Follow TV Tropes


Creator / David Lynch

Go To
David Lynch has a chicken.
Your argument is still valid, though.

"It makes me uncomfortable to talk about meanings and things. It's better not to know so much about what things mean. Because the meaning, it's a very personal thing, and the meaning for me is different than the meaning for somebody else."
David Lynch on most of his movies

David Keith Lynch (born January 20, 1946 in Missoula, Montana) is a filmmaker, artist, musician, writer, and occasional actor. He is considered one of the most influential filmmakers of his time for his idiosyncratic audiovisual style (since semi-formally dubbed "Lynchian"), as well as arguably the most popular director regularly associated with surrealism.

Like Alfred Hitchcock, Akira Kurosawa, and Kathryn Bigelow, Lynch was originally trained as a painter. Motivated by a desire to see his paintings in motion, he went into filmmaking in the late 1960s. His short "Six Men Getting Sick" won a cash prize; from this point forward, he would be a professional filmmaker.

Obvious influences on his films are Federico Fellini, Billy Wilder, Ed Wood, The Wizard of Oz, Film Noir, 1950s pop music (and '50s culture in general), Tod Browning and Luis Buñuel. Frequent collaborators include Kyle MacLachlan, Laura Dern, Isabella Rossellini, and the late Angelo Badalamenti, Harry Dean Stanton, and Jack Nance.

If you want to appreciate Lynch's craft, traditional methods of interpretation or pop-psychoanalysis aren't going to cut it. Lynch resists any sort of attempts at rational analysis and is really concerned with being in gnostic control of his stories, such that any interview question regarding the meaning of his works gets shut down instantly. A conclusion many have drawn from his works' utilization of dream logic, and something he has spoken to on numerous public occasions when pressed for definitive answers about his stories, is that the metaphorical, figurative, or thematic connection between things is always arbitrary and that this can never be taken too lightly.

He also only conducts business deals at Bob's Big Boy restaurants.

His daughter, Jennifer Chambers Lynch, is also a film director. Her best-known work, and certainly most infamous, is 1993's Boxing Helena. And no, it doesn't involve prize fighting (though Julian Sands gulping raw egg smoothies might have spiced it up a bit).

Between May 11, 2020 and December 16, 2022, Lynch posted daily videos of himself reading the weather reports for Los Angeles and picking numbered balls from a jar on his YouTube channel. Yes, every single day. And it grew a dedicated fanbase. (He originally did them for a few weeks in 2009, but it didn't catch on. The COVID-19 Pandemic lockdowns greatly helped the second attempt.)

David Lynch's filmography includes:

  • The Grandmother (1970) — Short film.
  • Eraserhead (1977) — Lynch's debut feature film, made over the course of 6 years; became one of the first films in the 'Midnight Movie' circuit.
  • The Elephant Man (1980) — Based on the true story of Joseph Merrick, and unlike the later mentioned The Straight Story, Lynch co-wrote the script.
  • Dune (1984) — Based on the novel by Frank Herbert; famous for making the already dense source material nigh-incomprehensible, and for being publicly disowned by Lynch due to the amount of Executive Meddling he faced.
  • Blue Velvet (1986) — Made after the failure of Dune, deliberately on a smaller scale, and won enough critical acclaim to realign his reputation.
  • Wild at Heart (1990) — Based on the novel by Barry Gifford.
  • Twin Peaks — TV series co-created with Mark Frost, that aired from 1990-91 on ABC and returned in 2017 on Showtime, often considered a landmark in TV drama.
  • Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) — A theatrical film prequel to the TV series.
  • On the Air (1992) — A short-lived Sitcom, also co-created with Mark Frost, that aired on ABC.
  • Lost Highway (1997) — A return to the neo-noir style of Blue Velvet with an even more surreal plot; co-written with Barry Gifford of Wild at Heart fame.
  • The Straight Story (1999) — Wait for it... a G-rated Disney movie with a conventional plot (as well as the only film of his he didn't write, which probably explains a lot).
  • Mulholland Dr. (2001) — Originally a pilot for ABC, was rejected until StudioCanal and Universal picked it up as a film.
  • Dumbland (2002) — Animated web series that aired exclusively on his website.
  • Inland Empire (2006) — Originally an experimental project to test his digital camera, was later expanded thanks to funding from Studio Canal.
  • What Did Jack Do? (2020) — 17-minute short film released on Netflix, originally made for an art exhibit in 2016.
  • Wisteria (upcoming) — A Netflix series that began production in May 2021. Not much is known about it at present.

