It is no secret to fans and devotees of David Lynch and his art that fierce independence is a hallmark of basically every artistic endeavor the man undertakes. Whether it is the ambiguity of 2001’s Mulholland Dr. (my analysis is here), the non-linearity of 1997’s Lost Highway (one of my analyses on it is here), the stream of consciousness structure of 2006’s Inland Empire (my look at that film is here), the quirky beauty and mystery of his foray into television Twin Peaks, or even the Kafkaesque absurdity and surreal quality of Lynch’s maiden voyage in feature films — 1977’s Eraserhead — the man’s work very often defies classification. That is why we love it; and that is why cinephiles have coined the term “Lynchian”(the late American writer David Foster Wallace describes it in an essay here) to at least give a rough idea of what’s being discussed and examined — “Lynchian” defined as “a particular kind of irony where the very macabre and the very mundane combine in such a way as to reveal the former’s perpetual containment within the latter.”
In the author’s opinion, knowing this about Lynch’s art casts the right light on his recent comments on politics and Donald Trump in a recent interview with The Guardian to publicize his new memoir/biography “Room to Dream” — Lynch supported Bernie Sanders in the last Democratic primary and voted third party in the 2016 presidential election. The relevant paragraph from the interview is below although you should read the whole thing here because of Lynch expanding on his respectful approach to art and letting the audience figure a piece out. After Lynch said, “I am not really a political person, but I really like the freedom to do what you want to do,” in the preceding paragraph of the interview, of course the press (and President Trump) went nuts quoting it out of context. The relevant part of the interview to this discussion, in its entirety:
He [David Lynch] is undecided about Donald Trump. “He could go down as one of the greatest presidents in history because he has disrupted the thing so much. No one is able to counter this guy in an intelligent way.” While Trump may not be doing a good job himself, Lynch thinks, he is opening up a space where other outsiders might. “Our so-called leaders can’t take the country forward, can’t get anything done. Like children, they are. Trump has shown all this.”
Then came the initial press hyperbole and omission of the proper context of this quote, and caterwauling from some on the left because Lynch isn’t in complete lock-step with their politics or the loud, misguided praises coming from some on the right because they think he is in complete lock-step with theirs — Vice, which you can read here, Christoph Hooton of The Independent who you can read here and Eric Kohn of IndieWire who you can read here, were about the only three the author saw who offered a reasonable analysis on this. Lynch authored the following as a clarifying follow-up letter — addressing it directly to President Trump — on his official Facebook page.
This is David Lynch writing. I saw that you re-tweeted the Breitbart article with the heading - Director David Lynch…
Indeed, a lot like Lynch’s films, people on the hard poles of either political side will read what they want to from these quotes and take the first especially out of context.
What are we to make of these quotes? If anything, in the author’s opinion, these quotes reflect two things which can be seen in Lynch’s work: fierce intellectual independence and a desire to ease humanity’s suffering — likely derived from Lynch’s fervent practice of Transcendental Meditation or “TM” which takes a lot from Eastern modes of spirituality like Buddhism. See more on Lynch and TM by heading to his foundation’s website here.
Lynch did not say that Trump was a good president. These two quotes put together show that what he meant was that you (speaking to Donald Trump) can turn around all the discord your policies have sown, while also admonishing Trump’s opposition to start acting like real leaders and actually offer an intelligent and effective resistance to ease that suffering he mentions in his second quote.
While the fierce independence is easy to see in Lynch’s work, the desire to ease suffering may be a bit harder to see. It exists, however, in the probing of tragedy motivated by very real human emotions that permeates Lynch’s films, and the cautionary tales that they are: Lost Highway being probably the most obvious example of a “moral homily” (as I’ve called it) in Lynch’s work, but even Mulholland Dr. in many ways is also a meditation on the effects of jealousy in human relationships. In examining tragedy, Lynch is very much affecting his films as cautionary tales for others, to ease future suffering through learning from the study of the human condition.
Lynch is a man who will not be pigeon-holed: in art or in life. He is not a Trump supporter. He is not a Democrat. He is fiercely independent in his politics just like in his art.
Still — like his films — many will take from these statements what suits them — and also like his films, the truth will inhabit a place outside of established dogma on them.
Wess A. Haubrich is the contributing editor of the film section of The Nu Romantics and London’s award-winning culture website The 405. He is also a “top writer” in “movies”, “mental health” and “culture” on Medium.com. He can be reached on Twitter or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org as he is always looking for cutting edge undiscovered cinema especially and innovative forms of all kinds of art to bring to his readers by probing the minds of their creators in interviews and features.