David Lynch is a renowned figure in Hollywood, unique for his creative vision and the fact that he writes, directs, films and even occasionally acts in his films. Film critics generally regard Lynch as an auteur, a term coined in post-World War II France, which means a director who creates films in many genres while retaining a similar visual style and inner meaning in his art. Almost twenty centuries before Lynch began directing films, Publius Vergilius Maro was using similar techniques in his epic poetry. Though Vergil worked nearly nineteen centuries before the invention of the camera, his work is particularly cinematic. In the Aeneid, Vergil uses words to paint pictures, which are full of colors, details and hidden meaning. The poet employs scene cuts, flashbacks, monologue, traveling montages and action scenes, all of which are common components of film. This paper will explore the similar themes that are found in the body of Lynch’s work and Vergil’s Aeneid. After making conclusions about their similar techniques, I will explicate the different results of Vergil and Lynch making their own cinematic versions of the Aeneid.
Comparison of creative techniquesEditThe concept that inspired this comparison was the artists’ use of oneiric second worlds that produce prophetic visions for the protagonist. For David Lynch, this is a reflection of his use of Transcendental Meditation, a technique with which credits much of his creative vision. These dreams can be found in all of Lynch’s films, from Henry imagining the “Girl in the Radiator” in Eraserhead to the fact that half of Mulholland Drive is Diane’s dream of a fantasy life. The important part of these dreams is that they involve prophetic visions and help the protagonist achieve their goals. The Girl in the Radiator tells Henry that “In Heaven, everything is fine” and the Giant in Twin Peaks warns Agent Cooper that “The owls are not what they seem”, among other riddles giving helpful information. In the Aeneid, I was particularly struck by Vergil including a trip by Aeneas into the underworld in order to speak with his father’s ghost and have this shade reassure him of his prophesized fate. However, I posit that this “trip to the underworld” is merely an example of dream logic by Vergil. On line 278 of Book VI, Vergil writes “habitant… consanquineus Leti Sopor et mala mentis Gaudia” while listing the various deities that Aeneas encounters at the entrance to Orcus, the world of the dead: “There lives sleep, the blood-brother of death, and all the evil pleasures of the mind.” Vergil explicitly connects the land of death to sleep and furthermore, the potentially harmful ideas that come from mind in dreams. Next, when the prophetess and Aeneas approach the boatman, Charon, he shouts at them “Umbrarum hic locus est, somni noctisque soporae”: “This is a place of darkness, and the sleep of dreamy night.” Even still, the underworld is divided into two parts, reminiscent of the black and white lodges in Twin Peaks. The field of mourning (lugentes campi) houses souls that were consumed by love, including Aeneas’s ex-lover Dido, as well as evil men and gruesome monsters. On the other hand, there is also a place where heroes of humankind reside and await their return to the living world. Vergil describes this place with superfluous language “devenere locos laetos et amoena virecta fortunatorum nemorum sedesque beatas.”(Book VI lines 638-639); “They came to a merry place, a pleasant meadow of a blessed grove, truly a happy region”. Both of these artists envision dreams as places to revisit previous experiences, to imagine speaking to people one has met and to prophesize the proper course of action for the future
The next common device that the authors both use extensively are secrecy in everyone’s lives and the ramifications of scheming. In David Lynch’s work, secrets often induce paranoia in the viewer. We see Jeffery voyeuristically hiding in the closet in Blue Velvet and a bum hiding in a dumpster behind a Winkie’s in Mulholland Drive, who is able to kill a man with fear. The television series, Twin Peaks, is entirely reliant on the secret lives led by the inhabitants of the small town, mainly the notorious Laura Palmer. Secrets and scheming play a similar role in the Aeneid because the plot revolves around characters trying to subvert and take advantage of one another. The epic opens with Juno secretly summoning the storms of Aeolus to wreck the Trojan fleet, unbeknownst to Neptune, the rightful ruler of the seas. Aeneas and his companion Achates enter Carthage after being shipwrecked. They are cloaked by Venus in a cloud of mist that renders them untouchable and invisible. They enter the temple and secretly (one could even say voyeuristically, as Aeneas first realizes the beauty of Dido) watch other Trojan survivors have an audience with Dido before Aeneas formally enters the city. Next, we find the backhanded dealings between Juno and Venus concerning the love of Aeneas and Dido. Juno attempts to coerce Venus to make Dido and Aeneas fall in love by Cupid’s arrow, so that Aeneas does not fulfill his prophecy of establishing his own race and settles down in Carthage as co-ruler. Venus realizes Juno’s ulterior motives but does nothing because she knows that Jupiter will be extremely upset with the plan. Finally, instead of confronting Dido, Aeneas attempts to secretly prepare his fleet and depart from Carthage. Dido is told of Aeneas’s impending departure by “Rumor”, the Roman goddess who spreads lies and goes to confront him on the shore. Vergil rhetorically questions: “quis fallere posit amantem” (Book IV, line 296); “Who is able to deceive a lover?” and Dido addresses Aeneas as perfide (Treacherous one). These artists paint secrecy in an extremely negative light, implying that it is merely used to gather salacious information and take advantage of others.
