"---and I'm just full of beans!"

The Straight Story

"The worst part of gettin old is rememberin when you was young."

"The worst part of gettin old is rememberin when you was young."

Written by John Roach and Mary Sweeney. Directed by David Lynch. 1999.

The Straight Story opens with the sounds of crickets over a field of stars, and among its first images is a fat woman eating pink cupcakes while sunbathing in her back yard. So despite the witty double entendre of its title, the movie is very much a David Lynch film, playing to the director's great warmth and curious sense of humor. When I first saw it in 2000, I was watching it for the wrong reasons and had no frame of reference for Lynch. Now, I find it poignant, funny, and occasionally preachy. Still, Alvin Straight's ministrations to the folks he encounters on his journey always reveal new facets of his character, not theirs, and the scene in the bar where he and another old man recount their wartime ghosts is as powerful as such scenes get. He recalls the faces of his buddies who never came home, how they've remained young while he's aged.

Inland Empire

"From Hollywood, California -- where stars make dreams, and dreams make stars."

"From Hollywood, California -- where stars make dreams, and dreams make stars."

Written and directed by David Lynch. 2006.

So much of the early dialogue in Inland Empire is near inaudible -- and for good reason. It isn't really necessary. For a time, words are secondary to image. This becomes less the case in the second half, as nightmarish faces and ghost-like spaces are intercut with Laura Dern's violent (and quite funny) monologues -- neat vignettes offering glimpses of character in the dark.

But words, we understand from the beginning, are not the point. Everything Lynch has ever had to say about women in trouble (the film's nifty catch-all phrase), creepy bedrooms, whores, and Hollywood is here. He's said it all before and, yes, to greater, tidier effect. But to presume he's commentating on these things is to miss the intent of Inland Empire. Lynch's subconscious is on display here, the great dark region of his mind that doesn't plot but gives birth. It's appropriate that so many of Dern's close-ups share similar composition to Lynch's photographs: the movie is more an art show occupying many galleries than it is a narrative.

I've decided what makes David Lynch a great filmmaker is his defiance of any standard other than his own. There's not a rule of cinema you can hold him to or expect him to obey. And so we're tempted to measure each new film by comparison to his others. The end credits make it plain that Lynch is aware how redundant some might see this film, how self-indulgent it might seem. But a lumberjack sawing away at a bit of wood is the nod and the wink required, I think, the compact between Lynch and viewer: now you come to this only because it is a David Lynch film, and your expectations are both fulfilled and defied.

And it's fortunate, as Lynch has said, to be an adult and still be doing what you want to do.

Dune (1984)

"Without change something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken."

"Without change something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken."

Written and directed by David Lynch. 1984.

I'm not sure the fabled four-hour cut of this would have made it that much better. In addition to a creepy kid and a line about milking a hairless cat with a mouse taped to its torso, Lynch concocts great visuals and wicked bad guys, but the good guys are all so vanilla. Delightfully homoerotic -- a bunch of men riding giant worms and a slicked-up Sting with a rubber palm leaf -- but there's no joy -- no coffee, no pie -- and the only tension is what you sense off camera: six months of Mexican heat and a heap of dead dogs.

Wild at Heart

Lula: "One of these days the sun's gonna come up and burn a hole clean through the planet like a giant electrical x-ray. Sailor: "I wouldn't worry about that, Peanut. By then people'll prob'ly be drivin Buicks to the moon."

Lula: "One of these days the sun's gonna come up and burn a hole clean through the planet like a giant electrical x-ray.
Sailor: "I wouldn't worry about that, Peanut. By then people'll prob'ly be drivin Buicks to the moon."

Written and directed by David Lynch. 1990.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me

"That's okay. I was having a bad dream anyway."

"That's okay. I was having a bad dream anyway."

Written by Robert Engels and David Lynch. Directed by David Lynch. 1992.

Good Coop ushers Laura into the light, but he's not the Angel. Or is he? In part, maddening, how the movie resolves an incidental thing or two and, for the most part, merely fills in a few factual and emotional gaps we don't really need filled in. In the beginning, Fire Walk With Me strikes the same beats as the series: humor, oddity, mystery. But when Laura Palmer shows up, it gets dark. Much to the dismay of the cast who got cut, if you watch the documentary on the DVD. Everett "Big Ed" McGill in particular seems affected. But really: this is Laura's story, always has been. You don't need Lara Flynn Boyle to make that work. Or Audrey Horne, I'm sorry to say. These poor girls are food for monsters.

Twin Peaks

"Bobby, may I share something with you? A vision I had in my sleep last night—as distinguished from a dream, which is a mere sorting and cataloguing of the day’s events by the subconscious. This was a vision: fresh and clear as a mountain stream, the mind revealing itself to itself. In my vision I was on the veranda of a vast estate, a palazzo of some fantastic proportion. There seemed to emanate from it a light, from within this gleaming, radiant marble. I had known this place. I had, in fact, been born and raised there, and this was my first return—a reunion with the deepest wellsprings of my being. Wandering about, I noticed happily that the house had been immaculately maintained. There had been added a number of additional rooms, but in a way that blended so seamlessly with the original construction, one would never detect any difference. Returning to the house’s grand foyer, there came a knock at the door. My son was standing there. He was happy and carefree, clearly living a life of deep harmony and joy. We embraced—a warm and loving embrace, nothing withheld. We were, in this moment, one. My vision ended. I awoke with a tremendous feeling of optimism and confidence in you and your future. That was my vision. It was you."

