Sunday, March 25, 2007

Who Are You? Can You Be Trusted To Answer This Question?

I've read a few jokes and some critical pieces regarding David Lynch that have said he has been making the same movie since Dune. These cracks are meant as insults, but I actually think it's quite beautiful and truthful. David Lynch has been consistent with his dictionary of images and meanings in his films.

Dune had the spice. If you've ever read the novel or seen the movie you may be loosely aware that on a planet somewhere in the future there are wars about spice, which everybody wants and "eats". At some point Lynch fully embraced this odd habit of humans to be addicted to a herbal organic substance and incorporated coffee into his plots. The tv show Twin Peaks had many of us storing up coffee and pie on Friday nights to watch a new episode of "who killed Laura Palmer?"

Laura Palmer was a woman in trouble.

Twin Peaks was a town, a reference to the tight sweatered female cast and doubles. The actress who posed for still photos of Laura Palmer (her high school yearbook photo and the dead Laura Palmer) was cast as her cousin, who looked an awful lot like Laura Palmer. The actresses Laura Flynn Boyle and SheryLynn Fenn looked alike. The director played an FBI agent so in a double role and the soap opera seen on most tv sets with the program had twin character/actors in the imaginary cast.

Like Shakespeare, David Lynch seems to love mistaken identity. Mistaken identity is a writers/characters device to discover and reveal motives and true feelings within Shakespeare. David Lynch seems to use mistaken identity and confusing twin characters as a metaphor for identity and ego. His use of repeated actors for different characters seems to hint at an eastern religion concept of one universal identity. Two it helps the viewer question the reliability of the narrator or protagonist. And ultimately forces the viewer to question reality within the film.

Since Twin Peaks David Lynch has made all of his movies about unreliable narrator and reality and infinity, and most importantly:illusion. The potential illusion of our life, and our observation of our own life. Not only are the characters is his movies often unreliable narrators the structure and time frames in Lynch's movies make the viewer an unreliable narrator. We have to work to see through the illusion of his movies.

Maya, in Hinduism, is a term describing many things. Maya is the phenomenal world of separate objects and people, which creates for some the illusion that it is the only reality. For the mystics this manifestation is real, but it is a fleeting reality; it is a mistake, although a natural one, to believe that maya represents a fundamental reality. Each person, each physical object, from the perspective of eternity is like a brief, disturbed drop of water from an unbounded ocean. The goal of enlightenment is to understand this —more precisely, to experience this: to see intuitively that the distinction between the self and the universe is a false dichotomy. The distinction between consciousness and physical matter, between mind and body (refer bodymind), is the result of an unenlightened perspective. In Advaita Vedanta philosophy, maya is the limited, purely physical and mental reality in which our everyday consciousness has become entangled. Maya is believed to be an illusion, a veiling of the true, unitary Self—the Cosmic Spirit also known as Brahman. The concept of Maya was expounded in the Hindu scriptures known as the Upanishads.

Lynch's Lost Highway is a transitional film in his body of work. We can see that he wants to play with narrative, breaking the mold of storytelling, particularily in Hollywood. A Hollywood movie has good and evil, it has beginning middle and end. With Lost Highay instead of having a traditional flashback of a character, the movie has a morphing scene on a prison floor. One character through editing and simple special effects has a seizure and turns into a completely different actor.

Mulholland Drive is brilliant because the only reference we have is a strange high tech blue box. The movie has a charming ingenue. A woman moves to Los Angeles with the perky optimistic personality that should be a clue to us seasoned movie goers that something is wrong or fake. But we buy's a David Lynch movie and he messes with acting traditions. He wants to test the audiences engagement with the actor. (why? because it is an act of insanity to relate to the characters in a film, but we all do) But one thing after another should warn us...this can't be real. It isn't until we see a crazy assed high tech key, combined with a high tech futuristic box...that we really start to ask ourselves "what the heck kind of movie is this and what does this mean?" At this point we know WE aren't crazy!

