In anticipation of the revival series of Twin Peaks, I decided to rewatch and rank all of David Lynch’s films. As Terrence Malick was originally a philosophy major, Lynch was a painter who turned to filmmaking. As a result, he paints his subconscious onto each of his films, for better or worse. The man is obsessed with 1950s style and the picturesque charm of Middle American life. Identity and the unknown are also recurring themes in his work.
What separates Lynch from the majority of his copycats is that he doesn’t try to be weird for the sake of being weird, which is what most parodies of him and his work misunderstand. His work is never condescending or pretentious* because he is more interested in images than ideas. He’s not a patronizing message-pusher and never hides behind metaphors. He simply creates what inspires him with little thought as to what others would think and this is what makes him such an authentic filmmaker. More importantly he knows the importance of the mundane and its impact on our lives, even if we don’t always know what it means.
*I’m referring to his feature films. It’s debatable when referring to some of his shorts.
14. Dune (1984)
This movie is a mess. It’s quite a bit incomprehensible upon first viewing, which explains the moronic voice-overs that every character in the film has to make sure the audience knows what’s going on. There’s also too much exposition with the narration. The special effects are horrible. The editing feels rushed. There is, however, some fantastic imagery that pops up in a few parts of the movie.
13. Duran Duran: Unstaged (2014)
His name is David Lynch, he’s from another land.
He films Duran Duran, a very shitty band.
To get the most of this, you have to be a fan.
Fuck you Duran Duran across the Rio Grande.
12. Eraserhead Stories (2001)
This is an interesting documentary where David Lynch talks about the making of Eraserhead.
11. Inland Empire (2006)
This is the final installment of Lynch’s Los Angeles trilogy. He retreads on familiar ground on familiar ground and it’s not too enjoyable the third time around. He uses story devices that were used more effectively in Lost Highway, and he really seems to love Sunset Boulevard. He has fun with layers, fiction within fiction, and plays with time as an instrument to put his musings on screen. The movie goes on showing how fiction and “stories” influence reality and vice versa. The film is shot on standard definition video giving off a “reality tv” vibe, possibly poking at reality’s superficial fabrication. The segments with the Rabbits are great, making fun of the weight and importance us viewers give to wooden simulation. He goes full circle starting with the humor of it, and then trying to seriously examine it.
There are some interesting scenes and images, but nothing that justifies its three hour length. The film alternates between built-up tension and throwaway ideas that don’t add up to anything that isn’t appreciated by only die-hard Lynch fans. This movie received mostly positive reviews and I cannot help but think it has something to do with Lynch’s rock star status. It was considered the 2nd best film of 2007 by Cahiers Du Cinema (which shouldn’t be that surprising, seeing as how they overrate Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Gus Van Sant, and Francis Ford “holy shit, could you believe I’m still making movies?” Coppola).
If this film were made by an unknown filmmaker, it would receive neither an audience nor the time of day. It’s definitely a huge step back from the long haul of the making of Eraserhead. The film doesn’t compete with Crispin Glover’s What is It? trilogy or Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle, each a series of extremely self-indulgent surrealist films that were mostly ignored by the mainstream film press. These films push the limits of what film can be, while Lynch gets too comfortable with his old ideas. Glover, influenced by Lynch himself searches for what creates taboo and how one approaches it; Barney goes even deeper with incomprehensible content and imagery that he manages to win over some art critics while pissing off every film critic that can’t pigeonhole the movie by conventional standards. Lynch’s retro pop aesthetic makes his films easier to digest. He attempts to follow the footsteps of Fellini’s 8 ½, Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, and Godard’s Contempt but doesn’t quite catch up to either of them. Fuck, Be Kind Rewind seems closer to those movies in comparison.
