You have a room full of presold fans who will lap up anything, and he always seems to be “pushing” the reaction and not acknowledging any but the most obsequious way of appreciating the material. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. really improved in the last 8 or so episodes, and acting like the show is the best thing ever minimizes the accomplishment.
Now that the season’s over, a chronically late watcher such as I can start. I watched the first 2 episodes about a week ago and, while the second episode seems like it’s going to tie into things moving forward, the first episode seemed like one of those “lesser effort” outings that are tossed off, don’t really tie into the big seasonal movements, and don’t stick with you that well. These tend to be under-stuffed (the main through line is not enough for a whole episode) yet cluttered (you wind up with a lot of bits that don’t fit with the rest). The key word is “seemed” since I couldn’t get the episode out of my head and it actually stuck with me more than maybe one or two season two episodes (as a point of comparison - I still think about the visit to the grandmother, though).
The episode is more cohesive than I gave it credit for and has a unique theme (I don’t know what that word means, so forgive me – maybe I mean “point” or “message”): as we grow older, we loose passion for things and are presented with the choice of going through the motions or simply stopping living… but there is a third way – accept assistance as it is giving and reviving that keeps us not just existing, but alive.
The standups have Louie ranting on the ridiculousness of someone who is 30 bitching about being old, since he at, what, 44 is really old. So it’s a Louie episode about getting old (in other news, water fount to be wet!). It is no coincidence, I think, that there are four characters in the episode that are much older than him who have arrived at different ways to cope (what would they say about someone in their mid 40s saying they are old?).
The first non standup scene seemed like an off the cuff bit, and was the hardest to integrate with the rest of the ep, but on reflection, it acts as connective tissue between the specific theme of the episode and Louie’s broader preoccupations. In the scene he is trying to sleep, but garbage men, acting increasingly like primates, make escalating noise, eventually crashing through the window into the room, and jumping on his bed (is anyone else old enough to remember the American Tourister commercial with the guerrilla throwing luggage around?). In a later scene Louie mentions that the grind of staying up late then getting up for his kids has gotten harder as he has gotten older. So the non-performance opening to the season is simply Louie being irritated that his male monkey urges are hard to deal with as he ages. The intrusion of the garbage men is, in essence, him waking up with wood and feeling not arousal but annoyance. He’d rather just sleep than have to deal with his pesky male itches that are both ugly and silly, which he sees reflected in the city life.
The next scene has a handyman in the hallway trying to tell Louie the Pinocchio joke (“Oh god, yes, lie, lie”) and getting it wrong. He thinks the point is how absurd gaining sexual gratification by mechanical means is. He says this while repeatedly plunging into holes with a mechanical phallic object (a power drill). Louie tries to point out the actual joke’s more subtle humor (the tension between a grade school transgressive dick joke sullying a child’s story and the desirability of being lied to during sex) and is pronounced an asshole, but the question of whether mechanical stimulation is absurd hangs over the entire half hour.
The following scene has a friend of Louie’s advocating him ditching his kids as a solution to his problem of things getting harder as you get old, playing into Louie’s biggest fear that his role as a father is useless. He advocates giving up the hard stuff (one pole of our essential presented life choice). Louie then goes home with his daughters who have increasingly come to stand in for polar facets of his own personality. Here, the younger is joy (passion, youth, hold onto life) and the older resignation (do what needs to be done, plod through – thanks Kierkegaard). At the end of the night, they both want him to do the Beatles – they want to see the spark, and eventually he complies though he is not feeling it, but he kind of feels it through them once he gets going. This advocates for a fake it till you make it – do it then you’ll feel it – approach to the loss of passion, but also stresses the need for others, of feeling through them, of finding the joy by being connected and just plain trying. They shriek whe he leaves them with an aged sitter who has clearly given up and stopped living. When he leaves she just stands in the entrance like an unobserved tree in a forest (why try? What’s the point).
