Inland Empire (2006)

The Inland Empire is the area in California that comprises Ontario, Riverside and San Bernadino. It’s called Inland Empire for obvious reasons, it’s not coastal.

I lived in Orange County so am somewhat familiar with both Los Angeles and The Inland Empire. Los Angeles can be very ugly, but there is a certain beauty and freshness to it because it’s on the coast.  There is a certain light to it that exists in the coastal areas of Orange County, too. I can’t really describe it. But when you get to the Inland Empire, the light changes. It’s more polluted in the Inland Empire because the pollution, that is probably mostly from LA, gets trapped inside the mountain ranges. The light there is much heavier and gloomier, especially on heavy pollution days. I don’t know if it’s the same now because California has done a lot to clean up its air. But it used to be that way.

In a sense, the Inland Empire is perhaps a kind of back door to Los Angeles and perhaps that’s why Lynch used it for the title of his film? I don’t know. I never know why Lynch does anything. But I think it kind of fits.

Of all of his films, I like Inland Empire the least and not because I don’t appreciate it, but because it has a visceral affect on me. I want to hurt myself while watching it – which is bizarre. This film definitely takes me somewhere I physically resist.  I don’t want to go there but I’m not even sure where “there” is!

Lynch says you can understand depression better when you are not depressed which is why he can combine his upbeat, optimistic philosophy with films about the Hell people live in. It allows him to be fully open to what it is people experience through their denial.

Wild at Heart (1990)

“The world is wild at heart and weird on top.”

I watched Wild at Heart while making my way through the Lynch filmography back in 2007. I thought I had written something on it then, but can’t find anything. I watched it again last night, again, so will offer my current thoughts… 

I think I like most Lynch’s other movies a lot more, but Wild at Heart is definitely a fun ride all the way from Cape Fear, North Carolina to New Orleans to Big Tuna, Texas! The film received the Palme d’Or award at Cannes, and Diane Ladd was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. (Very cool to see mother and daughter, Diane Ladd and Laura Dern, in a movie together, too.)

I don’t even know what to say about this movie – I’m left with impressions.  One of the most touching was when Lula (Laura Dern) and Sailor (Nicholas Cage) are driving across Texas and Lulu is trying to find a radio station. There are acts of horror but no music. News reports of people being killed, raped, and even about a man having sex with a corpse abound and that last one is the last straw for Lulu. She stops the car, jumps out, and demands that Sailor find her some music. He finds a hard driving rock song and they hang out on the side of the road dancing like maniacs. The hard rock is replaced with absolutely gorgeous classical music and you get a feel for how much these two people care for one another.  Their love is genuinely tender, even though they seem so rough and raw. Lulu is a skinny Marilyn Monroe and Nicholas Cage is a snakeskin wearing Elvis. He does a pretty good rendition of Elvis, too. And that Snakeskin jacket represents a symbol of his individuality and personal understanding of freedom.  (Supposedly Cage had this Snakeskin jacket in his wardrobe and told Lynch he’d like his character to wear it so Lynch rewrote the screen play to work it in.)

Willem Dafoe plays a really bizarre character, even for him: Bobby Peru. Bobby Peru is evil incarnate and has an extremely ugly, grotesque mouth. Isabella Rossellini is in the film, too, but with a smaller role. I recognized a few more characters from Twin Peaks (there were probably more I didn’t notice): Sherilyn Fenn who played Audrey Horne in Twin Peaks is the girl in the car accident; Sheryl Lee who played Laura Palmer is the Good Witch; Grace Zabriskie who played Laura’s mother on Twin Peaks is a completely freaky character – a voodoo, cane carrying, banchee screaming, handicapped hooker.

Lynch based the screen play on Barry Gifford’s novel, Wild at Heart, but he changed the ending because he didn’t think it was realistic. I think he was probably right but it makes me smile given the nature of the ending Lynch presents in full out Wizard of Oz style.

Blue Velvet (1986)

I have been making my way through all the films of a few directors. I’m currently watching all things Akira Kurosawa and Ingmar Bergman and watched almost everything David Lynch back in 2007.  I noticed, however, that I hadn’t written anything for a few of his films.  Blue Velvet was one of them so I re-watched it last night.  (I own almost everything by David Lynch.)

