Written by Eden Roquelaire for Twin Peaks Freaks
David Lynch is fascinated by dualities, that is no secret: The dichotomy between the facade and the secret face is the basis for many of his works, including Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet, Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive. His use of dualities leads his stories to have multiple narrative layers, which often confound viewers. The downfall of many a would-be-translator of Lynch’s works is their tendency to limit the story to one explanation. In order to properly understand his works, however, I believe that we must allow for there to be no less than two explanations: The Mundane, and the Symbolic.
The Mundane: This method of analysis addresses the story as being a real, existing place in its own right. To interpret Eraserhead in this way, one must consider it as existing in its own universe, run by its own laws of nature. For instance, it may not be unusual for one to have piles of dirt on their nightstand: In that universe, it may be a form of interior decorating for the lower-class. (This is one interpretation, and a lousy one at that: Don’t take it too seriously!) In the Twin Peaks universe, the Black and White Lodges exist as a parallel dimension which sometimes interacts with the world that houses Twin Peaks. It is part of that universe’s logic, and needs no symbolic interpretation, because it is, more or less, a physical place governed by its own logic and laws of nature.
The Symbolic: This method is the stuff of dreams, hallucinations, and messages from godlike beings, which require interpretation, often using Jungian or Freudian archetypes. This is the method of translation which says that Killer BOB is not a being, but a representation of a cycle of abuse, or a split personality that Leland Palmer used to cope with his trauma. It tells us that, in Inland Empire, the Lost Girl is actually Nikki’s own self, which she must rescue from her destructive tendencies, and that the baby in Eraserhead appeared grotesque because of Henry and Mary’s anxieties over becoming parents for the first time.
These methods may be used in collusion or independently of each other, but using them both, I believe, is the key to truly understanding the masterpieces of David Lynch.