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Top Six David Lynch Characters
Fans of veteran surrealist filmmaker David Lynch, will probably all agree that it has been far too long since he’s returned to the big screen. With other interests like music and painting using up his time, Lynch believes there is little point in returning to filmmaking. He stated in a documentary named Side by Side that he might never make a film again; in part due to the fact that there’s little room for independent art house movies nowadays. In part, due to Hollywood and China raking in millions from blockbusters. It’s not good news, but for the ones who like to reminisce about the good old days of dancing dwarves, human rabbits, and Pabst Blue Ribbon, let’s take a look back at possibly David Lynch’s top six greatest character creations:
WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN ANY DAVID LYNCH FILMS.
6. Henry Spencer (Eraserhead) played by Jack Nance
Who? Henry Spencer lived in an eerie industrial town where he was kept awake at night by the screams of his mutant baby; all the while having to put up with his agitated girlfriend in an industrial world where, seemingly, no one is normal.
Why is he a great character? Well, not just because we sympathize with the poor world he lives in, but David Lynch has written a powerful message on birth and the dangers of sex. It’s Henry Spencer’s realization of what he has done. He never wanted a baby, but now he’s got one, he has to suffer from the torment of its screams, while it turns into a mutant baby, forcing Spencer to lose control of reality, and also lose control of his mad scattered haircut, which symbolizes his inner torment.
The baby’s screams drive his girlfriend away, leaving Henry alone in the world he once coped perfectly fine in, but now his town seems dangerous and strange to him, as he begins to imagine his head being used as an eraser to symbolize his disconnection from the world, and that fear has finally paralyzed him.
Eraserhead, and Henry Spence, were perhaps ahead of their time, because Lynch’s theme of early pregnancy still occurs today in our society. It just gives the film and its character a timeless quality.
5. Adam Kesher (Mulholland Drive) played by Justin Theroux
Who? Kesher is the under-pressure film director from Mulholland Drive, who has to cast a certain “girl” into his film otherwise it will not be made.
Why is he a great character? Kesher will be a strange choice for some, but he is often overlooked as a memorable character. The reason he should be mentioned more is because David Lynch could have easily written him as a typical cliché film director who loves shooting action movies, who also throws anger fits every five minutes (as directors are often portrayed in films). However, Kesher is shown to be a bit of a comedy outlet, fighting back against the surreal Hollywood world. It allows the audience to sympathize with him as he just wants to make a film he’s passionate about, with some 50s’ music; but his creation is being altered by top tier studio executives, as one of them puts it bluntly “It’s no longer your film.” With that, he’s allowed a great scene where he smashes a film producer’s car with his golf club.
Another memorable scene quickly follows which results in Kesher pouring pink paint into his cheating wife’s jewellery collection in a very calm style. Kesher is simply a director who does the things many people wished they could do to the people that annoy them.
He also seems like the only character to be grounded in reality, as he laughs off the weird goings-on. For instance, when he is first told to meet The Cowboy, he laughs like the audience would to a character who seems odd, but just like Kesher, we, the audience, are given a lesson that Lynch might not tolerate ignorant attitudes. See below:
David Lynch might have used his own experiences with Hollywood executives to shape Kesher’s story; as Lynch himself is a director who sticks to his own distinct style. Besides, having your creation altered for unknown reasons would annoy anyone.
4. Dorothy Vallens (Blue Velvet) played by Isabella Rossellini
Who? Vallens is a mysterious nightclub singer who performs a version of Blue Velvet, and who is also involved with a dangerous criminal named Frank Booth, as Booth has kidnapped her husband and son.
Why is she a great character? Because like many people in this world, we never see their inner suffering, just the surface is seen and quickly people assume that it must be great to be that person because they’re so talented. That is just like Dorothy Vallens, the talented singer who is trapped in a dark and seedy world from which she cannot escape. She is abused by the drug-inhaling Frank Booth, and pretends she loves him, just so her life and her family’s can be spared.
She is a tortured soul; she is symbolism for the women who are abused by men. So when the main protagonist, Jeffery Beaumont (a friendly, kind hearted boy) finds her, she finds herself falling for his kind nature, but as her past experiences with Booth haunt her, she asks Jeffery to hit her repeatedly (because she is now uncomfortable with kindness.) This is put in the film by Lynch because some people will never recover from their tormented troubles, and like many, they use their only talent they have to express themselves, in Dorothy’s case, singing.
David Lynch gets a lot of stick for his female creations, but I think he is just being honest to our world and not giving into the stereotypical dumb blondes portrayed in a lot of movies today.
3. Frank Booth (Blue Velvet) played by Denis Hopper
Who? I’ve already mentioned him; but he’s the central crime figure in the fictional town of North Lumberton. A sociopath who possesses a split personality that needs to be fed by Dorothy Vallens.
