Once more we find ourselves with a director lifting the lid on the dark underworld behind manicured lawns and respectable townfolk. It’s a common trope: almost as soon as the suburban Americana took hold there were cynics seeing through the gaps.
So it is not so much the concept or plot which makes Lynch’s film a modern classic, rather it is the style. Lynch’s characters are Freudian archetypes gone wrong, and the script, with its concise and sharp dialogue indulges this spectacularly. Perhaps one of the most depraved sex scenes ever is seen through the eyes of a secret voyeur. Great emotional or physically torture is accompanied by infantile song and dance. Lynch’s camera seems to hide in corners capturing only the most sordid and unsettling aspects of these lives.
Kyle MacLachlan as gawky teen detective Jeffrey gives a sterling performance. Through him we see the character come of age. The rude awakening of his sexuality, violence and survival instinct propel him into a new state of being. At points he seems disturbingly close to becoming another member of the dark, mad underworld but is always saved at the last minute.
But is he really saved? Anyone I’ve ever spoken to about this film reports a dreadfully unsettling viewing experience. Everyone seems to forget the hope offered at the end of the film. I think that this is the power of the film. Lynch shows us the reality of life. It may be unpleasant, but it is never false. As such you simply cannot walk away happy that Jeffrey has gained the perfect suburban lifestyle. We saw him become the most strong and powerful man amongst drug dealers, murderers and cops yet by the end he has been reduced back to his small role as a dutiful teenage son and grandson. “It’s all over now” he is told, but is the loss of any visceral, emotional reality a worthwhile price for a quiet life?