INTERVIEWED BY JESSE PEARSON
I am a big-time David Lynch nut. I remember having to steal a copy of Blue Velvet and watch it at a friend’s house because my parents thought it was too sketchy for me to see at 12. I watched each episode of Twin Peaks the night that it originally aired. I saw Wild at Heart and Fire Walk With Me on their opening days. For my money, this guy has made some of the most original, thrilling, deep, and beautiful cinema ever, ever, ever.
So just because you care, here are my favorite David Lynch things in descending order from the best on down to the simply very great:
• The episodes of Twin Peaks that he directed
• Blue Velvet
• Inland Empire
• Mulholland Drive
• Wild at Heart (this was at the top of the list when I was 15)
• Fire Walk With Me
• The Elephant Man
• His early shorts
• Catching the Big Fish
I didn’t like Lost Highway, but let’s not bother getting into that.
Now here’s the tricky part. David Lynch and I both practice this thing called Transcendental Meditation, which was invented by a guy named Maharishi Mahesh Yogi back in the 1950s. The Beatles did it; Howard Stern and Jerry Seinfeld do it too. Weird collection of people right there. I interviewed Lynch a few years ago, and we talked only about TM at that time. I figured that this time around we would talk about TM and more stuff, broader stuff, life and movie stuff. And we did, sort of. But you also have to realize that for Lynch, the tenets of TM are of the utmost importance. His whole life is inextricably linked to it. No matter what you ask him, he is likely to link it back to meditation. So, after we were done talking this time around and I listened to the tape, I thought, hmm, we really did talk about TM a lot here. Maybe it’s weird to put all this TM talk into the magazine. Maybe it feels like a commercial for my and his brand of spirituality. Maybe I shouldn’t do this.
But then I realized: I’m the editor of this magazine and the rest of you aren’t. So fuck y’all if you don’t want to hear about it. Here’s me and Lynch talking about meditation, the unified field, total enlightenment, and cheese.
Jesse Pearson: Hello, Mr. Lynch. I don’t know if you remember, but I interviewed you a few years ago. We spoke mainly about Transcendental Meditation that time.
David Lynch: I’ll be darned.
I’m a practitioner as well, since I was a little kid.
I want to touch on TM this time as well but also go a little broader later on. I know that meditation is very important to you in terms of your creative process. I often find myself wanting to interrupt meditations to jot down ideas. Does this happen to you too?
Well, you know, the Beatles asked Maharishi the same question when they were with him in Rishikesh in ’68. They’d get ideas in meditation too. He said, “Come out, write it down, and then go back to meditating.”
Wow. I’ll do that from now on.
See, the idea is very clear down there, and so it’s really thrilling when it comes. But if you wait till after you finish to jot it down, chances are that you’ll forget it.
That’s happened to me a lot. Is it the same for you?
If I’ve really got a hot one, I come out and write it down, and then I go right back in.
Now that I think about it, if I’m interrupted I sometimes find it easier to go right back into a deep meditation as opposed to a shallower one.
I know what you mean, but a lot of times “shallow” and “deep” are sort of subjective things. If you saw yourself on an EEG machine, you might be surprised at how many times you were transcending during a meditation.
I guess it goes in peaks and valleys.
You dip in and dip out. Maybe you go in there and you didn’t really get zapped, but you’ve still touched it many times, meaning the transcendent, which is the deepest level. You experience that many times in each meditation.
Just for different lengths of time.
That makes sense. It sounds familiar to me. I think I was around seven years old when I first started having experiences in meditation that felt transcendent to me.
[laughs] That’s fantastic.
It was pretty funny. My grandparents and my friends thought I was in a cult.
Now, just for your readers, Transcendental Meditation is not a religion, not a cult, not a sect… It’s a mental technique—an ancient form of meditation—that unlocks the human being’s full potential. And the full potential of a human being is called enlightenment. It’s really pretty foolish not to meditate.
Our readers might start to tune us out now if they aren’t open to hearing about this stuff, but oh well. So yes, it’s true for me too—not meditating is sort of a waste of one’s own capabilities.
