“I look at the world and I see absurdity all around me. People do strange things constantly, to the point that, for the most part, we manage not to see it” once said David Lynch. However, he manages to see it and even partake in some oddities himself. A quick glance at Lynch’s filmography affirms that the director doesn’t adhere to conventions; Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive. These films provoke and present a plethora of questions to which only Lynch knows the answer – and he’s not going to divulge the solutions any time soon. His films are simultaneously dream-like in their fractured narratives and nightmarish in their startling and discombobulating conclusions, but as an audience, we’re always willing to dive head first into the auteur’s unique psyche.
Lynch was born in Missoula, Montana in early 1964. However, the future director spent his youth traveling across the United States due to his father’s job as a scientist and attended multiple schools across several states as a result. Lynch led a content life but engaged in acts of rebellion such as building his own fireworks. He eventually settled in Philadelphia where he began to translate his childhood passion for drawing and painting into academia and he enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; he studied painting (mostly with oil) and sculpting but his attentions soon turned to experimenting with short films. Lynch was greatly affected by his environment, describing living in the Fairmount area as “the biggest influence in my whole life” and the quality of his work granted him a scholarship at the AFI Conservatory. While studying there, Lynch wrote and directed Eraserhead, his feature film debut that signified the beginning of Lynch’s career as a commercial filmmaker.
Although American, Lynch likens his work to those of European filmmakers and comments that Werner Herzog, Roman Polanski, Federico Fellini and Alfred Hitchcock are artists whom he greatly admires. Within Lynch’s work, he often explores several recurring themes and implements a number of motifs including the aforementioned dreamlike imagery and also tends to feature his leading female actors in “split” roles, resulting in many of his female characters having multiple identities. These two commonly employed features are arguably put to the greatest use in 2001’s Mulholland Drive, which has been regarded as one of Lynch’s finest works and as one of the best films of the 21st century. Mulholland Drive tells the story of aspiring actress Betty (Naomi Watts) who has recently arrived in L.A and befriends and amnesiac woman (Laura Elena Harring) who she finds in her apartment. Although an undeniable masterpiece, the narrative left many confused and frustrated as Lynch very deliberately left his intentions unclear – even the film’s cast were bewildered. Reportedly, Watts would pretend to have the plot figured out in an attempt to bluff Lynch, much to the director’s delight as he revelled in the cast’s irritation at his refusal to reveal any information. A 2016 BBC Culture poll declared the film the greatest film of the century and given the layered themes, excellent performances and wholly original filmmaking style, that honour is thoroughly deserved.
Lynch returned to the small screen recently with a revival of Twin Peaks (aptly titled Twin Peaks: The Return). The 18-episode limited series aired from 19th May – 3rd September and was led by original star Kyle MacLachlan as Special Agent Dale Cooper, as well as featuring a massive ensemble with the likes of Lynch regulars Laura Dern and Naomi Watts putting in appearances. During the promotion for the new series, Lynch alluded to his uncertainty as to whether he will make another film. We pray that his one-of-a-kind voice will make its way to the big screen once again.
• Eraserhead (1977)
• The Elephant Man (1980)
• Dune (1984)
• Blue Velvet (1986)
• Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)
• Mulholland Drive (2001)
By Evie Brudenall