He then goes to the card game where the “plot” really starts. The topic for discussion is a specific distillation of the general concerns till now only obliquely expressed: how does one react to the loss of the primary primate/male drive to masturbate. Resignation is expressed by one, but Louie is more interested in the idea of the advocate for mechanical assistance. So he goes to the (let’s call it) vibrator store, where gay panic/shame grips him and he throws out his back (its shame not just age that causes the problem). He rejects assistance, until he lays on the ground trying to hail a taxi in vain, at which point an old woman, trucking along leaning on a shopping cart, helps (actually wrestles) him into a taxi for home. As he enters his building, he notices a doctor’s office, and goes in. He sees the doctor’s (aged) assistant who, after assessing him, gets him in to see the doc (Charles Grodin, also old).
The doctor delivers an incredibly fatalistic speech (acting as the ultimate Knight of Infinite Resignation) about just having to live through it, there is no helping it (while joylessly eating his sandwich) but the assistant (the oracle helps not the God) shows him that the secret for his “back” is the fabled magic wand (a both magical and mechanical solution). Armed with this, he goes home, and furtively closes the door to his bedroom, presumably to “get busy” livin’.
In the above two paragraphs, note how often words/phrases like “assistance,” “help,” “assistant,” “leaning,” and “shows him” occur. There are assistants, helpers, handymen, and garbage collectors throughout the episode, supporting the lives of others. This is a journey or learning to accept help to keep the fire alive, to keep living, not going through the motions and not abandoning the things we love, but to take the aid where we can get it (and, though we don’t see him do it, give the help when we can) and to let go of the shame (he hasn’t quite learned this one yet – if he does the show might well be over). The older folks that have given up or go through the motions appear depressive or dead, those who pitch in are spry and alive.
I think I’ve told the joke before, but this reminds me of it again. A guy goes to visit hell and finds the dining hall filled with people with 3 foot long spoons tied tightly to their wrists. Its against the rules to eat directly from the bowl so, despite the presence of food, they are all going hungry. He goes to heaven and finds the same setup except that everyone is feeding each other. Imagine the spoons ae vibrators and you have the episode’s essential parable.
Who are the bunnies? What do they represent?
The first thing to note is that all the Rabbit stuff was done closer to Mulholand Drive than to Inland Empire. As I noted, I have no doubt they tried to get Justin Theroux to play papa bunny (did you note my “filed under” joke about where I said he had better things to do, and listed #jennifer aniston in the linky place? <insert game show losing sound> shoud have put quotes around “joke”), so the simplest answer to our question above is that the project is an attempt to universalize the triangle from MD, and the rabbits represent the three main MD characters – the one scorned into murder, the cheater, and the lover. This reading alone fits the data, but does not explain how it woks in IE. The best way to answer this is to make up a story that is general enough to fit both films. So how’s this. Two people are in a committed relationship which is disrupted by a third person who intercedes romantically, causing the (gender neutral) cuckolded party to commit murder. MD has two versions of this story – the false one that tries to avoid the last bit and sugarcoats things and the true one. IE has more than two, none quite true and none quite false. The gender and sex preferences are not present in this blank version and not in the raw form of rabbits despite the assignment of genders to the rabbits. Weirder still, despite the woman in trouble log line, the gender thing is sort of blurred in IE, too. So when we look at who in IE is who in the Rabbits ur story, we get some confusing flip flops with the prior iterations if we don’t stay gender flexible (and our projected main character identifies with more than one role), but there are some gendered things inherent to the story.
The second thing to note is that actors and actresses play different roles in the different time periods in IE, so faces don’t help, except in nailing down empathetic projections (what characters in different roles are the characters identifying with).
Every iteration of the story in IE has an unhappy person who cheats as a result. In Rabbits, this seems to be the male rabbit judging by the fact that he leaves the house all the time, and the domestic situation seems gender normative (sorry). Every iteration has a kind of pathetic person who is cheated on and murders. The red scenes suggest that this is Jane. Every iteration has a romantic notioned “homewrecker.” The torch song mantra suggests this is Susie.
