If you're in the Boston area on December 3, you should check out The Brattle. They have an advance screening of Inland Empire, with a Q & A with David Lynch afterwards. However, I've only seen Blue Velvet, so I've decided to go through Lynch's entire oeuvre. Wish me luck.
I can see why critics love David Lynch. His films unlock more for the viewer with every succeeding viewing. And I can say that having seen Eraserhead only once. It's in the images that Lynch presents. The first 15 minutes alone show more bizarre sights than can be seen in most other movies.
We see a planet with Henry's (Jack Nance) head superimposed over it. As Henry's head goes off screen, we get closer to the planet until we see a man inside the planet sitting next to various levers. As he pulls levers, we see Henry's mouth open and a Gigeresque wormlike creature emerges. The man pulls another lever, and the creature leaves the screen and falls into a crater of water.
At this point, we cut to a close up of Henry, showing all of this to be a dream. Now, if this were left, and we never visited the images again, I'd just scratch my head and say that Lynch is not the man for me. However, each of these images is shown again in a more illuminating context. If there's one thing that Giger's visions can tell us about Lynch's, it's that these are at least somewhat sexual images. The creature can easily be seen as a sperm, and the crater might as well be a pool. A gene pool. Or the creature could be entering Henry's world, as a similar looking baby is born to him and his new wife Mary (Charlotte Stewart). We can never be sure, and the imagery works well in either direction.
Lynch fills Eraserhead from top to bottom with this sort of ambiguous imagery, slowly connecting different pieces until things begin to make sense. When Henry visits Mary's family, we are given a distinct shot of a "man-made" chicken spewing blood when about to be carved for dinner. This shot is paralleled later in the film when Henry and Mary's child spews blood in the same way. So what does this mean? What's the connection between a man-made chicken for eating and a man-made baby for raising? Is there supposed to be some sort of cannibalism suggested here? Honestly, I don't know. But that's a great part of the excitement of watching David Lynch. He gives you the pieces, but you have to put them together.
It's rare to watch a movie, barely understand anything that happened, and still love what you saw. Eraserhead did that for me. The first viewing is like opening the puzzle box. The fun is in making the picture make sense.
***1/2 / ****