Yeah! You’ve got this potential, but you’re not going to get it unless you experience transcendence—that deepest level. Pure consciousness. And every time you experience the transcendent, you infuse some of it and you grow in that consciousness. You grow in intelligence, creativity, happiness, love, energy, and peace.
All good stuff, basically.
And the side effect is that negativity starts to lift away. It’s a win-win-win situation.
You don’t have to tell me.
I know, but we have to tell your readers. [laughs] People get it at different times, and you’ve got to want it to do it. And hearing these things might make some people out there say, “Man, I gotta have that!” That happens—more and more these days.
If the reader comments on our website from the last time I talked to you about this stuff are any indication, we’re going to get slammed. Anyway, based on what I’ve read about your working process, ideas might come to you and then not get used for years and years.
What’s your method for keeping track of ideas?
I write them on little pieces of paper and then I drop those in a box. So I have, like, an idea box. And then I sometimes go through there, and one idea is suddenly like a little jewel. And so I’ll start to think about it, and you know what they say: “Where the attention is, that becomes lively.”
Focused attention has a magic quality. The idea does become lively, and it can make other ideas swim in, like little fish, and join it. And then a whole thing starts to emerge.
Is there also an element of the idea having a different context just because, say, five years—with all the changes that can happen in that amount of time—have gone by? Something that was mysterious to you when it popped into your head could be clear as day five years later.
Yeah! It’s like all ideas have a time for being. And for some reason, at some specific time, you’ll read an old idea and it just makes you crazy because you love it so much.
Do you ever go back and watch your old films?
Sometimes. My son Riley hadn’t seen them before, so I saw them all with him recently. It’s the same way with my older paintings—it’s sometimes good to go back and look at your old stuff. It’s just like the idea box. You might see something that you did way back when, and some part of that can feed into the work you’re doing right now and jump-start it.
What do you call the place where ideas originate? The subconscious?
No. Everything—everything—originates in the unified field. It’s an ocean of pure consciousness. It’s the transcendent. And that’s what quantum physics says now: Everything that is a thing has emerged from that field. New things are always emerging and bubbling up from it. So an idea will come, but you will not know the idea until it enters your conscious mind. Now, if you expand your consciousness you can catch ideas at deeper and deeper levels, and they’ll have more information and more energy.
It’s pretty intense.
Plus, as you understand things more, there’s more to understand!
That’s true. It’s almost kind of scary.
Everybody relies on ideas.
Your more recent work, specifically Inland Empire and Mulholland Drive, sort of has the rhythm of meditation to me. We drift, find focus, drift, and find focus. Is there anything to that, or am I reaching?
Well, I always say that those two films, like any other film, are based on ideas. I’m not trying to duplicate a meditation experience. I’m trying to translate ideas that came to me, to make them feel, in cinema, the way they did when they came to my mind. It’s all based on the ideas that come.
Sure, without the idea there’s nothing.
Why do you think so many people have such a desire to know the meaning of your films?
I always say the same thing—we’re like detectives. Films are another world, with new characters and new situations. When things are concrete in films, you don’t have a problem understanding them. When they get abstract, then the understanding varies and people come up with different interpretations based on what’s inside of themselves. When you look at life, we’re always looking at stuff and wondering and thinking about this and that—trying to suss out what’s going on, just like we’re watching a film.
Just walking down any street could lead to a thousand different mysteries.
But even with all of that said, don’t you get tired of people asking you what things in your work mean?
But I don’t ever say what they mean. I say, “You know, for yourself, what it means. And that’s valid.”
Your films can be very scary. I know people who can’t even watch the first Winkie’s scene in Mulholland Drive. What do you think an audience might get out of being so freaked out by a movie? I know that there is something valuable for me in it, but I can’t put my finger on what it is.
Well, I know that the images can be fearful, but those are just the ideas that came. Or they came with that fear. But there’s nothing really scary there. It’s just the way the scene goes, and the words that are said, and the way the expressions look, and the way the camera moves, and the way the sound is designed. It all conjures up a thing that makes people say “Whoa”—just like I said “Whoa” when I got the idea. And of course ideas can come up and conjure beautiful images too.
