The recent revelation that David Lynch may never make another full-length movie was met with dismay from his widely dispersed cult fanbase, us included.
While his forays into music have been impressive, it’s on the big screen that we still want to see Lynch work his weird magic.
So we’ve compiled some of the director’s most memorable achievements to show why his early retirement would be such a sad loss to cinema.
From chilling encounters to heart-warming interludes, here are seven of the greatest David Lynch moments.
Warning: Spoilers, strong language, and disturbing imagery below
Treves meets John Merrick – ‘The Elephant Man’ (1980)
Lynch’s astonishing biopic of a deformed Victorian man – nominated for a staggering eight Oscars – is full of powerful, poignant and hard-hitting moments, not least John Hurt’s oft-quoted: “I’m not an elephant…I am a human being.”
However, it is an early introduction to the title character that provides one of the most enduring images. Medical expert Frederick Treves, played terrifically by Anthony Hopkins, encounters Hurt’s brutalised fellow as a tragic exhibit in a carnival Freak Show.
Capturing Treves’ astonishment, horror, and overwhelmed sense of compassion in one remarkable close-up reaction shot, the scene is a magnificent piece of filmmaking that has real impact and emotion, but is totally devoid of mawkish sentimentality.
The Man Behind The Diner – ‘Mulholland Drive’ (2001)
From a hilariously incompetent hitman to the atmospheric splendour of the Club Silencio, Lynch’s modern masterpiece is overflowing with unforgettable scenes. But one particularly shocking moment lives longest in the memory.
Sitting in the apparent comfort of an ordinary diner at breakfast time, a character named Dan shares a story about a nightmare he’s had about the place – and a sinister man, round the back of it, whose face he hopes “he never sees outside of a dream”.
When Dan steps outside to confront his fears, the tension that builds is unbearable. The sound design is extraordinary; the camerawork makes us feel as though we’re directly experiencing a terrifying dream. And the eventual reveal, when it comes, is nothing short of heart-stopping.
The Mystery Man – ‘Lost Highway’ (1997)
Speaking of terrifying encounters, the word ‘sinister’ doesn’t even begin to do justice to the skin-crawling introduction of Robert Blake’s devilish Mystery Man in this mind-warping thriller.
Already on edge after receiving a video tape of him and his wife sleeping, apparently recorded in their home at night, Bill Pullman’s musician finds his trendy reality rudely interrupted once again when a supremely creepy figure approaches at a friend’s house party.
Grinning malevolently, like a crazed loon, the Mystery Man tells our unnerved protagonist that he’s at his house “right now”. One phone call later, and both Pullman’s character – and we as an audience – are about as freaked out as it gets. Once again, it’s the intrusion of something horrifying and otherworldly into a seemingly normal setting that really does the trick.
The Dancing Girl – ‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me’ (1992)
Providing a satisfying and severely underrated conclusion to the famous TV series he created, Fire Walk With Me sees Lynch himself cameo in the joyously offbeat scene that opens the movie.
Confronted with a typically baffling start to their investigations into a mysterious murder, Agents Desmond and Stanley are sent on their way with a bunch of cryptic clues courtesy of a lively mime dressed all in red.
Desmond then helpfully explains the purpose of the charade for his partner’s, and our, benefit. It’s funny, distinctive and outlandish – but most of all it helps establish a genuinely compelling sense of mood right from the get-go.
Meet The Parents – ‘Eraserhead’ (1977)
And you thought Ben Stiller had it bad. In Lynch’s extraordinary feature-length debut, long-suffering protagonist Henry endures the dinner date from hell when he goes round to his girlfriend’s parents for a meal.
The chicken he is asked to carve jitters and gushes blood; the prospective in-laws jabber nonsense at him and act like utter lunatics; and the mother makes a rather terrifying pass at him to boot.
Simultaneously disturbing and hilarious, if Eraserhead can be viewed as a male anxiety nightmare about relationships and parenthood, then this stand-out scene is a wry shout out to anyone who’s had to suffer through an uncomfortable, awkward introduction to their partner’s parents.
Ben sings In Dreams – ‘Blue Velvet’ (1986)
Lynch’s thrillers often feature a horrifying, violent psychopath – and Blue Velvet’s monstrous villain Frank Booth is probably the most well-known.
But while the late, great Dennis Hopper caused a real stir with his alarming, “baby wants to f***” outbursts – it’s a mesmerising moment of quieter, unsettling intensity that really hits home.
In one particularly haunting sequence, Frank is silently overwhelmed with emotion as his criminal partner Ben launches into the world’s most bizarre lip-syncing performance; holding a lamp to his mouth and performing a charismatic mime to Roy Orbison hit ‘In Dreams’. It’s as captivating as it is chilling.
“That’s family” – ‘The Straight Story’ (1999)
Probably the most beautiful highlight of this uplifting and unconventionally non-surreal tale, things take a turn for the profound when protagonist Alvin Straight encounters a young runaway on his epic road-trip.
In a movie ultimately about the power of blood-ties – Alvin is, after-all, journeying to see his ill, estranged brother on a petrol-powered lawn mower – the scene that follows is a superb example of Lynch’s unsung ability to capture and relate the moving experiences of everyday people.
After they confide and imply personal tragedies to one another, Alvin serves up a simple but potent metaphor: it’s easy to break a stick on its own, but tie them up into a bundle and you can’t. “That bundle? That’s family.”