I must say that I enjoy Lynch’s films not for what they are but for what they aren’t. That puts me in a position where I am removed from the human pathos critics characterize him with, but pretty involved with his formal intents. In other words, I like his idea of tinkering with our expectations of narrative throught a drift. He is all about the drift… often into something spooky and that includes sex.
The way he drifts is wonderful because there’s always a sense of fall that comes with it. Not only the idea of us losing control but also characters.
But for someone whose films are considered puzzles or nonsense (or puzzles of nonsense) by many viewers, it is strange to see how much he actually cares about making narrative sense. He always justifies his drifts…they are imagined dreams, masturbation fantasies, or movies in the making. Although you might think ‘Blue Velvet’ is a straight story because there’s no fragmentation, try to think of it as a movie-within one of his movies. The deliberate kitsch of the small-town setting should clue you in. And as for ‘The Straight Story’, his Disney project…well the title says it all.
Now on to this.
It has a movie-within, so some shifting between what is real and what is scripted is expected. But Lynch makes it deliberately prone to further shifting. He does this in the story by informing us that the movie-within is cursed. We learn that it is in fact a remake and that the previous shooting was never completed after the two leads were murdered. It is this curse that will cause reality to shift for our heroine.
This is where things get interesting for me, when stories shift. I am used to the kind of shifting you might find in Medem where we shift POV’s, reality through altered memory, reality through a magical sexual God, or re-written reality. But notice how different and elaborate the shifting is here. Lynch doesn’t display the same clarity as Medem and the narrative torrents aren’t as fluid, but his structure is much more complex. Every node could be the nexus, and each is an emanation from a previous or later one, as even time is bent. Then he drifts through the whole network in a dream-logic fashion. We might think it is ‘random’. But in fact, the whole thing makes a lot of sense.
Things start out with a lure: we suspect there might be an infidelity on the part of the actress that mirrors the infidelities of the movie she’s shooting. Later on, during shooting, our main actress shifts into real-life when she is supposed to be ‘acting’, the exact opposite of the cliche where real-life is suddenly revealed as a movie. What an apt preemptive for what is soon to follow! That shift then triggers all the wandering between realities that takes up most of the story, often with our actress walking blindly into what is a fabrication as if it were real-life.
But the shifting is not between a series of fabricated worlds which we linearly drive through. It is like one cosmology which has been fragmented, and part of the narrative we see is its reassembling (in a dream-like sequential logic). Each segment seems to have some kind of causal relationship with one another. Our heroine wanders throughout them strictly implicated in the direct events but always with the recall of a prior reality, which is the cause of much distress. Lynch’s success is in how this re-shuffling conveys a new narrative which instead of being focused on telling itself, focuses on showing a new underlying logic between its events. That in the midst of it, some new realities are generated or imagined, is strictly incidental, but welcomed.
I don’t want to appear bold, but this movie is not about infidelity and guilt. If it has to be about something I suggest you relax into that sequence where a mysterious intruder interrupts a rehearsal and then dissapears. The intruder later turns out to be the main actress who was rehearsing when the interruption occured. Now, think about how comforting that is? The reassurance that our own fears and doubts are internal and not the product of an external agent acting against us? This is one of the messages behind Lynch’s meditation philosphy which he spends money promoting. I’d say this film, and understanding of its structure provides more derivate insights of this philosophy than anything you can pick up and use for your marital problems.
The following comment is mostly of personal interest…
I’m starting to think it is some kind of rule of shifting layers in narrative when our articulate filmmakers in the method (Medem, Park) reference Alice In Wonderland. Here, there is a descent into the alternate realities through maze-like hallways not unlike Alice’s rabbit-hole. To annotate this, we actually have rabbits living in one of the rooms of these hallways.
There is another room that our heroine enters where she is confronted with a group of women who seem to remember her. Each of these women engage in explicit sexual talk and in alternate realities are revealed to be prostitutes. Our heroine eventually confronts them on their rememberance of her, which in my opinion is a multi-split of herself according to Alice’s sisters.
In the final sequence, she does indeed wear an Alice outfit as popularized in early drawings of the book.