What Makes a David Lynch Film Lynchian: A Video Essay

As soon as it began air­ing on ABC in the ear­ly 1990s, Twin Peaks got us won­der­ing where its dis­tinc­tive­ly res­o­nant odd­ness, nev­er before felt on the air­waves of prime-time tele­vi­sion, could have come from. Some view­ers had already seen co-cre­ator David Lynch’s films Eraser­head and Blue Vel­vet and may thus have had a more devel­oped feel for it, but for every­one else the nature and ori­gin of the “Lynchi­an” — as crit­ics soon began label­ing it — remained utter­ly mys­te­ri­ous. Now, with the long-await­ed Twin Peaks: The Return hav­ing com­plet­ed its own run, we’ve start­ed think­ing about it once again.

What does the Lynchi­an look like from the van­tage of the 21st cen­tu­ry? David Fos­ter Wal­lace, in an essay on Lynch’s Lost High­way twen­ty years ago, defined the term “Lynchi­an” as refer­ring to “a par­tic­u­lar kind of irony where the very macabre and the very mun­dane com­bine in such a way as to reveal the for­mer’s per­pet­u­al con­tain­ment with­in the lat­ter.” Lewis Bond, the video essay­ist who runs the Youtube chan­nel Chan­nel Criswell, goes a bit deep­er in “David Lynch — The Elu­sive Sub­con­scious.” What is it, he asks, that denotes the style of Lynch? “The same way a hall­way sink­ing into dark­ness is Lynchi­an, so is a white pick­et fence in a slice of Amer­i­cana.”

These and the enor­mous vari­ety of oth­er things Lynchi­an must “exude elu­sive­ness, and the enig­ma of what sig­ni­fies Lynchi­an sen­si­bil­i­ties lies in pro­duc­ing unfa­mil­iar­i­ty in that which was once familiar.“At first glance, that state­ment may seem as obscure as some of Lynch’s cre­ative choic­es do when you first wit­ness them. But spend a few min­utes with Bond’s wide-rang­ing video essay, tak­ing in Lynch’s images at the same time as the analy­sis, and you’ll get a clear­er sense of what both of them are going for. After exam­in­ing Lynch’s use of the sub­con­scious in his films from sev­er­al dif­fer­ent angles, Bond arrives at Pauline Kael’s descrip­tion of the film­mak­er as “the first pop­ulist sur­re­al­ist.”

“Although his work is puz­zling, and more often than not intend­ed to be so,” says Bond, Lynch “still man­ages to strike a chord with the way we feel.” Lynch, in oth­er words, puts dreams on the screen, but instead of sim­ply relat­ing the inven­tions of his own sub­con­scious — hear­ing some­one retell their dreams being, after all, a byword for an ago­niz­ing­ly bor­ing expe­ri­ence — he some­how gets all of us to dream them our­selves. What haunts us when we wake up after a par­tic­u­lar­ly har­row­ing night also haunts us when we come out of a Lynch movie, but the artistry of the lat­ter has a way of mak­ing us want to plunge right back into the night­mare again.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

“The Art of David Lynch”— How Rene Magritte, Edward Hop­per & Fran­cis Bacon Influ­enced David Lynch’s Cin­e­mat­ic Vision

Watch an Epic, 4‑Hour Video Essay on the Mak­ing & Mythol­o­gy of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks

An Ani­mat­ed David Lynch Explains Where He Gets His Ideas

What Does “Kafkaesque” Real­ly Mean? A Short Ani­mat­ed Video Explains

What “Orwellian” Real­ly Means: An Ani­mat­ed Les­son About the Use & Abuse of the Term

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.


by | Permalink | Comments (3) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (3)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Martin Cohen says:

    We are now liv­ing in a Lynchi­an world as our real­i­ty.

    Is Lynch still nec­es­sary?

  • Lorena says:

    I feel we are actu­al­ly liv­ing in a Philip-K-Dick­ian” world instead. It’s hard­er and hard­er to dis­tin­guish between real life and vir­tu­al (i.e. web-con­nect­ed) one.
    Lynch is try­ing to grab some­thing inside our inner desires. May he always be wel­come, at least I know I still am a human being. :-)

  • Adam says:

    I agree with the PKD com­par­i­son but feel they approach the same theme (what does it mean to have a human expe­ri­ence?) in their own ways. While PKD used lit­er­a­ture as his medi­um to ques­tion the valid­i­ty of our sub­jec­tive con­scious­ness, Lynch uses the world images and abstract forms to make the case that “the owls are not what they seem.”

    I find both artists have inspired me to expand my con­scious­ness beyond the para­me­ters of our cul­ture so I can see not only the out­er world more clear­ly, but also my inner world. I am deeply indebt­ed to both artists.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.