This is my fifth and final entry in David Lynch Month, an essay examining long-term changes in Lynch's work. You don't necessarily need to read "part one" first, particularly if you're already familiar with Lynch. There are spoilers for all of his films.
This week's "Question in a World of Blue" is: What does the term "Lynchian" mean to you? You can respond in the comments below or on your own blog (please tag this entry in your response).
David Lynch has been making films for almost half a century. Because it took him another ten years to release his first feature, and nearly another decade to achieve his full-on "Lynchian" breakthrough into the mainstream, we tend to forget he's been around for so long. But Lynch's work stretches from the avant-garde cinematic renaissance of the late sixties (with its reliance on celluloid and aesthetic discipline) to the digital free-for-all of the twenty-first century teens (unmoored and immersed in its own video hyperactivity). He has both shaped his times and been shaped by them, but he's also stood apart - a one-man band beating his own crazy clown drum, sometimes celebrated as a true and timeless American original, sometimes scorned as a self-indulgent sideshow to the larger world, societal and cinematic.
From my recent Lynch marathon, two distinct and somewhat paradoxical observations emerged: a sense of unpredictability alongside an awareness of trajectory. On the one hand, Lynch's body of work is more wildly diverse than is usually credited: yes, there is a special "Lynchian" mood, style, and sensibility, but within that world there is incredible flexibility, ranging from the gentle, G-rated sincerity of The Straight Story (1999) to the raw, hallucinatory terror of Inland Empire (2006). Not only does Lynch's oeuvre feature wild fluctuations in tone, look, and subject matter, these wild fluctuations often occur from one project to the next. This marathon reminded me that the wacky, light-hearted TV pilot On the Air (1992) premiered a mere month after the intensely dark and emotional Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), while Lynch's tragic, stylish Mulholland Drive (2001) was shot around the time he recorded the gleefully juvenile Thank You Judge (2002).
Yet if Lynch can't be simplistically pigeonholed, he can - with caution and qualification - be placed. Over nearly fifty years his work, and the voice expressed in that work, has undergone gradual and long-lasting transformations: despite the variations film to film, strong patterns and an overall evolution emerge when looking at the big picture. This means not only recognizing links and echoes between far-flung films (say, the mirrored endings of Eraserhead (1977) and Fire Walk With Me) but also observing a tidal flow to the themes and styles presented onscreen. There is a chronological march in which claustrophobic panic gives way to rootless wandering, classical restraint dissolves into multilayered impressionism, and recognition of corruption from within slowly overtakes the quest against external evil. Just as in Lynch's films random experimentation and apparent non sequiturs coalesce into powerful, perhaps unintentionally resonant psychodramas, so several narrative arcs emerge when examining the totality of Lynch's expression.