|Papers & Essayes The Third Place|
A concentration of lynchian themes
by Ludovic Ligot (Paris)
The action is very dense. We stand in a complete confusion : lights blink, a siren screams, flames escape suddenly from a hole on the right, in front of a man who walks slowly. Moving shadows, on the left, remind us of exotic plants. We briefly see a corridor, then the camera seems to run across high stems, as we hear sinister noises. The man moves towards us, as a gloomy note rings.
What's happening here ? Does it make any sense ? Remember : this is Lynch's universe. Consequently, these things are perfectly normal… Let's comment on this beginning. The movie is black and white, the action takes place in a narrow and dark corridor. This obviously looks like Eraserhead and its oppressive atmosphere. The sudden appearance of the flames is not really surprising : this obsession is everywhere in Lynch's movies, and symbolizes obscure forces linked to the unconscious. The man doesn't seem to care about them, even if they could kill him, because they are only an abstraction. He obviously doesn't cross a forest of stems (linked to the shadows on the wall) ; they symbolize a frightening, opaque and potentially dangerous universe. They remind us of Blue Velvet, when the camera leaves the familiar world and goes into the grass, revealing a savage fight of insects. This is an essential lynchian theme : under the peaceful daily reality, strange and dark worlds wait...
Let's go further. The man advances in the corridor with an anxious face, and the sinister note continues. Then he looks on his right, and we discover a surprising scene : a blonde woman in a white pull-over rises, as two planets (Venus and Saturn, it seems) move horizontally. Norms are completely reversed. While she is rising, the woman places its index finger on its mouth and murmurs « shush ! ». This sign is obviously addressed to the man. Then we hear footsteps and he turns back, with a quiet face.
What means this vision ? We just met a fundamental character : the mysterious woman. In Lynch's movies, she represents a salvation, a way out of the real world and the suffering. Calm and peace go with her. Let's recall some examples of this beneficial woman. At the blinding finale of Eraserhead, Henry embraces the « radiator lady », symbol of a found paradise. In The Elephant Man, John dies under the celestial look of his mother, who tells him sweetly that « nothing will die ». In Wild At Heart, a luminous fairy saves Sailor, when she advises him to go back to Lula. Don't forget the magnificent and mystical finale of Twin Peaks : Fire Walk With Me : Laura has reached a kind of paradise (in the Black Lodge) and laughs in her tears, protected by Dale Cooper and a glorious angel...
Let's go back to our corridor. The man looks in the direction opposite to the woman and sees, in another corridor, a character who motions to him with his thumb. The second man appears to us horizontally, showing once again that all norms of directions are abolished. A careful look at the image leads to a strange conclusion : this second man his just… himself ! Our feeling is confirmed when he answers : he motions in the same way. Then we see the second man leaving, but from above. His direction in space has changed !
A fundamental theme just appeared : the psychic double, symbol of schizophrenia. This subject is recurrent in Lynch's work. In Twin Peaks, many characters have doubles. In the last episode, Dale's double replaces him (which is a bad omen). In Lost Highway, we experiment the schizophrenia of Fred Madison. Indeed, the movie is mostly a pathological mental construction of reality, as seen by a troubled man. This explains many apparent incoherences of this complex and fascinating work (for instance, it forms a temporal loop).
The theme continues, in a passage which brings an extraordinary feeling of confusion. The man motioned (to himself) that everything is okay, but what follows shows the opposite. Suddenly, loudspeakers deliver strange messages which astonish him. These are distorted and obscure words, without a clear meaning. They totally disorient him : he looks at the loudspeakers, at the corridor (where his double appears in smoke far away), then in another direction, where a character disappears in a dense smoke. The opacity of both words and images shows that we are in the unconscious. The man is fighting with internal forces, he can't clarify his thoughts, his mental confusion is complete. The two last words « Where ? We... » prove it. To speak clearly : where are we ? He has become schizophrenic and tries to find himself back, without success. The same thing happens in Lost Highway when Fred, and later his double (Pete) look in mirrors, afraid of what they could see. The smoke symbolizes all the mysteries and appears frequently in Lynch's movies.
