By Ryan Parker
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when we think “America”? Some hopefuls may recall Don McClean and American dream. Others may think imperialism and corruption.
But what does David Lynch think? From locally run small-town diners to the dark underbelly of Hollywood, the work of David Lynch has redefined how to examine art and society through the lens of an American citizen. The elusive master of surrealist film has challenged audience members and myself with Avant works challenging our very way of life through morbid and irregular images of the American state we know and love.
The Lynchian process of filmmaking matches with my definition of good filmmaking. Give audiences an image in your head, and let them figure out the context on their own. Art was never meant to be explained to people, rather people explain a work for themselves. Lynch presents this process in two of his masterworks: the neo-noir thriller Blue Velvet (1986) and the revolutionary television series Twin Peaks (1990-1991; 2017). Both works portray juxtaposing visions on the representation of temporary society.
First there is the known. Represented by Blue Velvet’s white picket fences and ruby-red roses and fire trucks, Lynch shows us one of many representations of a utopian contemporary society where all is happy and normal. Similar versions of Americana can be seen in Twin Peaks, where a more average, everyday life cycle is shown in the titular logging town. From the outside, people work, go to school, return to their families, and run their businesses. A superb representation of the American Dream. But that is not all there is when David Lynch is behind the scenes. In both works, Lynch eventually reveals a dark shadow hiding in both worlds, where we as citizens hide the reality we choose to ignore. In Blue Velvet, we discover this side first hand when protagonist Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) discovers a severed ear in a field. From there we delve deeper into a world of gas-addicted gangsters and lobotomy, peeling back the lid of the shadow.
A similar underworld is given to us in Twin Peaks. While an average Washington lumber town from the outside, on the inside, everyone, including the murdered Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) has secrets to hide. Demonic murderers and illicit love affairs stalk the night and reign terror upon the small town, just barely held back by a secret society, the local sheriff’s department, and FBI special agent Dale Cooper (MacLachlan).
Lynch presents us with these worlds overtly opposed to one another, leaving us with the decision on which one truly represents modern American society. This is how filmmaking should be done. When we are given conflicting images with no clear explanation or expectation of resolution, we as viewers are left to decide for themselves what Lynch is trying to express. We are meant to enlighten ourselves. The art is what we make of it. When an artist passes away, you cannot go up and ask him or her what their work means.
The works of David Lynch should be viewed by all film lovers. Take a look at his filmography below: