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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Sacred Clown Time

Written by Eden H Roquelaire for Twin Peaks Freaks.

DISCLAIMER: Spoilers for Twin Peaks within the article.

"Trickster Parade" by Kelly Moore

“Trickster Parade” by Kelly Moore

The words of the Heyoka are like a lightning bolt which can pierce the heart, for the Heyoka’s words can have a “sharp edge.”

– Wambli Sina Win

Every Twin Peaks fan is familiar with the Native American imagery that appears throughout the series, but it turns out that the tribal influence may go deeper than just inspiring the look of the show: In fact, it may be the source for the central story-line.

The Black Lodge and the Dugpas.

Sacred Clowns are often depicted as painted in black and white.

Sacred Clowns are often depicted as painted in black and white, like the carpet on the floor of the Black Lodge.

There are many correlations between the Dugpas and the beings known as the Heyoka, or Sacred Clowns of Native American culture, that suggest they may have been the source of inspiration for the Black Lodge’s denizens. Some connections include their backwards-speak and use of cryptic words:

Heyókȟa are thought of as being backwards-forwards, upside-down, or contrary in nature. It was manifest by doing things backwards or unconventionally — riding a horse backwards, wearing clothes inside-out, or speaking in a backwards language. For example, if food were scarce, a heyókȟa would sit around and complain about how full he was; during a baking hot heat wave a heyókȟa would shiver with cold and put on gloves and cover himself with a thick blanket.

(Source: Wikipedia – Heyoka)

The Heyoka never tell you something straight out; they make you use your own mental power to learn the meaning behind the words. They use a lack of logic to mock the conventions of our world, and challenge the minds of their disciples. It is interesting to note that the main source of our information on the Dugpas and the Black Lodge is Deputy Tommy “Hawk” Hill, a Native American of an unspecified tribe (it is implied that he may be Blackfoot). This again suggests that they have an origin in Native American lore. Plus, we have seen the Man From Another Place make what is referred to as an “Indian whooping call.” Also take a look at this image of a Heyoka Medicine Man:

“Stanley Good Voice Elk, a heyoka, burns sage to ritually purify his surroundings. In Oglala spirituality, heyokas are recipients of sacred visions who employ clownish speech and behavior to provoke spiritual awareness and “keep balance,” says Good Voice Elk. Through his mask, he channels the power of an inherited spirit, which transforms him into Spider Respects Nothing.” —National Geographic

“Stanley Good Voice Elk, a heyoka, burns sage to ritually purify his surroundings. In Oglala spirituality, heyokas are recipients of sacred visions who employ clownish speech and behavior to provoke spiritual awareness and “keep balance,” says Good Voice Elk. Through his mask, he channels the power of an inherited spirit, which transforms him into Spider Respects Nothing.” —National Geographic

Does it look familiar?

The Jumping Man, seen in Fire Walk With Me.

The Jumping Man, seen in Fire Walk With Me.

That is the so-called “Jumping Man,” who appears in Fire Walk With Me, most notably dancing at the meeting above the convenience store. He carries a stick, perhaps a dowsing rod, and hops around. He is speculated to be a magician or priest. Perhaps he is a Heyoka?

Various Native American tribes have versions of these beings: the Cherokee have the Boogers, the Zuni have the Ne’wekwe, and the Lakota call them the Heyoka.

“The Spirit of perversity and chaos, considered both as a divine entity in its own right, and the effects of that spirit upon humans. The entity is double-faced, showing joy on one side and grief on the other. He is said to be the source of meteors, and in other ways exhibits most of the characteristic heyoka attributes. Mortals who dream of Wakinyan often become heyokas.”

(Source: Obsidian’s Lair “A Lakota Pantheon“)

A person who becomes a Heyoka is one who is inspired by a visit from a Wakinyan or Thunderbird, a powerful spiritual being who is always cloaked in storm clouds. The Thunderbird usually appears to them in a dream, which is considered to be a communication from the Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit (or Great Mystery) of the Lakota.

