pondering Lynch

I’m researching for a story at the moment. I’m not writing it yet, which means I feel like I’m slacking. This one has a premise that I want to work out before I begin. It’s not always the tack I take with short stories, but it seems right for this one.

This weekend I’m off to P-Con in Dublin, which should be fun. It’s an opportunity to catch up with old friends, and talk shop over drinks. I might even take in a movie. I’m keen to see David Lynch’s new film, Inland Empire, and I’ll have the opportunity to do so while I’m in Dublin. I’m not sure if it’s going to make it onto a screen here in Galway.

I don’t hide my love of Lynch movies. Yes, often you feel like you were transported to a strange land with a bag over your head, dumped out of a moving vehicle, and abandoned with only a few clues to guide you back to normality.

I like that.

I cut Lynch slack where I wouldn’t with other directors because there is something mysterious and compelling at work under his fractured narratives and twisted character studies (and The Straight Story proves he can tell a powerful linear tale). His aural landscapes in films are incredible, and he designs a lot of them himself.

What makes people obsessive about Lynch’s films is a sense that if you examine it long though you’ll unearth a map to that strange territory, and discover the over-arching plan behind the disparate elements. Of course, that’s an illusion.

After reading a lot of interviews with Lynch, and seeing him being quizzed on film about his work, I think that Lynch doesn’t know the exact meaning of certain pieces in his work, but he has taken an intuitive leap as a filmmaker based on a gut-feeling that even if he doesn’t comprehend entirely their purpose those oddball moments are essential to the film. He’s also clever enough to realise that there’s no point demystifying his work to people. What would be the point? As it stands people have deep discussions about the meaning of his films, and all these interpretations are valid because Lynch has not closed them down by saying “this is what I meant”.

Few directors can get away with this kind of ambiguity. There is a trick to creating a difficult and complicated film (like Lost Highway or Mullholland Drive) that demands much from the audience, and doesn’t offer obvious solutions. You will lose a certain section of your viewers who will dismiss it as arthouse wank that was thrown together just to confuse them. Some will come along with you for the ride, because they want to be shown a new perspective even if it’s challenging.

Every year the various studios around the world pump out films that are conservative, narratively dictatorial, and entirely obvious. So, I embrace Lynch’s films as a relief from the norm. Yes, not every one of his films is successful, but I’ve never walked out of a Lynch film and thought it was a waste of my time. Usually, I leave feeling discombobulated and elated.

Long may he continue to craft his liminal narratives, which suggest our encounters with “reality” are fluid and not as concrete as we describe to one another by the water cooler at work.

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