Weird and Wonderful: Director Spotlight – David Lynch

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

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

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

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. 

Other Work

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!

Weird and Wonderful: “Dorohedoro”

In Dorohedoro, it’s hard enough to survive, let alone track down a gang of sorcerers that might have turned you into a reptile.

Originally a manga series by Q Hayashida, Netflix’s 2020 adaptation of Dorohedoro is a magical, gory rollercoaster ride from start to finish. This 12 episode dark fantasy anime shows the adventures of Caiman, a man with a lizard head, as he tries to remember his true identity. His friend Nikaido helps him in this quest, and together they hunt sorcerers in an attempt to discover who turned Caiman’s head into a lizard. Unfortunately for them, a group of sorcerers affected by Caiman and Nikaido’s violence are determined to find them.

Dorohedoro drops the viewer into an urban world of humans, sorcerers, and their victims with very little exposition. As the story progresses, viewers must connect the puzzle pieces of Caiman’s past through a constantly growing number of storylines. The world of Dorohedoro is rich and full of character, but certain details are cleverly left out in order to keep the viewer asking questions. The man that appears in Caiman’s mouth is key to uncovering his identity, along with the dreams and flashbacks Caiman experiences. However, these occurrences only prompt more questions, and curiosity draws the viewer in. Much of the experience of Dorohedoro is wondering what exactly is happening, but that drives the desire to find out more.

The characters each have distinct personalities, and it is easy to connect with them. Even intimidating characters have endearing traits, such as high level sorcerer En’s obsessive protection of his pet, Kikurage, Caiman’s intense love for gyoza, and sorcerer bounty hunters Shin and Noi’s constant hunger. The voice acting is spot on and emphasizes the main personality traits of each character without diminishing their emotional range. The backstories of each character are crafted to fuel their motivations, and the impact on their current selves are made abundantly clear. Once the viewer learns a character’s past, their personality clicks even more. 

Information about the characters and their surroundings is incorporated into conversation naturally, and point-of-view shifts force the viewer to understand the antagonists and side characters as well as the protagonists. The POV shifts are so powerful, eventually it becomes unclear who is truly the antagonist. It’s unclear if there is even an antagonist at all, as the gray morality of each character makes the viewer root for both sides. This is a common theme throughout the show — every time it appears as though a character’s motivation is justified, their opposition has an equally reasonable thought process. The anime is extremely violent, but the gore is far from out of place. Both sides are in survival mode; it’s only natural that they protect themselves and their own. 

Dorohedoro isn’t all dark — it balances seriousness and humor perfectly. Violence, fear, and grief pervade both The Hole (the human world) and the world of the sorcerers, and there are grim moments in which it feels as though hope is lost. Despite this, there are also many moments of comic relief — especially involving young sorcerers Ebisu and Fujita. In a dangerous post-apocalyptic universe, characters still experience joy, success, and friendship fairly often. The lives of each character are not one-dimensional, and the amount of development each of them gets in just around five hours of screen time is remarkable. Although there are clear main characters, everyone is treated with the utmost importance, and side characters have their own unique traits and arcs. I am just as invested in Shin’s story as I am Caiman and Nikaido’s story, and he shows as much emotional range as any main character.

This anime prompts important questions: how are we to determine what is clearly right and wrong, and how do we define our own identities? Despite Caiman’s willingness to commit acts of violence to understand his past, his current identity as Caiman is loved by his friends in The Hole and deemed a worthy opponent by the sorcerers. However, as much as the people around us help form who we are, most of that job is ours alone. The search for identity, along with Fujita’s search for companionship, Nikaido’s longing for normalcy, and En’s fierce determination fueled by regret are reflections of our own human needs.

I was left feeling spectacularly lost after each episode of Dorohedoro, and I am already itching for a second season. I’m tempted to read the manga, but the incredible voice acting, writing, and animation has made me deeply attached to the characters and their surroundings. Even if you aren’t typically a fan of anime, this show is worth watching. My boyfriend has never been particularly interested in anime, but he was hooked the moment we watched the first episode of Dorohedoro together. Now we’re both obsessed, and I’m sure if you watch it, you will be too.

Weird and Wonderful: Director Spotlight — Robert Eggers

Robert Eggers may only have two feature films under his belt, but he is one of the most exciting filmmakers on the rise. Despite only being 37 years old, he has already received numerous awards, and his films have been well received by critics and audiences alike. Prior to filmmaking, Eggers began his career as a theatrical director and designer in New York. He transitioned to film production in 2009, and served as production designer for 16 films. As soon as he took the plunge and made his directorial debut, he took the horror genre by storm.