One major complaint I have is towards the soundtrack as many of the choices are weak when compared to his best soundtracks/scores in Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive. Hell, I fucking hate Rammstein and Marilyn Manson, but I cannot deny how well they were used in Lost Highway. Angelo Badalamenti being absent possibly has something to do with the downgrade. I absolutely adore Penderecki, but I don’t see any reasonable choice for his music in the film beyond having token Polish music for a film that partially takes place in Poland. Also, if there were musical nightmare retardant to a David Lynch film, it would be hearing Beck’s Black Tambourine.
The conclusion that precedes the end credits scene is so unbelievably cheesy. Laura Dern steps out and hugs the traumatized woman in the hotel room. The woman searched for therapy in cinema playing on a television and it saved her. It got her through the tough time. Yawn. Many of his other films become more rewarding upon further viewings, this one not so much.
If this film cut out a lot of unnecessary scenes, I probably would have given this a higher grade. Either way, I’m happy Lynch got this excess out of his system, if only to ensure his bad ideas were wasted on this film and not on the return of Twin Peaks. Despite my dissatisfaction, I’m very happy a movie like this was even made. I prefer people taking chances making a spectacular failure over playing it safe and making a boring generic movie.
The end credits are fun though.
10. Twin Peaks Original Series (1990-1991)
Rating: 6.2/10 (this is a great rating by TV standards!!)
Created by David Lynch and Mark Frost
Directed by David Lynch, Duwayne Dunham, Tina Rathborne, Tim Hunter, Lesli Linka Glatter, Caleb Deschanel, Mark Frost, Todd Holland, Graeme Clifford, Uli Edel, Diane Keaton, James Foley, Jonathan Sanger, and Stephen Gyllenhaal
Written by Mark Frost, David Lynch, Harley Peyton, Robert Engels, Jerry Stahl, Barry Pullman, Scott Frost, and Tricia Brock
While this isn’t a film, and Lynch only directed 6 out of the 30 episodes, I can’t make a ranking involving David Lynch’s work without mentioning his most important work in television. It ranks among the greatest television shows of all time; with the pilot being a strong contender for one of the best television pilots (It’s equally excellent if watched as a standalone film).
Twin Peaks is a show that changed television, pushing the boundaries of what could be done. There is playfulness in form and structure that is nothing like what came before it. Nobody involved with the television show even thought it would be picked up network TV. It was only an act of desperation on ABC’s part, searching for new shows, that it was even selected.
Sadly, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. After the success of the first season, the executives at ABC meddled with the show’s direction in the second season in a misguided attempt to hold onto as many viewers possible, dragging down the quality of the show, and leading to its cancellation. A significant chunk of the second season is crap because of this. David Lynch and Mark Frost had minimal involvement with the show during this time as they were focused on other film projects. This led to some episodes being directed by mismatched one-time directors. I mean, Diane Keaton? What the fuck?
The show is a psycho-spiritual soap opera horror murder mystery revolving around the death of Laura Palmer, a popular and beloved high school student. She is the most interesting character in the show and is dead before the pilot begins.
The town isn’t what it appears to be, and almost everyone has something to hide. One weird thing about the show, and this is saying something, is that the main protagonist, Dale Cooper, is both extremely competent and good. Most media is driven by conflict and internal struggle, which makes it interesting that Cooper is pure without being a dumb Pollyanna.
Many of the characters are quirky, there is an emphasis on atmosphere, the music is perfect, and there is an emphasis on the unknown. The show finds balance between self-aware soap opera campiness and dark terror, something many shows fail to imitate. It influenced many shows like the X-Files, the Sopranos, and Lost.
There are also midgets, giants, spirits, and creamed corn, but that is neither here nor there. The owls are not what they seem.
If you ever had an annoying friend who tried to analyze and interpret their dreams aloud to you, this is the show for them. If you ever knew someone who practiced tarot cards, this is the show for them. If you have ever had a relative who bought an extensive carpet, only to be thrown in a dumpster the next day, this is the show for them.
