David Lynch Made a Disturbing Web Sitcom Called “Rabbits”: It’s Now Used by Psychologists to Induce a Sense of Existential Crisis in Research Subjects

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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Lynch Posts His Night­mar­ish Sit­com Rab­bits Online–the Show That Psy­chol­o­gists Use to Induce a Sense of Exis­ten­tial Cri­sis in Research Sub­jects

What Makes a David Lynch Film Lynchi­an: A Video Essay

Ange­lo Badala­men­ti Reveals How He and David Lynch Com­posed the Twin Peaks‘ “Love Theme”

Dum­b­land, David Lynch’s Twist­ed Ani­mat­ed Series (NSFW)

Dis­cov­er David Lynch’s Bizarre & Min­i­mal­ist Com­ic Strip, The Angri­est Dog in the World (1983–1992)

David Lynch’s New ‘Crazy Clown Time’ Video: Intense Psy­chot­ic Back­yard Crazi­ness (NSFW)

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.

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Comments (4)
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  • Nathan says:

    The Eng­lish pop rock group The 1975 made an appro­pri­at­ed music video based on the “Rab­bits”. It’s nice to see the inclu­sion in a pop ref­er­ence and also an inter­est­ing take on the orig­i­nal. https://youtu.be/Bimd2nZirT4

  • Brian OConnell says:

    I sug­gest also watch­ing the Quay bros’ Street of Croc­o­diles.

  • Quay says:

    In that city of cheap human mate­r­i­al, no instincts can flour­ish, no dark and unusu­al pas­sions can be aroused. The Street of Croc­o­diles was a con­ces­sion of our city to moder­ni­ty and met­ro­pol­i­tan cor­rup­tion. The mis­for­tune of that area is that noth­ing ever suc­ceeds there, noth­ing can ever reach a def­i­nite con­clu­sion. Obvi­ous­ly, we were unable to afford any­thing bet­ter than a card­board imi­ta­tion, a pho­to-mon­tage cut out from last year’s moul­der­ing news­pa­pers.

    Read more: https://perspectiveszine.webnode.sk/news/street-of-crocodiles/

  • Martin Beaudet says:

    You men­tion the impor­tance of sound in cre­at­ing the atmos­phere of “Rab­bits.” Sound design was done by sound engi­neer John Neff, who also worked on Lynch’s “Inland Empire,” “Mul­hol­land Dri­ve,” and “The Straight Sto­ry.”

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