He has also made many short films, television commercials, and music videos.

Tropes in Mr. Lynch's movies and life include:

  • The '50s: Aside from On the Air and a flashback in one episode of Twin Peaks' third season, none of his works are actually entirely set in the fifties, but most of them are visually and thematically very clearly influenced by the era.
  • Alan Smithee: Credited himself as "Judas Booth" for the long version of Dune, because in his view the studio had betrayed (Judas) and murdered (John Wilkes Booth) the film.
  • Arc Words: There is not a single David Lynch film that doesn't depend on the use of repeated cryptic phrases to set a spooky or dreamlike mood.
  • Author Appeal:
    • Head injuries and/or deformities, the United States, mechanical/industrial imagery, dwarves, retro-style music, and people dancing, often at really weird times.
    • The Wizard of Oz. Judy Garland was the sort of person Lynch is fascinated by because her wholesome public image contrasted so much with her descent into drug addiction, eating disorder, and crippling debt. Referencing her also makes a connection with the Wizard of Oz and its parallel world dream travel.
    • Going along with the above: cheery, sunny, and upbeat environments, frequently urban, that secretly house various forms of both literal and moral rot and decay and metaphysical evil, often personified by a single woman. About the only films of his that don't involve outward glamor disguising inner decay are Dune, The Straight Story, and (arguably) The Elephant Man.
    • POV shots of vehicles driving down dark roads at night, often at extremely high speed.
  • Berserk Button: According to Laura Dern, bringing a water bottle onto the set.
  • Big Ol' Eyebrows: The Mentats in Dune. And, indeed, Lynch himself.
  • Body Motifs: Injuries and/or deformities to the face and/or head
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: He's an odd fellow, to put it simply, but an undeniably great director.
  • City Noir: Eraserhead, his un-filmed script Ronnie Rocket, Mulholland Dr., Inland Empire, and large parts of Twin Peaks: The Return. The former two arguably fall under Diesel Punk, while the latter three also encompass Sunshine Noir due to taking place in Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
  • Colbert Bump: Lynch is responsible for triggering Roy Orbison's Career Resurrection in the late 1980s by featuring his music in Blue Velvet.
  • Cool Old Guy: Despite his eccentricity, he is by all accounts a very nice man who treats his actors well. His works also frequently feature such characters, including Pete Martell, Alvin Straight, Mr. Car-Gomm, and others.
    • Special mention goes to Twin Peaks' third season, where nearly every cool returning character from the first two series has become this or a Cool Old Lady, simply due to the passage of time.
  • Creepy High-Pitched Voice: Some of his songs feature him singing in an eerie tone. "Crazy Clown Time" is a notable example. It doesn't help that he has a slightly high, nasally voice normally.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Lynch is certainly one of these. Mel Brooks once described him as "Jimmy Stewart from Mars." He also has a Twitter account. He posted twice about finding out whether he's connected to the moon and three times about buying an ax.
  • Dada Ad: He directed a couple of commercials. They are just as bizarre as you might expect from the man.
    • Heck, just take a look at his PlayStation 2 commercial.
    • Or the teaser ad he made for Michael Jackson's Dangerous, which later appeared on the compilation of music videos for that album.
    • The weirdness of this cigarette ad is compounded by the fact that it is backwards. Apparently.
  • Dada Comics: His comic The Angriest Dog in the World inspired Dinosaur Comics. Every strip has the same repeated panels of the dog straining against his chain.
  • Deranged Animation: Occurs in his short films and music videos. A particular example would be the web series Dumb Land.
  • Drone of Dread: Nearly all of his films feature this in some fashion, whether it's the constant industrial ambiance of Eraserhead or the sinister synths in Twin Peaks.
