Late last month, David Lynch’s film Mulholland Drive was voted the best film of the 21st century by BBC Culture. Which is no surprise, given how astounding the film is. An inventive and dreamy narrative, two great lead performances, chilling vignettes and a twist like no other, Mulholland Drive is a masterpiece and a landmark of 21st century film. All of this success and praise is down to the genius behind the lens, Mr. David Lynch. Almost every film he has made can be classified as a masterpiece in one way or another. As well as being an enigmatic and mysterious figure, Lynch weaves simple ideas into his eerie, weird alienating style of experimental film-making. His films break down the barrier between art-house and mainstream, creating films that are strange, understandable and unique.
Lynch’s films operate on a simple basis; expectation vs. dreams. All through his filmography he has played around and experimented this idea. His films are set up simply usually with something we’ve seen before. Actress moving to L.A, a college boy back in his hometown, a young father, a big city FBI agent and a small town cop. All these aspects are heavily influenced and archetypes. We expect to see these characters do certain things, talk a preordained way and the narrative to follow that. But in a Lynch film, it never does and when they do change drastically, we are shocked, surprised and enthralled. Lynch invites mainstream access with this device; a way to “sucker” people into his strange films by playing with our expectations. This way, the audience isn’t bombarded with experimentation straight away, which is something that can put a lot of viewers off. We allowed to see something familiar and basic, until Lynch pulls of the mask and delves into dreams and nightmares, all encapsulated in a familiar tinge of normality.
The themes within his films are also a testament to his willingness to be understood. Lynch’s themes are shrouded and hidden within complex visuals and lucid, dream-like narratives, but they are always presents; begging to be uncovered by a keen eye. Eraserhead is predominantly about the fear of fatherhood. Lynch’s daughter, Jenifer Lynch was born through unwanted conception and had severely clubbed feet, which she had to have correctional surgery on throughout her childhood. Lynch used this for the basis of the grotesque child in Eraserhead. Blue Velvet is about the illusion of suburban, middle-class life and the horrors which often lurk beneath it. Lynch has explored this theme throughout his career, including and especially Twin Peaks. Finally, Mulholland Drive is all about the American Dream, and how in most instances, it is as unobtainable as a dream. These simple themes, which many other filmmakers explore, are made explicitly Lynchian through the experimental techniques he employs to tell them. But underneath the oddity lies something understandable, and well within the grasp of any keen viewer.
I think Lynch’s most accessible quality however, is his comedy. Each of his films have a strong vein of comedy running through them; be it dark, absurdist, slapstick. Lynch knows how to unnerve us and disturb, but he also knows when to initiate laughter. Some of my favourite comedic moments in cinema, comes from Lynch’s films. The tiny chicken’s that move in Eraserhead, the dancing prostitutes from Inland Empire and pretty much anything Andy does or says in Twin Peaks. He has such a deep and learned grasp of his type of cinema, he can do almost anything with it. Even though Lynch’s films can also be brutal, upsetting and disturbing, they’re also rich in comedy and humour. After all, this is a man who poured a shot of espresso over his head, before doing his ALS ice bucket challenge.
David Lynch hasn’t made a film since 2007. After Mulholland Drive has now been confirmed as the best film of the 21st century and the revival of Twin Peaks, David Lynch’s genius continues to grow and be recognized, and honoured by the mainstream.
By Harry Longstaff