The final example I will cite of the similarity between Lynch and Vergil’s art is their use of the surreal and imagination. A perfect example of this parallel is the fact that both artists’ work contain trees that bleed. Towards the end of Eraserhead, Henry is terribly frightened by a tree that rolls onto the stage with him, causing his head to spring from the body. It lands on the tiled stage floor and the tree starts bleeding, which eventually results in Henry’s head being covered in tree-blood. In the Aeneid, Aeneas seeks myrtle branches to offer as sacrifice for guidance, but when he rips them off, the tree starts bleeding. Vergil writes “mihi frigidus horror membra quatit gelidusque coit formide sanguis” (book III, line 29-30); “freezing horror grips my limbs, and chilling blood comes from the terror”. Further shocking Aeneas, this tree is actually inhabited by the spirit of Polydorus, a deceased Trojan. Surreal images abound in the Aeneid. Vergil, as an author, is not limited by production costs for creating effects, and instead can develop images through word and the reader’s imagination. The sea serpents that killed Laocoon’s sons have fiery eyes and blood-red crests. Iulus, Priam’s son, is afflicted by an omen during the fall of Troy: an ethereal flame that appears above his head and begins to singe his hair. There are numerous visitations from the gods, reminiscent of the Giant appearing to Cooper in Twin Peaks or the Good Witch guiding Sailor back to his family in Wild at Heart. The visit to the Underworld is full of surreal imagery: the three-headed dog Cerberus, fifty-headed Hydras, Titans, and all the ghosts of perished humans. Surreal imagery intrigues the viewer or reader, causing distress and curiosity at the same time. These artists use their creative vision to create enthralling scenarios in their works, which keeps their work fresh and imaginative.
There are numerous other themes that I have found Lynch and the Aeneid have in common as well. They both envision the two-fold characteristics of nature, mystical and scary yet comforting and productive. They are both obsessed with technology as it relates to city-life, whether about civil engineering or faulty electricity. The protagonists are seekers, having been presented with some sort of quest that they feel they must endure to the end. Dido could be considered a femme fatale, trying to sway Aeneas from his destiny. They both frequently allude to the unseen forces found in the world: prophetic visions, wind, and the power of the gods themselves. Finally, they are both nostalgic for past artistry, with Lynch using film noir as an inspiration and Vergil was clearly inspired by the Odyssey and Iliad.
Film versions of the Aeneid by Lynch and VergilEdit
If David Lynch were to create a film version of this ancient epic, I feel that it would be much darker and discomforting than Vergil’s story. There are a few key scenes that Lynch would appreciate and use to demonstrate his creative technique. Dido’s suicide would be a gold-mine for Lynch. Never shying away from melodrama, Lynch could portray Dido violently weeping as she speaks her last lines, condemning the betrayal of her lover. When she is finished crying, the camera could switch to a close-up of her bloodshot eyes, as she impales herself on the sword. Her death would be extremely slow and dramatic, and maybe the funeral pyre would begin smoldering beneath her corpse, set ablaze by the intense passion of her love. Lynch would also love the initial scenes, where Aeneas’ ships are attacked by the storms. This scene gives him a chance to play his favorite sound effect- Alan Splet’s recording of the wind rushing along the coast of the Scottish highland. Wind is also Lynch’s favorite unseen force that has physical ramifications on the real world. The scene in the underworld is also very Lynchian, and would merit the care that Lynch gives to some of his greatest scenes. This portion of the story is so pivotal and surreal (Lynch often combines these aspects in what he calls “The Eye of the Duck” scene), that Lynch would go all out. The monsters would come to life before the viewer, spirits would chill the viewer as they passed by, with gored-faces and tormenting shrieks. Charon makes for a great Lynchian character, because despite his ugliness and generally unpleasant demeanor, he is still one of the most important figures in the underworld.
Vergil’s cinematic adaptation of his own work is much harder to imagine. Vergil would certainly appreciate the ability to create mise-en-scene and not laboriously describe the scene with words. First, he would have to practice technique and work on another project for the film screen or turn the Georgics into a PBS documentary to gain some experience with a new medium. His frequent use of epithets would be reflected in the film, constantly referring to the characters with their respective praenomen. The scheming of the gods would be given much more attention than in the Lynchian version, as bickering gods was a necessity for ancient epic. Vergil would show Venus and Juno constantly arguing like Diane and Camilla at the end of Mulholland Drive. Another important feature that Vergil might incorporate into his film is the repetitive meter of the poem, which could be reflected in the soundtrack of the film, matching the beat of characters as they spoke. The script for the film would probably be more eloquent and formal than Lynch’s. Finally, Vergil would give more attention to the battle scenes with Turnus at the end of the poem. The film would climax with an epic battle scene akin to Gladiator, and end with Aeneas dramatically hurling his spear in slow-motion and piercing Turnus’ thigh. The film would end with a point-of-view shot from Turnus laying on his back as Aeneas, full of rage, delivers the sword through his chest and the screen fades to black.
Though these artists are polar opposites on the timeline of human creativity and art, there are many ideas and techniques they have in common. Lynch and Vergil both paint a picture for the reader, which is initially beautiful on the surface, but even better, has profound meaning behind the art. They both touch on similar problems they have with humanity- secrecy and eternal one-upmanship. The artists both include surreal images in their stories to keep the reader interested. Finally, Vergil and Lynch both think that dreams are closely tied to real life occurrences, and that they can make a serious impact on the immediate future.