Film and the unconscious were born at basically the same historical moment, and that intimate link has been milked — unconsciously or not — by a myriad of psycho-cineastes over the decades: Buñuel, Sirk, Hitchcock, Polanski, Kubrick. In essence, DAVID LYNCH’s (born 1946) peculiar genius has been his sustained ability to recharge and reframe that uncanny intimacy. Rather than traffic with phallic symbols or surreal juxtaposition, Lynch’s best films (and, more accurately, the best sections within those films) manage to melt narrative into enigmatic atmospheres and then recongeal them into the meaningfully opaque. Lynch’s flat sub-ironic tone, which is at once his method and “message”, allows for all manner of suggestions to leak into the frame: the secret link between innocence and brutality, the phantasmagoric banality of repetition, the sentimental shock of the aesthetically bad. The man himself is equally enigmatic. How crafted is that persona, we ask, those endless cups of coffee, the electric shock of hair, the bemused, hangdog eyes? How tightly is he holding his cards to his chest, whether those cards be ironic manipulation, or painterly intuition, or a willful naïveté more perverse even than Dennis Hopper’s nitrous-fueled rape of Isabella Rossellini in Blue Velvet? The artist and director’s relentless and earnest promotion of Transcendental Meditation, one of the more paint-by-numbers protocols of modern spiritual fitness, only deepens the puzzle. It is as if Lynch, his creativity manifesting at once as drive and drift, has come to impersonate the unconscious itself.
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