David Lynch makes innocuous things seem inexplicably wrong.
He’s a sexual being made uncomfortable by his own sexuality. I don't know if you've been to America but that's a fairly ubiquitous feeling over there, certainly not unique to gender.
There are two ways to make movies. One is the Stanley Kubrick approach, where every single prop, colour choice and word of dialogue has meaning. It’s all very careful, very thoughtful film as text where everything illuminates the layers in a film. I'm thinking here of Kubrick's choice to make the monolith in 2001 the same aspect ratio as a movie screen so that the totally black shots with the creepy opera music would be closeup shots of the monolith.
The other approach is to shoot a movie like de Kooning or Kandinsky paint. Random images depicted only vaguely or haphazardly, with everything – the colour, brushstrokes, composition – adding to a single emotional message, mood, or feeling, like paintings which are more gestalt works. You see the painting and hear something (noise, jazz, traffic) but it’s all in service of a single thought. The creation of a work with multiple layers and a single unified message.
David Lynch’s films are like abstract art (he studied painting, not film) and he loves the digital video as a medium because it’s more flexible and conducive to experimentation. He will conjure a scene completely divorced from any context because it creates a mood, the way a painter displays a cube that pushes the colours around in some new way. Then he strings the scenes together to connect the moods. It's only because the same actors are used in different scenes that the viewer’s mind constructs a linear story.
His films are love stories, gestalt works of art about different stages of being in love. Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire. TP is the innocence of young love, perverted by a collision with adult lust. LH is about jealousy, betrayal and the fear of losing the one who betrayed you. You kill the thing you love (just like in TP). He’s filming the emotional component of the love story, not the intellectual story of boy meets girl.
These are stories about joy mixed with lust and poisoned by jealousy. But he conveys the joy and the lust and the jealousy not through plot or dialogue, but through pure image and sound. Lynch insists on doing his own sound design for his own films. He's not trying to make you feel happy or sexy, but rather to communicate what the character is feeling.
Lynch likes the motif of the doppelganger and its corollary the switched identity. He uses it so often you can almost assume any new film he makes will have it. In TP, Lynch made the sexually abused stripper Laura Palmer look exactly like her sweet innocent cousin Madeleine (different hair colour, accentuating how overt her choice is). LH has Bill Pullman become someone else after killing his wife, only to find that in some psychotic fugue escape fantasy he falls in love with her twin (or is it really her again?). MD repeats this theme, with the jilted lover slaying her partner only to become her and nonetheless fall in love with her.
IE is the purest example of this motif. Laura Dern descends through her own loveless life, to assume the identity of the lover she portrays, which leads her to experience the tragedy of the Polish prostitute and her husband losing their son. But isn't this what love is? What is making love other than the desire to unite or become the person you love?
Think of your own life, have you ever loved someone who also sometimes made you jealous, or hurt you? Did you ever find yourself later thinking about those hurt feelings, or re-experience that jealousy at the most inappropriate time, such as during sex? This thing you love hurt you, so you soothe the ache by embracing it tighter.
Lynch pushes these feelings into you by bypassing your reason. Inland Empire delivers scene after scene to disturb and unsettle you, right after he makes you comfortable. It’s like having a nice afternoon picnic with your lover, and you suddenly remember (how you caught her at a party last year slow-dancing with some other guy (which she said meant nothing (yet it's obvious the guys is better looking/richer/more experienced than you (who you now feel inferior to (opening the wound again))))) and she smiles and says "It's such a nice day isn't it?"
That's not something you can convey linearly with plot and dialogue. Lynch is a master at offering no discernible story of the viewer to cling to for safety in that storm. He sails you into the storm and throws you off the boat.
He could give you some syrupy dialogue about how "You complete me," but instead, in Inland Empire, prefers a quick cut over brown noise to Laura Dern walking towards you out of focus on a dark path. At the last minute you’ll realise she isn't walking but running at breakneck speed in slow motion, and then, as she bears down on the camera, you see that she’s screaming.
She lost herself in the love story because her relationship with her husband is antiseptic and procedural. This is a source of anger. How can you deny me love if you really love me? Or do you merely control me? Her relationship with her husband is so bereft of love that it’s easier for her to become the impassioned lover of the film in which she stars and thereby replace reality with that fantasy. Her mind reconstructs her world to allow her to be in love rather than let her keep her sanity without it. But she can't re-establish her true self until she is totally devastated.
Love is overwhelming need, vulnerability and anxiety. Lynch is trying to portray that message. You hate your lover because you need them so much that it terrifies you and that fear can turn to madness or rage. Love is turmoil. Hate for and love of the same person are held at once in your heart, and that passion resolves itself one way or another – both people develop separate identities within the relationship, or the relationship ends, and each are broken. Lynch recognises this as inherently irrational, and yet it is a universal experience of every human. Why does one person make you feel so wonderfully and frighteningly out of control, sometimes even before you've spoken to them? Isn't that madness?
Lynch shows this to you. He recreates the madness, the emotions, with sound and image, noise and shattered darkness, so that you empathise with the plight of the lover in his film. The endings only seem fantastic, the way you look back on your mindset during a frenzied love affair only to shake your head and wonder "what was I thinking?"
You can't deconstruct a David Lynch film the way you would a Kubrick film. That’s like looking for Christian symbolism in a Pollock drip painting instead of in Michelangelo’s Pieta. You watch a David Lynch film to be reminded that love is terrifying and beautiful and worth sacrificing everything in the world for. You watch it the same way you stare at Munch's "The Scream."
Why is this person screaming? Am I screaming?