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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Lodges, Empires and Lost Highways: The Grand Unification Theory of the Lynchian Universe (Part 1)

Written by Eden H Roquelaire for Twin Peaks Freaks.

Warning!: Contains spoilers for all of Lynch’s movies and the TV series Twin Peaks. Don’t read if you don’t want to know!

Now entering the Lodge.

Now entering the Lodge.

We all know that David Lynch’s films share many motifs, such as red curtains, telephones, black and white/good vs. evil, singers in night clubs granting obscure epiphanies, flashing lights, non-linear time, prostitutes, and other dimensions. But could there be a deeper connection? Let me blow your mind with a fun fact, if you didn’t know already: David Lynch has told us that his movie Lost Highway takes place in “the same universe” as Twin Peaks.

[A brief explanation for any who don’t understand that statement, think of it this way: Superman has never met Mickey Mouse, because they don’t occupy the same “universe.” HOWEVER, Superman can team up with Batman, because they both occupy the same universe (The DC Comics Universe). Just like you can’t meet Dorothy Gale because she’s from a different, fictional universe, but you can go visit your aunt in the next town over, because you both live in this universe.]

So this means, the characters of Twin Peaks could interact with the characters from Lost Highway. Theoretically, if Fred Mason traveled up to Washington State, he could get cherry pie at the Double R, served to him by Norma, who might have heard about a woman who was mutilated down in LA, killer at large. And if Bobby pulled any delinquency in Los Angeles, Henry Rollins might be his prison guard. (OK, maybe not REALLY Henry Rollins…)

With today’s reports of Balthazar Getty (Lost Highway‘s Pete Dayton) being cast for Twin Peaks Season 3, the possibilities are… intriguing, to say the least.

“Balthazar? It’s David. We might finally be able to get you out of that weird dimension I trapped you in back in ’97…”

How else are these two works connected? Let’s look at Lost Highway: What does it have in common with Twin Peaks? Some see the Mystery Man as a sort of BOB figure; a manifestation of the evil inside of Fred Madison (Bill Pullman), just as BOB was, on one level, a representation of “the evil that men do.” Both movies have to do with the darker side of humanity (prostitution, drugs, murder, etc…), and the mask of “normalcy” that people wear to disguise it.

Let’s look at one scene in particular: Fred goes in to check the house after seeing a bright light flashing upstairs. He goes down the hallway, past some red curtains, and the phone rings. It is most likely the Mystery Man calling him. He doesn’t see anything, so he goes back outside, gets Renee, and they re-enter the house. While Renee is in the bathroom, Fred is staring into the hallway he went down earlier. It looks like a black void. He walks back down the hall (presumably passing the red curtains on the way). He comes to a mirror, and looks at his reflection in the darkness.

Fred disappears towards some red curtains.

Fred disappears towards some red curtains.

Just in this scene, we can find some strong ties to Twin Peaks: The red curtains in the Black Lodge, and the mirror that Cooper looks into in the final episode of Season 2, when he sees himself possessed by BOB (Who, of course, parallels the Mystery Man). I feel that this is an indication that Fred is symbolically entering the Black Lodge, while “The Mystery Man” (the evil inside of him) controls his body and kills Renee.

Now, how about this scene: Where Pete goes to a cabin (lodge) in the middle of the desert. The flame effect used on the cabin is the exact same that is used in Twin Peaks, when BOB captures Windom Earle. Inside this lodge is the Mystery Man, who is waiting for Pete, just as BOB is in the Lodge, waiting for Cooper. Fire is, of course, an all-important symbol in Twin Peaks: It represents the spirit of destruction, and symbolizes BOB himself. So the Mystery Man being so closely associated with fire here lends credence to the idea that he is either a being like BOB, or he is BOB himself in another form. Fire is also focused on earlier in the movie, when Fred is, quite probably “possessed” by the Mystery Man.