Many people, myself included, have credited Eggers for ushering in the return of arthouse horror to the masses. His films masterfully blend history and myth with an overwhelming sense of dread. Paranoia, madness, and isolation are the true horror that plagues the human mind, and Eggers’ films The Witch and The Lighthouse are proof that no era is free from these terrors.

The Witch (2015)

I stand by my belief that The Witch is quite possibly the strongest directorial debut of the 2010s. Inspired by his childhood in New England and a long standing interest in witches, Eggers’ 2015 period horror film is a portrait of Puritan fear in 17th century America. Then-unknown Anya Taylor-Joy stars as Thomasin, the oldest daughter of an English settler family recently banished from their colony. Already the scapegoat of the family, two of her siblings disappear and the remaining two accuse her of witchcraft. Life escalates into a nightmare as her parents William (Ralph Ineson) and Katherine (Kate Dickie) fall deeper into their religious fear and paranoia.

Eggers performed extensive research to achieve the film’s historical accuracy. Costume designer Linda Muir created costumes with materials used at the time, and Eggers hired carpenters to build a historically correct house for the set. At some points, it’s genuinely hard to understand what is being said due to the historically correct accents used by the actors, especially for William. The meticulous detail thoroughly impressed and entertained me. I was fully enveloped in the world, which made the ending all the more chilling. If not for the witchcraft, this film could be a 16th century slice of life. However, the power of witchcraft consumes these settlers’ lives, testing their faith in God and each other. The ominous and sometimes graphic depictions of this power kept me hooked through the film’s menacing conclusion.

The Lighthouse (2019)

Eggers’ second film was intended to be an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s final work “The Light-House”, and although Eggers and his brother Max (co-writer of the film) scrapped this idea the resulting film is just as disturbing as any Poe story. Another period horror, this time set in the 19th century, The Lighthouse shows two lighthouse keepers’ descent into madness. Filmed in a nearly square aspect ratio and entirely black and white, this film was also developed with great attention paid to historical fidelity. In fact, it was even shot using a film lens from the 1930s.

Just as soon as I thought I knew what was happening in The Lighthouse, the film began its full descent into chaos. The film enveloped me in the madness slowly, and by the time I reached the end I felt just as trapped and lost as Robert Pattinson’s character Ephraim Winslow. I lost my sense of time, and from there reality and dark fantasy blurred. The claustrophobic, lonely world that Winslow and Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) inhabit successfully hypnotized me like the constant spinning of a lighthouse’s lantern.


Currently Eggers is working on a film titled The Northman, a revenge thriller set in 10th century Iceland. Filming ended in December 2020, so hopefully a release date will be available soon. Reportedly Eggers has also been developing a remake of the 1922 silent horror film Nosferatu, though no news has been released in regards to it since 2016.

In just two feature films Robert Eggers has already earned almost universal acclaim. His dedication to research and ability to create an atmosphere that is both accurate and unnerving make him a prime candidate for “next greatest filmmaker of our time”. Whatever may lie ahead for Robert Eggers, I’ll be there day one to watch the future of horror unfold before my eyes.

Weird and Wonderful: Wacky Sci-Fi Grab Bag

For this week’s installment I decided that rather than writing about only one film, I’d write about three films: Mac and Me, Earth Girls Are Easy, and Stay Tuned. These three weren’t well-received by critics, but they hold a special place in my heart as goofy cult classics. Although they aren’t necessarily “good”, each of these sci-fi comedies is far more entertaining than their ratings would have you believe. Grab some popcorn, candy, and your favorite beverage, and settle in for a silly triple feature.

Mac and Me (1988):

This is one of those rare films that is just so bad it’s good. The titular alien, MAC (Mysterious Alien Creature) just wants to return to his family, but instead he ends up at the home of young Eric Cruise (Jade Calegory). Eric must then convince his friends and family to help guide MAC home. Sound familiar? It should, because Mac and Me is essentially an E.T. rip-off funded by product placement. The film was pitched by producer R.J. Louis — who had connections to fast food giant McDonald’s through advertising work and Ronald McDonald House charities — as a promotion for McDonald’s. One of the highlights of this wholesome alien advertisement is a dance sequence at McDonald’s, featuring Ronald McDonald himself (and an uncredited young Jennifer Aniston in her very first role). The additions of life-saving Coca Cola, a trip to the mall, and a pink Cadillac in the final scene couldn’t be a more cheesy love letter to American consumers. 

