the story, but at the same time kinda who cares.
How to describe Dune? Warring families struggle for power on a futuristic desert planet using psychics, assassination, drugs, ecology, weird religions, and guerrilla tactics. It’s based on a 1960s sci-fi must-read. By must-read I mean it’s excellent, but also that you literally have to have already read it to understand what on earth (or what on Arrakis I guess) is happening. It might be impossible to adapt this story into a coherent movie of reasonable length, so it’s not too much of a surprise that Lynch’s version is in many ways a long confusing mess.
That being said, I recommend it to anyone who enjoys sci-fi, goofy melodrama, or being baffled. The whole thing is a drug trip on film. Every setting, costume, creature, and technology is at the very least interesting. Kyle MacLachlan perfectly fits the coming-of-age hero in Paul and every actor is 100% dedicated to selling their patently bizarre characters. It impressively realizes scenes from the book that are hard to even imagine, much less put on screen in the mid 80s. The plot will never really make sense so just let the weirdness wash over you.
Jeffrey Beaumont cuts through an empty lot while walking home and finds a severed human ear. After bringing it to the police he meets with the detective’s daughter Sandy in an attempt to learn more about the case. When they together start snooping into the lives of those thought to be involved, they get sucked into a seedy social circle of violent sexuality and overt insanity.
Kyle MacLachlan (again) and Laura Dern appealingly and adventurously lead us into the darkness. Immediately when you meet Dennis Hopper’s spiteful and evil Frank you wish they could escape. There’s always enough mystery and intrigue to justify Jeffrey going back for more. It’s creepy, confusing, dark, disgusting, and exciting.
Those qualities are what make Blue Velvet most impressive to me as a modern version of film noir. Not nearly as pretentious as it sounds, film noir is simply a style of murder mystery that was popular in the 1940s and 50s. It’s the thing where the attractive but dangerous woman hires a private detective with a jaunty hat who talks too much. While they coolly allude to mature themes Blue Velvet pushes them in your face and makes you ask if they ever really were cool. When Lynch predictably blows their dream-like qualities out of the water, it strengthens my belief that film art and technology are almost always improving. For all I know I might only care about Blue Velvet because I’ve seen many old noirs, but I think it stands on its own if you haven’t.
A car accident leaves a woman with amnesia. She meets a naive aspiring actress and together they try to discover her identity. Other seemingly unrelated storylines show the cutthroat nature of Hollywood and set a heavy mood.
The first time I watched it I didn’t get what happened, and the second time I didn’t get what the point was. There are some very cool scenes but ultimately Mulholland Drive only showcases a dream-like emotional immersion. Its style has probably been since copied by movies I care about, but they used it to tell good stories, not tell piping hot nonsense.