The breakdown looks like this:
Archetype Rabbit Old Poland Inland Hollywood Movie
room Empire world
Cheater Jack Lost Girl Sue, trash Nikki Billy
version Grace Side
Cheated on Jane Phantom Smithy, trash Smithy Doris
lookalike version Side
Cheated with Susie Krol Doris Side Devon Sue
lookalike Burke Blue
Reptile brain Man in the Phantom Phantom Marylin Lawrence
spirit (of green jacket Levins Ashton
Please note this is super duper work in progress, and Tumblr is crap with tables. The last two phantom entries are almost jokes, they probably should just read “phantom.” I just sat down and consciously wrote this out for the first time, and I need to view the film again to fact check. Plus, so many names are not given, I could have made a referential boo boo. We will expand this later. Who is infertile plays into this, and it gets complicated. We could make a bunch more columns, and we will as we go. Other Lynch joints (MD and Twin Peaks especially) could bear the same scrutiny, and we could make some for fairy tales and creation stories (aaand, we will).
Let me say that I actually think the rabbits story is congruent with this interpretation, but is pretty flexible, and is probably an attempt at a story even more universal than the repeating one in IE – it could be any story of love and betrayal between 3 people and, red screen scenes and torch song aside, I’m not sure it tips its hand that much as to who has what role.
So why are they rabbits? The meat and potatoes answer is that Lynch wanted to present universal archetypes, chose to do this by using animals, and rabbits really fit the best due to the holes and how the holes work in the story (which alludes to Alice in Wonderland) and their symbolic relationship to copulation and procreation. There are some additional things that play into this, but I think they are lagnappe, and will be mentioned as afterthoughts below.
In understanding comics, Scott McCloud succinctly explains why characters aimed at children are often “open” forms. Children are learning how to experience a story, and it is easier for them to identify with the characters if they have few differentiating characteristics. A photo could only be of a small number of people, but a cartoon can be anyone. Anthropomorphized animals are the ultimate open form – they are not human, so they look like every human, and have characteristics of gender (most of the time) and personality types only.
Inland Empire is an exploration of one archetypes of human behavior as “story.” It may even be “about” this at the end of the day. The movie is, in a way, an attempt to dramatize Rust Cohle’s “time is a flat circle” (I know, I know, Nietzsche by way of Rust Cohle) – we’re doomed to repeat the same cycles, over and over – but with a happy ending! The choice to make the players in this universal play animals frees Lynch up to illustrate how universal the core story is.
Holes in IE are portals between versions of the eternal story. The Alice in Wonderland overtones are obvious, but don’t extend too far. Alice is a narrative of the ingenue’s awakening into the world (with sex sublimated, natch) and the text would be the Disney movie and not the book (because, Lynch), so you get stuff from through the looking glass to play with too. IE has some echoes of this, but it is of a different paradigm (we’ll get to that). Besides the main character passing through the holes into fantasy reflections of her story (don’t forget the key hole in Alice – its at least as symbolically charged as the rabbit, if not more so, Sapphic or Onanistic overtones and all… you see she never puts a phalic symbol in the yonic symbol„, she goes in herself), we also have the male rabbit leaving the room, and becoming a character (this is left pretty vague) who could possibly have led her into the fantasy fugue.
There is the preoccupation with the three times in IE (in Alice, both the white rabbit - “I’m late” and, even better, the March Hare who is obsessed with living in a specific moment in time, tea time, and, in his obsession, he is stuck in cycle like a skipping record) and the watches scene (in the deleted scenes) which draws a direct parallel between this and creation myths (again, we’ll get there). The interrogator is wearing the kind of glasses associated with the white rabbit, and looks at his watch a lot. The Disney Alice has labyrinthine woods (and other psychogeographic labyrinths), but that’s just cribbing the older folk tales that are more at the heart of the movie. There is a tension between man’s predatory and animal nature and society in both, but that’s pretty vague as an association, and Alice isn’t the Scarlet Letter (which this element of IE is more like). Broadly, I think the Alice connection is in the holes, the rabbits, and the time thing, but this is represents accent work and not a well ingrained thing (like the Wizard of Oz in Wild at Heart).
