“The owls are not what they seem”
This paper examines the structural meaning of so-called animals, or things and beings that appear to be animals, in David Lynch’s movies. The focus will be on small and unusual details, and thereby I hope to present a general outline of the narrative function of animals in the Lynch cosmos.
We begin with a deceptively simple question. Why should we be interested in animals? Animals are a burning issue in contemporary discourse: there is a wide-ranging and intense discussion over the mystic-religious function and significance of animals and their role in political zoology and historical anthropology. These disciplines are termed “animal studies”, “human animal studies” or “anthrozoology”. They share the aim of dissolving “the implicitness with which the opposition between ‘humans’ and ‘animals’ is being hypostatized” in history and culture.1
This implicit opposition between humans and animals is an anthropological demarcation. It is obvious that we recognise a clear difference between animals and humans, and do not regard and accept animals as our equals. We may save certain species from extinction or try to improve their living conditions, but we deny them rights and self-empowerment.
From the perspective of somebody or something seen as non-human, such behaviour is simply discriminatory. In a pertinent scene in the film “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country”, the Klingon Chancellor’s daughter Azetbur succinctly identifies the issue: “‘Inalien…’ if you could only hear yourselves. ‚Human rights.’ Why, the very name is racist.”2 The question arises, therefore, as to how the implicitness of the opposition between humans and animals emerged.
In ancient philosophy this opposition did not yet exist, although Aristotle often seems to suggest such a dichotomy. Animals and humans lived together in varied complex situations. Even in modern times, it has been the symmetries rather than the differences between humans and animals that have been emphasized.3 However, at some point, the historical circumstances and the rules for the coexistence of humans and animals began to change. Animals were devalued and the complex relations and interdependencies of humans and animals dissolved into hierarchies and dichotomies.
The German cultural historian Thomas Macho gave a short and clear explanation to this change. His answer will also lead us to Lynch’s animals. He suggests that the “paradigm shift from the agrarian to the industrial machines” changed the co-living between animals and humans.4 Animals disappeared from the direct human environment. They were replaced by industrial machines and thereby debased. Beforehand, agricultural machinery consisted of a close interaction of technique, humans and animals. Humans had to breed, domesticate and control animals to be able to use the agrarian machines. With the industrial revolution this interdependency dissolved. In the course of the 19th century, machines became liberated from the animal, and animals were no longer required. In place of the power of animals, fossil fuels drove machines. Fossil fuels appeared unending sources of energy and machines replaced animals: indeed, it could be said that machines were seen as superior animals. Thus, to discuss the relation between humans and animals, one must take into account the relation between man and machine.
This double-bind between humans and animals on the one side and man and machine one the other can be observed in depth in David Lynch’s movies. In his films, we can see depraved humans existing in almost inanimate and animal free industrial worlds populated by machines. There are almost no animals in his movies, and yet his protagonists tend to display animalistic behaviour. It appears that there is an extremely revealing connection between the latent animality of man and the expulsion of animals from the machine driven world. What, therefore, is the narrative function of the few animals that do appear in Lynch’s movies?
The briefest review reveals that David Lynch displays a broad interest in animals, animal-like beings and the animalistic. By showing humans as special or strange animals, he questions the opposition between humans and animals. He challenges the contrasts between humans and animals in two different ways.
Firstly, there are many animal-like beings in his movies. Those highly vivid organic forms move, absorb or excrete fluids, bear or die. The animalistic actions of these living forms are intensified or contradicted by a particular soundtrack. This sound design is typical in Lynch’s movies. These animal-like beings first appear in Lynch’s second movie, “The Alphabet”, from 1968. Here, the filmmaker works with organic forms, animated by stop- motion, that bear letters (see Fig. 1). Through the depiction of those ambigious animalistic forms, Lynch scrutinizes the concept of the animalistic and dissolves the border between human and animal as well as that between man and machine.
