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Ingrid Messer

The Lacanian Real in David Lynch

       “We’re not experiencing the ultimate reality; the “real” is hiding all through life, but we don’t see it. We mistake it for all these other things. Fear is based on not seeing the whole thing and, if you could get there and see the whole thing, fear is out the window.” — David Lynch, 1996

            As a filmmaker, David Lynch creates images and narratives that inherently rely upon experimental strategies, and yet the empathetic agenda of his filmmaking makes it necessary that he remain to some degree a narrative filmmaker. With each journey into his very singular and yet very familiar world, he performs a delicate balancing act between avant-garde and mainstream filmmaking practices. His films allow us some of the same pleasures they disrupt, and they are best enjoyed when one allows for a release from traditional narrative resolution, and for the possibility of otherworldly influences, intuitive leaps and a feminine rather than masculine gaze. I would like to explore the way Lynch has developed a unique relationship to narrative that both engages and unsettles the viewer with bizarre and uncanny characters and situations, humor and violence;  narrative that allows for us to come to our own conclusions about certain aspects of reality. Lynch’s resistance to language is optimistic in a phenomenological sense, because he believes that the sense of control language and other hegemonic structures give us is not as rewarding as moving beyond that sense of control and on to larger truths, and that conveying truth in art is possible.

         I will explore how Lynch’s films are able to construct a narrative while simultaneously resisting the limitations of language, and how he uses an ambiguous point of view to create a uniquely “feminine” cinematic gaze. I will also discuss how his films convey a phenomenological optimism so that it is possible for one to transcend the linguistic grid and reach larger, more resonant, truths and how this insistent reliance on intuition relates his work more closely to painting than to most narrative film. Although Lynch is reluctant to assign a conscious process to his work, his thoughts have given me some insight as to his intention. I hope to use Lynch’s ideas together with my own research to deconstruct his thoroughly unique cinematic dreams, and to examine how they force us to explore the darkness and the light of our collective psyche.



          Ingrid Messer received her BA in English from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1998. She has interned at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Chicago Historical Society, and the Chicago International Film Festival.


Thesis Advisor: Michael Newman, Associate Professor; Art History, Theory, and Criticism

Thesis Reader: Jeffrey Skoller, Associate Professor; Film, Video, and New Media

Second Reader: Patricia Erens, Adjunct Associate Professor; Art History, Theory, and Criticism



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