The Sacred Clowns are known to do bizarre things that are contrary to our logic, including speak and walking backwards, saying the opposite of what they mean, wearing cold weather clothes in hot climates, laughing when sad, and crying when happy. They are said to be able to interpret dreams. They also have a connection to celestial bodies and electricity, as they are associated with lightning, and the legendary Thunderbird.

“The heyoka were different in three primary ways from the other sorts of clowns. They were truly unpredictable, and could do the unexpected or tasteless even during the most solemn of occasions. Moreso than other clowns, they really seemed to be insane. Also, they were thought to be more inspired by trans-human supernatural forces (as individuals driven by spirits rather than group conventions), and to have a closer link to wakan or power than other clowns. Not surprisingly, these unique differences were seen as the result of their having visions of Thunderbird, a unique and transforming experience.”

Steve Mizrach, Thunderbird and Trickster

The rites of sacred clowning are also practiced in Tibetan Buddhism, which, as we know, has a powerful influence on Coop. A clown in Tibetan Buddhism would be to do absurd things – wear shoes on one’s head, call a stone soft, wear rags to meet a prince and expensive clothes to meet a pauper. The method behind this is to teach disciples of Buddhism to think outside the bonds of the reality we are familiar with, to consider less orthodox explanations, and encourage a sense of wonder and curiosity. When one assumes they know everything there is to know, then the mind is not open to learn.

The Laughing Buddha

The Laughing Buddha

“The clown does not fit in, indeed refuses to fit into, the patterns and constructions of the conventional world, representing some other order of being. The clown gets everything wrong: dress, decorum, logic, speech, gestures, and movements; yet in this wrongness is a rightness of another sort. Out of this foolishness rises another level of wisdom.”

(Source: The Laughing Buddha: Zen and the Comic Spirit by Conrad Hyers

In its own way, David Lynch’s work itself does this, by way of his absurdist humor, which sometimes occurs at the most inappropriate of times. It makes us laugh amidst the horror and tragedy going on around us. This act of unsettling our minds and giving rise to doubt causes us to reconsider what we believe is happening, and what it means. In a sense, it forces us to search for new meaning in the familiar.

Let us consider also some of David Lynch’s music. Here’s the cover for his album The Big Dream:

David Lynch's "The Big Dream"

David Lynch’s “The Big Dream”

It’s a man being struck by a lightning bolt, and of course, the title of the album is “The Big Dream.” This implies it is a dream of some importance, perhaps a “divine revelation” of sorts. Could this cover be a representation of a revelation from the Thunderbird, in the form of a dream?

Now you might be saying, “But the Dugpas aren’t good beings; they aren’t teachers or benefactors to humanity.” I would argue that the Dugpas are neither good nor bad; some go rogue, as BOB did, but the Man From Another Place has been shown helping Cooper, as has the Giant. I would say that this is because they had a common interest, and therefore could be compelled to help Cooper. BOB is the only one, I would venture to say, who evokes evil. The others who dwell in the Lodge are amoral, and only act in their own self-interest. This in and of itself ties in with the sporadic nature of the Sacred Clown teachers, who work with opposites and contrast. Both the Dugpas and Sacred Clowns fit into the Trickster category of deities and spirits, along with characters such as Loki, Anansi, Crow, and Prometheus. Often these beings are shown as acting dangerously and amorally, but sometimes these actions also benefit humans, as shown in the tale of Prometheus stealing fire. Other times, the character may start out doing more harmless fun, but eventually graduate to all-out chaos and evil, such as Loki and his plot to murder the light god Balder. Trickster spirits are never easy to pin down; as soon as you think you have them figured out, they change their nature.

That brings us to another David Lynch album, “Crazy Clown Time”:

David Lynch's "Crazy Clown Time"

David Lynch’s “Crazy Clown Time”

The lyrics to this song portray an animalistic party, full of drinking, spitting and stripping. This ties into our second definition of clowns in Lynchian symbolism. It is important to note that David Lynch has connected his Clown symbolism with base and degrading behavior, rather than the “Sacred Clown” archetype, which is about spiritual evolution. Lynch talks about how negative behavior, such as irresponsible drinking, drugs and partying, throws the soul off-balance and causes spiritual disintegration: Deep down, you become depressed and angry, though you continue to suppress these feelings with the negative actions that are causing them in the first place. It is a vicious cycle, or, as Lynch calls it, a “Suffocating Rubber Clown Suit.”

