Demystifying David Lynch
The Missoula-born director debunks local rumors, discusses peace factories and reveals the secret to understanding his surreal work.
Perhaps you’ve heard the rumors: Award-winning director David Lynch, one of Missoula’s most famous sons, based his spectacularly bizarre 1986 cult classic film Blue Velvet on events that took place in the historic Wilma building. In fact, so the rumors go, he once lived there and part of the movie was filmed in the actual apartments. It’s totally true, as is the belief Missoula helped influence his surreal, small town-based television series, “Twin Peaks.”
Part of what’s perpetuated these rumors is that Lynch, a notoriously reclusive figure who shuns the traditional Hollywood establishment, has done little to dispute or clarify the rampant speculation about his work. We know he was born in Missoula in 1946 and that he moved around the Pacific Northwest until he was 14 and the family relocated to Washington, D.C. But when it comes to discussing Blue Velvet’s connection to the Wilma, who killed Laura Palmer in “Twin Peaks,” or what the hell is with the blue box and key in Mulholland Drive, answers are hard to come by. For most of his career, Lynch has either declined media requests or sidestepped direct questions.
For the last year the four-time Academy Award nominee has made himself increasingly available to his insatiably curious and fervent fanbase. It started with a lecture tour of colleges and universities where he discussed the merits of Transcendental Meditation (TM), something he’s practiced twice daily for 34 years. TM is a simple relaxation technique introduced by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1958, and was popularized by the Beatles in the 1960s. It involves sitting comfortably with eyes closed for 20 minutes and repeating a specific mantra. In July 2005, Lynch started the Los Angeles-based David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace to help broaden the technique throughout the world.
Then, in September 2006, Lynch released his latest film, INLAND EMPIRE, which is shot on digital video and being distributed by Lynch’s own company (it’s slated to screen at the Wilma Theatre later this month or in early May). The DIY production spurred Lynch onto the media circuit, where he’s hoping to drum up interest for a project critics call either a bold three-hour experiment or the most esoterically obtuse Lynch work yet.
And then, finally, in January he released a new book, Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity. The collection of 83 first-person essays aims to explain Lynch’s creative process, offers notes on the making of each of his films (although hardly revealing) and, more than anything, attempts to explain how TM has influenced and enhanced his art. In the book, Lynch refers to himself as “just a guy from Missoula, Montana,” and mentions the Garden City in passing multiple times.
Every time Lynch name-drops Missoula, it stokes the local rumors. So the Independent requested an interview, and for the first time ever the request was granted. Earlier this month, following a month-long trip to Paris and during a one-day INLAND EMPIRE media stop in New York City, Lynch provided a direct number to his hotel room and the time to call. He answered the phone on the first ring. His voice is high-pitched and his speaking pattern both easy-going and energetic—the New York Times referred to his inflection in a recent profile as maintaining “the flat folksy accent of his native Missoula, Mont.,” whatever that means.
After a brief introduction and sip of coffee (a side venture has Lynch hawking his own brand of coffee beans), the director says enthusiastically, “Missoula, Montana! You know, I’d do anything for Missoula.”
Indy: Your new book, Catching the Big Fish, seems to be popular here, and you mention Missoula quite a few times.
Lynch: I bet they think it’s a fishing book, don’t they?
Indy: That may be.
Lynch: Well, it is a fishing book, it’s just about fishing for ideas. It’s about how to catch them easier and easier, and catch them when they’re bigger and bigger.
Indy: You’re talking about Transcendental Meditation?
Lynch: Yes. Transcendental Meditation is a mental technique—it’s not a religion, it’s not against any religion, it’s not a cult, it’s not a sect. It’s a mental technique and an ancient form of meditation that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is bringing back now. It’s a mental technique that allows any human being to dive within and experience subtler levels of mind and intellect, and transcend and experience the unbounded, infinite, eternal level of pure bliss consciousness, what modern scientists call the unified field at the base of all matter and the base of all mind.
Indy: I was actually trained in TM as a teenager, but I think I was too young to appreciate it. I understand the basic principles, but not some of the concepts you discuss in the book. Like, what are peace factories?
Lynch: In Transcendental Meditation, you’re experiencing the deepest level of life, and it enlivens that level, and that level is totally positive. It’s like a bright light of positivity, and when you experience it you enliven it and you grow in that. The side effect of growing that unity and that pure consciousness and that bliss, is that negative things start to recede. When negativity recedes you start to enjoy life more and more.
Negativity is hate, anger, fear, depression, sorrow, anxiety, tension, corruption, disease—all these things. When that goes there is huge freedom, huge happiness and a flow of creativity, increased intelligence, energy and power. Beautiful, beautiful things happen just from transcending and visiting “back home” and enlivening that beautiful field. If you can enliven that beautiful field as a group, it has been proven successful at reducing crime, violence, road accidents, trips to the hospital.
