The Mysteries of Love: The Transformative Nature of Sex in Lynchian Cinema

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Written by Eden H. Roquelaire for Twin Peaks Freaks.

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers for Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire. Also, while not graphic, this article does deal with mature themes revolving around sex, so read at your own discretion.

Anyone who has seen David Lynch’s movies knows that sex has a potent presence in each one. Sometimes, it takes the form of beautiful love scenes; other times they are grotesque and debased, but they always have a purpose. Mulholland Drive, Inland Empire, and Eraserhead all use sex during vital transformative scenes, and The Diary of Laura Palmer draws a distinct line between Laura’s sexuality and BOB’s arrival. In this article, I will analyze the use of sex and sexual imagery in each of Lynch’s films, and uncover some of the secrets behind the Mysteries of Love.

Note: I will be excluding Lost Highway and Wild At Heart from this article, as those films, I feel, require very specific and individual analysis.

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One of the oldest forms of ritual is sex: In ancient Babylon, temples dedicated to the Goddess Ishtar employed “sacred prostitutes,” who were priestesses who doubled as sex workers, and often used sex as part of their religious rituals. These women would serve as representations of the Goddess when a new King was crowned, so that he might be wed to her and receive her divine blessing. Mother Goddesses, such as Ishtar/Inanna, were usually fertility Goddesses, presiding over sex and reproduction, so it only makes sense for the worship of such deities to be sexual in nature.

Aleister Crowley, who was recently mentioned in Mark Frost’s tie-in novel The Secret History of Twin Peaks, made sexuality a large part of his doctrines and rituals, in which the energy released during copulation is used to give power to whatever spell is being cast. Nontheistic Satanist Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan, placed sex in high importance in his ideology. LaVey believed that discovery of one’s sexuality, and having full control over one’s sexual power and identity (whatever it may be) was the key to having agency over one’s life, and, ultimately, finding fulfillment and success. He believed that sex and ritual was one of the most powerful ways to affect an individual’s psychology and direct energy. Sex is a powerful force, easily able to raise emotional energy, which can then be utilized through ritual.

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Sex in the Lynchian Universe is used in a similar way: It commonly heralds a moment of profound transformation, where either two characters become merged, or a character moves into a strange, alternate dimension.

Throughout the first half of Mulholland Drive, it is clear that Betty and Rita are slowly merging into one being, but it is only after they make love that they become virtually indistinguishable. After they merge, Betty and Rita are able to enter the otherworldly Club Silencio and receive the answers to the mystery. In Eraserhead, a sex scene between Henry and the neighbor immediately precedes a disjointed dream sequence; a so-called “down the rabbit hole” moment. We see the couple sinking into a smoking pit of milk, and disappearing into another world. This relates to Henry’s desire for escape from the nightmare of his life.

In Inland Empire, a particularly interesting scene is the love scene between Devon Burke and Nikki Grace, wherein they begin to slip into their alternate personae, Billy and Sue. Immediately afterwards, Nikki/Sue discovers the portal into the alternate dimension. She has undergone a ritual in which she allowed her Nikki persona to be consumed by the film persona. She was transformed into Sue, through a Sex Magick with Billy (or Devon, who thought he was Billy). A recurring motif of the film is prostitution. For the most part, in Inland Empire, this motif seems to represent sexual oppression and enslavement, as there are recurring references to rape through mind control. The prostitutes appear to be under the Phantom’s control. However, I believe they also represent various parts of Nikki/Sue’s psyche, voicing her internal dialogues and performing rituals with her, as she slowly builds up the power she needs to face the Phantom. They are the oppressed parts of Nikki’s personality, which are brought together to become stronger and eventually break the bonds placed on them by the Phantom. The dancing sequences in the film conjure up images of Pagan rituals and Faerie circles. In short, they tell us that Magick is being performed.

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Sex is a centrifugal element of the film Blue Velvet, and is the catalyst for Jeffrey Beaumont’s trip down the rabbit hole. Dorothy Valens has been transformed through the sexual abuse Frank Booth has subjected her to; he “put his disease” in her, infecting her with his violent sexual obsessions. When she and Jeffrey begin a sexual relationship, she asks Jeffrey to hit her, like Frank does. She has become so used to the abuse, that she cannot enjoy sex without it. Eventually, Jeffrey breaks down, and hits her. Later, he regrets his actions, and begins to cry in guilt. He is afraid of being turned into Frank Booth, being sucked into his darkness, ending up spiritually mutated and morally weakened. He does not want to wind up using Dorothy the way that Frank does. His salvation is the love he finds with Sandy, which goes beyond the basic lust he felt for Dorothy. And in the end, it is not through Jeffrey, or her husband, that Dorothy finds healing, but through her pure love for her son.

