This 55-Second Video Might Explain David Lynch's Entire Career

An out-there theory about one of the most out-there filmmakers there is.

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Jun 13 2017, 3:30pm

David Lynch at the 'Twin Peaks' Premiere. (Photo: Eric Charbonneau/AP/Invision/SHOWTIME)

In 1995, David Lynch was given something he rarely had: rules.

In honor of the 100th anniversary of the Lumiere brothers' first "motion pictures," two filmmakers—Sarah Moon and Philippe Poulet—invited 39 directors from around the world (including Wim Wenders, Spike Lee, and Peter Greenaway) to participate in an experiment. Filmmakers were given a reconstruction of the old camera that the Lumieres used, with the only difference being the coating on the film was acetate instead of nitrate, as well as three rules: The short could be no longer than 52 seconds, there could be no synchronized sound or unnatural light, and filmmakers had only three takes.

With those parameters, Lynch made a (of course, over 52 seconds long) short called "Premonitions Following an Evil Deed." It's weird as hell:

The story—such as it is—takes place over five scenes, filmed in one mind-boggling take, necessary because of the camera's antiquated technology. It's worth breaking it down, shot by shot:

  1. Three police officers step over a wooden fence to approach a dead body.
  2. An older woman looks with dread at what we'll later discover is the doorway to her living room.
  3. An overexposed shot of a three young women on a bed in a forest. One of them slowly leaves in a flash of white.
  4. A bondage chamber where three monstrous figures with deformed heads use an electric prod to zap a naked woman floating in a water torture chamber. The transition screen bursts into flames, leading to the final shot...
  5. The living room from (2), but this time, the woman wearily stands to peer down the hallway. She backs away as a police officer enters. She holds her husband, already knowing the news he's about to deliver.

There's a lot of Lynchian stuff happening here: the brooding soundtrack of record skips and electrical zapping as a haunting Angelo Badalamenti track floats throughout; Lynch's classic mix of natural oddities (a live deer is in the third scene!) and horrifying factories; a dead body, well-meaning police officers, and a living room scene fraught with emotions. It's essentially a greatest hits package in less than a minute!

The story seems straightforward, too, once you've been primed by watching it a few times. A child has been murdered (it's unclear if it's a young girl or boy), and moments before being told about the killing by the police, the child's mother has a premonition something bad's about to happen. This mental action is what's taking place with scenes three and four as the mother's dreamily bliss of the forest boudoir is interrupted by the nightmarish factory chamber.

Like any Lynch, there's plenty of questions left behind: Do the women in the woods signify some lost potential the mother is dreaming about? A flickering remembrance of her own youth, before she found herself in the situation she's in? Is the torture chamber what she imagines happened to her child? Or is she the one being tortured, a simmering worry and horror she's feeling in the moment before the cop walks in?

The answers don't matter, of course. They never really do in Lynch's work. Rather, the point—as far as there is one—is how the mother's mental space opens up and reveals some dark truth into the world. It's these two seemingly disconnected mindscapes—the beauty of the forest flashing into industrialized destruction—that forced the mother to jolt out of her seat before the cop arrives. The woman's mind was able to break the bounds of time—that's the story! (Obligatory mention here that Lynch has been one of the most outspoken proponents of Transcendental Meditation.)

Showing the subconscious has been a through-line throughout Lynch's career. In Eraserhead, Henry Spencer escapes his anxiety by pretending there's a woman in his apartment radiator. In Lost Highway, Fred Madison escapes the moments before his death by electrocution by imagining himself young and free. Mulholland Drive shows a regretful woman's attempt at explaining away why she never made it in Hollywood.

What does this all mean for the final season of Twin Peaks? Who knows. I'm not here to solve it for you. But I will say, if there is any indication from Lynch's past works, dreamy scenes set in elaborately constructed static places—say, the Lost Highway Hotel, Club Silencio in Mulholland Drive, Room 47 in Inland Empire, the torture factory in "Premonitions"—tend to be gateways between reality and the dream world, where a character is trying to hide. And a lot of weird shit tends to go down in these places just when reality is forcing its way back in.

In Twin Peaks, the area that most obviously falls into that category is the Black Lodge. So, if that's the transitional point between reality and escape, presumably the character navigating between is Agent Cooper. The question then might be—might be!—what is the reality, and what is the fabrication? And if that part of the theory holds, could it possibly be that the entire seemingly wholesome town—filled with stacked donut displays, perfect cherry pie, damn fine cups of coffee, and so, so many secrets—is the fantasy?

And if all that jives, then the next question is: What's the reality that Cooper has been trying to escape from?

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