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David Lynch


David Lynch is an award-winning director, writer, and producer. His work includes Eraserhead, Elephant Man, Wild at Heart, Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet, Lost Highway, Straight Story, Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire.

A meditation enthusiast since 1973, Lynch began the highly acclaimed David Lynch Foundation (DLF) in 2005 in order to help prevent and eradicate trauma and toxic stress among at-risk populations. The DLF promotes widespread implementation of the evidence-based Transcendental Meditation (TM) program in order to improve health, cognitive capabilities, and performance in all areas of life.

David Lynch’s films reveal a fascination with the suburban experience in America. The primary setting for this is ’50s America, the era Lynch grew up in. On the surface are the essential elements of the American Dream. The richly colored, aspirational and sometimes naïve characters are subject to events driven by the forces of the unconscious, forces of the underworld hidden under a lucid, neo-noir veneer. The stories combine the mundane and rational with the forces of the supernatural, as found in magic realism. There is something of the surrealist ethos here also.

The point is, there are mysterious forces of life just underneath the surface, forces of nature, decay, birth, and in modern life, there are also unnatural forces, such as those created by the machines of industrialization – “the clunk of machinery, the power of pistons, shadows of oil drills pumping, screaming woodmills, and smoke-billowing factories” as Lynch expresses it.

David Lynch has a fascination with these processes and the forces outside our control. This is revealed in his paintings as well as his films. If you put the two together, you have in many of his films an intuitive plot driven by artistic logic rather than surface plot logic. Plot logic can be very demanding, in the sense that it needs to be logical. It gives you the motivation of each character; you know why something has happened; there’s a resolution to the story.

There is another kind of logic, one with gaps, spaces and silences; the images and sounds are primary; they evoke rather than explain. This is, I believe, key to understanding Lynch’s films. They are not trying to resolve plot logic in the usual way. They are exploratory, mysterious and strike one as modern Grimm’s fairytales. In a Grimm fairy tale, the story logic can be pretty weird, strange things happen. They are evocative of deeper mysteries and unresolved tensions between different aspects of life. They are conceived and flow from a different cognitive process, one that is inspired by the logic of dreams, by intuition and an artistic feel for what is right, what makes sense. It is similar to the way we understand an abstract painting as making sense.

A very important element here is the mystery of it all. And mystery can be found in the mundane. In a coffee shop full of ordinary characters there is an ocean of mystery under the surface, sometimes full of celestial beauty, sometimes full of the grotesque and monsters created by dark compulsions.

The juxtaposition of these elements, along with a plot driven by dream logic, produces compelling, unsettling and revelatory films. It’s not as if one walks away with an understanding of the story so much as an unshakable recall of powerful moments of satori, revelation and insight.

The idea that you can tell a story in an hour and a half and everything makes sense the entire time, is a fiction. Real stories are like magical realism – they are rational in part, always incomplete, only make sense to a certain degree, and barely manage to float on the ocean of mystery.

What we often experience in life is confusion about what is going on, the meaning of it all. Why did that perfectly sweet individual that I am dating do the crazy thing that just happened? And why did it coincide with going to the supermarket and somebody buying me a pet panda bear? There is a god of mystery isn’t there?

In David Lynch’s films, what we understand on the surface are just shining fragments floating on the great ocean of mystery. It’s better to drift in the current rather than try to swim.

–Stuart Tanner, faculty of the David Lynch MA in Film