Blue Velvet serves, perhaps, as Lynch’s ultimate parable regarding the dichotomy between sex and love, and where the two meet. There is depraved sex, and there is sacred sex. There is selfish love, and there is pure love. Lynch has said in interviews that Frank Booth is a man in love, suggesting that his desire for Dorothy is not as black-and-white as it at first seems. It isn’t just lust that compels him, but a sick kind of love – the only way Frank can perceive it.

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“Do me a favor: Stay away from Dorothy. Don’t be a good neighbor to her anymore. Or I’ll send you a love letter, straight from my heart, fucker! Do you know what a love letter is? It’s a bullet from a fucking gun, fucker! You receive a love letter from me, and you’re fucked forever! Do you understand, fuck? I’ll send you straight to hell, fucker!”

-Frank Booth, Blue Velvet

In Lynch’s other works, sex has many different meanings, sometimes within a single film. In Twin Peaks, sex is not portrayed as bad nor good, but a facet of natural human life, though the circumstances surrounding it can be beautiful, or dire. However, a darker layer of this sexuality was hinted at even from the pilot, and as the mystery was slowly unveiled in Season 2 and Fire Walk with Me, the shadow of sexuality which loomed in the background was brought forward: A sexuality that, like Frank Booth, was all about possession, violence, and power.

The two sides of Laura’s identity are, in one way, portrayed by her dualistic relationships with James and Bobby. Her love for James is more of an idealistic, innocent love, whereas her relationship with Bobby is one of manipulation. On the same side of the coin as Bobby, though much deeper and darker, is her “relationship” with BOB; a shadowy, violent figure who Laura remains sexually attracted to in spite of the risk to her sanity and life. This lust is portrayed as a base desire, animalistic, like hunger, which drives its victims to endlessly consume, or die.

A Buddhist belief says that all acts are acts of either love or fear, and all other emotions spring from one of these two. In Twin Peaks, it is again told to use that love is the ultimate salvation, as Laura’s spirit forgives Leland, her abuser and murderer, upon his death — forgiveness, being an act of love. This is in keeping with the theme set by Blue Velvet. However, things are a little shakier in Mulholland Drive, wherein love can do nothing to save our heroines, and, in fact, pushes them closer and closer to the edge. Without going too far down the rabbit hole that is Mulholland Drive, notice the extreme differences between the two sex scenes: The first, between Betty and Rita, is tender, and very loving. The second, between Diane and Camilla, which is arguably the reality of the matter, is sleazy, with a definite tension between the two women. Diane is stricken with fear of losing Camilla, and this is what ultimately orchestrates their downfall. In a way, Diane is becoming like Frank Booth, Lynch’s prime representation of the evil that can seep into a sexual relationship — the need for dominance and power, above anything else.

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Well, that was some heavy content. If you need to lighten up, here‘s a link where you can watch Kyle MacLachlan’s Saturday Night Live monologue back in 1990. Until next time, make sure those grapefruits are freshly squeezed.

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“Just Like a Movie Star”: The Evolution of Lynch’s “Judy”

The Many Faces of Judy?

The many faces of Judy?

Written by Eden Roquelaire for Twin Peaks Freaks.

 

Judy is an enigmatic character, and a point of extreme interest for some die-hard Twin Peaks fans. Researchers have managed to uncover her original identity as Josie Packard’s sister and Phillip Jeffries’ informant, but is Judy more than just a character cut out of Fire Walk With Me for time? There are still many unanswered questions about her: For one, why does the monkey whisper her name? And how does she know about the existence of the Black Lodge? I have a theory that may explain this, and reveal the true face, or faces, of Judy. This theory also indicates that we have actually seen Judy much more than we originally thought. Let’s start with this quote from Inland Empire:

My friend Nico, who lives in Pomona has a blonde wig. She wears it at parties. But she’s on hard drugs and turning tricks now. She looks very good in her blonde wig just like a movie star. Even girls fall in love with her when she’s looking so good in her blonde star wig. She blows kisses and waves. But she has got a hole in her vagina wall. She has torn a hole into her intestine from her vagina. She has seen a doctor, but it is too expensive. And now she knows her time has run out. She [will] score a few more times, and then, like that, she will stay at home, with her monkey. She has a pet monkey. This monkey shits everywhere, but she doesn’t care! This monkey can scream. It screams like it in a horror movie. But there are those who are good with animals; who have a way with animals.

