David Lynch has a cinema of his own, a cinema so familiar yet strange that can only be described as Lynchian. His trademarks are his fascination with dark secrets of small cities, his taste for low/middle frequency noise, dark and rotting environments, distorted characters, a polarized world (angels vs. demons, Madonnas vs. whores), debilitating damage to the skull or brain, his use of slow-motion during key scenes of violence, abundant usage of red curtains, strobe lights, extreme surrealism and his interest in close-ups of eyes.
If you look at his movies from “Eraserhead” and “Blue Velvet” to “Lost Highway” and “Inland Empire”, you will find almost all these elements present. This list introduces 10 movies that are not directed by David Lynch, but have used Lynchian elements abundantly.
1. Donnie Darko (2001)
Who made it? Richard Kelly, he became a cult star with “Donnie Darko”, a stylistic mystery movie which is original yet owing so much to other films and filmmakers.
What is it about? The movie is about a troubled teenager who is obsessed with visions of a large bunny rabbit that make him commit a series of crimes.
What is Lynchian about this movie? It is not impossible to think about Lynch’s three rabbits whenever you see the large mysterious bunny in “Donnie Darko”. Meanwhile, it is the overall sense of mystery and odd occurrences that make you feel you are watching a movie by David Lynch.
Richard Kelly interestingly built his story with enigmatic elements and dreams. The empty silent city is not much different from Lynchian cities in “Blue Velvet” and “Lost Highway”. What you may never forget after watching “Donnie Darko” are Donnie’s (Jake Gyllenhaal’s) eyes, he somehow looks like Kyle MacLachlan, but deadly sinister.
2. Pi (1998)
Who made it? Darren Aronofsky, who was 29 at the time when making the movie and now is considered one of the masters of contemporary American cinema with movies such as “Requiem for a Dream” and “Black Swan”.
What is it about? A math scientist discovers something mysterious about the number Pi that can change the world and now different groups of people want to get to this number.
What is Lynchian about this movie? Today Pi is a cult film like Eraserhead, but Aronofsky’s debut owes so much to David Lynch’s debut. Both films are shot in grainy black and white with the minimum imaginable budget. Both films managed to make a reputation for their young directors as future masters of composition.
Pi is not that dreamy, however the way it narrates the story of its main character and the way it leads to the final sequence in which he drills his head are so Lynchian that you just cannot forget about the Eraserhead ending. Aronofsky’s use of sounds is also another Lynchian element in the movie.
3. Being John Malkovich (1999)
Who made it? Charlie Kaufman (“Adaptation”) as the writer and Spike Jonze (“Her”) as the director.
What is it about? Craig Schwartz is an unemployed puppeteer who accidentally finds a way that can make him see the world from John Malkovich’s eyes.
What is Lynchian about this movie? The story is so crazy that you can only consider David Lynch as its director, however hard scriptwriter Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze try to make a movie that is as much as their own as it owes to Luis Bunuel and David Lynch.
The movie also has a scene where we see everyone as Malkovich, a funny yet unsettling scene that is so much Lynchian. The movie may not look like any particular movie of Lynch, but its overall mood is pure Lynchian.
4. Tetsuo (1989)
Who made it? Japanese director Shinya Tsukamoto who once made “Tstsuo: Iron Man” and now famous for Tetsuo, its sequels and also “A Snake of June”.
What is it about? It is a story of a man named Metal Fetishist who likes to put metals into his body!
What is Lynchian about this movie? Like Pi, this movie (shot in 16mm) is also a grainy black and white movie with bizarre elements which are Lynchian (think about the surgical scenes of inserting metals in the flesh).
The bizarre story and its extremely graphic scenes (those so-called erotic ones and also the gore ones), which at some points are strangely funny, can only be understood if you decide that you are watching a Lynchian movie that is happening in a world of sick imaginations.
5. Perfect Blue (1997)
Who made it? Satoshi Kon, who died prematurely at the age of 46 in 2010 and has made interesting animes such as “Paprika”.
What is it about? A pop idol leaves her band to become an actress.
What is Lynchian about this movie? The movie is made long before “Mulholland Drive.”, however both movies are so close thematically.
“Perfect Blue” is not so panoramic in its story-telling and only focuses on a single singer/actress, but its narrative strategy of an innocent singer turning to an actress of nude scene is so much close to Lynch’s ideology about Hollywood in “Mulholland Drive.” The interesting thing is that in “Perfect Blue” the line between reality and fiction, sanity and insanity is blurred in a way that is purely Lynchian.