Lynch is obsessed with Transcendental Meditation and this seeps into all of his movies, from Blue Velvet on (and earlier in Eraserhead). The suggestion in some film blogs that Rabbits is about purgatory seems most accurate, except that he sees ‘normal’ life experience as a particular illusion that we go through in a purgatory-like process. This process is interconnected over time and space and necessarily limits our full perception of its own reality. I believe the reason Rabbits continues to stand out as one of most frightening viewing experiences to date is that it forces people to become aware of this very unsettling reality that needs to be constantly hidden in order for us to get through the day.
The reality he is always alluding to is that the set of time-space experiences and narratives we are trapped in are all ultimately ‘evil’. There is nothing ‘good’ that we can ‘know’ in our normal set of configurations, other than things that provide relief from the self-motivated spells that make up the world we are part of and provide us with roles to pursue. Though we may not always be able to exercise it or be aware of it, we do have a conscience, in part due to the experience and recollection of suffering and in part because we can imagine what it would be like to be another. Our limited conscience takes the role it does because we are not what we think we are and, according to Lynch, play interchangeable roles in a multi-layered web of interactive phenomena designed to satisfy self-interest at the expense of altruism. The best we can have is final release from the self-identified interests that shape experiences according to the worldly set of phenomena aptly represented by Hollywood, its spectacles, its business deals, and its popularized culture. During our myopic pursuit of both success in, and escape from, the beautiful evil of coloured lights and passions, we take up several lives during which opportunities to exercise a moral choice arise at unexpected junctures in an otherwise tightly fitted mesh of interconnected determinations. Since we only experience time and space in order to cater to individualistic desire in relation to diverse others, the interchanging lives occur simultaneously in the same and different spaces in the same and different bodies and lives. (Bullshit alert: I have no idea how this works. If anyone reading this can help me out I welcome your input.) However, in order for the experiential drama to have the desired effect, the individual’s narrative experiences must be discrete. This means memory is lacking and selective, and that limitations are imposed upon the perception of supernatural or other agents of good or bad that hover in our midst, participate in our story lines, and conspire with our deepest motivations along the way. For this reason, the Rabbits, who try but are unable to remember certain things, are merely and helplessly aware that ‘Something is wrong’. They live in dissociation from the full horror of their evil trappings, supporting each other in drones of inanities and distractions that bear no correspondence to the ultimate truth of what they are and what they are doing. Their inability to access their full reality and its abhorrent implication is randomly punctuated with canned laughter from an imaginary audience, forcing the viewer to recognize their own familiar participation in the collective alienation of truth.
The laughter, which implicitly places the Rabbits’ living room within the comfortable territory of ‘sit-coms’, fails to yield its superficially suggested light-heartedness. Instead, the viewer is disturbingly turned into an involuntary collaborator in the inversion of their own habituated values. As the foolishness of our efforts to make sense of the confusingly humourless dialogue in the midst of a grim social trio jiving deadpan between menacing industrial noises begins to dawn on us like a sinister prank, we gradually identify the source of our gripping anxiety and, like a convict resigned to enjoy his last meal, we break with our normal viewing habits. Events and details unfold in seeming disorder. There are two females and one male. There is apparently a man in a green suit they await eagerly and there are references to a dog and very unglamorous violence. Perhaps the man in the green suit is that actor or catalyst which brings initiation (and cyclical finality) to a story, as in ‘green means go’. The dog might be the impassioned ‘natural’ violence un-preventably unleashed upon a Rabbit at certain junctures, perhaps permitting the release of one of the three from the drudgery of their current story line, which may be worldly manifestation in general. The trio of Rabbits consists of one male and two women. One woman is more domestic and does the ironing in a corner while the other appears more as a counterpart to the male Rabbit and also sits on the couch. It is this female Rabbit ‘[who might have been] a blonde’. Though not necessarily the case in Rabbits, we might view the female roles to be less varied though equally or more numerous as has been the case in other Lynch films. In Rabbits it is the male who appears to be the one who is active with the outside world while the women are, at least in this respect, passive. That may be because Lynch’s belief in TM convinces him that the female incarnation belongs to certain predetermined roles in a limited set of stories in this world. They usually go from innocent (desired) to corrupted (feared) and from nurturing to entrapping over the course of several female lives. It might be worth noting that it is the more matronly version of the feminine gender (the one ironing in the corner) who also brings out ritualistic candles during incomprehensible aural communications with a demon and later does not appear to fully remember or understand. This may be Lynch’s way of suggesting that even the most seemingly uninvolved person who takes a ‘passive’ maternal role is nevertheless a participating actor in the ‘agreement’ of sacrifices and limitations necessary for this world to unfold, just as a spectator might be when enjoying a representational drama or a parent might be when managing a family from a seemingly passive position of compassionate authority. It seems then that for Lynch, female life stories hold their greatest significance in the varying degrees of conscious or unconscious complicity they entail in the realization of the unwholesome desires of varying active males, desires which overlap with the ones that placed all individual lives in the darkly set dynamic of the world that Lynch exposes. That female incarnations are typically enabled toward more passively complicit roles does not change their ultimate fate because the experience as a male or female is as illusory as any materially experienced individuality since all the manifestations of human life are interconnected within a causal network whereby pleasure necessitates corollary suffering as a relation and a cost. On a more limited scale the story could be about a satanic ritual, incest, or the meaninglessly pornographic nature of life and human motivation but in keeping with TM Lynch makes a broader interpretation most apparent.
Indeed, the very premise for our lives is an evil one. Some have postulated that in Rabbits a human sacrifice is being alluded to. In a sense that is correct since we all sacrifice each other at various times in order to realize unhealthy pleasures at some other point during the intertwining of events. In so doing, we appear to have agreed, wittingly or not, to sacrifice the very self-interest that drives us to enter the theatre of individuated desire in the first place. That is why we humans are rabbit-like, like Lynch’s perceptually and emotionally dispossessed Rabbits. The rabbit stands out as a unique creature for one reason: humans use rabbits for both affection (pets) and food (hunted and killed). Lynch is reminding us that we not only have a peculiar habit of both nurturing and eating a furry animal who makes up a large part of our culture, but that we even treat each other with the same insisted upon hypocrisy innate to the role we attribute to rabbits. David Lynch’s Rabbits imposes upon us with a deeply disturbing and uncompromising reminder: that the selves and stories we hold so dear in our personal waking narrative are paradoxically harvested for a lapsed experience of simultaneous violence and affection. By shocking us into bearing witness to our culpability in a nightmare based on the inescapable unification of lust and terror he forces us to acknowledge what we spend our time intentionally ignoring because it is so unacceptable.
Is it possible to have a healthy ‘normal’ life while in full apprehension of this terrifying truth? I believe the answer is no. Do Lynch’s movies thereby fulfill their purpose? Or do we fail when we emerge from viewing his movies shaken but unchanged and eager to ‘re-normalize’ ourselves?
<insert laughter here>