-“Street Person #2” (Nae), Inland Empire

Right off the bat, we can say that Judy and Nico have two things in common: 1) We know very little about them, but 2) we know they are both associated with monkeys, for whatever reason. That may not be much to go on, but the monkey connection is a strange enough one to merit some further rumination.

Nico has "a way with animals," one could say.

Nico has “a way with animals,” one could say.

So, who is Nico? According to her friend, she is a woman who turned to prostitution and drugs, but because of a perforation in her vagina wall, she will now live at home, with her pet monkey. Oh, and she wears a blonde wig, which makes her look “just like a movie star.” She is so beautiful, both men and women fall in love with her. It’s difficult to tell from the only shot we get of Nico, but the actress who plays her, Masuimi Max, is of Korean descent, which makes both Nico and Judy Asian.

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The monkey that mysteriously whispers the name “Judy” in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

But who is Judy? Thanks to some very loyal Twin Peaks fans, we have more info on Judy: She’s allegedly Josie Packard’s sister, an informant and possible love interest to Phillip Jeffries, and she seems to know something about a portal to the Black Lodge that exists in Buenos Aires. Through Josie, she may also be linked to prostitution. And a monkey mysteriously whispers her name in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

But what, if anything, does this mean?

Judy was meant to be a character in Fire Walk With Me, but when the script ran long, certain parts had to be taken out. And thus, poor Judy ended up on the cutting room floor… mostly. She’s mentioned, but never seen in the film, and never discussed at length. There are many theories about Judy, and whether or not the Judy mentioned in the final film product is still meant to be Josie’s sister, or a symbol for something else. According to my theory, it’s a little bit of both. Let’s look at another character, seen briefly in Inland Empire.

Although it’s Nico who’s described as blowing kisses and laughing, she does neither when we see her in the end credits. But someone does: Laura Harring, a.k.a. Camilla Rhodes, a.k.a. Rita, from Mulholland Drive. At first this may seem meaningless… until you realize that the character of Rita looks just like movie star Rita Hayworth, and wears a blonde wig. Even women have been known to fall in love with Rita when she’s looking so good in her blonde star wig. Now, because of the manner of storytelling utilized in Mulholland Drive, analysis gets a little tricky, but Rita may also be associated with the character of Diane Selwyn; a would-be movie starlet who had to resort to prostitution and maybe even drugs when her career fails. Many fans have debated about the film, its meaning, and the story behind its characters, and there are too many theories to recount in one place, but there is one I’d like to bring up at this point, and that is the theory that Camilla Rhodes was inspired by Lynch’s former girlfriend, actress Isabella Rossellini. Both Rossellini and Camilla are “exotic” actresses with dark hair, and they both dated well-known directors (Adam Kesher, played by Justin Theroux in Mulholland Drive, seems almost like a self-written parody of Lynch). Oh and as for the blonde wig…

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That’s Rossellini in Lynch’s film Wild At Heart, which he was working on concurrent to the second season of Twin Peaks. And if this isn’t building a clear enough pattern, it is known that Rossellini was originally going to play Josie Packard.

Before Josie Packard was played by Joan Chen, Lynch had written the part, originally named Giovanna, for Rossellini. She was, of course, Italian-American as opposed to Asian-American. But when Rossellini backed out of the project, Lynch re-worked the part and cast Chen instead. And Josie, of course, according to early drafts of the Fire Walk With Me script, is Judy’s sister, and is thought to have worked as a prostitute in Hong Kong.

But what does this all mean? Where is this going? To finally complete the picture, we need to look at another Judy…

Garland?

Garland?

Lynch’s fascination for the story of The Wizard of Oz is well-known among his fans, and it has been made evident again and again in his works. The motif of a girl traveling to a strange world, full of both magic and horror, is one that Lynch emulates in almost every one of his films. Sometimes the symbolism is even more blatant, such as having a character named Dorothy wear red shoes (Blue Velvet), or having Major Garland Briggs mention Judy Garland’s name in relation to his own (Twin Peaks). Women filling the role of “Dorothy Gale” in Lynch’s works include Laura Palmer, Nikki Grace, and Diane Selwyn: But the woman who most famously portrayed the original Dorothy Gale was Judy Garland.

Judy Garland, despite her tragic life, was forever immortalized as the hopeful and naive Dorothy Gale in the Wizard of Oz.