Season 1 Grade: 7.6
Season 2 Grade: 5.7
Episode Rankings (with ratings)
- Episode 2 (8/10)
- Episode 29 (8/10)
- Episode 14 (8/10)
- Pilot (8/10)
- Episode 5 (8/10)
- Episode 16 (8/10)
- Episode 7 (7.5/10)
- Episode 13 (7.5/10)
- Episode 8 (7.5/10)
- Episode 4 (7.5/10)
- Episode 1 (7.5/10)
- Episode 9 (7.5/10)
- Episode 10 (7/10)
- Episode 6 (7/10)
- Episode 3 (7/10)
- Episode 15 (7/10)
- Episode 28 (6/10)
- Episode 12 (6/10)
- Episode 11 (5.5/10)
- Episode 27 (5/10)
- Episode 25 (5/10)
- Episode 17 (5/10)
- Episode 23 (4.5/10)
- Episode 26 (4.5/10)
- Episode 21 (4.5/10)
- Episode 22 (4/10)
- Episode 20 (4/10)
- Episode 18 (4/10)
- Episode 24 (3.5/10)
- Episode 19 (3/10)
9. The Elephant Man (1980)
This is David Lynch’s most conventionally told story. For the most part, the film unfolds in a conventionally told homage to classic Hollywood. The film’s perspective for the most part is black and white, ironic because the film is also shot that way. Each of the characters in the film fits an archetype and no more than that. The story progresses with predictable emotional cues. The soundtrack is at its best when it doesn’t exist as the music can be incredibly cheesy.
There are some Lynchian quirks that are fighting to get out in the film. The opening scene is one of the goofier parts of the film; imagery of elephants walking is superimposed over a staring woman before the elephants attack, dragging her to the ground. The symbolism is rather too literal. Some of these directorial decisions drag down the film and make the film feel more like a student film than Eraserhead. These Lynchian quirks become more effective in the second half of the film, one particular example being the Elephant Man locked in a cage with hostile baboons. These quirks are few and far in between the bulk of the movie, which makes some laughable due to execution.
Despite some of these reservations, Lynch shows that he capable of directing a “normal” movie if he wanted to. One has to admire the restraint from making this film very sentimental, which is very tempting given the source material. While still showing the ugliness of 19th century England, Lynch shows restraint from making this film pure misery porn as most Oscar nominated filmmakers would do today.
8. Wild at Heart (1990)
This film is what would happen if Pee Wee’s Big Adventure was directed by David Lynch.
Jokes aside, to say that the sequences in this film lack subtlety is a huge understatement. Everything in it is extreme, blunt, and in-your-face. It might even be a camp masterpiece. Hell, Tarantino wishes his films were as cool as this one. The thing people misunderstand about Lynch is that none of the weirder parts of his films are random. They might not make sense on a narrative level, but on a subconscious level they succeed.
One particular example in this film would be the injured woman in the car accident. She starts to spout nonsense about her purse and fear about getting in trouble with her mother. If you’ve known a person long enough to sleep next to them and speak to them upon waking up, there’s a chance their mental state could still be in the dream they’ve awoken from. I’ve been spoken to in dream logic, only for the said person to absolutely forget what they are talking about within minutes. I’ve probably done it to others as well. Our motivations don’t just change at different stages of our life, but in different states of being.
Anyways, I’ve not read Barry Gifford’s novel from which the movie is adapted from, so I don’t know how faithful the movie is to the book. I don’t know if the references to the Wizard of Oz are an invention of Lynch or are from the book, but the film has fun with them throughout. What I can see is affection for the characters, which is what separates this film from a parody.
Still, this movie sure as shit didn’t deserve to win a Palme d’Or.
7. The Straight Story (1999)
Even the most ardent David Lynch hater cannot possibly dislike this movie. It’s a warm affectionate portrait of Alvin Straight’s real life odyssey to reunite with his brother. David Lynch treats the man’s journey with warm affection and respect. There is an emphasis on realism, an absence of sensationalism and a very much appreciated lack of sentimentality that was present in the Elephant Man. Lynch proves he is very much capable of making a conventional film that still exceeds in execution over the average Hollywood director.