The story becomes spectacular when his head begin to float in the air, while the rest of his body keeps walking, as if nothing special was happening ! The dissociation of his personality becomes extreme : two parts of the body have different lifes. Remember Eraserhead, where the decapitation has an important role. In a famous sequence, Henry's head is used for making… erasers, of course !
We see a dense smoke again. A second head appears suddenly and fits to the body with a disgusting noise. In Eraserhead, the head of the monstrous baby replaced Henry's head. Here, one could believe that the first head is coming back, but probably it's just a « copy ». An incredible phase follows : a smoke hits the head, and the man vomits an arm which escapes ! Before this strange action, the head had to be replaced. Now all biological changes are possible. The theme of the denial of natural laws appears from the start in Lynch's work, and the vomiting plays an important role. In his « moving sculpture » Six Men Getting Sick (1967), stomachs fill up and vomit. In The Alphabet (1968), a woman vomits blood on white sheets. In The Grandmother (1970), a boy vomits long filaments (drawn on the film) to show his anger to his parents.
We see a dense smoke, then the man who looks at the right with anxiety : his arm has gone and smoke escapes from his body ! Remember that in Eraserhead, a thick purée escapes from the mutilated baby and flows without ending. Natural laws are denied again : bodies sometimes reveal strange things. Always worried, the man watches in front of him and sees smoke, in which his figure disappears. Suddenly, the smoke clears, revealing a weird scene.
In a corridor with clear walls, three characters are sitting in a couch. From left to right : his double, a man with a duck head and a body covered with white bandages, like a mummy (only the left eye and the left side of the mouth are black). Right to the couch, the arm vomited by the man is standing vertically and moves slowly, as if to greet him. Then we see his double's face, staring at him, and his own disconcerted face. He seems to wonder : « is that me ? ». As if to confirm that, we see his double again, always frozen, then the motionless mummy-man. Finally, the duck-man declares with a jerky voice, moving his head between the words : « Welcome… to the… third… place ! ». The abbreviation « PS2 » appears in blue on a black background and a tragic voice shouts : « Playstation two ! The third place ! ».
This finale contains several lynchian themes. The « double » becomes ambiguous : who is really the « original » ? Is it the man in the couch (but his body comes from somewhere else) or the man who is looking at the scene (but his head has been replaced) ? In fact, neither of them, but both or none, which produces an intense uneasiness… Is the arm a character too ? It seems to have a consciousness ! Personality is absolutely destroyed, no reconstruction is any more possible. Another detail is disturbing : the attitudes of the double and the mummy-man. They seem lifeless, hypnotized, led by external forces. Only the duck-man can speak. This universe looks like the Black Lodge with red curtains in Twin Peaks. The laws governing these parallel worlds are very different from ours. Remember the last fifteen minutes of the serial, dedicated to the Black Lodge and which accumulate peculiarities. Characters move slowly and zigzagging, express obscure sentences in slow motion, do incomprehensible gestures, change into other characters… Apparently, the « third place » is of that sort : the strange greeting of the duck-man is an evidence. The man experimented several changes, which modified and destroyed his personality ; he is now able to move in this universe. Maybe he is a prisoner : remember the dangers of the Black Lodge...
It is very interesting to realize that, in the second version of The Third Place, the fundamental theme of the double is almost missing. In these thirty seconds, the mysterious woman has been removed, as well as the signal made by his double, the part where the second head replaces the first one and vomits the arm, and the smoke escaping from the body. We only see the head floating in the air, and the finale with his double and the arm. We can't understand their origin and their meaning. The uneasiness is consequently weak, which is not very lynchian ! Are these changes very surprising ? Not really, because an advertising has an evident goal : to sell a product. Here, the message is very ambiguous : the escape in a parallel universe of video games is close to schizophrenia, a fascinating but dangerous mental attitude. Do you want to loose your personality, even if you are trapped ? As a specialist of this problem, Lynch asks the question directly. Maybe too directly for a company like Sony… It doesn't matter : Lynch realized a masterpiece, which concentrates many of his favourite themes. No doubt : his works can last one minute or more than two hours, they always will be unique.
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© Mike Hartmann