Judy Garland, despite her tragic life, was forever immortalized as the hopeful and naive Dorothy Gale in the Wizard of Oz.

Garland is, in many ways, the perfect symbol of the wonder and tragedy of Hollywood, a subject that Lynch is passionate about: Born Frances Ethel Gumm, “Judy” was signed to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer when she was only thirteen, and played the famous role of Dorothy Gale three years later. She was originally supposed to wear a blond wig for the part, but ultimately the producers decided against it. Her many years in show business were plagued with woe: She suffered various heartbreaks, including a time when MGM forced her into a divorce, and potentially pressured her into having an abortion for the sake of her career. She eventually married director Vincente Minelli, with whom she had her daughter, Liza Minelli. The stress of living always in the public eye ate away at Garland, driving her to multiple suicide attempts, stays at mental wards, and addiction to morphine, alcohol and barbiturates. “All I could see ahead was more confusion,” Garland was quoted as saying, after one of her many career disasters. At the age of 59, Garland was found dead of a barbiturate overdose. According to doctors who examined her, she was already dying of cirrhosis, and only had a matter of time, anyway.

This dark, tragic life, full of turmoil and a sense of hopelessness, is such a jarring juxtaposition to the roles she was most famous for: Happy, bright young girls, always singing and dancing and full of cheer. This telling vision of Hollywood struck a chords with Lynch, and “Judy” has been a part of his films ever since.

Let’s look at the evolution of the character: Lynch, inspired by the story of Judy Garland, creates the character Dorothy Vallens, played by Isabella Rossellini, who notably wears red shoes. He writes the role of Italian-American “Giovanna” for Rossellini, but she decides to pass up the role. The role is rewritten as Chinese-American “Josie” and goes to Joan Chen. When Rossellini is cast in Wild At Heart, a movie filled with Wizard of Oz references, Lynch consciously or subconsciously dresses her in a blonde wig, a reference to the early wardrobe plans for Garland’s Dorothy. The early drafts of Fire Walk With Me are written, featuring a character named Judy; Josie’s sister, who seems to know the secrets of other worlds, and may even know how to get into them. After multiple drafts, Judy is mostly cut from the script, but in the film we still see the blue-lit face of a monkey whispering “Judy.” After a period of tempestuous reinvention, Mulholland Drive is released as a feature film, with Laura Elena Harring playing the exotic and seductive actress Camilla Rhodes, whose alter-ego “Rita” disguises her Hayworth-esque appearance with a short blonde wig. She is so beautiful, she both men and women fall head-over-heels in love with her. Naomi Watts plays Diane Selwyn, a failed actress who resorts to prostitution and possibly drugs just to survive in Hollywood. Years later, Inland Empire tells the story of Nikki Grace, a Hollywood actress, apparently past her prime and hoping for a comeback. She eventually slips into another world, where we meet her alter-ego Sue, who is a prostitute in Hollywood, and at one time opines “All I can see from here is blue tomorrows,” a possible reference to the Judy Garland quote. She is stabbed on the corner of Hollywood and Vine, where she staggers past a partially-obscured star on the Walk of Fame: Only the name “Dorothy” is visible. She collapses next to some homeless people and hears an Asian woman (played by Japanese actress Nae) talk about her friend Nico, a drug-addicted prostitute who wears a blonde wig, so she looks “just like a movie star,” and owns a pet monkey.

After initially being inspired by the story of Judy Garland, who was born Ethel, became Dorothy on the screen, and was Judy to the public, Lynch carried the character of “Judy” with him, and, as with any character that is destined to be, she took on a life of her own: Showing the dark, seedy truth covered up by the glamor of Hollywood and its promise of fame and fortune. It is a place where magic and beauty can be made, but it is at the expense of millions who try and fail to become a part of it, and often fall into the underground world of drugs and prostitution, and those who do make it have taken hold of a double-edged sword. It is a stark balance between light and dark, horror and beauty, power and poverty, fame and obscurity, painful truths and attractive lies. “Judy” represents the glory and tragedy of life and death, and a desire to enter another world: Through death, through magic, or through movies.

Duality: A Guide to Translating Lynchian Mysteries

Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer, and Sheryl Lee as Maddy Ferguson... An example of Lynchian dualities.

Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer, and Sheryl Lee as Maddy Ferguson… An example of Lynchian dualities.

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.

The result of a world where babies are mutated as the result of a nuclear blast, or a symbol of postpartum depression?

The result of a world where babies are mutated as the result of a nuclear blast, or a symbol of postpartum depression?

     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.