6. Eraserhead (1977)
David Lynch may have perfected the experimental art film with Eraserhead because this has influenced and inspired hundreds of copycats and none of them as good.
David Lynch understands something that the majority of modern horror directors fail to understand. Instead of trying to overwhelm the audience with “scary” elements, Lynch understands that the things that make us uncomfortable are usually subtle. The strangeness of these weird little incidents is what lets us know something is off. With this early film, Lynch proves to be quite the master of atmosphere. The sound is impeccable and Lynch is a master of imagery. Whether you like this movie or not, something in this film will forever stick to your head. Hell, Lynch manages to make something as natural as a dog breastfeeding her puppies into something nightmarish.
The main character is in a crapsack world, where nothing seems to go right for him. He lives in an ugly apartment; his room window faces a brick wall allowing almost no light to get in. The industrial town he’s in looks abandoned with an aura of crippling depression. To make things worse, he ends up with a deformed monster child, while trapped in a forced loveless marriage. Instead of daydreaming of a better life, he is only consoled by thoughts of suicide staring at the radiator in his apartment. “In heaven, everything is fine.”
Everyone in the film is cold and uncompassionate. The man tries his best to do right by people and his “child”, but the lack of support of his wife and the maddening bawling of his monster child are enough to drive him to madness. The baby also gets in the way of his own small dreams, which I hope this isn’t how Lynch felt about his own kids.
We know nothing about the protagonist, of who he is, or how he ended up in this situation. We ask ourselves what the man asks himself, “How did I end up here?”
There is a definite Franz Kafka influence to this film. It’s also hard not to draw interpretations based on David Lynch’s horrible experiences living in Philadelphia. Similar imagery reappears from this film in Mulholland drive. Eraserhead is a very original film and I cannot think of any film that came before it that is anything like it.
5. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)
Note: Please, for fuck’s sake, do not watch this film until you have seen the entirety of Twin Peaks seasons 1 and 2.
This is David Lynch’s most misunderstood film. It received boos at the Cannes Film Festival where it premiered, and was a commercial and critical disappointment. On the surface, viewed through the eyes of an idiot, it’s about a girl who has a lot of sex and does a lot of drugs. But it is much more than that. I’m sad to say I was one of those idiots when I first watched it as a teenager years ago. I was stupid and naive like Bobby, James, and Donna.
Where do I start? The first story revolving around Chester Desmond is creepy and captivating. It’s endlessly rewarding as we see a nice agent attempt to solve a murder mystery in a town that can only be described as the shitty polar opposite of Twin Peaks. The people are ugly, trashy, and unwelcoming. They treat authority with absolute contempt, giving the two agents a very hard time. While the story might seem like an odd shaggy dog story, it’s a perfect transition to the bulk of Laura’s life before her murder.
This film is scary, sad, and emotionally draining. We come face to face with Laura’s suffering and her best attempts to escape it. She constantly cokes up to numb the pain, and gets it on with low-lives in the pink room. Meanwhile, she is in perpetual runaway from spirits and demons both literal and figurative. The true horror of the film is how everyone is oblivious to Laura’s pain. Sure, the people of Twin Peaks are mostly harmless and seem nice, but what makes them monsters is how they all ignore the cries for help of a young girl. They’re all too distracted with their own lives to understand or even care. This is what contrasts the shitty town in the beginning of the film with Twin Peaks. At the end of the day, what is it their actions and lack thereof say? This is called back to in one of the early episodes of Twin Peaks where Bobby makes a scene at her funeral blaming everyone. On the surface, Laura is popular, beloved, with many friends and admirers, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. If people just looked past the surface, they might notice her misery.
It’s only after it is too late that the citizens pretend to care. Another sad thing about this film is that caring isn’t even enough. Bobby, James, and Donna do care about Laura to an extent, but they don’t know how to help, and that’s ultimately her doom. She doesn’t know how to talk about her problems. Her problems are to an extent incomprehensible for someone of her age. I think the genius stroke of the film is by evoking the supernatural, it adds empathy to her character and to victims of rape and incest.