  • Eagleland: A mixture of both flavors, Lynch likes to take both the proud and patriotic and juxtapose it with the ludicrous and depraved. All but two of his works (Dune and The Elephant Man) are set in the US. The Straight Story is, appropriately, the only er, straight example of Flavor 1.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Appears to have something of a fetish for this, akin to Hitchcock's for blondes.
  • Emerging from the Shadows: Often seen in his films.
  • Evil Doppelgänger: First appears in Twin Peaks, and become a recurring motif in his later works.
  • Existential Horror: Some of his work could be said to have elements of this, especially Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive due to their heavy focus on the fragility of human identity.
  • Fan Disservice: One of the hallmarks of David Lynch's projects is that they often prominently feature scenes that could or should be profoundly erotic, but which are instead horrifying or disturbing due to context or theme. This began with Isabella Rossellini's infamous nude scene in Blue Velvet, which was so disturbing that many critics (most notably Roger Ebert) flat-out accused Lynch of exploiting Rosselini (which she denied). Mulholland Drive is particularly notorious for it as well, and there's a famous sequence late in Lost Highway where Patricia Arquette is fully nude and it's somehow one of the most ominous shots in the film.
  • Hide Your Children: He has rarely worked with child actors.
  • Le Film Artistique: Most of his films could qualify to a greater or lesser degree, but his early shorts and Inland Empire go above and beyond in terms of surrealism.
  • Gainax Ending: Most of his films lack a comprehensible ending, including Twin Peaks but excluding the aptly-named The Straight Story.
  • Grotesque Gallery: He's very fond of deformed or unusual-looking characters, such as the baby and the Woman in the Radiator in Eraserhead, Joseph Merrick in The Elephant Man, the pustulent Baron Harkonnen in Dune, and the various Lodge spirits in Twin Peaks.
  • Horrible Hollywood: Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire are all at least partially about what an absolutely terrible, soulless place Los Angeles really is for people who make movies.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Lynch-land is these creatures' natural habitat.
  • Laugh Track: Sinisterly parodied in Rabbits, where it accompanies some genuinely absurd statements in a creepy setting.
  • Licensed Game: Dune received one in the form of an Adventure Game with some strategic elements.
  • Leave the Camera Running: He's fond of sustaining camera shots for a very long time, which frequently adds to the dreamlike, unsettling mood of his movies. Twin Peaks' third season, for example, features a scene of popcorn being swept off of a barroom floor while Booker T. and the MGs' "Green Onions" plays. In its entirety. While nothing else happens.
  • Lighter and Softer: The Straight Story, an uplifting drama film with none of Lynch's trademark surrealism. No real explanation required considering that it is a Disney film.
  • Louis Cypher: Some of Lynch's creepiest characters, such as the Man in the Planet, the magician in "Silencio" and (possibly) the Cowboy are heavily implied to be this. Lost Highway's Mystery Man is either this or the Anthropomorphic Personification of sanity.
  • Magical Realism: Most of his films fall into the genre in some way or another. Some are realistic but extremely bizarre (Blue Velvet, The Straight Story) while others go into the realm of pure fantasy (Twin Peaks) and beyond (Eraserhead, Inland Empire). The rest is, well.... somewhere in between. It's not like we can really be sure or anything.
  • Meta Twist:
    • The Straight Story is a completely straightforward film.
    • To a lesser extent, Elephant Man and Blue Velvet have saner plots in comparison to Lynch's other films barring the aforementioned The Straight Story.
  • Mind Screw: Mr. Lynch is a mental Lothario. So much so, in fact, that a woman named Lotje Sodderland wrote him a letter about how she suffered brain damage during a stroke and found that his films bore an uncanny resemblance to the way her mind worked now. Lynch responded by producing a documentary about her, titled My Beautiful Broken Brain.
  • Mockstery Tale: He is quite fond of this; he's actually known as "the first popular surrealist" because his movies are Mind Screw in trendy neo-noir wrappers featuring police, mafia, and conspiracies... as well as supernatural creatures and mind-boggling surrealism.