Why is he a great character? Not only is it Denis Hopper’s most frightening performance ever, but Frank Booth is a man who is clearly not only brutal and a high-ranking criminal, but a man killing himself inside. He asks Dorothy Vallens to gag him with a piece of Blue Velvet cloth as he imitates a child who rapes her.
He’s often brought to tears by songs, such as Blue Velvet, and Roy Orbison’s In Dreams. These songs were perhaps played when he was a child when he might have been abused himself, and he has tried to counter that with being equally as violent in his adulthood. Just like Dorothy Vallens, they are both tortured souls. However, what makes Frank Booth a great character is his violence, which leans over towards comedy at times, with a famous outburst of anger when he captures Jeffery Beaumont and asks what beer he wants. Jeffery says “Heineken” and Booth quickly corrects him “Heineken? … Fuck that shit, Pabst Blue Ribbon!”
A great character for a great actor: R.I.P Denis Hopper.
2. Betty (Mulholland Drive) Naomi Watts
Who? An actress who travels to Hollywood to fulfill her dream of becoming a star; but as she meets an amnesiac lady named Camilla, things get very strange as they try to uncover Camilla’s real identity.
Why is she a great character? Not only is it a tour de force performance from Naomi Watts, which elevates her career into the big time – it’s the deeper meanings and the many questions the movie poses. For instance, why does Betty change persona in the final act? And what is the blue box? All of those are hidden inside Betty herself, who actually is the central mystery.
David Lynch has written the film practically all from inside Betty’s head. In reality Betty is a failed actress who fell in love with another, more talented actress named Camilla. Life has become so unbearable for Betty – as her career isn’t what she hoped for, with her lover, Camilla stealing the spot light. She now lives in poverty, with a drug addiction. With that, she creates a whole other life, by re-imagining her Hollywood career the way she first hoped it would end up.
This leads to her wanting power over her ex-lover Camilla by making her an amnesiac and not knowing who she is, because in reality, Camilla has the power over Betty because of her fame.
You see Betty plucky eyed and full of energy as she gives the performance of a lifetime in her first movie audition, but just as she thinks her dream is going to make her a star, her dream world falls apart; her own subconscious reminds her of her painful reality when she visits the set of another movie (the movie in real life she was supposed to be in, but Camilla took the role) when she sees the people involved in her own downfall in real life, so she runs away. Symbolizing that deep down she knows that her talent is paper thin, and that she will never make it in Hollywood, even in her own dreams.
Her dream ends and she wakes up in reality, seeing her true love Camilla dating director Adam Kesher. Not wanting to live with the pain anymore, she hires a hitman to kill Camilla,and then kills herself, all ending a sad life that no one cared about.
With all the dream sequences, Betty couldn’t be more grounded in reality, as this is Hollywood’s reality. Lynch has created a masterpiece of a character study, with the underlying message: Hollywood promises dreams, but doesn’t always deliver them.
1. Agent Dale Cooper (Twin Peaks) played by Kyle MacLachlan
Who? Who else; he needs no introduction. Cooper is the quirky, cherry pie loving, coffee drinking FBI agent who is sent to the small town of Twin Peaks to investigate the murder of a teenage girl.
Why is he the greatest character? Dale Cooper is the most madhat FBI agent to walk the earth, with the use of Tibetan Techniques to catch murderers, along with the use of dreams to construct evidence. He shows a caring side to all his work colleagues, treating everybody as an equal. He also gives a thumbs up when satisfied. to suggest his childish qualities underneath. He loves coffee too, with his most favourite quote being “A damn fine cup of coffee.”
On the surface he is eccentric, yes; however, deep down, as Twin Peaks begins to unfold, you find out (like with many Lynch characters) that Cooper has had his fair share of bad luck. It is revealed in season 2 that his former lover was killed – she was also an FBI agent who was shot on a job with Cooper. He reckoned he could have saved her, but he can only mask his deep feelings by remaining larger than life.
By the end, Cooper is chasing another girl he has fallen for: Annie, a restaurant waitress, but she is kidnapped by rogue FBI agent Windom Earle, and is taken to the Black Lodge, where people’s darker sides exists in never-ending red rooms. Unfortunately for Cooper, he too enters the Black Lodge, and is trapped there for the remainder of the show’s run. His kind, quirky presence will be missed.
So there it is. We may never see another Lynch masterpiece again with delightfully colourful characters, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be engaging with fans anymore. On April 29th at the BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House, Lynch will make a “rare public appearance to discuss his many passions: from film to painting, music to meditation. In a far-ranging conversation with New York Public Library’s director of public programs Paul Holdengräber . . . Lynch will explore some of his favorite things and share stories about his creative process.”
So remember, everything in Heaven is fine.
Let me know below who your favourite David Lynch character is.