The truth is, most victims are ignored and misunderstood. People like to believe that by talking about their problems, that’s going to make things easier, but it ignores the difficulties that go with it. Could anyone possibly believe any of the stuff Laura could describe? Harold Smith, her loyal secret friend, tells her that it’s all in her head, which adds to her some hopeless anguish. It’s easy to point fingers and say, something is wrong, but does anyone step in any do anything? What could they do? As Nicholas Cage in Wild at Heart would say, she has no parental guidance (I mean, they’re pretty fucked-up themselves).
David Lynch’s master direction and surreal imagery prevents this film from being a trivial victim story that is so beloved by the academy awards. Instead of aiming for cheap sentimental bait, Lynch strives for pure cinema.
4. Blue Velvet (1986)
Rating: 8/10 (Best Lynch Soundtrack)
The only thing that bugs me about this film is how rushed the beginning is, Lynch really wants to get Jeffrey into Dorothy’s apartment. The progression of the film feels contrived up until that part. His motivations don’t matter as long as the movie gets to the interesting part. Other than that, this movie is absolutely fantastic.
Lynch really captures the idealized charm and sweetness of small town America, while hinting at the ugliness hidden beneath it, a theme he goes back to in Twin Peaks. This ugliness manifests itself because of both public obliviousness and willful submission.
He takes the Noir film genre to a very weird place. We get a look at the innocents’ fascination with the wicked, along with reflections on the patterns of abuse. We get a quick glimpse at how the pure can assume the role of the abuser when the opportunity presents itself and what toll abuse can take on a person’s sanity.
Angelo Badalamenti’s score and Lynch’s soundtrack choices elevate the film to another level. The usage of Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” as the character, Ben, lip syncs to the film is both enigmatic and magical. This song makes for some perfect visual dissonance in both this scene and the scene after when Frank and his men are beating the shit out of Jeffrey. There’s not any other contemporary filmmaker that can juxtapose American Oldies Popular music the way Lynch does in this and Mulholland Drive.
Dennis Hopper plays the role of his lifetime in this film, as the psychotic villain, Frank, as Isabella Rossellini plays the unforgettable tortured Dorothy Valens. Overall, I will never forget the rosy tinted way Lynch paints Classic 50s Dreamlike American Suburbia against the nightmarishly incomprehensible.
As Jeffrey puts it, “Why do there have to be people like Frank?”
3. Lost Highway (1997)
One time when I was out of town, I lied to my girlfriend about the date I was returning home so I could surprise her. I made it back while she was at work. I did my best to hide my luggage, my jacket, and everything so she wouldn’t notice I was home. I hid in the closet with the intention of scaring the absolute shit out of her when she walked in. The stupid cat wouldn’t stop pawing me for attention.
Hours later, she opened our apartment door, shouting in anger and fear, “Who the fuck is in here?!” She didn’t take footsteps deep inside to come anywhere near the bedroom closet, still shouting from outside. I realized I forgot to lock the door upon arriving.
There used to be two gangs in Chicago that consisted entirely of homeless people. I don’t know what their official names were, if they had any. The first consisted of the people who slept in Harrison Park, the second slept in Dvorak park. The reason the two groups had beef is anyone’s guess.
Rambo, presumably self-named after the film, was the head of the Harrison Park hobos. He was broad like an ox, with a giant hard beer belly. His teeth were yellow with some missing, he had a small grey undersized Polo stretched over his hairy gut; he looked in his forties going on his sixties. He loved to “get blasted” to Black Sabbath. My friend, who I will not name to protect his guilty ass, introduced me to him and their way of life. Some years after this, my friend’s house was set on fire. My girlfriend never met him.
This is the first installment in Lynch’s Los Angeles trilogy.
2. Twin Peaks: The Return (2017)
There was some initial skepticism as to how the Twin Peaks revival would hold up, and whether the new season could still be relevant after the major evolution of television in the past twenty or so years. The best thing about the new season is that, while still building on the mythology and framework of the previous seasons, it didn’t aim to please everyone. The new season is a great big “fuck you” to nostalgia.
