The City of Absurdity Papers & Essayes
The Lynch Film, by Rebecca Paiva

III. Iconography

Lynch's films are replete with symbols. As I said before, he is preoccupied with images, so he often uses them as representative icons of other, hidden meanings. A basic example of this can be noticed at the start of Blue Velvet. Jeffrey Beaumont's father has a stroke while watering the lawn. Before it happens, the hose gets wrapped around a metal extension of the faucet and tightens. The water pressure builds and builds; all of a sudden, Mr. Beaumont reaches for the base of his skull and collapses. In this way, Lynch paralleled the water pressure in the hose to the blood pressure that collapsed a vessel in Mr. Beaumont's brain. Lynch uses this symbolic technique constantly; some of his frequent icons include smoke, fire, electricity, red drapes, dogs, and trains.

Smoke and Fire:

Smoke comes before fire, and Lynch acknowledges that fact. He used smoke in most of his early films as a symbol for obscurity, darkness, and confusion. Henry Spencer practically gets lost in the smoke cloud which envelops him in Eraserhead; dirty, foul smoke follows John Merrick in his misfortune during Elephant Man. In these examples, Lynch uses the connotations of smoke quite simply. Later, in Wild at Heart, the protagonists emphasize the act of smoking as an important habit, regardless of the fact that their parents died of smoking related diseases. Seen in this light, smoke relates to self-destruction, the inner darkness of a person.

Lynch began using fire as a symbol, starting with Elephant Man and maintaining its presence in all subsequent works. In some films, it's a symbol for anger and hostility. In this case, fire is associated with abusive or evil characters, such as Bytes in Elephant Man, Frank in Blue Velvet, and Marietta in Wild at Heart. In other works, fire is connected with the supernatural. The spirits in the woods of Twin Peaks were prone to saying "Through the darkness of future's past, the magician longs to see. One chants out between two worlds, Fire, walk with me." Here, fire seems to create a doorway between spirit worlds. In the final episode of the series, BOB (an evil spirit) removed Windom Earls soul; it escaped from the base of his skull in a stream of fire. In the film Fire Walk With Me, the letters "IS 432" appear on a license plate; this is a reference to Isaiah 43:2, which reads:

When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
And through the rivers,
They shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire,
You shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.

Also, the "Mystery Man" character in Lost Highway dwells in a flaming shack on an old forgotten highway. This character indeed appears to be a spirit, demon, or a similar entity (although his origin is unclear.)


Electricity, in the world of David Lynch, appears to represent life and/or the presence of it. At the end of Eraserhead, a sperm-like being pulls the plug in Henry's apartment, causing Henry to die and go to Heaven. After Jeffrey kills Frank in Blue Velvet, the camera focuses on a pair of blue lightbulbs which immediately burn out. Leland Palmer smashes a TV, causing electric sparks to fly, just before he kills Teresa Banks in Fire Walk With Me. Also in that film, Laura is haunted by mysterious blue lights in the days before her death; they appear in her bedroom, dancing across the ceiling. Also, entities from the Black Lodge travel across electric wires from their world to ours, creating a vibrating sound.

Red Drapes:

Red drapes appear in almost all of Lynch's films: in the radiator in Eraserhead; at the carnivals in Elephant Man; in Dorothy's apartment and at the "Slow Club" in Blue Velvet; in Jacques' Cabin, the Black Lodge, the Roadhouse, and One-Eyed Jack's brothel in Twin Peaks; in Fred and Renee's house in Lost Highway. In all of these instances, the drapes appear in a location of darkness and mystery. The drapes indicate that something might be "hidden" there.


Lynch's depiction of dogs is very interesting. In most films, the dog is pictured as an ally, as "man's best friend." However, Lynch's dogs are rather dark and twisted. A wonderful example is given by the Log Lady, in an introduction to an episode of Twin Peaks: "Is a dog man's best friend? I had a dog. The dog was large. It ate my garden, all the plants, and much earth. The dog ate so much it died." This is hardly an image of an ideal pet. Neither are other examples he presents to us: a disgusting assembly of pups sucking on their mother in the middle of the X's living room floor in Eraserhead; also from that film, dogs running after Henry Spencer on the street; a vicious black dog barking in Fire Walk With Me; a catatonic dog on the sidewalk in Blue Velvet; a dog running off with a dismembered hand in Wild at Heart.


In all Lynch's films, trains are something to be wary of. Mean dogs lurk near the train tracks in Eraserhead, and whenever the train goes by, it rocks the X's house, sometimes causing them to lose electricity (life). The train in Elephant Man belches putrid black smoke, and John Merrick is pursued by an angry mob in the train station. Frank Booth, an unsavory character in Blue Velvet, lives next to the train tracks. Laura Palmer is killed in an abandoned train car in Fire Walk With Me.

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