Secondly, there are many humans in Lynch’s movies who become so organic or animalistic and brutal that they lose their integrity, dignity, and self-determination. This transformation is shown, for example, in the initial scene of “Wild at Heart”, in which the protagonist Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage) bursts into animalistic violence, triggering the entire plot of the movie. Another example is the unsettling sex scene in “Blue Velvet”, when Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) strikes Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rosellini) for the first time, in an act of competition with his opponent Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper). Initially quite different characters, with each scene of animalistic love their subjectivity blurs. A third example can be seen in the dissolution of human subjectivity into machine-like animality in Lynch’s short movie “The Grandmother”, as the mother shows her love or the father beats the boy. It is difficult for the viewer to identify a human family rather than “wild” animals.
There are many more examples for this transformation, from the wolf-like humans on the planet of “Eraserhead” to the dwarfs and giants in “Twin Peaks” or “Mulholland Drive”. In Lynch’s movies the animalistic becomes human, the human becomes animalistic, and the animalistic becomes organic (see Fig. 2). Often, the organic is indistinguishable from the machine: machines are the organs of the industrial world.5 However, there are also fascinating chimeras in Lynch’s movies, real monsters, who are neither human, nor animal, neither organic form, nor machine. “The owls are not what they seem.”―as the giant in “Twin Peaks” tells Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan). Those monsters are explicable neither as symbolic forms nor as a psychological human malfunction.
Those human-animals, or animal-humans, challenge the opposition between humans and animals. Their mere existence reduces such an opposition to absurdity. Examples of these fascinating monsters include the “Elephant-Man” John Merrick (John Hurt), and the nameless baby from “Eraserhead”, which reappears in “Wild at heart” as the murdering Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe). David Lynch made his only non-surrealistic movie about John Merrick, which reveals his great interest in these creatures. And the nameless baby is the very single creature that, as a ‘real’ “Alien”, brought ‘real’ fear and horror into the cinema.6
The anthropological difference between humans and animals is therefore annihilated in David Lynch’s movies, so that our search for the meaning of animals in the Lynch cosmos threatens to remain without result. The Lynchian humans do not yet know that they are animals. Returning to our initial question, we must therefore ask much more specific one: is there a particular animal inside the human? What forms of animals are we actually talking about? And what is not a political but a narrative animal?
The wolf, the ant, and even the fox might be political animals, but neither the Lesser Goldfinch nor the millions of other species play any role in “political zoology”. So can they have a narrative function in the Lynch cosmos? When we speak of animals, we tend to refer only to some very specific species. This unthinking exclusion of much of the animal kingdom is often overlooked, not founded and not explicitly marked. Only if this absence is rectified can animals become an object of cultural studies.
Against this background, our initial question becomes a tour through the zoo of the Lynchian animals.
How can we use the theoretical concept of shortage in a study of the movies of David Lynch?7 We must begin with an inventory of all the animals in Lynch’s zoo and their specific narrative function. However, as we have mentioned before, the cosmos of Lynch is no habitat for animals at all. Which animal would be able to survive in the industrial wastes of “Eraserhead”, or in the violent environment of “Blue Velvet” or “Wild at Heart”?
Nevertheless, we find several, precisely constructed animal scenes in Lynch’s movies. We must identify the narrative function of these rare creatures that are able to survive in the industrial world.
There are only a few animals that can be found in the world of Lynch and they have distinct narrative functions. Before considering what they are, a second argument should be put into play: the Lynch zoo is structured by space and time and the animals mark the different places and times. Either a topological or a temporal narrative function is generated by the enactment of an animal. They can mark a specific location and also the interspaces and interfaces or heterotopian spaces. Those locations, the spaces in between worlds, are characteristic of David Lynch’s movies. Animals can also mark a specific time or even cause a time shift. With those numerous temporal cuts Lynch breaks the linearity of film as a medium and creates new forms of filmic spaces.8
Different Place. Different Rules
The topological function of an animal becomes clear in the renowned opening scene of “Blue Velvet” (1986). Everything begins with a dog, sitting on a fire truck. I will return to this curious detail later. The movie commences with a disturbance of the simple and the ordinary, a typical in cinema. In this apparently perfect and idyllic world, the evil is only apparent in the television. A common garden hose falls and causes a heart attack, almost leading to the death of Jeffrey Beaumont’s father. After this onset, the family dog slobbers water from the water hose, which is now sprinkling randomly into the air, and a small child runs cheerfully through the scene (see Fig. 3).
