'Everybody Holds the Key to Unlock the Mystery'

The films of David Lynch will leave you baffled and pondering. The good news: He feels exactly the same. Lynch talked to Max Tholl about mental fishing trips, torturing audiences and our obsession with mystery.

The European: Mr. Lynch, if I were to describe your movies as uncanny, would you agree?
Lynch: I don't even know what that word means (pauses).

The European: I mean...
Lynch: I know what the word means, but I don't know what it means. Cinema is like life: You can't put it under one word -- it's far too complex for that. It's different things to different people.

The European: I think "uncanny" is a good label to sum up your work because it focuses on things that are strange and yet familiar. They are like twisted ordinary life.
Lynch: That's your opinion, and it's a good opinion.

The European: But?
Lynch: I think if you ask 10 different people, you get 10 different answers to that question. I know that my work is often described as uncanny because it plays with the concepts of familiarity and strangeness, but as I said, that's only one interpretation -- a valid one but not necessarily the right one. My work is about ideas. That's all I have to say about that topic.

The European: How do you mean that?
Lynch: My movies are the continuation of ideas that I fall in love with. It's a beautiful day when I fall in love with an idea -- it's incredible. Then I know what to do, I can see it in front of me, I can envision things. An idea can tell us everything we need to know.

The European: Most of your work is quite dark, but you don't strike me as a very dark character. Where does this fascination for the dark stem from?
Lynch: The world we live in is both pretty dark and a wonderful source of ideas. So it's inevitable in a way to have some dark elements in your work. I think films can't be just one happy line. Stories hold conflict and that's what makes them good stories. The notion that an artist has to be miserable to make a dramatic or dark film is just complete nonsense. You just have to understand it and translate it into your work. You can happy, you can be so very happy, and yet shooting a scene that is full of misery.

The European: This duality of misery and humor is something that figures very prominently in your films.
Lynch: I don't really think about that; it just floats from the ideas. This duality is not something I want to create; it's just there because it is a natural thing. Look at life: You can be smiling in the morning and crying in the evening. Cinema is just a beautiful language that helps us articulate these feelings.

"Desire for an idea is like a bait on a hook"

The European: How do these ideas come to you?
Lynch: You don't know when they are going to hit. It's like a TV that goes on in your brain and you see what is going on, you see the characters, you see how they are dressed, how they behave. You hear them talking and you can grasp the feeling of their words and of the mood in the room -- it's all there, crystal clear. Then the TV goes off and you think about what you just saw and write it down. When you read your notes later, the story will come back to you and that's your starting point. That's how I do films.

The European: Is there anything that triggers these ideas?
Lynch: Everything! Everything can trigger them: Music, walking around, talking to people, eating... just everything. It's like fishing.

The European: Fishing?
Lynch: Fishermen need patience and they have to bait the hook. The desire for an idea is like a bait on a hook that you lower into the water. Then you wait for the fish to bite. You might start to daydream or eat a sandwich, but you stay focused on catching the big fish. When it finally bites, you take it out of the water, and maybe you fall in love with this fish. Maybe it is the fish you have been waiting for for such a long time. Or maybe there's just a fragment of the fish that you love and that fragment can then become a bait to catch an even bigger fish.

The European: There's a certain element of randomness and struggle within that because you don't know when, or if, the fish will bite.
Lynch: Absolutely! You can't force a fish to bite. You can desire an idea, but you can't put it into your head. It has to find the way on its own.

The European: You practice and promote Transcendental Meditation. Does that help you catch the big fish?
Lynch: Yes, because it allows me to fish in the deeper waters. It is an ancient mental technique that allows anybody to dive within and transcend the deepest eternal level of life -- the place that is at the base of all matter and mind. Modern science has discovered the Unified Field at the base of all matter -- it's the unity of all particles and forces. That field is what you experience when you transcend: An ocean of consciousness right at your feet.

The European: Can you describe that place?
Lynch: It's beyond words. It's everything. You start to expand your consciousness and that consciousness has quality -- believe me. It's unbound intelligence, creativity, happiness, love, energy, and peace. And it's within every human being. It's there, that you make the subconscious conscious and develop your full potential as a human being. There's no longer any subconsciousness, just pure consciousness. Everything's illuminated. It's complete enlightenment. It's an ocean full of solutions for problems.

The European: Does the cynicism and skepticism that many people still have vis-à-vis meditation surprise you? If meditation offers us a better life, why would we scorn it?
Lynch: Cynicism and skepticism keep people from happiness. It's good to be skeptical, unless the skepticism keeps you from something good. Meditation has been analyzed and scrutinized over decades from every possible angle to see if there are any negative sides to it. But there are none -- not a single negative thing.

"We are all detectives"

The European: Your movies are in some ways also a mental training. They are full of mystery and you want people to scrutinize or doubt what they see. Do you think that mystery is something intrinsic to human nature, a basic human need?
Lynch: Absolutely. We are all detectives walking around with our flashlights and notepads. We all feel that there is more going on than meets the eye. We can't shake that feeling because it is part of our nature, and there's a point where people just can't look the other way but must find out. Solving the mystery becomes an obsession.

The European: You are very reluctant -- and rightly so -- to tell people what your movies are about because you want them to develop their own theories about what they see. You have repeatedly said that people actually know pretty well what the films are about. Why do they still seek outside confirmation then?
Lynch: I don't have a clue.

The European: Maybe they don't trust their own minds and it seems that the only thing that is more unbearable than mystery is uncertainty or the unknown.
Lynch: It is unbearable; it's practically torture! When something is revealed, it becomes a fact and there is no uncertainty about it. I don't want that to happen to my movies. Everybody holds the key to unlock the mystery, so why should I unlock it for them?

The European: Because you already know the answer and could just give it to the viewers and save them the trouble.
Lynch: I know some things about my movies. They represent a certain thing to me, but that thing is in constant flux. I regard something as this and that, and two years later, it has completely changed its meaning to me. It has transcended its original meaning and grown into something bigger. So I am not the best person to answer their questions (laughs).

The European: Your movies often evoke a strong nostalgia for the American past, especially for the innocence of the 1950s. Would you describe yourself as a nostalgic person?
Lynch: Everybody is! There are feelings so sublime that they just overtake your mind. These feelings are triggered by certain places, smells, or noises. The memories that come back to you create euphoria. Pure euphoria!