I didn’t like this movie at all the first time I saw it.  It was super disturbing to me.  But that was before all of my studies in Existentialism and Abusrdism, etc.  I also know a lot more about David Lynch now than I did when I first watched it. It’s a deeply disturbing film. It’s supposed to be disturbing!  It’s not violence for the sake of violence, it’s violence used in order to wake us up to who it is we truly are!

Many critics hated this film, but Lynch was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director for it. Blue Velvet helped launch a lot of careers, too. Isabella Rossellini had been known primarily as a Lancome model, but her role as Dorothy Vallens made her known as an actress, even though she had been in other films prior to Blue Velvet. This movie launched Laura Dern’s adult career. And Dennis Hopper was brought back into acting after having been in rehab.  I don’t know that I realized Kyle MacLachlan, who plays the lead role in the film, was the same guy who played the detective in Twin Peaks until watching it this time around.  (I hadn’t yet seen Twin Peaks when I first saw Blue Velvet.)

I don’t ever try to pretend that I really know what Lynch has in mind with his films. He says he creates a mood and it’s the experience he’s after, not an intellectual interpretation. What he often does is take a normal, every day occurrence and stretch it to absurd lengths. So you have to wonder if maybe he’s not referring to domestic incest in this film?  Everything is Mommy and Daddy and even the boy who just wants to help ends up having sex with “Mommy” and hits her. That scene was hugely moving to me because it’s what typically happens. Someone is abused and so they expect that abuse from everyone. They almost call it upon themselves by focusing on the ugliness in someone who would otherwise be respectful. We all have our Karamazov sides (Dostoevsky).


The old lady at the end of the film says, “I would never eat a bug”.  Well, if you were a bird, you would!   You can’t ever say “I would never” because situations dictate behavior. You say you would never have engaged in what the U.S. soldiers engaged in at Abu Ghraib, but you weren’t there, so how do you know? Philip Zimbardo did a now famous study called the Stanford Prison Experiment which proves that monsters can be made of decent people. It’s easy to judge when from outside of the situation.  But what happens when you are within it? The problem is never the individual, the problem is much larger than that – it’s the system. And we’re all a part of the system!!

I also like the first scene where we see the beautiful suburban yard Jeffrey’s father is working in. It’s perfect. But after Jeffrey’s dad is suddenly struck with a heart attack, we are shown what lies underneath the yard – lots of nasty bugs.  But those bugs help to keep that yard looking good, too, don’t they? Or are the bugs destructive?

When Jeffrey first enters Dorothy Vallens apartment, he’s acting as bug exterminator. He’s going to get rid of the dark underbelly of whatever is going on. Turns out, however, he’s got his dark underbelly, too! Sandy claims that she has a dream of all of the darkness being gone as soon as the robins return. But when the robin returns, it eats the bug which is viewed by the elderly woman as a disgusting act.

It’s all a matter of perception.

The mystery begins when we enter into the rotting ear with Jeffrey and we don’t come out of that ear until the very end of the film.  It’s these sorts of details that keep me watching David Lynch films over and over again. 

Dumbland – More Thoughts

After working through David Durnell’s article on Dumbland last night, I went to bed wondering if maybe Lynch did intend Dumbland to be a pessimistic film. It does seem pretty pessimistic. The thing is, mosty of his films are very dark, but somehow, I always come away with a stronger sense of compassion from them than pessimism. Dumbland was more crude than what I’m used to from Lynch and I’m not exactly a fan of that sort of “humor”. But I woke up with a very strong sense that it was compassionate.

I looked up pessimism and there are two definitions: 1. an inclination to emphasize adverse aspects, conditions, and possibilities or to expect the worst possible outcome; 2. the doctrine that reality is essentially evil b: the doctrine that evil overbalances happiness in life.

Lynch definitely emphasizes adverse aspects, conditions, and possibilities. But I don’t think he personally expects the worst possible outcome and I have no sense whatsoever that he thinks reality is essentially evil or that evil overbalances happiness.

I think the reason Lynch presents so much “evil” in his films is because we, as a culture, are addicted to happiness. Also, we’re still a society based on puritanical values which taught that humanity is evil/fallen and that only the “chosen” are “good”. America thinks of itself as “chosen”. We are good and we intend to spread our goodness to others. Problem is, we tend to deny what is “bad” in order to keep the focus on our “goodness”.