But now, beetles appear. They lead the camera’s eye into the dark inside of this seemingly perfect world. The penetrating eye of the camera discovers some beetles in the grass, close to the nearly dead body. This discovery is accompanied by Angelo Badalamenti’s title song, which descends into anarchic noise. As the sound coalesces into the sound of working machines, the camera zooms into the beetles’ world: The amorphous and deep black beetles seem to be working in the hidden. After a hard cut, the promotional sign “Welcome to Lumberton” signals to the movie audience that we have finally arrived in the here and today. The movie takes two minutes to reach this beginning point.
Although it is impossible to identify the insects in this initial scene, these black and busy things appear to be beetles. One species is iconic for beetles and the setting in which we see them here: the dung beetle (see Fig. 4). Or, to be more precise, Lumberton is inhabited by dung beetles from the zoological family of the Geotrupidae. Dung beetles can easily be identified by their intensive blue-black colour and their beautiful ridged thorax, and they practice intensive parental investment. They dig complex and deep burrow systems into the earth, where the females deposit their eggs. The eggs become grubs, the grubs pupate and become beetles, that struggle to break through the earth to live briefly, their only purpose being to breed.
This metamorphosis and hatching is also a subject of Lynch’s first sponsored short movie “The Grandmother” (1970, first scene). However, the animals in this movie do not lead the spectator into the inside world of Lumberton or any other city. The narration proceeds vice versa: starting with a birth process, the narration guides the visitor from the inside of the body through the turf into the outside, the real world. In this movie the inside and outside are clearly differentiated by the media technique: the inside is an animated cartoon in contrast to the outside, which is live action.
This clear medial and narrative difference between the inside and the outside—one of Lynch’s major topics—is reflected by the behaviour of the adult protagonists. The parents do not talk to their lonely, adolescent, male son, but they utter animalistic sounds. Beyond the detail that on the pictorial level the parents are humans, they behave like animals. The formally dressed son does not belong to either of the two worlds: He came from nowhere to be nowhere. At this point, the disturbance pervades the narration.
The visual is intensified by the animalistic-mechanical sounds. The soundtrack continuously underlines the surreal dimension of the pictures. This surrealism brings us back to the mysterious owls. The grandmother, who is the resting pole of the film, suddenly utters the sound of an owl and dissolves into flickering pictures. “The owls are not what they seem”.
If this is true for owls, it must also be valid for robins. Let us once again return to “Blue Velvet”. In “Blue Velvet” we follow the animals and enter the underworld of Lumberton through the amputated ear of Dorothy’s husband. The ear is inhabited by numerous ants. Jeffrey trips over this ear while walking through the forests of Lumberton. In the woods, the birds sing and the crickets chirp. In this initial setting it becomes clear that the filmmaker matches the topology of Lumberton with various animal species: the flying, happy, peaceful animals and those that are scrabbling, ugly, and struggling. Jeffrey gains entry to Dorothy’s flat by disguising himself as a “Bug Man”, pretending to be a vermin exterminator. The spectator knows or at least suspects, that he will not be successful. We know that this form of negative success (the principal impossibility of eliminating all disturbances) and all its consequential orgies of violence, will generate enormous narrative potential.9
For this reason, there are few no animals in the middle part of the movie, although one can hear the crickets chirping from time to time. However, there is one scene in which animals do have a significant narrative function: Sandy Williams’ (Laura Dern) tale about the dark world without any robins and without any love. Sandy says: “There is trouble till the robins come.” Yet before the robin really returns, some heads will roll. Although Jeffrey has reported everything in detail to the police and we see him watering the lawn, just as his father did before, dressed in white and with the birds singing in the background, we know that as long as Frank Booth is still alive this world is threatened. No narration without disturbance. Consequently the film ends with a final act, in which Jeffrey shoots Frank—out of the wardrobe, the place of the first intrusion.
