This browser is supported only in Windows 10 and above.


A Lynchian Line-up

Posted by on

By Aaron Hillis, Michelle Orange, Matt Singer, R. Emmet Sweeney and Alison Willmore

IFC News

[Photo: “Eraserhead,” Absurda/ Subversive, 1977]

[Listen to our podcast on “Inland Empire”]

David Lynch’s latest film, “Inland Empire,” may be the first film that greets the auteur of oddness’ legacy with a wink and a self-acknowledging nod. For years, Lynch has made a career of defying expectations with a determinations that’s lead him to make films that are startlingly opaque (see “Lost Highway”) or even more startlingly accessible (see the first entry below). Most memorable may be his characters — beautiful freaks, larger-than-life ingénues and inexplicable entities that immediately lodge themselves in your memory. Below are some of our favorites from the Lynchian line-up.

Alvin Straight

“The Straight Story” (1999)

It’s hard for me to pick a favorite David Lynch character, not because there are so many to choose from but because so many of them are less characters and more squirming snippets of our subconscious made walking, talking flesh; it almost seems too revealing.
I considered Laura Palmer, the ubiquitous corpse of “Twin Peaks” fame, and though I can’t deny she’s right up there (has a plastic shroud ever worked so hard?), ultimately that choice seemed too cheeky, too Lynchian. In my heart of hearts, it’s Alvin Straight who’s my favorite, the cranky, proud, heartbreaking Iowa widower who rides his ’66 John Deere tractor across state lines to visit his dying brother and end their ten year feud. “The Straight Story” was released by Disney (!) in 1999, and Richard Farnsworth’s performance as Alvin Straight was hailed as a marvel of strength, understatement, and warmth — of character; he almost managed to overshadow Lynch’s departure from form, a stylistic z-turn that almost zagged right back around to subversive (again: Disney!). 80-year-old Farnsworth was nominated for an Oscar for his role, and it came to light that he had been fighting terminal cancer all the way through the shoot; the poor man shot himself six months later. —Michelle Orange

The Baby

“Eraserhead” (1977)

To this day, David Lynch refuses to describe how he created the monstrous infant that’s dropped unceremoniously into the dystopic bachelor life being led by Henry Spencer (Jack Nance). Embalmed cow fetus or not, the baby has always been for me the most indelibly Lynchian character, a nightmare vision of the perils of parenting, sex or maybe just human contact in general. The baby, at once a ridiculous phallic symbol and a parasitic mutant, appears after Mary’s (Charlotte Stewart) alarmingly brief pregnancy (“Mother, they’re still not sure it is a baby!”). Given that Henry greets the world through a fog of mild bemusement, it takes a lot to shake him out of his stupor, but his constantly crying, pustule-covered deformed child does eventually manage it, chasing Mary away and driving Henry to make the unfortunate discovery that the bandages in which it’s swaddled are actually holding its organs in. It’s a gruesome metaphor: parenting as both a hazard-filled path down which one must blindly make one’s way, and as a trap that leaves you hovering in a permanent purgatory of responsibility. “Eraserhead” was supposedly inspired in part by Lynch’s impending first-time fatherhood — if that’s so, it’s amazing he managed any offspring at all. —Alison Willmore

Cousin Dell

“Wild at Heart” (1990)

Sticking Elvis, “The Wizard of Oz,” and other Americana under the wheel of a road trip to Hell, Lynch’s underappreciated Palme d’Or winner (and in my opinion, his masterpiece!) begat nearly as many wonderfully warped characters as the whole “Twin Peaks” prime-time run. There’s snakeskin-tailored hound dog Sailor (Nicolas Cage) and his star-crossed trash kitten Lula (Laura Dern); her wicked mommie dearest (real-life mama Diane Ladd); the disturbingly sleazy yet funny sociopath Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe); Laura Palmer herself as the ethereal Good Witch (Sheryl Lee); and we’ll never know what the hell is up with Double-O Spool (the late Jack Nance), a twitchy fella who caustically proclaims a non-existent dog is always with him. So it’s a true feat to stand out as the most memorable in a cast this collectively outlandish, and cult-hero hellion Crispin Glover pulls it off with less than two minutes of screen time, one line of dialogue, and a whole lot of screaming. In bed with Sailor, Lula narrates a post-coital “story with a lesson about bad ideas,” prompting flashback snippets to her cousin “Jingle” Dell (Glover), first seen being escorted home in a filthy Santa suit by the police. When his mother tells him that it’s summer and nowhere near Christmastime, Dell twists his feet into the bathroom mat and shrieks like something alien. He squirms in awkwardly precise slow-motion after putting cockroaches in his underwear, gets caught squishing dozens of sandwiches in the middle of the night (when the light comes on, Dell double-pounds the counter: “I’M MAKING MY LUNCH!”), and cries from the living room corner while poking what he thinks is a sinister rubber glove with a yardstick. As Glover recalls in a vintage featurette on the DVD, “David said if I let that glove go, it would be really, really bad. And I understood what he meant by that.” Don’t let anyone convince you Glover’s nervous eccentricity is a Lynchian calculation; that guy’s the real deal. —Aaron Hillis

The Cowboy

“Mulholland Dr.” (2001)

“The Cowboy” (Monty Montgomery) is a straight shooter. Inviting hotshot director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) to join him for an intimate rendezvous at the local abandoned corral, he gently forces him to hire one Camilla Rhodes as his lead actress — or else. Deathly pale, donning an oversized ten-gallon hat, and speaking in a disconnected monotone, he’s a ghost of Hollywood past, a shriveled (but still powerful) representative of old-time studio strong-arm tactics. Skewering Kesher’s “smart-aleck” attitude, he diplays the moral certitude of a Randolph Scott hero, here used to nightmarish effect as an agent of a shadowy producer’s cabal. Lynch then lifts his influence to the metaphysical, as The Cowboy’s whisper “Time to Wake Up” marks Naomi Watts’ identity swap of the gold-hearted Betty for the conniving jealousies of Diane. Interestingly, Montgomery was an associate producer for the “Twin Peaks” pilot as well as for “Wild at Heart,” so his character speaks with self-reflexive authority. —R. Emmet Sweeney

Jeffrey Beaumont

“Blue Velvet” (1986)

Though he would later become one of Hollywood’s most sexually adventurous actors (not for nothing does he appear as the male lead in Paul Verhoeven’s “Showgirls”), there is something downright wholesome about Kyle MacLachlan when he arrives in Lumberton at the start of “Blue Velvet.” Like a Hardy Boy who doesn’t realize he’s in the middle of an adventure (possibly one guest written by the Marquis de Sade), he stumbles into town after his father’s collapse and finds the severed ear that turns the whole plot on its, er, ear. Every time I watch “Blue Velvet” I marvel at MacLachlan’s air of innocence: he not only seems impossibly pure of body and spirit, he seems (as we are) totally unaware of where the story is going. All actors are supposed to act as if they’ve never read the film’s screenplay; MacLachlan’s the rare one who convincingly pulls it off. When he’s hiding in Isabella Rossellini’s closet and he starts watching, really watching her, there’s no telling what will happen next. And Dennis Hopper hasn’t even showed up yet. —Matt Singer

Watch More

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

Posted by on

The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

Watch More

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

Posted by on

Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

Watch More

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

Posted by on
GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

Watch More