News broke today that David Lynch is reviving his short-lived yet much-loved TV series Twin Peaks for a new season beginning in 2016. I was never much of a Twin Peaks fan and I’ve always had a bit of an ambivalent attitude towards Lynch. I cannot dispute his genius, and I appreciate a lot of his work, but many of his films have left me cold. Some are out and out masterpieces such as Blue Velvet and The Elephant Man, while others, such as Lost Highway, I feel are weird for the sake of being weird, inscrutable for the sake of being inscrutable.
Lynch’s career has followed an interesting trajectory: ranging from the strange (Mulholland Dr.) to the near-mainstream (the poignant and underrated The Straight Story.) Most recently, Lynch provided the voice of Gus the Bartender on The Cleveland Show. But it all began in 1977 with Eraserhead, a film that almost singularly defines the term “cult.”
Perhaps I’m undermining my credibility a bit to say that I saw Eraserhead for the very first time last month when Criterion re-released the film on Blu-Ray. Perhaps the reason is that, for many years, the film was very difficult to find. Or perhaps I just didn’t want to see it. Nonetheless, Eraserhead’s reputation always loomed large in my conscious, and when I finally sat down and watched it last month, my mind was blasted.
Eraserhead’s influence is undeniable and yet there exists no other film like Eraserhead. Describing the plot of Eraserhead is nigh impossible as the film exists in a world with little connective tissue. Lynch describes the film as “a dream of dark and disturbing things,” and he’s spot-on. The film is as close an approximation to a celluloid nightmare as I’ll ever see. A bizarre fever-dream of weird sounds, textures, images, and rhythms. Eraserhead just is.
The film’s black and white cinematography is astounding. Each frame is meticulous in both design and composition. And the sound. My lord, the sound! Despite not a word of dialogue spoken for the first ten and a half minutes, the film is never quiet. The soundtrack is practically a character in itself. From the windy, to the industrial, to the “squishy”, to the omnipresent humming and clanging of distant machinery, the film’s sound design alone can inspire many a sleepless night. And the ceaseless, anguished bleating of the baby. My lord, the baby! Once you hear it – the high-pitched mewling of an anguished infant, it will be indelibly stamped on your brain for life.
Not one character or situation in Eraserhead could be described as normal. The film is equal parts industrial and organic, alienating yet engrossing. Lynch creates a world so unlike our own that we have nothing to grasp onto for safety or reassurance. We either consciously shut it out and reject it entirely or choose to go along for the ride.
I realize I have mentioned little about the characters and events in the film and that is quite intentional. Lynch himself refuses to say anything about Eraserhead because he wants viewers to think for themselves as to the meaning of the picture.
Anyone who considers him or her self an aficionado of the weird, the bizarre, the esoteric must see Eraserhead. Furthermore, anyone who wishes to explore the endless possibilities and limitless boundaries of film as an art form must see Eraserhead. I’m just ashamed it took me this long.
***** (out of five)