Nothing else can be told in “Blue Velvet”. In the end, Jeffrey lies in his garden and looks at the most famous robin of the cinematic history. His father is healthy again, the dog from the beginning of the film once again passes by with the fire engine, Sandy is preparing food. Suddenly the robin sits on the windowsill, a beetle in its beak. Lynch’s film script and the original four-hour version of “Blue Velvet” intended a far more intensive staging of the animals’ motifs, which were edited in the final version of the film. Thus, the question as to whether the spectator recognizes the robin’s mechanics remains a much-debated issue. The question as to whether the robin is a real animal or a mechanic device will remain open, as will the question as to why a world without disturbance would not work (see Fig. 5).10
One could very easily discern many more references to support the suggestion that certain animals mark specific places in David Lynch’s film cosmos. The animals illustrate the complex topology of that cosmos.11 In general, it is the insects, the multitude of beetles, flies, worms, maggots and other vermin, crawling from the inside of things and piercing the surface of the earth, that allow the eye of the camera to look into the dark. From another perspective, one could say that David Lynch is an animal filmmaker, as he follows the vermin to where it lives, in order to show that this place is everywhere like “An Eternal Golden Braid”.12
I will give two short examples of this animal filmmaking. Firstly, one could think of “Wild at Heart”, where the flies are sitting on Lula’s vomit. The flies mark the change in the relationship between Sailor and Lula. From this moment on, their relationship is no longer superficial. The second example is the extremely strange worm in “Eraserhead”. In one of the very typical stop-motion scenes the worm appears to be dancing, it is surprisingly agile and runs across the scene. Suddenly, the worm shows what it is really able to do, vanishing and reappearing almost simultaneously in another place. The worm shares this mysterious ability with the Mystery Man (Robert Blake) in Lynch’s “Lost Highway”.
There is even more to the Lynchian underworld animals, as the filmmaker shows us in a quite different genre. In 1991, Lynch filmed a campaign against waste, titled “Clean Up. We Care about New York”. This time Lynch doesn’t confront the spectator with beetles, but with rats. Rats are an animal species clearly associated with the disease-causing underworld. This is, of course, an imaginative association, as it is not the rat, but the flea, that spreads disease. In 1898 Paul-Louis Simond discovered that the plague bacterium needs the flea as a medium or fomes. A direct infection is impossible. But this discovery did not challenge the negative associations the rat carries. In a very tantalising way, Lynch’s public service commercial recalls all the horrifying images of rats recognisable from other films. Thus, Lynch shows us our own imaginary images of animals in his animal scenes.
I would like to conclude my argument of topological animals with an example that is by no means typical for David Lynch—or maybe therefore even very typical. In a commercial issued in 2000, we see Bambi, the little deer animated by Walt Disney in 1942. The cute animal runs peacefully through the woods. After a short while, it has to cross a street and with a sharp crosscut we see a car crashing into it. The viewer knows what will happen, but David Lynch takes us to a different place, with different rules: Colliding with Bambi, the car, and not the deer, is broken into pieces. As a spectator we made the mistake to assume that we recognized our everyday world due to superficial similarities. Topological animals such as this version of Bambi can be found in all the films of David Lynch. In other words, the cosmos of Lynch is structured by a considerable number of animals. These animals have the function to mark and pierce the difference between the inside and the outside.