The cyclic tale in IE is one of “original sin” - one of sex and worldly knowledge, and living like Rodger Waters “outside the wall.” As Hef knew, bunnies are associated with copulation – eff like bunnies is a saying for a reason. They are also a fertility symbol – our floppy eared friends have a lot of kids, are a symbol of Easter and thus spring renewal, and are even tightly bound to the idea of a pregnancy scare (rabbit test). Fertility and the impulse to have a child are big concerns in this movie, as is unwanted pregnancy. If I could give one Shazam-like (Kimota-like to you Brits) key word to unlock the secrets of this movie, it would be “abortion,” a word uttered only once, but that once is in the eye of the duck/unlocking scene and said by the character who is maybe the one who most flatly tells the key but hazy part of the story (the infidelity and murder are more obvious).
The Easter bunny has some other congruencies with the fairy tale/mythic/gnostic/ur religious concerns of the film (whole ‘nother chapter, and maybe the longest). It is an example of a pre christian symbolism subsumed into christian symbolism – a relic of man’s dark (reptile) past served to us as a palatable children’s story. Bunnies also have a recent media history of being associated with mental illness (Harvey) and as psychologically threatening id figures (Donnie Darko). These things resonate some, but aren’t the point.
The Chinese zodiac rabbit personality reflects the rabbit stereotype, and fit well with the story, but that’s astrology (what zodiac doesn’t fit a given story). Rabbits are supposedly amorous, and seek romance to escape a dreary life. They aren’t very introspective, and have a tendency to escape reality. Sounds pretty good for IE, actually. The psychological disorders associated with this zodiac (I shit you not, somebody thought about this) are avoidant, schizoid, and dependent. You could say the first two are reflected by her being “locked in” her own head, and dependent because it is the separation that she needs to call. But if wiki had said its associated with narcissism, depression, and borderline, I’d have bought those even easier. Yay astrology!
So, who are these rabbits?
The only things that break the sense of random desperation are three asides (that isolate one character and involve a ritual that results in the burning hole opening up) and three other unique sequences, two related ones of which are the eye(s) of the duck of the Rabbit project.
One aside is Jane’s incantation and song (again, its been a while since I’ve seen this, so I don’t know if its in the film, the deleted scenes, or the other extras). This is sort of a variation on Lynch’s Cub Silencio scene in Mulholand drive. Jane is voiced here, and only here, by Rebekah Del Rio, the singer who singes Llorando in MD. The fact that there is some confusion as to who played the Rabbits makes this interesting. We know Laura Dern voiced all of her scenes, and a was in the rabbit costume at least for some (probably all) and the same goes for Coffey. But we know Del Rio voiced the Rabbit in the one scene (and the deep rumor mill says that she was the one wearing the costume in the scene), but it is unclear if she did any other stand in work for Harring (who is, like, married to an emir, or something). In any event, in the identity confusion, the artifice of the whole thing is highlighted – we never know if the voice matches the physical presence, and we realize we don’t know how the dialogue relates to the physical acting. This further isolates things. The song lyrics as well as the intro and interstitial pieces are abstruse and incantational (“fire, walk with me” level), and the song is like a torch song. More on that later. The singing opens the hole.
Another has Jack saying incantational lines, interspersed with meditational humming (Lynch’s love of TM again). The humming opens the hole. The final one (not in order, because… order? good luck) of the solo asides is Jane doing incantations, interspersed with sing-songy bits that are cotton-field spiritual like. Her singing opens the hole.
So, all three give way to some sort of music – melodramatic deep emotion (another thing whose surface falseness hides deeper longing) in the other woman (evoking her aspiration that her hell might be escaped by romantic love), meditative mantra in the drone (escape in looking within and dissolution of the self into something greater… very Pale King territory - escaping the self by boredom giving way to transcendance in the setting of rote work - if you read David Foster Wallace), and an invocation of the always problematic magical negro for our housewife (songs that are less “refined” and more in touch with some deeper thing that “white” society has removed us from,an appeal to traditional models, but also joy in the setting of drudgery). Through all of these, some incantation (mantra) summons a burning hole. We’ll save the hole for later.