Thank goodness for the ideas, because they tell you how to go. Intuition tells you how to go. Intuition is the number-one tool for the artist.
Without that intuition, you can’t make art.
You can’t just read a book and become a painter or a filmmaker. There’s some other abstract quality that has to be there too. And that’s called intuition. Number-one tool!
Going back to this fear thing for a second… You make it sound so simple, but a scary scene in one of your movies is way more than just the sum of its parts. Maybe you can tell me something that scares you.
I’m not any different from anybody else. The fear of death is the biggest fear. Everything else kind of falls away from that.
Are there specific ways that you’re afraid you’re going to die?
[laughs] It’s like, you don’t want to sit around and start thinking about that. But sometimes ideas come that involve death and fear—fear of the unknown—and not knowing where this path is leading.
Maybe part of the enjoyment in watching really scary stuff is that it’s a safe way of experiencing that fear of death on a tiny scale.
See, that’s the number-one key. I always say, “Have the suffering on the screen. Not in your life.” The artist doesn’t have to suffer to show suffering. I could be a happy, happy camper shooting a death scene because it will have nothing to do with what’s inside me. I’ll just be translating ideas. And people can have a scary experience in the theater, and then leave it and go into a world that’s really a good world. Although a lot of times these days, people leave the theater and go into a world that’s far worse than the horrific things they’re seeing on the screen.
That’s interesting, because a thing that gets said about you and your work a lot—especially since you’ve started talking so much in the press about meditation—is this question: “If this guy is so into the pursuit of bliss and enlightenment, why are his films so dark?” I think that’s kind of a dumb way to look at it.
But it is a legitimate question.
I think what you say about putting suffering on the screen rather than in your life pretty much answers it. What would you say to my friend who is too much of a wimp to finish that Winkie’s scene?
A film is like reading a book. You can read a book, and it can be a really frightening, horrendous story, and you can be really gripped by it. But you can stop reading at any moment and go get a cup of coffee and sit outside or whatever, you know? You choose to go into the world of that book.
Cinema can be much more immersive than a book, though.
But books are great too.
Oh sure, of course. Now, you might think this is goofy, but I’ve always wanted to ask you if you believe in the supernatural to any degree.
Well, this makes me think of my friend John Hagelin, who is one of the world’s greatest quantum physicists. We know now that there are ten dimensions of space and one dimension of time. There are worlds upon worlds upon worlds, and there are all kinds of things going on. But a person can get lost in there—for a long time. You want to go beyond all that and experience the transcendent. That’s where all the power is that runs the whole universe and universes. Like Maharishi says, “Capture the fort first and then all the territories are yours.”
That’s a good analogy. You mentioned beauty a minute ago. What’s a beautiful image you’ve seen in real life recently?
Pretty much everything! Here’s another expression, and this one is Vedic: “The world is as you are.” It’s a secret. The world is as you are. If you want to see a better and better world, start expanding your consciousness. All of it’s there inside every human being. The world starts looking brighter and more beautiful and people start looking more familiar and beautiful too. Everything starts getting really, really beautiful! An analogy is that if you’re wearing filthy dark green glasses, then that’s the world you see. But if you start cleaning those, and pumping in rose and gold, then that is the world you see.
I think that a lot of people fear that adjusting their attitude will take more sheer willpower than it actually does.
This is a natural process. It’s not about trying. In TM, the word “trying” doesn’t exist. It’s effortless—easy. A ten-year-old child can do it.
I was just looking at your photo series of female nudes draped in smoke. That got me thinking about your female characters and how they are usually mysterious and dangerous, or at least the keepers of big secrets. Do you think that men are capable of really understanding women?
We’re capable of understanding totality. But most of us don’t understand women. [laughs] And they don’t understand us. It’s kind of an interesting thing. They are mysterious, and they are extremely beautiful. You could take photographs of women till the cows come home, and you’ll always find something new.