The Angriest Dog in the World
Between 1983 and 1992 the Cartoon “The Angriest Dog in the World” was published in the Los Angeles Reader (see Fig. 6). This cartoon was always composed of exactly the same series of pictures. In this static comic strip each of the four pictures shows a snarling dog in front of a house. Only the text in the speech bubbles of the two residents changes. It is a medium with channels that run out of synchronization. In this comic, picture and text disturb each other in the same way as Angelo Badalamenti’s sound track confuses David Lynch’s pictures. And once again it is an animal, a dog that embodies this temporal disorder.
In many respects, the dog is a very particular animal. The dog is possibly the most important animal for David Lynch. It is the first animal in his cosmos that appears as itself, in his first full-length movie, “Eraserhead” (1977). In comparison to Lynch’s other movies, “Eraserhead” presents many animals, the first of which is the dog. The soundtrack announces his appearance when Henry Spencer (Henry Nance) walks through the desolate industrial landscape. Suddenly, two dogs are barking in the distance, whereupon Henry jerks in fear. At this stage nothing more occurs. Only the dogs’ barking signals danger and gives an acoustical hint of the development of the plot.
Henry Spencer then arrives at the house of the parents of his ex-girlfriend Mary. The extremely faltering and disturbing welcome scene is once again layered with a confusing and very animalistic soundtrack. The camera reveals the source of these animal noises as it pans around and catches a dog breastfeeding her whelps. Now, we know the reason for the previously warning of the dogs’ barking and how the film will further evolve: Mary is pregnant and her pregnancy will so disturb Henry. The dog has the narrative function of a messenger. It anticipates things, and it knows what will come. The dogs’ barking is a signal from the future that is readable as a (intra)diagetic and extradiagetic sign.13
This motif can also be observed in “Mulholland Drive”, a film from 2001, in which animals are even more rarely seen. In contrast to “Eraserhead”, where the narrative time and place was not determinable, in “Mulholland Drive” we find ourselves placed in northern Los Angeles, in an apartment at Sunset Boulevard, near the famous “Mulholland Drive”. At least, this is what we conclude from the few reliable scenes of the movie. This is all the more surprising since the real world shown in the movie appears quite bereft of animals. The humans in this movie live, as Georg Seeßlen states, in an “outside world, that defies any handling or modification (or revolution) by the subject”.14 In this uninhabitable world there is also no place for animals. In this seemingly ordinary world the spectator finds no bird passing occasionally through the screen, no dog on the street, no fly before the windowpane, no beetle on the ground. There is no animal except the human. The man is the only inhabitant of David Lynch’s Los Angeles.
Only two animalistic elements remain: firstly, the hunting trophy above the flickering lamp at the enclosure of the mysterious cowboy, and secondly, the dog feces (that can easily be misunderstood as some sort of slapstick). When Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) moves into her aunt Ruth’s flat, landlady Coco (Ann Miller) is showing her around. The women discover that a dog has made his mark on the neat courtyard. Coco comments this with pointing out that nothing can be as bad as the boxing kangaroo that was been kept by a former landlord. As already mentioned, this scene appears slapstick, since the dog dirt ironically contradicts the neat and innocent look of Betty Elms, who wears a pinkish pullover covered with glittering rhinestones.
However, the dog dirt is not only a real, but also a symbolic sign. In order to understand this symbolic level, we will briefly recall the plot. After her car crash, Rita alias Camilla Rhodes (Laura Harring) is climbing down the hill into the Los Angeles night. When a pair of lovers approaches her along the pavement, she hides like a dog in the bushes. She loses consciousness and awakes the next morning. This awakening is shot from a low angle, as in a dog’s perspective. Soon afterwards, Rita hides again, this time from her returning aunt under the table, once more like a dog, and again loses consciousness.