The blue box, or Pandora's a beautiful simple clue that something is off with this main cheery woman character...and the movie disolves into a story of her real life. The blue box also works as her conscience, her guilt and self awareness. The illusion of her own desires has been revealed. She "sees" inside the box/mind. The illusion is broken.

What is delightful about Mulholland Drive is that the main character is obsessed with being a famous actress. It's just so cruel, and in case we are confused we see the Hollywood Sign. Mulholland Drive is a really mean movie/expose about being Hollywood. A little bit like the movie The Player or Stuntman. I suppose there is no shortage of movies about the evils of pride and greed in Hollywood. But David Lynch is on to something...he is dismantling narratives and movie making while he does it and also makes a gorgeous looking movie. Tricky bastard! There is a coffee shop in Mulholland Drive. Of course there is...and it's called Winkie's. Ha ha wink wink. Or is it sleep? Or is it "win keys"?And the coffee cups look remarkably like the ones from the diner in the tv show. Goblets, grails. Coffee is a false/real energy. Elan vital. We feel "awake".

We see the Hollywood sign in Inland Empire as well.

Inland Empire is so similar to Mulholland Drive it's scary. It's kind of how the tv show Twin Peaks was repetitive and haunting and self referential. Lynch is making remakes of his own movies. Almost like a painter working on a series of paintings. Well, exactly like that. Inland Empire is about an actress, a woman in trouble, in Hollywood and evil seems to be afoot.

We understand Lynch's "remakes" by viewing Hitchcocks Vertigo which has the remake of a woman. A woman in trouble. She acts the part of another woman. Evil seems to be afoot and there are doubles and mistaken identities. Tragically we see the dark side of seeking our desires and our identities in both Vertigo and Mulholland Drive but these directors have made a kind of "cautionary tale". A gift for the viewers. In Inland Empire although I was scared I see it as a beautiful zen experience.

In the movie Mulholland Drive our fake characters at the beginning story go to a nightclub that specializes in lipsynching. The cosmic dreamsquence joke is IT"S ALL FAKE. It's all an illusion...and through illusion we experience emotions. The popularity of the kareoke and performers is that the audience is reminded that all the soundtrack has been recorded on tape...and the players are performing. It seems like it is real...It's not the only reality. The emotions are real but it's been pre-recorded. Like a movie or like the concept of destiny and fate.

But why on earth do we take these illusions so seriously and painfully? We forget it is a pendulum, happy is also around the corner.

Going to see a movie is a mystery of emotions engaging in illusion. We are frightened by the bump in the theatre, by the boogeyman and we want the odd couple to fall in love and the damsel to be saved. David Lynch has mastered a spiritual dialogue in Inland Empire. Its okay, it's all a movie. We wrote the script and we are acting it out. All the world is a stage and we are the actors.

It's not just a woman in trouble. The trouble is... it is all of us and we might be able to re-write the script if we see the movie of life for what it is...

When presenting screenings of the film, Lynch sometimes offers a clue, in the form of a quote from the Aitareya Upanishad: "We are like the spider. We weave our life and then move along in it. We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives in the dream. This is true for the entire universe."

Vertigo pic
Mulholland Dr pic
Club Silencio


mister anchovy said...

Interesting that you brought Hitch into the discussion, as critics could well argue that many of his films also have the same flavour, themes, even actors from film to film.

I suspect that Lynch, like perhaps Cronenberg, must have been the kid in school who always needed to act goofy to be the centre of attention. Both have delighted in presenting different or altered realities to get their ideas across, and both have had some successes. There have been times in which I have lost patience with Lynch and just said no thank you. I usually need to work myself up to see one of his films. Although I've never lost patience with Cronenberg, I think you were in the theatre with me many years ago to see Videodrome - the artifice of it suddenly seemed so hilarious, I couldn't stop laughing and laughing and laughing.