This has layers and layers and layers that I think Lynch plays out beautifully in his films. The abusive patterns that are perpetuated by the denial of the abuse at the family level make their way into the societal level, too. We were raised with an extremely detrimental metaphysical model that told us we are bad and God is good. In order to be good, we have to do as we are told – “accept Jesus as our Lord and savior” (or whatever.) What this model has done is obscured the fact that we are both “good” and “bad” – every single one of us. To deny either in favor of the other is going to cause problems. It seems to me what Lynch is showing in most of his films is that the overbalance of so-called “goodness” is what is causing so much evil. The denial of evil/pain in order to focus on good/happy creates an imbalance that needs to be corrected.

What we deny is what gets perpetuated. Instead of recognizing it for what it is, we glorify “acceptable” or entertaining forms of violence, and become numb to the horrors that are happening around us. If we were to see evil for what it is, we’d do more to bring it to an end. But we don’t want to see it – especially in ourselves. So what Lynch does is shove the evil in our face, hoping we’ll see ourselves reflected in it. He wants us to wake up – not so that we’ll think of ourselves as evil, but so that we’ll quit unconsciously perpetuating it. I don’t think he’s trying to say it’s hopeless. But I do think he wants us to see reality without all the filters.

It isn’t that humanity is bad, it’s confused. We confuse perception with reality. We can’t change reality, but we can change our perceptions about it if we are willing to quit numbing ourselves with our “happy” distractions. Perhaps it isn’t optimism, but it isn’t pessimism, either. If we see pessimism in Lynch’s art, it’s probably because we are pessimistic ourselves. If we see hopelessness in his films, it is likely because we have a strong sense of hopelessness ourselves. If his films make us angry, then perhaps we are a bit like Randy and don’t realize it. His films are meant to evoke a response – not just the typical “feel good” response of the movie industry. He wants to pull up all of those repressed emotions we don’t like dealing with to make us deal with them. Until we are willing to do that, we will unconsciously perpetuate them.

I don’t think that’s pessimism; I think that’s compassion. We’re all in this together, after all and it is we who create our reality. Why not create consciously? We have to be willing to look at all aspects of ourselves in order to do that – not just the ones that make us “feel good” or allow us to pretend our existence doesn’t affect others and that the existence of others shouldn’t affect us. (Sartre said, existence is about “being in the way” – our existence is contingent upon others, not separate from others.)

So a few thoughts while I’m at it…

In Episode 1, Randy is looking at “that wooden shed over there” and the neighbor makes a point to say “it is my shed” which is obvious because it’s in his backyard which is separated from Randy’s by a fence. The neighbor tells Randy he only has one arm and flings his arm on the ground, Randy seems not to know what to say, and a helicopter flies overhead. My immediate thought was Vietnam – especially with the neighbor’s arm lying on the ground. There is some emotion trying to register, but it doesn’t register so Randy gets angry instead. To distract himself from his anger, he turns to the local gossip about his neighbor – “the who is sleeping with who” conversation. To me, the disconnect is painfully sad.

In Episode 3, the doctor keeps asking Randy, “Does this hurt you?” and and Randy keeps replying that it doesn’t. What finally angers him, I think, is the realization that the doctor wants him to feel something. Randy doesn’t want to feel anything – especially pain. Randy reacts when the knife is in his brain which may signify that he doesn’t have any. But I think it also points to emotional pain. It isn’t physical pain that Randy reacts to, it’s emotional pain.

In Episode 4, just before Randy has beaten his wife to a pulp, she momentarily acquires a new and improved beautiful face. I agree with Durnell that this is about plastic surgery. Women, instead of recognizing that they are being objectified, attempt to become a more attractive object. This, of course, simply perpetuates the objectification.

Episode 8 is great. It’s very much like Meursault beginning to recognize his existence through other’s judgments of him. As I mentioned in a previous post, Sartre said in Nausea that existing is “getting in the way” of others. Randy doesn’t want anything in his way. He’s always saying things like – what if I wanted to take a shit in my backyard? He should be able to do whatever it is he wants on his little plot of land without others getting in his way. He doesn’t realize that he is as much in the way of others as they are of him. You can only fully understand your existence through others and, as Camus said, this is typically realized through their judgments of you.

But it’s a mixed thing. If you are a child and have adults telling you that you are a “shit head”, a “dumb turd” and an “ass hole”, then you are likely to do one of two things – believe it and let yourself be abused, or deny it and become abusive. I think the ants could be both his repressed thoughts about himself and the fact that he does indeed exist so “is in the way” of others.