This short summary allows us to interpret the symbolic trace of the dog dirt as the announcement of a disturbance, of an intruder into the well-ordered life of Betty Elms. When the landlady asks unambiguously “Do you have any pets?”, Betty truthfully answers “No!”. At this moment, she cannot yet know that Rita will be a much more absurd flatmate than the boxing kangaroo. The boxing kangaroo, incidentally, is a reference to the short film “The Boxing Kangaroo” directed and produced by the German filmmaker Max Skladanowsky in 1895.
As in “Eraserhead”, the main plot of “Mulholland Drive” begins with an incident that is announced to the viewer by a dog. And in both cases this incident is cruel. Furthermore David Lynch realizes exactly the same structure in “Blue Velvet”, where a dog passes the Beaumont’s house on a fire engine, and in “Lost Highway”, where a mysterious dog’s barking announces the arrival of the second videotape showing the interior of the house and later Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) killing Rene Madison (Patricia Arquette).
In order to understand the narrative function of the dog, we must consider the cultural history of dogs. Dogs are a quite young species. The reason for this is, that the breeding and domestication of animals requires their functional differentiation, which took place together with the topological separation of urban and country areas in the Neolithic Age. We have no evidence of domestic animals before the first agrarian societies in the 10th millennium BC. This is the beginning of the interdependent relationship between human and animal. In this relation, the animal initially became the (distorting) mirror of man. There are many hypotheses trying to explain the mechanisms of this domestication, although conclusive evidence is lacking. Archaeological findings document domestic dogs at around 11.000 BC. In light of these discoveries, the dog could be the oldest domestic animal.15
From this point, dogs helped at the hunting, they defended homes and even undertook roles in war. This intrinsic coexistence of human and animals ceased in the course of the 19th century. About two hundred years ago the displacement of the animal by the machine began. Even though, we still can see Bernese Mountain Dogs saving a skier buried by an avalanche or guide dogs navigating their blind owners through the city: The dog turned into a useless pet. This means that, just at the same time when farm animals were displaced from the direct human environment, some of them returned without further ado to their roles as pets. They could be found in the metropolises, in the living rooms and on the folds of bourgeois families.
With the purposeless appreciation of the dog as a pet, the selective breeding of dogs, in order to intensify or to eliminate certain characteristics, began. As a result, the interest shifted from the dog as a species to the particular abilities of the particular breeds. Since then, the dog has no longer been just a dog, but a German Shepherd, a Dachshund or a Poodle. And every single one of these breeds has its own human-animal relation and its own imaginary.16 This raises the question as to whether there is a well-defined and portrayable “kynomorphism” in the cosmos of Lynch.17 What kind of relations has the filmmaker constructed between dog and men?
To make it clear, the first narrative function of the dog is to be an announcing animal. As indicated above, the corresponding scenes in “Eraserhead”, “Mulholland Drive”, and “Lost Highway” are strikingly similar. Hence, the dog is equipped with a narrative potential that has already been enacted in Homer’s epics. Upon Ulysses return to Ithaca, after his lengthy odyssey, his dog Argos is the first to recognize and to welcome him—without any divine assistance.18 The dog Argos had spent all this time awaiting his master’s return. Ulysses’ heart itself is barking like a dog and his return to his hometown resembles the behaviour of an obedient and faithful dog. Thus, we can underline two key characteristics of the dog: absolute faithfulness and tamed wildness. Both of these characteristics can be found in David Lynch’s films. We have already discussed the absolute faithfulness of the dog, turning the animal into a messenger, who anticipates coming events. It is the dog who turns the story into a specific direction. This narrative function of the dog is its temporal function.