The singleton odd scene out is the one where the door opens, and there is a freight train passing by outside, and ends with lights out and a scream. This has some obvious connotations, including danger from outside threatening domesticity (later we’ll talk about the guy in the green jacket), the light/dark strobing related to the visual cues in the opening (discussed previously), and the fact that it is, after all, a train in a hallway, suggesting we page Dr. Freud again. So whatever the “thing” is is sexual, but the main role of this is exclamation pointing the dread of outside, both the home and out own heads.
The double odd scene out spotlights Jane and is the most complicated part, which is fitting – Rabbits, as a whole, is Jane’s story after all. Jane leaves for the back of the house. The room goes red, and Jane reenters with 2 lights, which look like eyes shining, held above her head. A weird ugly face emerges on the wall next to where the hole shows up in the aside scenes. The face looks kind of like a sideways guild master mouth from dune, and somehow evokes a dog (doberman-like? I can’t back that up) and a vagina. It speaks in non-language distorted “Satan voice.” No hole shows up. The lights go out and she brings the candle-like ights to the back of the house.
So this is tough, but Jane seems to be summoning the spirit of rage and violence. Her stance behind the couch threatens both of the people on the sofa. The lights on sticks evoke the idea of a ritual, but also evoke the swords on an avenging angel of divine retribution. I think this is Jane accessing her reptile brain. Lynch has always had an ontology-recapitulates-phylogeny relationship with diencephalonic primitive impulses and fetal/animal hybrid things that are messed up looking. The thing in Eraserhead are the character’s fears, sure, but the thing itself also represents his wish to kill it. It’s his diseased id born into the world, every parent’s original-sin nightmare. Red is the color of anger, but also Lynches go to color of the deepest level of ourselves (or the the last membrane covering it) and it indicates we have gone all the way down to man’s animal nature. This is rock bottom - the meeting with the goddess. This is the deep inventory - the threshhold that must be crossed to begin the way back.
Next up… why are they rabbits?
I got busy, stopped writing, then got sort of scared to come back to this project because it’s big, and I was afraid to fail in a relaunch. So this is just me throwing myself back in not caring too much about whether I make significant progress (only way to get back started). This is long, so I will no doubt bust it up a bit.
As a rule, the best way to start the process of getting a handle on a difficult Lynch film is to focus on the elements of the film in isolation. So don’t start by asking “what does the crying girl have to do with Nikki Grace?” but rather focus on the crying girl then on Nikki Grace’s story, and then ask how they relate. I want to start with the Rabbits, which seems to me to be at the heart of the whole thing, or at least represents the most abstracted and universal element. So what do we know about the rabbit passages?
Now, I’ve watched all of Rabbits, which is kind of hard to put together, as it started life as an 8 episode web series which is no longer available, had longer edited together pieces with some material not in the 8 on the Lime Green set, which will cost you like 180 bones, yet other stuff on the 2 disk IE domestic DVD extras (but not on the import Blu-Ray), and has cut up pieces in IE itself (and the “deleted scenes” called “other things that happened,” which is a great name to render the material canonical). Much, but not all, is on you tube. Since the material is all reedited each time, with overdubs of dialogue varying on the same actions, there is no good put together way to watch it. I’d recommend watching the episodes on you tube (or this master-cut), and the movie, if you care about any of this. So I may be referencing things not in IE or even the deleted scenes, but I consider this material a frustrating-to-experience extension.