I think Randy definitely represents American society in general – not just suburbia (although I think suburbia just does America “bigger” because we’re in more denial). We don’t like being told what we can and cannot do, even when it’s for the sake of all of humanity. Our response to having limits imposed upon us is always anger: “If I want to drive an SUV then I want to drive an SUV. Fuck you! You are full of shit anyway. Everything is OK because I say it is and I’m a part of a special “chosen” society so I know and you don’t. I want to do what I want to do and you have no right “to get in my way.” In other words – you do not exist. But when you deny the existence of others, you are, in effect, denying your own existence as well because our existence is contingent upon the existence of others.

That’s why I think Lynch is being compassionate rather than pessimistic. He’s presenting our reality to us in a way that hopefully we can accept. And hopefully, we do find that reality disturbing! (If we don’t, then we’re probably psychopathic.)

Dumbland & Sisyphus

I’ve watched almost all things David Lynch. Tonight I watched Dumbland, which was, well…. dumb. David Lynch describes it as “a crude, stupid, violent, absurd series. If it is funny, it’s because we see the absurdity of it all.”

Yesterday, I was doing a Google search on Camus and Solomon and came across an article entitled Sisyphus and Suburbia by David Durnell. Guess what it’s about? David Lynch’s Dumbland which just happened to be next up on my Netflix queue and arrived today. Nice timing!

It’s extremely crude so of course my 15 year old son loves it. It seems sort of meaningless, but there is always meaning in the seemingly weird and meaningless when it comes to Lynch. Lynch’s art is both absurd and surreal and follows in the tradition of the Absurd Theater inspired by Camus’s Absurdism. Durnell says Dumbland is “a skewering of the rotted and dysfunctional nature of the American nuclear family– a family immersed in banality, and drowning in absurdity –left only to violently self-destruct.”

It is way out of proportion, but I can definitely see the reflection of my neighborhood in Dumbland. Most families DO self-destruct in one form or other these days. Very few of my kids’ friends live with both of their parents. And of those that do, the mother very often plays the submissive, supportive role. The wife in Dumbland who seems forever in fear of what it is her husband is going to do, is not an uncommon scene. Lots of women take a back seat to their husband’s authority. I had a friend tell me that she knows it doesn’t work for everyone, but her marriage got so much better when she quit disagreeing with her husband. She lets him make all the rules and decisions and keeps her mouth shut and all is well. Another friend told me how she can barely believe that she used to read books by feminists! It’s a woman’s role to be submissive to her husband according to the Bible, after all. (The husband and the child have names in Dumbland, but the mother doesn’t. She doesn’t have an identity.) And it’s getting harder to ignore – especially with all of the suburban high school shootings. American suburbia is violent.

My neighbor has actually sold guns out of his garage during neighborhood garage sale days! I don’t know where he gets them. Being very vocal about disciplining your children by hitting them is not at all uncommon. In fact, you are somewhat suspect if you don’t believe in corporal punishment. We were one day shocked to see a little girl from down the street on television. She was telling the interviewer how she used to be evil but she wasn’t anymore – this was thanks to being spanked in front of the entire church congregation while they prayed for her. This wasn’t presented on the news as abusive, it was presented as loving and healing.

It is increasingly absurd. Why is everyone surprised to discover that students were planning a Columbine style attack at our neighborhood high school? The high school made national news for this last year and we parents didn’t know a thing about it until it made national news. They also tried to tell us nobody had ever been killed on the campus but that wasn’t true. Just the year before a student was knifed in the parking lot and he died. This year the school made national news for pulling an article out of a student news letter about the rampant drug abuse among teens. The article ended up published in major newspapers along with the story of how the principle pulled the article from the student newsletter. (That still cracks me up.) We’ve also made national news for canceling the homecoming dance because the students refused to quit dirty dancing (gasp)!

It may look pretty from the outside because people show you what they want you to see. But look a little closer, and what you see are a bunch of people whose lives are spiraling out of control trying to pretend that they have it all together. It gets harder to cover up all the time, too.

Durnell says you cannot understand Lynch without at least a little background on the development of Dadaism, of Absurdism, and a little Freud. Absurdist author Eugene Ionesco said that “People drowning in meaninglessness can only be grotesque.” Lynch is reflecting the crude, stupid and violent in his films – not creating it.