The second characteristic of the dog is its tamed wildness, and there are many examples of this trait. This makes the dog a companion of danger. The dog has raw instincts and the desire to hunt and to kill. In “Wild at Heart” (1990), a dog not only prefigures violence, but also embodies it. In an important scene Johnnie Ferragut (Harry Dean Stanton) lies in a hotel bed watching an animal film, in which coyotes devour a zebra (e.g. Fig. 7). As it is generally known, coyotes belong to the zoological family of the Canidae, including domestic dogs as well as wolves and foxes. The scene depicts a blood frenzy that is Johnnie cannot escape. Totally dehumanized he barks together with the coyotes until the telephone’s ring brings him down to earth. However, also the phone call is a blood frenzy: Marietta Fortune (Diane Ladd) calls, expressing her blood-red hunger for revenge. Marietta vomits after the phone call—just like her daughter some time later, but for another reason…
Shortly afterwards, the viewer can see how the animal film that Johnnie was watching continues. After the coyotes depart, vultures pick at the cadaver. We observe how they pile their beaks into the flesh of the dead zebra. Those are again animals penetrating a surface. After a hard cut, we see Marietta vomiting. The eye of the camera slowly moves down her body, pausing at her shoes: the shoes have beak-shaped toecaps.
Leaving these blood orgies aside, we return to the dog. The dog turns out to be an ambiguous animal. Like the depicted man, the dog is at the same time faithful and wild, tamed and gory, domestic and driven by instinct. This ambiguity is very clearly articulated by the crazy rocket scientist 00 Spool (Jack Nancy) in “Wild at Heart”. 00 Spool’s dog is barking at people on a camping site in front of the motel. We have no image of this dog because 00 Spool doesn’t reveal the breed and the animal is always with him. In this case, ‘with him’ also means ‘in him’. The dog instantly barks, making Sailor and Lulu cringe about what is going to come. The dog’s barking comes from the future.
In addition, in the showdown of “Wild at Heart”, Bobby Peru’s gunfire severs a hand from one of the two bank clerks. He is fortunate to be alive, and extremely vivid and rational he begins to search for his hand in the belief that surgeons will be able to reattach it. (However, in the case of Henry’s father-in-law Mr. X (Allen Joseph), this surgery fails.) The topic of the man-machine or machine- man dominates this scene. After a cut the viewer sees a dog carrying the clerk’s hand, like a trophy, around the corner of the house (e.g. Fig. 8). Even though it has been a violent scene, little has occurred beyond the loss of the clerk’s hand. So, the fairy godmother will put everything right, and no dark insect will disturb Sailor’s final song.
The David Lynch Zoo
To conclude, I have two suggestions concerning Lynch’s animals. Firstly, all animals in the filmic cosmos of David Lynch are part of a complex interdependency between humans and
machines. These examples show that the animals are eitherdecomposed meticulously into organic forms, or that the humans behave in an extremely animalistic way. All in all, the anthropological distinction between animal, human and machine is therefore abolished.
In Lynch’s industrial and inanimate world the humans grow lonely and the animals, as former fellow beings, have been driven away by the machines. Hence, on one side there are the ubiquitous machines, dominating the soundscape with machine-like noises and sometimes merging into the organic. On the other there are displaced but lively animals, which are extremely important for the narrative structure of the movie.
Secondly, those animals disturb the cinematic telling and break up the linear structure of the film in such a way that they drive the narration. The animals have distinctive narrative functions, which are assigned to different species. As I demonstrated, the dog (mostly) has an important temporal function: dogs anticipate future events, they keep the plot running. On the contrary, insects (primarily) have a topological function.
Insects mark intersections between different states or levels and they dissolve the border between the inside and the outside.
And there are more animals species that could be discussed relating to their narrative, temporal and topological function in David Lynch’s movies, but this will be a task for further research.
- Macho, Thomas: “Der Aufstand der Haustiere“, in: Fischer-Kowalski; Marina; a.o. (Eds.): Gesellschaftlicher Stoffwechsel und Kolonisierung von Natur. Ein Versuch in Sozialer Ökologie, Amsterdam: Gordon & Breach Verlag Fakultas 1997: 177–200, p. 177. Special thanks to Corinna Egdorf and Bernard D. Geoghegan for translation assistance.