Rabbits is a box set play as a sitcom, where 3 rabbits say bland dialogue that seems disorganized, perform simple stage directions, and get a laughtrack (this applies to all except for 3 asides and a few really odd scenes, one repeated in the episodes, which are very different from the rest). Jack, the male, voiced by Scott Coffey (they probably tried to get Justin Thereaux, but he had better things to do), sits at the end of a couch, mostly, but gets up and sits down a few times, turns his head to look at the door or phone, and enters and leaves via the door a few times. Various cues suggest he is low level white collar (suit, not so great living room, and sit-com framing environment all suggest cubicle drone), though Lynch wears a suit, so who knows. I thinks it is classic “man trapped in the artless cycle of huspand/provider, anyway. Susie, voiced by Laura Dern, is implied to be a housewife. She irons, stops, walks to the sofa, and enters the back of the house. Jane, voiced mostly by Laura Harring, sits at the other end of the couch in a pink dress. She turns her head a little, and stands up and sits down. We are not sure what she is - neighbor, daughter, extended family member - just that she is younger than Susie, and represents the pre-marital mode in all its problematic overlays (but boiling down to “virgin/whore” of which whore is favored, as she is, literally, the “other woman”). So lets unpack – I’ll explain the tone , actions, and specifics as we go along:
The form is that of a sit-com, with a laugh track. Sit-coms are generally regarded as banal, but like a lot of hokey things, the triteness overlays some deeper need for the world to have some kind of meaning. Most sit-coms focus on the bonds of friends and family and reinforce the importance of these bonds and that, no matter what disruptive events occur, everyone will return to those bonds stronger at the end. The laughter is a release mechanism for the fear of that disruption in our own lives and that the eternal return promised is a lie. So this is the sit-com of facing this through the making obvious of that which the sit-com helps us try to bury. It does this by making sit-com devices reductive and allowing them to blow away, exposing the underneath in all its pain and uglyness.
The whole thing has shades of No Exit, the Sartre play where three characters experience the afterlife/hell as being locked in a room together for eternity. OK, more than shades. The rabbit room certainly feels like hell – there is a devil invoked – and laughter at the hopelessness and existential dread are features of both. The theme of the play is the famous “Hell is other people” as well as our inability to face ourselves. The characters in both are hiding shit – in the play they are lying to each other to try to lie to themselves about their true natures while in rabbits they try very hard to suppress the painful stuff they need to get out. Both seem to subconsciously suggest that if the characters could open up and connect, they would be free.
An aside that illustrates that last sentence - when I was a kid, I used to love Brother Dave Gardner, a comedian probably a bit out of step with current times (he did a lot of stereotypical voices). He told one of those stories you always remember since they nail something about human nature: someone was inspecting hell and in the dining room the denizens had 3 foot long spoons tied tightly to their wrists so that they could not get the soup to their lips. They all went around in eternal hunger. The inspector then went on to heaven where they had the same setup, but they were all feeding each other. Something something hell is of our own making something something just remember, the only rule is love each other something something.
The dialogue has a Burroughs cut up quality. It seems like a relatively bland conversation, filed with conversational filler, cut up and randomly arranged. The arrangement really accentuates the fact that the conversation is skirting around something (or things) that the characters don’t want to talk about. When isolated (and thanks to awesome, subliminally oppressive musical cues) the statements that brush by the “thing” take on an ominous quality. There was an Ignaz book whose subtitle was taken from an interior line in where the main character picks up the phone and the voice on the other end says, without preamble, “they found the car.” Stripped of cues, this sort of explodes in your mid, and evokes those moment we all dread where words, simple ordinary words, like “we did everything we could,” change your life forever.
Examples of these ominous lines include: “There is something I would like to say to you, Susie,” “I am going to find out one day, when will you tell it?,” “When it happens, you will know” “It happened to me only once,” “It was the voice of a man,” “I have misplaced it, i am sure of it now,”, “I have a secret,” “I hear someone”… pretty much everything takes on a feeling of a difficult truth about be uttered, but never comes. This really helps abstract the thing. We are not seeing one thing dramatized, but millions of thing that repeat, over and over.
In addition to the disjointed dialogue, the other cues, both the granular and randomly employed stage directions and the laugh track, serve to isolate the meaning from what is happening. I think this is an excellent way to heighten the “shut in” thing Lynch is going for with IE as a whole. We go through the motions of life cut off from our locked up deeper self, which is known to no one as we can’t express the sublimely important crap to the world. The random nature of this also adds punch to the dialogue. Suzie spends so much time ironing that when she stops, lines like “there is no moon tonight,” start to punch at you, and when Jack answers the phone, your mind tries to pull a dramatic through line from sequences like “since then…” “and getting darker.”
So, good place to break - I’ll start with the asides and “special scenes” next.
Oh, my, god. Becky, look at her butt. It is so big.
'baby got back' passes the bechdel test (via battlestardidactica)