David Lynch has stayed productive in recent years — putting out an album and reviving Twin Peaks, to name just two projects — but more than a decade has gone by since his last feature film. Still, images from that one, 2006’s Inland Empire, may well linger in the heads of its viewers to this day. Some of the most haunting sequences that compose its three hours include clips of Rabbits, a television show about those very creatures. Or rather, a television show about humanoid rabbits who exchange lines of cryptic dialogue in a shadowy living room located, as the show puts it, “in a nameless city deluged by a continuous rain” where they live “with a fearful mystery.”
So far, so Lynchian. Part of the director’s signature atmosphere arises, of course, from the menacingly presented 1950s domesticity and the bizarre appearance of human actors wearing expressionless rabbit heads. But just as much has to do with sound: along with an ominous score by frequent Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti we hear that constant deluge of rain, with occasional sonic punctuation from an inexplicably timed laugh track. You can binge-watch Rabbits‘ episodes on YouTube, an experience which will give you a fuller sense of why University of British Columbia psychologists used it to induce a sense of existential crisis in research subjects.
Lynch shot Rabbits in 2002 on digital video, a medium whose freedom, compared to traditional film, he had recently discovered. (When he went on to use it for the whole of Inland Empire, the choice seemed as cinematically startling, at the time, as any he’d ever made.) The shoots happened at night, on a set built in his backyard. Its principal cast of Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, and Scott Coffey had all appeared the previous year in Lynch’s critically acclaimed Mulholland Drive, which itself began as a prospective television series. (Even the singer Rebekah del Rio, star of Club Silencio, turns up in one episode.) Lynch first “aired” the series on his web site, which must place him among not just the artistic but technical pioneers of the web series form.
But why, exactly, did he make it in the first place? “Rabbits is a sitcom,” writes a contributor called Peek 824545301 at The Artifice. “It is not merely parody or satire; it exists as perhaps the most bizarre and arguably literal sitcom imaginable, though still an opposing force that challenges and defamiliarizes basic concepts.” Abstracting the basic elements of the sitcom form while stripping them of narrative, the show also signals comedy on one level and darkness on another, putting itself “simultaneously in alignment with situation comedies in its essence while also serving as a destructive criticism.” In this view, Lynch moves from medium to medium not just as a singular kind of creator but — with his imagination that has somehow come up with even stranger things than this rabbit sitcom — a singular kind of critic as well.
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.