I love this film so much because the more I learn about it, the more I wonder how it ever got made. The sheer ridiculousness of Mac and Me is what kept me glued to the screen. Come on, a film funded by McDonald’s in which the main character’s name is MAC? How could you not giggle the whole way through?

Earth Girls Are Easy (1989):

Ever wanted to see Jeff Goldblum, Jim Carrey, and Damon Wayans transform from fuzzy aliens to 80’s California hunks? Here’s your chance. In Earth Girls Are Easy, L.A. manicurist Valerie (Geena Davis) kicks out her rude fiancé only to discover aliens have crash landed in her pool. After a classic makeover sequence, Valerie, her friend Candy, and the aliens hit the town and learn all about 80’s pop culture and what it means to be human. Along the way, the cast breaks out into multiple musical numbers and dance sequences. In 2001 Earth Girls Are Easy was set to be adapted into a stage musical, and if it hadn’t flopped I firmly believe it would have been an instant classic.

This film gave me such warm feelings because it exudes a carefree atmosphere. The premise was so strange and charming that the film didn’t feel its hour and forty minute run time at all. It has all the kitschiness of a more popular 80’s rom-com, but the extraterrestrial twist gives the film the bonus weird factor that it needs to be permanently burned into my brain. 

Stay Tuned (1992):

Don’t sit too close to the television for this one, kids. Stay Tuned stars John Ritter as Roy, a television-obsessed couch potato who accepts a mysterious offer for a new state of the art satellite dish. He and his wife, Helen (Pam Dawber), are sucked into “Hellevision”, a gruesome game show in which the contestants must survive for 24 hours. If not, their souls are stuck in Hellevision forever, and it’s up to their kids Darryl (David Tom) and Diane (Heather McComb) to save them. This film parodies over twenty television shows and films in delightfully devilish ways — one of my personal favorites being “Duane’s Underworld”. As they journey through these parodies, the whole family learns what is truly important: each other. 

Stay Tuned is one of the most amusing satires of media consumption I’ve ever seen. Even if younger audiences might not understand every reference, it’s still well worth the watch. The idea that even Hell itself has had to adapt to technological advancement is comedic gold, and the actors absolutely nail every gag. In the age of Netflix binging and rising screen time, Stay Tuned is just as relevant, and just as goofy.

No matter which one of these films you choose for a lighthearted movie night, you’re bound to have a good time. Who cares what the critics say? Sit back, relax, and revel in the cheesiness.

Weird and Wonderful: “Sturgill Simpson Presents Sound and Fury”

Sturgill Simpson has been leading the contemporary country music scene since his 2013 debut album High Top Mountain. He’s known for pushing the boundaries of country through his incorporation of other genres and his unconventional lyrical content, but his 2019 album Sound and Fury is by far his most unique, but in ways you might not expect. 

Sound and Fury is bursting with blues, hard rock, and psychedelic rock, but during the recording process Simpson came to the conclusion that his work wasn’t as eclectic as he wanted. In an interview with Zane Lowe, Simpson explained “Man, this isn’t weird enough. I should probably go to Japan and, like, get the five most legendary animation directors in history together…and we’ll just animate the whole…album”. Thus, “Sturgill Simpson Presents Sound and Fury” was born.

“Sturgill Simpson Presents Sound and Fury” is a 41-minute long visual album on Netflix. It’s a nonlinear dystopian anime that features a multitude of art styles. The visuals range from a live action skateboarding sequence, to a gory watercolor battle, to a pop art dance party. I won’t spoil every stylistic turn it takes, in part because I could devote hours to breaking down each scene. The film takes inspiration from Mad Max, Heavy Metal, and Cowboy Bebop, but these alone can’t even begin to describe the versatility the film exhibits.

The description on Netflix summarizes the plot as “a mysterious driver heads deep into a post-apocalyptic hellscape toward a ferocious showdown with two monstrous opponents”. The film leaves the rest of the story largely up to the interpretation of the viewer. The lack of dialogue and the time skips from scene to scene require a keen eye for detail and metaphor. 

The short film is a display of anime and country music at their most extravagant. Pounding bass, powerful guitar riffs, and outlaw-country inspired vocals tell Simpson’s story of a music scene and a country in crisis. This is perfectly accompanied by the colorful, bombastic, and sometimes downright disturbing imagery. Writer and director Junpei Mizusaki’s tale of a savage cyberpunk samurai might not be the first image that pops into your head when you think of country music, but the combination kept my attention from the very first note all the way through the credits.