"Bobby, may I share something with you? A vision I had in my sleep last night—as distinguished from a dream, which is a mere sorting and cataloguing of the day’s events by the subconscious. This was a vision: fresh and clear as a mountain stream, the mind revealing itself to itself. In my vision I was on the veranda of a vast estate, a palazzo of some fantastic proportion. There seemed to emanate from it a light, from within this gleaming, radiant marble. I had known this place. I had, in fact, been born and raised there, and this was my first return—a reunion with the deepest wellsprings of my being. Wandering about, I noticed happily that the house had been immaculately maintained. There had been added a number of additional rooms, but in a way that blended so seamlessly with the original construction, one would never detect any difference. Returning to the house’s grand foyer, there came a knock at the door. My son was standing there. He was happy and carefree, clearly living a life of deep harmony and joy. We embraced—a warm and loving embrace, nothing withheld. We were, in this moment, one. My vision ended. I awoke with a tremendous feeling of optimism and confidence in you and your future. That was my vision. It was you."

Created by David Lynch and Mark Frost. 1990-1991.

David Lynch, like our hero Agent Dale Cooper, sees things: the horror in a ceiling fan winking in the dark or the slow, portentous change of a stoplight from green to yellow to red. Cooper sees Douglas firs soughing in the wind, a snowshoe rabbit, a hog reflected in a dead girl's eye. With his Old Hollywood love of femme fatales and drop-top cars, Lynch is, like Coop, at heart, a believer. In a town where murder and torment are commonplace, Agent Cooper shores up the darkness with coffee and pie. ("Harry," he tells the sheriff, "I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don't plan it. Don't wait for it. Just let it happen. It could be a new shirt at the men's store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot black coffee.") But Lynch also has a shadow-self -- the Dweller on the Threshold -- and his doppleganger is nothing if not a skeptic. In the final episode of Season 2, these two selves meet and do battle, just as Special Agent Cooper confronts his own dark self in the waiting room of the Black Lodge. Coop meets the challenge with perfect courage, offering up his soul as sacrifice for Annie's; the end result of that offer proves the Major's greatest fear to be prophetic: love might not be enough.

Or is it?

Blue Velvet

"In dreams, I walk with you. In dreams, I talk to you. In dreams, you're mine, all the time. Forever. In dreams..."

"In dreams, I walk with you. In dreams, I talk to you. In dreams, you're mine, all the time. Forever. In dreams..."

Written and directed by David Lynch. 1986.

David Lynch's bedroom closet is full of monsters. Isabella Rossellini opens her legs for Dennis Hopper and falls into Kyle MacLachlan's arms. I love the world these characters inhabit, the idyllic town of Lumberton where, according to the W.O.O.D. radio announcer, "there's a whole lotta wood waitin out there..." Indeed. Indeed.

Lost Highway

"I had a dream about you last night."

"I had a dream about you last night."

Written by Barry Gilford and David Lynch. Directed by David Lynch. 1997.

"I like to remember things my own way," says Fred. "How I remember them, not necessarily the way they happened." Seems that's the key to figuring out the enigma of Lost Highway. You might say Lynch was working out an idea here that he would perfect in Mulholland Dr.: the murder of one's lover and the rationalizing fantasy that follows (only, in Mulholland Dr., the fantasy comes first and the murder is the reveal). Here, instead of killing himself afterward, Bill Pullman ends up in jail, and in jail he breaks from reality, is reborn innocent (complete with new body and identity), and proceeds to reconstruct the pieces of his past in order to justify the murders he's committed -- his wife's and her lover's, a man named Dick Laurent, aka Mr. Eddy. Or is Mr. Eddy, like platinum-blonde Alice, just a fantasy, substituting for Andy (Eddy/Andy), whom Pullman suspected of cheating with his wife at the beginning of the film (it's hinted at that he discovers their infidelity in room 26 of the mysterious Lost Highway Hotel)? Either way, the video camera wielded by creepy Robert Blake is a lot like the little blue box and key in Mulholland Dr. It's the signifier of memory, one that Fred ultimately rejects in favor of his own re-creation. It's creepy as hell.

Also: nobody makes sunshine and breezes as frightening as David Lynch.

Mulholland Dr.

"I had a dream about this place."

"I had a dream about this place."

Written and directed by David Lynch. 2001.

Mulholland Dr. is a movie about Hollywood. As such, it fits snugly into a category of films that's one of my favorites: the dream factory dreaming of itself. Lynch's major entry into this sub-genre is specifically about achieving some sense of identity in a place that subverts identity on a regular basis, promoting some to stardom and discarding others. For Diane, one of the discarded, it's about wish-fulfillment, dreams come true. Which is, in the end, if not reality, Hollywood. All the rest -- magic keys and scary old people and dimly lit apartments -- are just the trappings of truth.