The genius of Hitch was that he could film anything - and his films are very sylized and often not so very realistic - and make it all seem normal and reasonable. I think that may be because underneath it all he liked romantic stories, and we accept a lot under the umbrella of romance.

Candy Minx said...

I think quite a few fans lost patience with Lynch because it is hard work to watch one of his movies since Fire Walk With Me. I like how he broke with traditional narratives. (He changed tv too...Northern Exposure, X-Files, Desperate Housewives, Lost and Nip/Tuck all have "quirky" thanks to Twin Peaks.)

It's not just that he has messed with time and told stories backwards or skewered (like Memento or Pulp Fiction) but there is a philosophical logic behind the time frames and "mobius strip" plots. As much as I ejnoy how Brian DePalma has played with the influence of Hitchcock...I think Lynch has really nailed the style and theme of redemption that pervaded Hitchcocks movies. Yes, for Hitchcock the romantic leads were central to his belief that love can redeem and "cure" us. With Lynch I think we can see now in Inland Empire that "self love" is the redemptive force. In Mulholland Drive the main character was self loathing...but we couldnever completely give up on her.

Hitchcock worked with so many great actors and you have made a great point here Mister Anchovy about how stylized and constricted his movies were and his actors techniques. Again, to understand the "distilled" style of acting Lynch seems to prefer we can find the answers in Hitchcock.

I think Hitchcock found interest in what points would people believe or disbelieve a character and plot. He really pushed it. Lynch's female heroines seem to be so campy and amplified it has turned off some audiences. But Naiomi Watts and laura Dern especially are working ina way that is much more difficult to do that "realistic" performances. They push the edge of belief. I think Lynch will have your attention with Inland Empire Mr. A.

thehealingroom said...

Oh boy! I can't wait to see INLAND EMPIRE.
I doubt that it will come to my part of the woods and I have yet to find it on any torrent sites.
I read another review that said watch it like you are looking at art...not a movie. I think they meant don't look for a narrative that is familiar.
Excellent musings Candy.

Anonymous said...

I've had an allergy to Lynch for years (but I loved every minute of Twin Peaks). You point out something I have to agree with, his relationship to Hitchcock's work is far deeper, complex and original than DePalma's. (But damn it, I'll always prefer DePalma's shiny surfaces, and all his flaws)

Good essay, great arguments.

Candy Minx said...

Healing Room...proceed with caution. Um, this is a psychologcal thriller on the surface. But I seem to recall you enjoying Silence of the Lambs, so I guess you'll like this...but it's very "in the head"...but how does he do it...? Spiritual, full blown spiritual and philosophical themes at the end of it all.

L.M. oh I love Brian DePalms, absolutely love his , as you perfectly say, shiny surfaces. I'll see any movie he makes...and I sure do understand Lynch is a matter of personal taste. He's not for everyone and hey that is okay! Thanks for stopping by coincidently, I just linked that article from The Walrus thank you!!!!

* (asterisk) said...

I've read this once, and I'm gonna come back and read it again. It's twisty-turny like the movie!

(BTW, I love De Palma in theory; but in practice I mostly hate him! And one of the problems for me is that the films are so stylized that they are instantly dated. They have no life, I feel. I hated Scarface with a passion.)

Steven LaRose said...

me me me trivia:

I painted the Welcome to Twin Peaks sign. I was a scenic artist on the shoot when someone from LA said, "We need one of those cheesy local signs you got up here, make it quick, we need it for a drive by shot" In less then an hour it was up.

Hah! The even funnier twist is my friend Whiting Tennis spent an entire month building a scale model of a lodge that was going to be shaken and destroyed in one scene. Lynch never used it.

I learned a lot on that job.

Candy Minx said...

Steven, that is so cool!!!! I almost posted a photo of the Twn Peaks sign in ths very post. Being ona movie set in itself is a learning experience isn't it? Great to "see" you!

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