The music and visual storytelling work together seamlessly. Not only does the music line up with the animation at key moments — for example, a drum beat lining up with the motions of a blacksmith —  but there is a thematic connection as well, in the form of political commentary. Simpson is known for speaking out against former US president Donald Trump, corporations, homophobia, and racism, and is actively pro-gun control. It’s important to note that the film is grotesque at points, but not without a purpose. While it may seem contradictory for a man so pro-gun control to green-light such an aggressively violent film, the entire point is to be disgusted at the violence. 

Simpson and Mizusaki want you to get mad. “Sturgill Simpson Presents Sound and Fury” is a depiction of the revenge we all want to see against the corporate greed that takes precedence over the greater good. The flashback scene of the main character’s origin story serves as the anti-authoritarian motivation of her rampage, and contributes to her characterization as an anti-hero. There are multiple morally gray characters throughout the film, but the true evil is clear, as represented by the two villains she faces in her flashback and in the final battle. 

The visual album ends with two quotes. One is from Japanese philosopher Miyamoto Musashi: “Get beyond love and grief and exist for the good of man”. The other states “Dedicated to the lost souls and victims of senseless violence”. At first glance this seems contradictory to the revenge plot, but upon further examination the senseless violence is not that of the main character, but of her wealthy foes. She isn’t purely good, because she is a perpetrator of violence, but she is a Robin Hood-like character using that violence in a way that she considers a benefit to society.

“Sturgill Simpson Presents Sound and Fury” is a shocking cultural mashup, and it works far better than I ever expected it to. The album on its own is interesting, but the addition of the visual aspect makes it clear that Simpson and his collaborators aren’t merely providing entertainment — they’re issuing a warning to the 1%. “Sturgill Simpson Presents Sound and Fury” is an explosive manifestation of the defiant attitude that dares to change country music forever, and I already can’t wait to watch it again.

Weird and Wonderful: “The Hole”

I watched a lot of great films when I took the Introduction to Film class at U of M, but nothing tops The Hole. Infamous Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-Liang’s wildly inventive film is especially relevant as the United States enters a full year of quarantine. The Hole exists in a genre all its own — it’s slow cinema, a jukebox musical, and a horror film. Above all, it’s a commentary on human connection. 

The Hole was part of the 1998 “2000, Seen By…” project — an international film challenge to produce a film depicting feelings toward the new millennium. Despite an evacuation ordered by the government at the onset of a global pandemic, the two characters Hsiao Kang (Lee Kang-sheng) and “the woman downstairs” (Yang Kuei-mei) decide to remain in their apartment building. As the disease progresses and their world becomes deserted, they begin communicating through an unpatched hole in the floor which connects their two apartments.

There are only six characters credited in the film, four of them having only a few minutes or mere seconds of screen-time. This — along with the constant rain — emphasizes the loneliness and vast emptiness of the world the main characters inhabit, and makes this world more intimate for the viewer. There is very little dialogue throughout the film, so it relies heavily on visual cues. The drained color, long stretches of near-silence, and minimal camera movement are the palette with which Ming-Liang paints the feelings of isolation with perfection.

However, not all hope is lost for Hsiao and the woman downstairs. Hsiao still attempts to run the small market he owns, but eventually he finds spying on the woman downstairs to be more fitting entertainment. Though they initially despise each other (and seek to anger each other purposefully), the woman downstairs develops feelings for Hsiao. These desires are articulated in the most daring way possible for the film —  through unannounced flashy dance numbers in which the woman downstairs lip syncs to the classic pop music of Grace Chang. 

In these musical numbers, the world becomes colorful again. While reality is dark and dreary, the woman downstairs’ dreams are bursting with life. Even at the very end, when her situation becomes desperate, she slow dances with Hsiao in her fantasy world. All of these scenes take place in the apartment building, as if that is all that’s left in the universe. 

The majority of the songs in the film are about romance. The woman downstairs’ desire for companionship in what appears to be a hopeless environment is the essence of human nature. Hsiao and the woman downstairs represent something that is truer than ever now: in the claustrophobic universes our homes have become, we all need the kindness of one another. As rain invades the woman’s apartment, causing all her wallpaper to fall off, and the hole invades Hsiao’s apartment, they find comfort in knowing that there is still someone on the other side of the floor.

The Hole was already incredible before the pandemic. However, I’ve learned to appreciate it even more now. My apartment is my world, too, and I’m sure yours is as well. If there is anything to learn from The Hole, it’s that amongst the fear, mundanity, and sluggishness of isolation, hope exists. All that’s left to do is dream it.