Summary from the history given by Durnell:

Dadaists believed humans were “inherently good” and could only be corrupted through a morally bankrupt society. Such a society should be radically altered for humanity to survive. The Dadaists created what they called anti-art to save humanity from the meaningless. Michel Janco writes, “We had lost confidence in our culture. Everything had to be demolished… [and] we began by shocking common sense, public opinion, educations, institutions, museums, good taste, in short, the whole prevailing order.” It was an attack on convention meant to shock people out of their complacency. Most of the artists eventually broke off from Dadaism and became Surrealists.

Then, along came Sartre and Camus with the Absurd and the Absurdist Theater was founded on this idea, led primarily by Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus. The Absurdist Theater was more focused and had a better developed message than that of the Dadaists. Like Dadaism, it presented meaninglessness and alienation. But unlike Dadaism which was meant to “bewilder and shock” to save human nature, The Absurdist Theater was meant to shock people out of their false realities by providing an outline of human nature. Human nature was presented through meaningless plots, repetitive and inconsequential dialog, and dramatic non-sequiturs to create nightmarish and surreal worlds.

Today, attempts at Surrealism and Absurdism in film are quite rare even though it is still common in art and literature. It’s difficult to make work in film, but David Lynch continually returns to the surreal and Absurd in his films. What he gets criticized for – meaninglessness, weirdness, etc. is exactly what he means to do. But it isn’t weirdness for weirdness sake. There is a point to it, but you can’t get to the point by deconstructing his films.

According to Durnell, In Dumbland, Randy is cut off from the rest of the world on his little suburban plot of land. He never leaves that little plot of land. Never does anything meaningful, and is stuck in repetition, including the repetition of drinking, watching television (especially violent sports – football and boxing), farting and acting violently. He both acts and causes the absurdity for no reason other than the lack of reason itself. In the first Episode, when the helicopter flies overhead, all he can do is pathetically cuss at it. The doctor in the third Episode continually asks “Does that hurt you?” and Randy implies “no”. The doctor puts a knife in the side of Randy’s head and Randy says it doesn’t hurt, but then seems to realize that there is an outsider in his home and so hits the doctor. The doctor then determines that he is absolutely normal, indicating that Randy’s (eternal) numbness is normal. The episode ends with the wife screaming – it’s not just Randy who is affected by this “normality”, it’s his family and all of society.

Randy is apparently contemplating suicide when contemplating the broken lamp in Episode 3. Durnell compares this to Myth of Sisyphus. Like Sisyphus, Randy endures endless repetition. Camus considers Sisyphus the absurd hero. But Lynch sees nothing heroic about the absurdist repetition. Not committing suicide is itself absurd because as the doctor so casually states, the endless repetition and absurdism is “completely normal”.

In Episode 4, Randy has a beer with a Cowboy and they talk about how they like to kill things. Durnell says that the violence in sports and hunting are not separate joys isolated from everyday life, but actions that reveal the true nature of man. They long for a time when they could gore freely, but they are confined to a fenced-in suburban back yard. They are aware of their own boredom. Freud would say it is the repression of animal lusts in an enveloping society and this creates a double conflict: the banal meaninglessness of a mundane society and the inner urges of a man wanting to kill. (Durnell suggests that while Sisyphus was pushing the rock up the hill, he took some time to fart and dismember some poor creatures for libido expression.)

In Episode 5 a stick shows up in a man’s mouth and Sparky repeatedly tells Randy to “get the stick”. Randy gives no thought to how to get the stick and simply tries to pull it out of the man’s mouth, breaking his neck and beating him to a pulp before finally getting the stick. (And the fucker didn’t even say thank you!) This allegory could work for politics, war, etc. Durnell says that one could imagine a violent Bush administration tearing up Iraq and bombing it to a pulp leaving the country war-torn and demolished and being angered that “the fucker never even said thank you!”

In Episode 6, everyone is doing their own thing, the son’s teeth start to bleed, the wife starts to gurgle blood, but Randy notices nothing but what it is he is doing until a fly buzzes. Durnell says this is self-consumed ignorance and the ability to filter out reality. They are completely oblivious to all of the chaos and disorder going on around them.