“I call that depression and anger the Suffocating Rubber Clown Suit of Negativity. It’ssuffocating, and that rubber stinks. But once you start meditating and diving within, the clown suit starts to dissolve. You finally realize how putrid was the stink when it starts to go. Then, when it dissolves, you have freedom.”

(Source: The Utne Reader, “Deep Thoughts by David Lynch“)

A good example of Lynch’s use of this negative clown archetype would be its association with Jacques Renault and Leo Johnson, two of the most notorious party people in Twin Peaks:

Leo isn't clowning around... well, maybe a little, actually.

Leo isn’t clowning around… well, maybe a little, actually.

The clown painting found in Jacques Renault's apartment.

The clown painting found in Jacques Renault’s apartment.

And this symbolism isn’t limited to Twin Peaks. Remember Ben singing about the Candy Colored Clown in Frank Booth’s favorite song?

Dean Stockwell ("Ben") sings Roy Orbison's "In Dreams" to Frank Booth in Blue Velvet

Dean Stockwell (“Ben”) sings Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” to Frank Booth in Blue Velvet

And the way Frank paints his lips when he listens to the same song later?

Frank Booth

Frank Booth smears his lips with red lipstick while listening to a song about a “candy colored clown”

These characters are both associated with drugs, violence, and all-around debased behavior, just as Jacques and Leo are. This is their “Suffocating Rubber Clown Suit of Negativity” that they bury themselves in rather than facing their demons and evolving as people.

Both Frank and Killer BOB are used in their respective stories as representations of “the evil that men do,” as Jeffrey asks Sandy in a philosophical moment, “Why are there people like Frank in the world?” Sandy tells him that love and light is the only thing that can and will destroy the darkness in the hearts of humanity. In this way, we can associate the characters of Frank and BOB with each other, and thus connect the clown imagery this way. BOB is also always depicted as smiling and laughing, and is described as “eager for fun” in this poem:

He is BOB, eager for fun. He wears a smile, everybody run!”

-MIKE the One-Armed Man

Of course, BOB’s idea of fun is one of evil and debauchery, spreading the suffocating negativity everywhere he goes.

So it’s inarguable that Lynch has used this negative clown symbol before, but does that invalidate the possibility that he has also used the Sacred Clown symbol? I will leave conclusions up to you, but I personally think that the evidence points to uses of both meanings. After all, Lynch has a well-known infatuation with duality and double-edged meanings, and the connections between the Dugpas and the Sacred Clowns are notable enough not to be ignored. Take another look at the scene “Above the Convenience Store”:

The meeting "Above the Convenience Store"

The meeting “Above the Convenience Store”

Definitely looks like it could be the Black Lodge’s idea of a party, where they gather to feed on the Garmonbozia that BOB has collected. There is the Jumping Man in the corner, who, as we discussed, may be a Heyoka. Perhaps he is leading the feeding ceremony. BOB is sitting at the table, throwing his head back in uproarious laughter.

As a final point, let us discuss the Greek God Dionysus. He is the God of wine, revelry, feasting, ecstasy, and is the all-around life of the party. He and his parties are dual-natured: They can bring about both horrible violence and beautiful knowledge. Many of the parties end with his followers, the Bacchantes, ripping apart uninitiated passersby, as was the case with Orpheus. However, this was also a cult of the secrets of the Earth, where one could learn Nature Magick and arcane wisdom. There was obvious risk in being involved in this cult, but there were benefits that could make those risks justifiable. Similarly, Cooper is taking a sizable risk in entering the Black Lodge; however, if he succeeds, the benefits could be worth it. If he loses, he will be ripped apart, spiritually.

Trickster Spirits are beings of both chaos and wisdom: There are some things that you can only learn from these beings, and yet to learn from them takes tremendous risk. However, it is often in our times of darkness, strife, and chaos that we have our revelations, and realize important things about ourselves. It is through trial that we evolve, and through constant questioning that we learn. The Sacred Clowns and Tricksters of various cultures embody that chaotic path to wisdom.