David Lynch’s first feature film already sees his very singular style and vision fully-formed, as this surreal descent into the subconscious shirks narrative logic and defies clarity in structure, to instead explore an unnerving dreamscape for viewers to make their own meanings out of.
One might certainly find reading certain meanings into the film easier than others (fears and anxieties over parenthood, the contradictions of sexual repression that see both obsession and revulsion over sex, the insecurity of feeling static and passive in life) but Lynch’s style is the utter opposite of didacticism.
Some might read the ending as a despicable, sadistic act of a man seething with antinatalistic sentiment, others might read it as a triumphant moment of Henry breaking free from his purgatorial state of inactivity and finally seizing his life for himself, one way or another. Lynch’s approach sees neither reading condoned or condemned; he just offers a captivating dream for viewers to project their own meanings onto.
The sexual imagery (most notably the bizarre sperm-like creatures), the industrial atmosphere (droning ambient noise, focus on machinery, cog-in-the-machine characterisation of Henry), the exaggerated depiction of typical stressful events (meeting a partner’s parents, caring for a sick baby), the highly emphasised use of shadow, the unnerving technical visual aspects (reversed shots, frequent superimposition of shots, shot-reverse-shots with years in-between them), they all create such a singular atmosphere, but one that invites the viewer to share in the dream, rather than one simply projecting at the viewer.
It’s such a cohesive, captivating, unforgettable experience. I give it five chickens, and a man in a planet.