It makes no sense

I can certainly identify with these journalists, faced with the challenge of making sense out of David Lynch’s latest movie:

Asked if the film was supposed to make sense, Lynch told a news conference following a press screening: “It’s supposed to make perfect sense.” […]

Lynch was in no mood to help journalists fathom the film’s meaning.

When asked to explain the appearance of three actors wearing rabbits’ heads, one of whom stands in the corner doing the ironing, the 60-year-old replied: “No, I can’t explain that.”

I can appreciate Lynch’s desire to not out and explain the symbolism behind his movie before mainstream viewers get a chance to try figuring it out for themselves. But I think I’m going to have to side with the bewildered journalists here. I can testify that Lynch’s films, while interesting in a what-the-heck-is-going-on sort of way, definitely do not “make perfect sense,” and if Lynch is under the impression that they do, then somebody’s confused, and it ain’t just the people watching his movies. Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive are two of the least comprehensible films I’ve seen in my entire life. I’ve seen some truly noble and tortured attempts online to wring coherence out of both of those films, but to little avail.

I love a good perplexing book or movie that requries concentration, discussion, and even research to interpret. Some of my favorite such stories are those that, even after I’ve read and understood them, still leave me with the nagging sense that I haven’t really uncovered everything the creator intended me to find–those are books and films I can revisit years down the road, always finding new bits and pieces of meaning. But if you don’t provide the audience the contextual clues they need to even begin deciphering your work of art, then you might as well just be making the film for yourself, because nobody else has the slightest clue what you’re trying to say. Maybe Mulholland Drive makes perfect sense to David Lynch, but I’ll go ahead and bet that 99% of its viewers were left scratching their heads when the credits rolled. He’s certainly created something that’s vaguely impressive, but a work of art that speaks to people? Not so much.

So go ahead and keep making movies, Mr. Lynch. But try not to act quite so surprised when nobody seems to know what the heck you’re trying to say. The rest of us are busy entertaining ourselves with much less artsy fare–things like Arrested Development, with such populist and unsubtle scenes as this:

Rita: Is that a story?
Maeby: Not yet. It doesn’t have an ending. He’s in LA, she’s in Japan–how do I get these two characters together?
Rita: Maybe they could walk.
Maeby: Across the ocean?
Rita: If it’s not too deep.
Maeby: No… deep is
good. People are gonna say “What the hell just happened? I better say I like it,” ’cause nobody wants to seem stupid.
Rita: I like it!

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3 thoughts on “It makes no sense

  1. Ed Heil

    I remember Jon Anderson (frontman of Yes) saying in an interview that his impenetrable lyrics make perfect sense on the surface of it to him. For example, their hit song “Roundabout” is about roundabouts.
    I kid you not.

  2. Brit

    One thing I learned from DMing roleplaying games is that sometimes you have to make a story painfully obvious for people to understand what’s going on. If there’s any plot twists at all, you have to leave unrealistically surendipitous clues to get them to figure things out. The upshot is that just because you understand what’s going on with all the facts in front of you doesn’t mean other people can work backwards – i.e. put the facts together correctly to understand the larger picture. I have to wonder if David Lynch is in the position where he understands what’s going on because he already knows the big picture, but can’t realistically put himself in the position of a viewer trying to decipher the big picture from the fragments.

  3. joel

    One thing I dislike about David Lynch is that he doesn’t add chapter stops to his DVDs, so if you want to try to decipher his movies by going back/forth between scenes, you’ve got a lot of rewiding/fast-forwarding to do.
    Or, you know. If you want to pick up the movie from where you left off the day before.
    He may be a fantastic filmmaker (I have no clue what Mulholland Drive was about), but that’s pretty arrogant.

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