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There are many other parallels littered throughout the film: The Mystery Man shouting at Fred, “And your name — What the fuck is your name?” is similar to Philip Jeffries’ question “Who do you think that is there?” (Speaking to Gordon Cole, referring to Agent Cooper). The blond femme fatale (Alice/Laura) involved with the criminal business man (Mr Eddy/Ben Horne). Bright, flashing lights during essential scenes (Cooper in the Black Lodge, Pete venturing down the long hallway to find Alice). Video tapes play important roles in both (the video tapes received by Fred and Renee, and the video of Laura and Donna at the picnic). And of course, doppelgangers aplenty (Renee/Alice, Mr Eddy/Dick Laurent, Fred Madison/Pete Dayton…).

Fred looking up into a bright light, not unlike the kind that appears in Twin Peaks, and later Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire.

Fred looking up into a bright light, not unlike the kind that appears in Twin Peaks, and later, Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire.

Everyone knows that each David Lynch film exists within a strange world so similar yet so different from our own world, that is ruled by broken laws of physics, and that is as likely to send you to Hell as to take you to Heaven. There are strange creatures that dwell here, and they may help or harm us; they speak in riddles that will reveal the secrets of the universe if only we are astute enough to fathom them. Each film has its own “rabbit hole” where the hero moves from the normal world into this other place. Agent Cooper and Laura enter the Black Lodge, Nikki Grace gets trapped within the film set and become Susan Blue, Fred Madison turns into Pete Dayton and enters a sort of parallel world, Betty and Rita open the Blue Box and are sucked in…

Here’s the bombshell: What if I told you that the Black Lodge, the Lost Highway, inside the Radiator, the Inland Empire, and Club Silencio were all the same place?

If you’re familiar with the Lynchian Universe at all, you are most likely also familiar with this recurring motif: The Red Curtains. They appear in virtually every Lynch work, most famously Twin Peaks where their familiar presence has led to the coining of the name “The Red Room.” But these curtains aren’t limited to the Black Lodge:1430778-red_room

– In Eraserhead, there are curtains on the stage, behind the Lady in the Radiator. The film is black and white, but I think it is a safe assumption to say they are red.

– In Blue Velvet, Dorothy Valens performs onstage in front of red curtains.

– In Lost Highway, there are red curtains in Fred and Renee’s house.

– In Mulholland Drive, there are red curtains in Club Silencio and Mr. Roque’s office.

– In Inland Empire, Sue enters a mysterious hallway that is decked in red curtains.

So what does this mean? It is my belief that the red curtains are a sign post to let viewers know You’re entering another dimension. And this dimension is the same one in every film: However, it changes based on its visitor’s psyche (but I’ll get back to that at a later date).

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Let’s take a look at more of the shared traits of these places: They are dreamlike places, which use heavy symbolism. Everything is shrouded and disorienting. Often they are occupied by magical and strange beings, such as The Man from Another Place, or the Rabbits. There is almost always music in the air; singers such as Little Jimmy Scott and Rebekah Del Rio appear. Revelatory messages are imparted in code.

I believe that these worlds aren’t just similar; they are THE SAME. The Lady in the Radiator could be an agent of the White Lodge, the Rabbits may have been watching Cooper from a distance all the time, and Nikki Grace may have entered Club Silencio to watch that footage of herself at the end of the film.

But how can we be sure of this? How can we be sure of anything, in a world that is so symbolic and convoluted?

I believe the movie Inland Empire is the key.

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A doorway to the Inland Empire.

Inland Empire seems to be a film completely dedicated to the exploration of this other dimension, its power, the beings that live there, the people who fight to control it, and its possibilities. In fact, I think that this other dimension IS the “Inland Empire” referred to in the title: A dimension within dimensions (“inland”), a veritable empire of other worlds, all connected. The film shows us many motifs from earlier films, and contextualizes them. Using the symbols, events, and images from Inland Empire, one can crack the code of the entire Lynchian Universe.

In the next part, we will examine the symbols of Inland Empire, and use them as a Rosetta Stone to deciphering the rest of Lynch’s Universe, and produce evidence that all of Lynch’s films are connected.