It is undeniable that David Lynch is one of the most groundbreaking filmmakers of all time. His trademark style has influenced countless creatives since his 1977 debut film Eraserhead. Though his films initially found popularity as midnight movies, his reputation has risen to incomparable status. Rumors of a new series in the works for Netflix has stirred my excitement about his body of work once again, so below are my top three Lynch masterpieces.
Twin Peaks changed television forever. Before the landmark 1990 series, television and film were considered entirely separate, but with Twin Peaks Lynch proved that TV could be cinematic. The show takes the typical murder mystery and flips it on its head, ranging from pure camp to moments that are nearly incomprehensible. Promotional material for the show’s first season simply asks “who killed Laura Palmer?” but quickly Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) and the Twin Peaks Sheriff Department discover the case is more complex and sinister than they could have ever imagined.
The range of styles is what I love most about Twin Peaks. Seasons 1 and 2 are filled with quirky interactions over donuts, cherry pie, and damn fine coffee, and of course the goofiest sandwich-eating scene in history. In contrast, episode 8 of 2017’s Twin Peaks: The Return could easily be considered a stand-alone surrealist short film. Contributing to these styles are some of the greatest environment-building soundtracks of all time. Ominous droning, jazz, and a range of modern musicians (ranging from Nine Inch Nails to synthpop band Chromatics) each contribute to the multitude of atmospheres created throughout the three seasons.
Between the distinct characters, twisting storyline, fantastic music, and extensive amount of lore (thanks to three seasons, multiple books, and a feature film prequel), it’s easy to fall in love with Twin Peaks — and keep falling deeper and deeper into the impossibilities of the mystery. The series is funny, disturbing, emotional, and everything in between, but more than anything it is a demonstration of the power of good storytelling. No matter the medium, Twin Peaks succeeds, and after five years of being a fan I have yet to uncover every secret it holds.
Blue Velvet is perhaps my personal favorite Lynch work of all time. It is somehow both cozy and creepy, familiar and frightening. This film, similar to Twin Peaks, takes a traditional mystery format and injects it with a dose of depravity. If you were to dive into Lynch’s filmography, this film is possibly the best entry point for newcomers because it still has a comprehendible plot, but with signature surreal moments. This film kickstarted the careers of Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern, who play Jeffrey Beaumont and Sandy Williams, two young people attempting to expose criminal activity after the discovery of a severed ear and an encounter with a singer.
This is my favorite Lynch film for so many reasons. Lynch loves to emphasize the singular strange trait of a character, and each of the characters in Blue Velvet is a prime example of this emphasis on the weird at its finest. On top of the general weirdness, the dark moments of the film genuinely get under my skin. When Blue Velvet was released, it was one of the most daring films to be marketed toward a general audience due to its violent and adult content. It tackles topics that are still difficult to stomach, but each moment — comedic, dark, romantic, or otherwise — is placed in just the right moment of the story to ensure the viewer feels every high and low. Blue Velvet puts me on a rollercoaster of emotions, somehow remaining simultaneously grounded and bewildering.
Mulholland Drive is truly Lynch’s magnum opus. It manages to balance a compelling storyline and surrealist, dream-like sequences. For a while, it feels like a story that is fairly easy to follow: a girl moves to Hollywood to become a star, but her plans are interrupted by the presence of a mysterious woman with amnesia. Over the course of the film, outside characters intertwine with the lives of Betty (Naomi Watts) and Rita (Laura Harring), and reality and imagination start to collide.
Trying to wrap my head around Mulholland Drive is impossible. Everyone I know has a different theory about the film’s meaning, and with each viewing I simultaneously find more questions and answers. It’s the type of film to make you break down the minutiae of each frame until you’ve gone crazy trying to figure it all out, but that’s the magic of it. I will most likely never know, but the constant feeling of discovery is what keeps me coming back. It is a gorgeous, mind-bending portrayal of the Hollywood dream gone dreadfully wrong.
There are many other Lynch films that are equally incredible — Elephant Man is a straightforward tear-jerker, Inland Empire is a nonsensical nightmare, and Wild at Heart is a black comedy starring (of all people) Nicholas Cage. David Lynch is also more than just a filmmaker — he’s also a musician, artist, and Transcendental Meditation advocate. If, after watching his films, you’re as puzzled as I am about what happens in Lynch’s brain, the 2016 documentary David Lynch: the Art Life provides a glimpse into the life and mind of the artistic legend.
Writing “Weird and Wonderful” has been one of the highlights of my semester. Whether I continue the column as is or transition it in some way, look forward to hearing from me again in the fall! In the meantime, stay weird!