When the new episodes differed radically from everything that came before it, many viewers were disappointed. It wasn’t the Twin Peaks they remembered and held so dearly; to hell with them. Structurally, the show is unique and unlike anything on television that I’ve ever seen. It might possibly the start of a new wave of auteur television, as Lynch had complete control over the direction of the show. Bonus points for Lynch making the season nearly impossible to understand for anyone who hasn’t followed the show up to this point.
The new series is an excellent retrospective of Lynch’s career; one can see a little of each work of his in this series, even Dune. The old master is out of place in this new world, and for many of the show’s characters, the world has marched on and left them behind. They can only look back and draw from the best of it. Lynch also uses the world to vent about his complaints with the changing movie industry. This modern update on Homer’s Odyssey is about the passing of time, with the American West replacing Greece, and many of the supernatural entities replacing the gods. The new series muddles up the water on the consequences of doing the “right” thing not always being the “best” thing, and the regret and uncertainty that follow. Lynch’s mood piece takes full advantage of his ensemble cast and serialization to give viewers enough to chew, but without easy answers. To quote Alvin Straight from the Straight Story, “the worst part of being old is remembering when you was young.” If this ends up being Lynch’s last work, he will have gone out on a high note. This just might be his Rust Never Sleeps.
1. Mulholland Drive (2001)
This is the second installment in Lynch’s Los Angeles trilogy.
This is and will forever be my favorite David Lynch film. It gets better and better with each viewing. As of now, it’s probably one of the best films, if not the best film of the 21st century.
Originally intended to be a pilot of a longer television series for ABC, after it wasn’t picked up, Lynch added more onto it, making it the great Mulholland Drive we all know and love.
Lynch, a true surrealist, has always been interested in dreams, which only makes sense that he films a piece reflecting on the dreams people have when they move to Hollywood. People on the outside, from many small towns, look at the glamour, the fame, and the sugarcoated version of this way of life on television and the movies. People sometimes fantasize about becoming a part of this world, but fantasies almost never match up with reality: What we want vs. what we get.
Lynch, by this point, has over fifty years of life experience in his belt, moving from a small town to an industrial city to Los Angeles. Recognition has landed him work in Hollywood, which is how he has experienced the good and the bad. Right now, David Lynch has gone on the record that with the current status of the industry today, he probably won’t make another film again. So, because of this, it’s hard not to see the director character in the film, Adam Kesher, as a reflection and criticism of the industry influenced by Lynch’s own experiences. The people who ultimately pull the strings in the movie business are portrayed as thugs and gangsters. The reason they have this seemingly infinite power is unknown, but it is an obstacle even an established successful big-shot director can’t bypass. The actual character of Adam Kesher himself probably has nothing in common with Lynch himself, seeing as their look, talk, and demeanor are completely different. Perhaps he could be based on someone?
Seeing as this film more than pays homage to Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, Betty can be seen as similar to how Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard wants to see herself, and Diane can be the Norma Desmond that actually is. Obviously, the character isn’t or has anything specifically in common with Ms. Desmond, but has to do with the significance of identity. The happy-go-lucky Nancy Drew movie star wannabe Betty is a huge contrast from the bitter emotionally-abused Diane.
There is no band, and yet, we hear a band.
Identity is probably the key theme in this film. Rita is searching for it in a literal way, Betty in a spiritual way, and Kesher is grasping at what he has left of it. The film flirts with this theme, as Betty auditions for a film as another character, and Rita tries on the wig to begin her new life. The eerie concert performance at Club Silencio is a forewarning of the cruel reality that is going to wake up Diane.
One funny comment that someone on a Youtube comment brought up regarding the first scene featuring the man behind Winkies was something along the lines of “You know you’re a great director when you can make a scary scene full of tension that takes place in plain daylight.”
Lynch gets it.