With David Lynch’s recently confusing comments on the Trump administration, those with even a passing familiarity with the director have all probably wondered at some point what makes his strange mind tick. His films are bold: perplexing as a brick wall, but wrapped in such a surreal and dreamy expressionism that makes glancing away even for a moment seem an impossible task.
A closer look into the eccentric auteur’s brain is therefore always a welcome privilege. Jon Nguyen’s 2016 documentary, David Lynch: The Art Life was a noble start, exploring Lynch’s early life and artistic sensibilities, but ending somewhat disappointingly right before his filmmaking career took off with Eraserhead. True to its title, the documentary aimed to service Lynch’s role as an artist more than anything. Under a casual stream-of-conscious narration, the film intercut pictures of his life with paintings and footage of him continuing to create art today. As satisfyingly intimate as this effort was, the film world has been long overdue for a more comprehensive view of his life, especially as an iconic figure in American cinema.
Room to Dream is a collaborative effort between journalist Kristine McKenna and David Lynch himself, with the aim of providing as thorough as possible a retrospective on the director and his fruitful life and career. The 592-page book illustrates Lynch’s entire life, from his earliest memories as a child to the present, concluding with his most recent cinematic project in Twin Peaks: The Return.
The book is notably unique in its structure. Rather than solely a memoir or biography, its individual chapters choose to diverge into both formats. One, written by Kristine McKenna, takes a standard journalistic, biographical approach to a specific period of his life, detailing the important events through the words of the people that knew him best. The other section is more akin to Lynch’s narration in The Art Life, a flowing and personal prose that serves to highlight what Lynch remembers as important about the period. Separately, either approach would have certainly worked fine to tell his story, but combining them makes the book a remarkably rewarding and definitive portrait.
There is some overlap between the 2016 documentary and the memoir, but only in the early years of Lynch’s life, where some of the anecdotes actually seem directly copied from the film. The entire book is quite a relaxing and enjoyable read: McKenna opens a chapter of Lynch’s life by compiling the basic information we need to know, and then Lynch takes it away with his unmistakably Midwestern voice, complete with his charmingly limited vocabulary of “great” and “super”.
It’s fascinating to see Lynch’s life in the spotlight, and even more so to hear what he has to say about it. The sorts of things the director remembers from specific periods in his life actually reveal a great deal about his eccentric personality. In one chapter, he recalls a cowboy-looking character riding on the bus and the first time he ate potato chips. While McKenna herself acknowledges that attaching a single magic moment to Lynch’s irresistibly artistic worldview is naive, specific scenes of his life do stand out and coalesce together to leave a strikingly familiar impression of the auteur.
Make no mistake: if you were hoping to ascertain more details about the meaning of his work, you will be sorely disappointed. Not that any true Lynch fan should be surprised by such a notion- it’s a miracle in itself that he is opening up about his life and the creation of his work, and with such cheery candor too.
My only real criticism of Room to Dream, and it’s a relatively minor one, is that it can feel repetitive. It’s never dull for a moment, but McKenna’s writing, chalk-full of testimonies from various family, friends, cast, and crew, has the obsessive tendency to paint the director as a figure approaching the divine. If these statements were considered without a shred of doubt, one would think Lynch could do no wrong.
Maybe David Lynch is the greatest human being to walk the planet, but the manner in which the book casts him is hagiographic, universally positive to the point of nausea. Even all three of his ex-wives seem totally incapable of harboring ill will towards him after he broke each of their hearts. Often, while discussing Lynch’s infidelities and emotional failings, McKenna even has the gall to rely on testimonies that gloss over these unsavory facets of his personality as innocent eccentric quirks. I guess it’s unreasonable to expect a collaborative half-autobiography to ever write about its subject negatively, but certain sections evoked conspicuous eyerolls from me nonetheless.
Despite its occasional overindulgence of praise, Room to Dream is a fantastically fun and lovingly created biography of one of America’s most daring and original artists. Never before, and perhaps never again, have cinephiles received such a detailed look at the personality and life’s work of David Lynch. Though much of Lynch’s personality and life is available to see online, the fact that both have been compiled so neatly and lovingly in this wonderful book makes it a worthy read for any fan of his work.
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