  • Mood Dissonance: He sometimes likes to set scary moments during daylight hours, often in normal, suburban locations. See, for example, the Winkies scene in Mulholland Drive.
  • Mundane Horror: Another one of his trademarks. The "man behind Winkies" scene in Mulholland Dr. and the party scene in Lost Highway deserve special mention.
  • Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant: He wouldn't be David Lynch without this trope. Just check out some of his most disturbing works.
  • Non-Actor Vehicle: Lynch loves casting singers in acting roles. This starts with Sting's performance in Dune, continuing to David Bowie and Chris Isaak appearing in Fire Walk With Me, and Marilyn Manson and Henry Rollins have cameos in Lost Highway; Billy Ray Cyrus has a hilarious cameo in Mulholland Drive; Chrysta Bell in Twin Peaks: The Return; also Rebekah del Rio in Mulholland Drive, Rabbits, and Twin Peaks' third season, though she sticks to singing.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: While he's arguably never made a straight-up horror film (except maybe Eraserhead), plenty of his movies are terrifying beyond all reason nevertheless, even when there's nothing overtly scary going on.
  • Ostentatious Secret: Mulholland Drive has a mysterious blue box, which has a matching blue key. It is shown to open once or twice, though the Mind Screw makes it hard to tell what if anything is going on.
  • Psychic Nosebleed: When Paul takes the Water of Life in Dune. Quite possibly Henry's nosebleed in Eraserhead, even though the trope didn't really exist when that movie was made, originating in a movie by a different characteristically-weird filmmaker named David.
  • Renaissance Man: Director, producer, screenwriter, actor, painter, and musician.
  • Rule of Scary: A lot of the creepiest moments in his body of work come out of nowhere and happen for seemingly no reason at all, which only makes them more effective.
  • Scare Chord: He is really good at these. The diner scene in Mulholland Drive is only the most infamous example.
  • Seemingly-Wholesome '50s Girl: A favorite character type, most notably in the form of Laura Palmer.
  • Sliding Scale of Realistic vs. Fantastic: Fucked with. Brutally.
  • Stylistic Suck: The eight Dumbland animated shorts, which are very crude in both design and content.
  • Suburban Gothic: Most of his work either falls into this or City Noir, with Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet the most famous examples.
  • Sunshine Noir: Mulholland Drive, Inland Empire, and the Las Vegas parts of Twin Peaks: The Return.
  • Surreal Horror: One of the masters of it. Lynch's hallmark as a director is his use of bizarre, disturbing imagery to invoke a persistent atmosphere of unease throughout his work.
  • Take That!: Mulholland Dr. and Inland Empire are obvious Take That! at Hollywood. And Rabbits is probably this to some not-so-clever sitcoms.
  • Thematic Series: Many have deemed Lost Highway, Mulholland Dr., and Inland Empire as this. All three films take place in Los Angeles or Hollywood and have themes emphasizing identity and self-delusion.
  • The 'Verse: Lynch has commented that some of his films have certain connections to Twin Peaks. He probably meant that they share the same artistic DNA and mindset rather than a true continuity. But many people have noticed that certain aspects of Lost Highway, Mulholland Dr. and Inland Empire become, if not clearer, then at least even more interesting if considered through Peaks mythology.
  • Villain Protagonist: About half of his films feature one, at least to some extent.
  • Wild Teen Party: The music video for the song Crazy Clown Time depicts one.
  • World of Symbolism: His movies have a reputation for falling into this category. Though some of them do have a comprehensible story, there's simply no way to take movies like Eraserhead and Inland Empire on anything except a very symbolic, fever-dream level.
  • Writing by the Seat of Your Pants: He openly admits that he starts writing things without any idea how they will end, and films striking visual imagery that just happens to pop into his head without worrying about what it means or how it will fit in with everything else.