Indy: And you say that it takes the square root of 1 percent of the population to create a peace factory?
Lynch: It has been tested 52 times, and independently verified. It’s a group that practices advanced techniques of meditation together, enlivening that field of unity within, and pumping this light out into collective consciousness, influencing collective consciousness with harmony, coherence, dynamic peace. The side effect of that is negativity starts to recede and peace can come to earth.
Indy: You’ve said 100 peace factories are needed in the United States. How close are you to attaining that goal?
Lynch: The technology is here to do that. The people are here, trained to do that. It’s just a question of financing these groups on a permanent basis, so once they start, they keep on going, ramping up that light of unity and dynamic peace for the world or for a country or for a city. The square root of 1 percent of a population is all it takes.
Indy: How do you react to people who think peace factories are a far-fetched idea?
Lynch: It’s been proven time after time. Holland is one country that’s done this. They have 16 million inhabitants, so they only need a group of 400, which they’ve got. Already since they’ve started this group, many, many, many good things are happening. So, it’s there and ready to go, it just needs supporting.
Indy: And where are you in fundraising?
Lynch: I would like to get $7 billion. That’s only three-and-a-half fighter-bombers. That’s a drop in the bucket and we’d have peace. But still, $7 billion is a lot of money. So far my foundation has raised close to $5 million and the foundation has started to give meditation [lessons] to any student who wants it or any school who wants it for its students. It’s also established peace greeting and reading groups. Right now, several thousand students who have started, their lives are transformed. The jump to good times is fast and sure.
Indy: This is also part of an effort to create consciousness-based education?
Lynch: There are studies involved with this, studies with [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder] kids who see huge transformations without drugs just by diving within. Kids who can’t sit still for anything can sit still easily with Transcendental Mediation. When people start hearing this is a real thing, it’s really working, more and more people are saying I’ve got to have that and I’ve got to have that for my kid and I’ve got to have that for my school. It turns a hellhole school around before you know it.
Indy: Besides incorporating TM, what’s the biggest difference between, say, the education you received growing up and consciousness-based education?
Lynch: I was educated probably better than most kids are educated today. It’s unbelievable how much education has fallen and how much trouble and horror are in our public and private schools.
It would be the exact same curriculum with the addition that instead of just getting facts and figures the student learns a technique to dive within, expand their consciousness, expand their intelligence. … Learning gets easier and easier, understanding grows, appreciation grows just from diving into this ocean within the self—known as Atma.
Totality is there within every human being. You unfold it by experiencing it, and things get very, very good. You get bright and shiny students. Strong students. They don’t all become the same, they don’t get numb to life, they get more and more understanding. You stop worrying about them.
Indy: You’ve been meditating twice a day for 34 years, for 20 minutes each session. How was your meditation this morning different than a meditation session 20, 15 or 10 years ago?
Lynch: It’s easier to get there, to that field, and stay in it or right next door to it longer. It’s more and more natural to have that bliss as you go about your day. For me, the enjoyment of doing my work has just gotten more and more. That’s a huge thing—energy to do the work, enthusiasm to do the work, enjoyment of the work, this inner happiness and this ability to get a kind of creative flow where I can get a flow of ideas and can catch those ideas at a deeper level where the ideas seem big and new and inspiring.
I have an appreciation for people. People seem more familiar to me. I appreciate people and see all people like family members now. Things get easier and better.
Indy: Do you get ideas for films or other projects when you meditate?
Lynch: No. You don’t dive for specific solutions. You dive to enliven that ocean of consciousness. Then your intuition grows and ideas just come to you.
Indy: In the book, you mention how you came to finish your first feature film, Eraserhead (1977). You had just begun meditating, you were looking for a key to unlock the story and you pulled out a Bible. One sentence turned out to be that key. I won’t ask what the sentence was [Lynch says he’ll never reveal it], but how often do you read the Bible?
Lynch: I don’t read it too often, but I really like to read it. One thing I heard, which is interesting to think about, is that under regular light, say a light bulb or incandescent light, the Bible is strange code. But under the light of unity the thing will leap from the page and be completely understood. I’ve had this experience where it just leaps off the page and I see it. It’s a very, very beautiful story, and I come away from it saying everything is going to be okay.
Indy: I know you consider Dune (1984) a failure because you didn’t have final cut over the film—and it didn’t exactly succeed at the box office. What would you say was your most enjoyable project?
Lynch: I call Eraserhead my most spiritual film. People don’t understand that, but it was. And I am very pleased with INLAND EMPIRE.
Indy: You shot that entirely on a consumer digital video camera, a Sony PD-150? Why?
Lynch: Film is dead to me. I’m through with it as a medium. I love digital video, and I love the lower quality.
Indy: You’re distributing INLAND EMPIRE through your own company. How is that going so far?
