I thought this was an Arnold Schwarzenegger film. Boy was I wrong. It’s about a man who has just become the father of a sperm-like mutant baby.
From the first minutes it is clear that this is a very uncomfortable film to watch; and difficult to interpret. Those first minutes show some kind of conception and birth, but director David Lynch shows it in the weirdest, confusing and creepy way. In case you have seen Under the Skin (2013), this movie is sometimes a bit like those metaphorical scenes in Under the Skin, where you know that you shouldn’t interpret the visuals literally, but what they try to convey in a figurative sense. So, we see a weird-looking sperm leave a man and fall into a pool, signifying conception.
I think, basically, what director Lynch does, is that he magnifies fears. He uses sight and sound to paint an extreme expression of anxieties that all people have under the skin. So, this movie is uncomfortable in every direction. It is in black and white and dark, with bad lighting. There is an ambient sound in the background that creates tension. And our main character Henry is walking through industrial wastelands and uncooperative environments. Our man also looks perpetually shocked, as if he cannot handle the universe. He even has a photo of an atom bomb on the wall! When he holds up a torn photo of his girlfriend with the bomb in the background, the message is clear.
How you react to this is either by laughing or by being horrified. It is either dark comedy, or horror, but it is up to you to make a choice between them. Sometimes the movie leans to one end, other times to the other end. It also seems to be a love story. There is a meet-the-parents part that is sure to give you nightmares, where all the neuroses of Henry’s parents in law are laid bare, and much more besides.
And there is a baby.. oh… Oh my god. Oh my god. Don’t watch this while you’re eating. Before, I didn’t know whether to laugh or to be afraid, and now I don’t know whether to find this cute or creepy. This thing… I read that Lynch used recordings of his own child for these scenes. All I know is that I am feeling a deep existential dread. I think the film is about the fears of parenthood and partnership. The fear of losing yourself, and projecting your fears on the baby, on the woman and her family, and on your entire environment.
In its own peculiar way, this movie is a masterpiece. Lynch puts his finger on particular sensitive parts of the human psyche, and prods hard. And a lot of artistry went into this film. Some of it is obvious, especially the puppetry, the practical effects and sound design. The film feels partly half-baked because of its grainy background sound and the poor lighting, but it is all by design. The baby is a highlight, but also all the other sperm-related nightmares.
In the latter half, the film definitely turns towards horror. This may be the creepiest thing that I have ever seen. There are also temptations of escapism along the way, as Henry imagines ways out of his predicament. A bit like Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985). I’m not entirely sure what happens, but I think that Henry succumbs to the figments in his brain and to the temptations and fears that inhabited that brain. Eventually, though, he realizes that there is no escape and that he has lost himself.
This will definitely give me nightmares. I forgot to breath during the final ten minutes. I’m very impressed though by the strength and clarity of vision to make a film that is so consistently disturbing and at the same time perfectly in tune with the deepest fears that humans hold. It is extremely dark in its atmosphere and theme, but at the same time compelling from an artistic point of view. See if you can stomach it, but your mileage may vary.