- Cf. Mayer, Nicholas: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, USA 1991.
- Macho, Thomas: “Tiere, Menschen, Maschinen. Zur Kritik der anthropologischen Differenz“, in: Ahrens, Jörn; Biermann, Mirjam; Toepfer, Georg (Eds.): Die Diffusion des Humanen. Grenzregime zwischen Leben und Kulturen, Frankfurt am Main, a.o.: Peter Lang 2007: 17–29, pp. 24 f.
- Macho: Tiere, Menschen, Maschine: 27.
- The human body as most powerfull machine has been described by Fritz Kahn, cf. Debschitz, Uta von; Debschitz, Thilo von (Eds.): Fritz Kahn – Man Machine, Maschine Mensch, Wien, New York: Springer 2009.
- In “Alien”(1979) Ridley Scotts presents the wellknown law of cinema that suspense is not produced by pictures of the unknown or alien but by pictures of our own images: “Alien” provides greater tension than the sequels because it only reveals the creature at the climax. Cf. Scott, Ridley: Alien. USA 1979.
- Cf. for the shortage of discourses see Foucault, Michel: “The Order of Discourse“, in: Young, Robert (ed.) 1981: Untying the Text: A Post-Structural Reader, London: Routledge 1981: 51–78.
- Foror the concept of heterotopia, see Foucault, Michel: “Andere Räume“, in: Barck, Karlheinz, et al. (Eds.): Aisthesis. Wahrnehmung heute oder Perspektiven einer anderen Ästhetik, Leipzig: Reclam Verlag 1990: 34–46.
- For the narrative dimension of communication theory, see Serres, Michel: Der Parasit, Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp Verlag 1987
- For the interdependency of physical disturbance and modern literacy see Kassung, Christian: EntropieGeschichten. Robert Musils “Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften“ im Diskurs der modernen Physik, München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag 2001.
- For the spatial or topological turn see for example Weigel, Sigrid: “Zum ‘topographical turn.’ Kartographie, Topographie und Raumkonzepte in den Kulturwissenschaften“. In: KulturPoetik 2/2, 2002: 151–165.
- Cf. Hofstadter, Douglas R.: Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, New York: Basic Books 1979.
- 5 Vgl. Macho: Gesellschaftlicher Stoffwechsel und Kolonialisierung von Natur: 186.
- This argument can certainly be applied to many different species, cf. Kassung, Christian; Mersmann, Jasmin; Rader, Olaf (Eds.): Zoologicon. Ein kulturhistorisches Wörterbuch der Tiere, München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag 2012.
- Macho, Thomas: Einführung: “Ordnung, Wissen, Lernen. Wie hängt da Weltbild der Menschen von den Tieren ab?“, in: Böhme, Hartmut, et al. (Eds.): Tiere. Eine andere Anthropologie, Köln, Weimar, Wien: Böhlau Verlag 2004: 76.
- Cf. Homer: Ilias. Odyssee. In der Übertragung von Johann Heinrich Voß, Frankfurt/Main: Insel Verlag 1990: 17. Gesang, Vers 290–327.
Debschitz, Uta von; Debschitz, Thilo von (Eds.): Fritz Kahn – Man Machine, Maschine Mensch, Wien, New York: Springer 2009.
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Fig. 1: Screenshot of David Lynch: The Alphabet, USA 1968.
Fig. 2: Screenshot of David Lynch: Wild at Heart, USA 1990.
Fig. 3: Screenshot of David Lynch: Blue Velvet, USA 1986.
Fig. 4: Screenshot of David Lynch: Blue Velvet, USA 1986.
Fig. 5: Screenshot of David Lynch: Blue Velvet, USA 1986.
Fig. 6: The Angriest Dog in the World, © David Lynch.
Fig. 7: Screenshot of David Lynch: Wild at Heart, USA 1990.
Fig. 8: Screenshot of David Lynch: Wild at Heart, USA 1990.