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|Jon Nguyen - David Lynch: The Art Life
Review last updated: February 15, 2018
Eraserhead is a spiritual journey of a simple man. Henry Spencer, trapped physically in an industrial capitalist hellscape, and trapped emotionally in a loveless forced marriage, is now parent to a squealing mutant child. To compare Eraserhead to the work of Kafka seems like an easy parallel to make, but the mindscape of Eraserhead is much bleaker and much more alienating. In the beginning of the movie, the plot does advance in traditional ways, but at the pace of a tortoise. In the middle, the plot points become ambiguous and symbolic, veiled under obscurity and pathetic starkness. Spencer begins to find answers, and form connections, with people or entities that don't really exist. He is smitten by the lady in the radiator, he lusts after the sexy neighbor across the hall, he fears the wrath of his wife, who unleashes fury onto him because of the ruin their life has become. His world is shrinking, getting smaller and even bleaker, desolate and even more hopeless, but at the same time, his mind is expanding and Henry Spencer becomes vulnerable to forces beyond himself.
This film is essential entry-level viewing for new serious film watchers. But, I do not recommend it as an introduction to David Lynch. Here's some advice from a guy who "gets it": don't think about it too hard. Just feel it. Let the waves of uncertainty and confused, neurotic emotions wash over you.
Blue Velvet is the purest, most hopeful, and most traditionally empathic Lynch film. This film is brilliant, and historically important, for a number of reasons. It portrays the innocent, inquisitive unmasking of a dark underworld, a mafia of human trafficking, sex slavery, impulsive violence, and murder. It exposes the average moviegoer, a generally accessible person who lives in a nice bubble of comfort, to the dark and senseless evils of this world, in a way that is earnest and hopeful. But, much like the physical violence that insinuates itself into the lives of the characters, pangs of heart-wrenching, disastrous moral relativism infect the viewer's perceptions of them.
It's a very remarkable film experience, if a viewer can be horrified by fetishistic, sadistic sex slavery, and still leave the theater with a feeling of warmth and a faith in the goodness of people.
Mulholland Drive is the unfolding of two stories, perhaps simultaneously, interwoven with dream sequences and poignant vignettes, whose relation to one another remains ambiguous. No one knows in what way these two events correlate to each other, because it was left open to interpretation by abstract-but-symbolic horror apparitions. Some say it's a non-linear plot, some say one is a dream and the other is waking life, some say both are dreams. The first one, the amnesiac mystery inspiring-Hollywood-story, is much longer than the second, the hostile alienating deathly violent thriller. The viewer's expectations and emotional attachments to the characters are shattered about an hour and a half into the film, when the blue box makes its appearance. They are then violated by traumatic events in the second part. Everyone has a theory about this film, but my idea is simple. I think Lynch left this film ambiguous, and its conclusions/endings are left undecided or uncertain, based on arbitrary subconscious/emotional impulses. There is no right or wrong answers, every theory is incorrect (or correct), and the realization of this is this film's message.
This film has moments that are spine-chilling terrifying, and then it has moments of real beauty and emotion, making us empathize with (and fall in love with) abstractions. It is possible for a film (especially one like Mulholland Drive) to affect and move the viewer, even condition and emotionally abuse the viewer, without them even knowing why, or even liking the movie. And to accompany and compliment the abstractions and ambiguities in the story, a series of striking, beautiful, and remarkable images are introduced.
Watching Inland Empire is like watching your worst fears come true. This is the best David Lynch film, as it is the most comprehensibly symbolic, the most (measurably) metaphysical, and the most terrifying psychological horror. Inland Empire is also one of the very few masterpieces in cinema. It probably seems pretty stupid of me to make this bold statement about a film that denied the process of finishing a screenplay, and was almost improvised. But actually, I believe this very unusual and high-stakes gamble of a creative process to be a sort of key, unlocking secrets of the subconscious. It allows a more authentic and unfiltered window into dream imagery and storytelling, to approach the audience in a more confrontational way.
This movie is scary. Like clean-the-shit-out-of-your-couch scary. Inland Empire reveals to the viewer decaying illusions of self and identity. My recollection of the plot: Nikki Grace, the actress, after engaging in an affair with her co-star Devon, retreats into a deep psychosis in her mind, to escape the guilt and impending doom her husband is about to unleash on her. So her life starts to merge with the fictional character Sue Blue's, she starts remembering things from Sue's life (that didn't happen) and starts living the life of a L.A. prostitute (who doesn't exist) after being left by her fictional husband. The past traumas that Sue encountered begin attacking her mind, and she relives the experiences as if they actually happened to her. She is routinely visited by a troupe of dancing prostitutes, which I believe symbolize the memories from this fictional character's life that are now transitioning into hers.
There are a number of recurring motifs, which I believe symbolize mental unrest, emotional turmoil, and the relationship between the conscious mind and the subconscious: The "Lost Girl" (a prostitute watching the events of the plot unfold on her TV and crying), the "Rabbits" of the mock sitcom, the needle playing the vinyl record, "Axxon N." (probably a building or a doorway to a place that doesn't exist, like a hallucination or an apparition). These images recur in the film with remarkable consistency. Inland Empire is the perfect example of a film that affects and stimulates your subconscious mind more than your conscious. It's a film that has immense potential to move you emotionally, without you even consciously knowing what's happening, or why you're feeling what you're feeling. You don't have to figure out the plot to movies like this. You don't have to piece it together. Your subconscious does it for you. You can still feel for the characters and empathize with their situation, even if you don't completely understand it.