Lynch: It’s hard. I’m doing it through my own company and with the help of 518 Media [a Studio City, Calif., production company]. Rhino will be involved in the distribution of the DVD, which is set for August.
Indy: As someone who’s distributing your own film and also releases a lot of new, original material on your own website (www.davidlynch.com), what’s your opinion of file sharing?
Lynch: Very, very, very bad. That’s totally criminal to me. It will be the death of film, just like the music business. It’s so dangerous and discouraging. It’s not that the film [INLAND EMPIRE] was made to make money, but it has to make money if you want to do the next one. It has to at least break even. Piracy robs the ability to make your next picture. It’s a horror.
Indy: And yet it seems you do more and more through your subscription-based website, where I’d think piracy may be more of a problem.
Lynch: It’s coming to a time when everything will be done on the Internet. I don’t know exactly how it’s going to work, but it’s the future for sure. [Pause.]
Lynch: Piracy is scary. And there’s only one way to soften the hearts of the pirates. When they see what they’re doing, really, they’ll stop. But they don’t see it now.
Indy: What’s that one way to soften their hearts?
Lynch: To pump out the field of unity in the world. Then things will get very good and nobody will do anything to hurt anyone else.
Indy: Will you ever do TV again?
Lynch: No. The Internet is the new television. If I did a continuing story, I’d do it on the Internet.
Indy: Like DumbLand (an animated series on his website)?
Lynch: Like DumbLand, but maybe live action.
Indy: What’s the best film you’ve seen recently?
Lynch: I haven’t seen any films lately. I can’t even tell you the last one I saw. But I’ve heard a new group that I like a lot in music: Au Revoir Simone. Three girls from Brooklyn, New York.
Indy: Music is a major part of your work, especially Angelo Badalamenti, who’s scored every one of your films since Blue Velvet. At what point do you incorporate music?
Lynch: (laughs) I don’t think there is a surrealistic capital. But it would probably be Paris because that’s where the surrealists hung out mainly. It could be anywhere—that’s what I meant. Surrealists could pop up in Missoula. I just meant it’s strange for me to come from Montana and notice the ideas I get and fall in love with. Sometimes it seems strange to me.
Indy: Because Montana’s not exactly Paris?
Indy: How long did you actually live in Missoula?
Lynch: Two months.
Indy: That’s it?
Lynch: I was born there, and right after I was born my parents moved to Sand Point, Idaho. I lived in the Northwest until I was 14, but always in different cities.
Indy: During those years did you ever make your way back through Missoula?
Lynch: No. My relatives in Montana were in Hungry Horse, Montana; my aunt and uncle lived there. My parents have a log cabin up near Kalispell—what’s the name of the ski resort? Whitefish? My Dad was raised near Highwood, Montana, on a wheat ranch, and my grandfather was a state senator in Montana. They retired from the ranch and lived in Hamilton for a while. I’ve been to Montana a lot, but never really back to Missoula.
Indy: So, when you came back, you were mostly heading back to the Kalispell area?
Lynch: Exactly. It’s beautiful up there.
Indy: Do you have any memories of Missoula at all?
Lynch: Um, no. Not really. But I’ve heard people say it’s a great town and I should go visit it because it’s got a real mood. And I want to go find the hospital I was born in and see if it brings back memories. I remember it was two miles from Hell’s Canyon…St. Patrick Hospital. That’s it. I’d like to get back there.
Indy: So, the rumor circulating here for years is that Blue Velvet was based on a historic building in Missoula similar to the apartment building in the film. I know you don’t like to discuss the specific inspirations behind your films, but I suppose it would be impossible for Blue Velvet to have any connection to Missoula.
Lynch: Unfortunately, no. There’s no connection.
Indy: Well, that puts an end to that.
Lynch: I guess it does. That’s too bad.
Indy: And it’s been said that memories from your childhood influenced a lot of your work, especially “Twin Peaks,” but I suppose that wasn’t from your two months here.
Lynch: That’s true, but no. Not from Missoula.
Indy: Now that locals know the films aren’t specifically about Missoula, it may open up a whole new series of interpretations.
Lynch: It should. They should go into that world and have that experience. Each time you view a movie it’s a different experience.
Indy: You once said that “Life is very, very confusing, and so films should be allowed to be, too.” But, going back to what you said about meditation and how it opens up understanding, would someone who practices TM have a better grasp of your work? In other words, will your fans get the meaning of the blue box and the key, or be able to piece together INLAND EMPIRE, if they meditated?
Lynch: Oh, yeah. Understanding grows, so there wouldn’t be much that you didn’t understand. It’s an ocean of pure knowingness. That’s not going to happen overnight, but for sure the full potential of a human being—called enlightenment—is there for us. It just needs the unfolding. Enlightenment is a very important thing, supreme enlightenment, but on the road to that things get better and better and understanding grows. So, yeah, someone could start meditating and within a few years start understanding all of my films. Perfectly.