It really never gets old.
It’s just magic.
So you think that women don’t understand men either?
Yeah. We don’t understand one another, really, but you get more understanding when you start expanding your consciousness. Enlightenment is infinite understanding!
Maybe some people have a different idea of what “understanding” means. To me it’s not about solving everything like a math problem. It’s more about learning to coexist with whatever needs to be understood, and to sort of embody it, maybe.
Right. But it isn’t about trying to reach the end of an equation.
Well, there’s objective science and there’s subjective science. And now the two are coming together. In other words, intellectual understanding alone will never get you there. It needs to be intellectual understanding coupled with the experience. The experience is what’s missing in life.
There are rumors going around that you’re done with narrative feature filmmaking.
No, no, no. [laughs] I’m done with celluloid. Even though it’s so beautiful, it’s going to be a digital world that I’ll work in from now on.
Are you working on a feature now?
No, I’m going to do a documentary on Maharishi and then I don’t know what I’ll do after that.
Werner Herzog has said that you and he have talked about making good films for less money than the usual Hollywood budget. Do you feel like there’s overspending and bloat in the film industry?
For sure. It still takes money to do things, but it doesn’t take ridiculous money. I always say that filmmaking is about the size of the corral they put you in. If you’re in a little corral and you’ve got like one million or half a million dollars, you’re going to think of ways to do it for that much money. And that’s really beautiful. In a 100-million-dollar corral, you’re not even going to think that much. You’re just going to be able to throw money at stuff.
Do you shoot with your digital camera just for the hell of it, even when there’s not a specific project going on?
No, I don’t really like doing that. I guess if I had a Flip cam I might do more of that, but I like to have an idea and then try to realize that idea—not just go around willy-nilly.
Like the way that you worked on Inland Empire, where you shot a scene here and a scene there over the course of a couple of years.
I didn’t say, “I want to do a film that’s going to take a long time.” That’s just how it happened. You can go a long time without an idea, and then they start flooding in.
I’m going to shift gears a little bit here. I asked a friend of mine who knows you what I should ask you about, and he said to ask you about cheese. Was he messing with me?
Well, I like to eat cheese. And I sometimes like to think of cheese.
In what way?
How it came to be. The magic thing is that there’s just, you know, a cow. And then there’s the grass and the sunlight, and then here comes the cheese.
It’s kind of amazing.
Thinking about you and cheese reminded me of that extra on the Inland Empire DVD where you show us how you make quinoa. That made me wonder about what you like to eat for breakfast.
I don’t eat breakfast. I like to have cappuccinos instead.
You drink a lot of caffeine.
I’ve read that it’s upward of 15 cups a day.
Sometimes, yeah. Maybe that’s on average.
I’m sure you get asked this all the time, but do you think about the health implications of all the caffeine and all the smoking that you do?
You’ve got to just live your life. And these days—because of some people in San Francisco—everyone’s really started going against smoking.
You can’t smoke anywhere now.
Well, you still can in LA. It’s so beautiful because there are outdoor restaurants here. So there are plenty of places you can smoke. But cars are everywhere, see? I think that anybody would say that they’d rather smoke a cigarette than stand behind a car’s exhaust pipe for the amount of time it takes to smoke. Cars pollute way more than cigarettes do.
I guess that the antismoking activists are more concerned about getting cancer from secondhand smoke, which I think is kind of ridiculous when it’s applied to public places.
If you were in a cabin all winter with a smoker and you were a nonsmoker, I could see there being something to that. But nowadays if you light a cigarette 50 feet away from someone in a park, they freak out.
Smokers are becoming pariahs.
I know it’s not healthy, but I’ve loved tobacco since I was very little.
How old were you when you started smoking?
I guess I was five or seven the first time I tried a cigarette.
Wow. So that’s just like the behind-the-woodshed, sneaking-one-to-see-what’s-it-like sort of smoking?
Are you the kind of guy who’s going to just keep smoking as long as he can?
I don’t know. I could just get a big urge to quit one day. But right now, I’m enjoying it and enjoying life.