In Episode 7, we meet Randy’s mother who is, of course, controlling and domineering. He has to take care of Uncle Bob who is sick and probably dying. Bob goes through a series of repetitive patterns, which includes repetitively hitting Randy. After a few hits, Randy hits Bob back and is caught by his mother. He hides outside away from his mother. His mother ends up having to take Bob to the hospital because he’s bitten off his own foot. As Durnell says, the doctor will probably pronounce this self-mutilation as perfectly normal. (Maybe like the repetitive bad eating habits we suburbanites are so fond of that create diabetes and the loss of limbs?)

In Episode 8, Randy is faced with ants he intends to kill with a can labled “KILL”. But he accidentally sprays himself instead and encounters dancing ants who let him know they think he is an ass hole, a shit face and a dumb turd. It’s as though he has started to reflect on his behavior in his hallucinatory state, but instead of coming to any self-discovery, he gets angry and continues to try and kill the ants. He breaks his neck and wakes up in the hospital in a body cast to ants crawling inside his cast. He can do nothing but scream in rage.

Durnell asks, is this really all we are? “An illogical, inescapable body-cast plagued by never-ending torrents of ants?” He says that Lynch is picking up where the Absurdists left off by modifying Camus’s Myth of Sisyphus.

For instead of a hero pushing up the boulder (that is life) up the hill (that is absurdity), we have Randy. And this time, the setting for this theory is not a post-war France, but a place that makes banality and mundane repetition, as well as hidden fetishized underbellies beneath moral façade, much more apparent: suburban America. But instead of merely pushing a rock up a hill for all of time, Sisyphus has got other concerns to aggravate him –such as dancing ants who, while singing, repeatedly refer to the ever diligent and ever absurd Sisyphus as a “shit face,” an “asshole,” and a “dumb turd.” Thus, in context, Lynch has, deliberately or otherwise, functionalized a new, modified Absurdism, far more pessimistic and far more hopeless than any of his predecessors, though rather appropriate and unsurprising, in light of Lynch’s cynically dark and comically hopeless oeuvre.

I’m not sure I agree that it is more pessimistic and hopeless than his predecessors. The only hope Camus gave us was to resign ourselves to our fate and scorn the Gods. I don’t think Lynch is pushing resignation because he’s far too involved in TM to do that. He’s got his own version of hope going on. I find his films to be far more compassionate than pessimistic. Perhaps, as Durnell suggested at the beginning of the essay, Lynch is merely reflecting our own pessimism back to us. I think there is good reason to do this. If we happen to catch our reflection and realize the absurdity of our situation, then perhaps we can pull ourselves out of it. 

The Short Films of David Lynch (2002)

In my interest in watching all things David Lynch, I watched six of his short films today: Six Figures Getting Sick (Six Times), The Alphabet, The Grandmother, The Amputee, The Cowboy and the Frenchman, and Premonitions Following an Evil Deed.

My favorite was The Grandmother which is about a boy who “grows” a grandmother to escape his abusive parents. It has a very Eraserheadesque feel to it.

I also liked The Alphabet. I have know idea what it is actually about, but having been a homeschooler, I can’t help but think it’s a knock against forms of education. Lynch made this film in 1968 and won a grant from the Film Institute for it. Lynch came up with the idea for the film when he learned that his wife’s niece was having a bad dream and was saying the alphabet tormentedly. The woman in the film is his wife and he used a room in his house to make the film which he painted entirely black.

Eraserhead (1977)

Hubby and I watched Eraserhead. Very bizarre film. I’m not even going to try and interpret it. Lynch says it is a very personal film for him and calls it his Philadelphia story. (What the Hell happened to him in Philadelphia?) He says that none of the reviews or interpretations he has seen are how he would interpret it. So what I will do is tell you how it affected me.

First, I have to admit I’m still upset about the cat attached to a wire of Henry’s foot during the deleted scene that is used for the DVD set-up. Lynch said he asked a vet for a cat because he wanted to study its internal parts (and I suppose make use of them) for the film. The Vet at first thought he was a nut case (which maybe he is?) but for some reason took his number. Immediately the vet called back saying he had a cat, but Lynch had to promise that he wouldn’t use the cat in the film, or if he did, that the cat wouldn’t be recognizable. I’m sure Lynch got the cat free. He was on such slim funds that he helped patch up the roof of the local BBQ place just to be able to get free take out for the crew.

