Pretty Much Pop #59: David Lynch’s Popular Surrealism

Mark, Erica, Brian, and guest Mike Wilson discuss the director’s films from Eraserhead to Inland Empire plus Twin Peaks and his recent short films. We get into the appeal and the stylistic and storytelling hallmarks of his mainstays–Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, Lost Highway, and Mulholland Drive–and also consider outliers like Dune, The Elephant Man, and The Straight Story.

What’s with the campy acting and the weird attitudes toward women? Why make us stare at something moving very slowly for a long time? Are these films appealing to young people interested in something different but not on the whole actually enjoyable? Is there actually a “solution” to make sense of the senseless, or are these wacky plots supposed to remain unassimilable and so not dismissible?

Some articles we drew on included:

Also, read Roger Ebert’s reviews of Dune and Blue Velvet, and his subsequent thoughts on the latter. What did critics say about “What Did Jack Do?” Watch “Twin Peaks Actually Explained.”  Check out his short films if you can sit through them.

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can hear now by supporting the podcast at This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network and is curated by

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  1. Guys I love your podcast; I really do. Normally. However, this I found this really bad. You aren’t even close. to saying anything worthwhile on Lynch The whole episode seems to be reducible to “I didn’t understand the story so the film sucked.” When it is very clear that Lynch doesn’t care about the story. You don’t talk about images at all, nothing about editing, nothing about lighting, or any other technique by which Lynch thrives.

    A couple of places you come near saying something interesting, but you usually express it as a criticism. For instance, the quote about Lynch being Jimmy Stewart from Venus. Jimmy Stewart is a philosophically interesting actor: the idealist American politics from the 30s through 50s and even later are expressed and disseminated through him. Lynch obviously grew up with this idealism. In just one example, even his ideas about the relationship between genders comes out of this. Except it has all turned bad. Everything that was good has turned out to be irrevocably evil. That’s what his film world looks like. The way we have all made sense no longer makes sense. That doe3sn’t make his films bad…

    One of you mentions how the bad characters have no morality at all. I think Lynch’s idea of evil is much deeper than that. Those characters are a nightmare, evil beyond any control, the most evil thing that ever be. They are not principled bad guys, nor even unprincipled bad guys, they are bad beyond bounds and uncontrollable. If they win it will be proof that there is no good in the universe. One of you asks about the thing that crawled into the girl’s mouth in TP. Well it was in Roswell, wasn’t it? The nuclear age seems to figure, for Lynch, as the proof that all that American goodness and rationality has a core of evil. That scene isn’t followed up upon on any single scene later; its in all the scenes – something has taken over our daily life.

    At another point, one o you says that his films are just “artsy” – different to be different. I think this expresses a lack of imagination on your part: again, just because the film isn’t telling a “story” that you can figure out doesn’t mean it is boring. Lynch’s interest lies in images, in flirtation with meaning-making, with moral skepticism, play with film genre, etc. It is in shot-to-shot analyses that one could do with the stranger moments of films like TP, that one finds the most meaning (though not closure).

    For me, Lynch’s brilliance comes through in a film that you have next to nothing to say about – Inland Empire, which is about making films as much as anything else. The breakdown of reality (the difference between role and real life) is a trope of many films. Here it is multiplied to almost infinity, fragmented, and perpetuated in a long continued loop. There are some extremely scary moments as well.

    Finally, the gender violence is one of the most perturbing parts of Lynch, but not because of the treatment of actors. It is a serious mystery to me, whether the films live out fantasies of violence toward women or criticize them. They must be very traumatic for anyone who has experienced sexual violence. Some brilliant person needs to work this out.

    Sorry but you guys blew this filmmaker. But again, I really love your stuff (the recent series on Weil has been particularly great!), so don’t take this as hate mail.

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