I have to ask myself, why am I fully willing to donate my entire body to science in case of an accident, but get the willies about a cat being donated to Lynch for the sake of art? Is there really a difference? On the surface, perhaps. But dig a little deeper and it becomes a little murky. Lynch wasn’t being disrespectful toward the cat’s body – just inquisitive. If I die, I’m not at all concerned about what happens to my body. So why does it bother me that Lynch used the dead body of a cat for artistic purposes? I sense a double standard here!! (Although I have to say the thought that my tar bloated body might be attached to a string at the end of someone’s foot and used for effect in a film absolutely horrifies me!)


The film is set in a slummy area that is apparently in the middle of an industrial area based on all of the sounds. (Lynch said he imagined that there were places like that in Philadelphia – little hovels people lived in inside of the factories that could not be gotten to by ordinary means). The affect that had on me is that there is no comfort anywhere. The inside is ugly and dismal with the muted sounds of machinery which lets you know the outside is equally dismal – if not worse.

The dual world theme is present like in most of his films. “Everything in heaven is alright” or something like that, is sung by a chip-munked face looking woman dressed in white living in Henry’s radiator (the other world). But there is nothing even remotely heaven-ish about the film at all. Life, if you can call it that, is totally distorted. There are twigs planted in the dirt by the bed (just a pile of dirt on the table – no pot to contain it). The baby, (but they aren’t even sure it is a baby) is some mutated lump of crying mess wrapped in swaddling clothes that they leave lying on the dresser counter. (It looks more like a reptile than a human being.) There are bizarre looking, I don’t know – fetus like sperm? that the lady in the radiator happily steps on and squishes while singing in a sort of radiant way (do people who live in radiators look radiant?) and that Henry pulls out of someone – I’m not sure who – someone who just shows up in his bed in maybe a zippered bag (a death bag?) which doesn’t surprise Henry in the least. He throws the things against the wall in disgust. But what are they? I haven’t a clue. Distorted ugly births born of a distorted, ugly world?

There are sexual overtones associated with food – which seems to be a Lynch thing. This one was especially bizarre – man-made chickens! You should see how tiny they are!! Henry is asked to carve the little teeny tiny man-made chicken with a large carving knife and fork. It’s hilariously absurd. And then the chicken starts making bizarre movements and has blood come out of its inner cavity which makes the mother go into some sort of epileptic fit which leads to the news that Henry is the father of what we aren’t sure is a baby. (What Lynch made that baby out of I haven’t a clue. He supposedly has never told and I am pretty sure I don’t want to know.)

Henry’s head falls off and is found by a boy who runs it to a factory. A sample of Henry’s brain is taken and it is discovered to be suitable material for erasers. The boy gets paid for bringing in Henry’s head.

So here is my feeling about it – no matter how absurd a situation, human beings will figure out how to live in it, even if it makes their brains more suitable for erasers than for being human. Lynch seems to be forever screaming at us – WAKE UP!!! Henry’s not a bad guy. But nothing makes sense in a world where people don’t act, they only react to the bizarre situations they find themselves in.

Because I’ve been into Camus lately – I just have to go there:

Camus inspired the Theater of the Absurd based on Absurdism. The Theater of the Absurd subverted logic in an attempt to mimic “real life” which was seen as absurd. Because its absurd, nothing makes sense at the logical level – trying to figure it out logically will only give you a headache. The purpose of Absurd Art is to shock you out of your faulty sense of reality. I think this is what Lynch is doing and why his films “don’t make sense”. But unlike Camus, Lynch doesn’t think there is anything heroic about absurd repetition. Lynch flips Camus’ understanding on it’s head. What is absurd is that Sisyphus does NOT commit suicide because repetition is not absurd, its absolutely normal.

We think we think, but we don’t think. We react. The more absurd the situation becomes, the more absurd our reaction becomes. And the more absurd our reaction becomes, the more absurd our perceived reality becomes. Until what? We destroy ourselves and most of the planet?

How do we quit reacting and gain the awareness necessary for conscious action?

David Lynch, of course, says the answer is Transcendental Meditation. Don’t think I could swing the $25,000 or whatever it is for TM training, but I do think Meditation, in whatever form, is extremely important. Lynch says he started TM while working on Eraserhead (wonder how he afforded it when he could barely afford to finish Eraserhead?)