Twenty-five years ago, I was blowing away the time of day with a trio of witches in the lobby of the Capitol Theatre in Arlington, Massachusetts. Playing into their schematics, I posed as a “Twin Peaks” fan, enthusing about the subliminal messages we were hot-wiring through suburbia. “Yeah, we are in every living room in the country,” one of the Elviras chuckled. “Satan rang the doorbell, and the doors were thrown open wide. From here, we go everywhere.”
Walt Whitman wrote that the Europeans did not being the evil to America, but that the evil was already in the land long before the Europeans arrived. The devil didn’t need David Lynch to bring the nomadic tribes into the circle that encased the golden proportion. They were already there, just waiting for the white devils assassins to arrive. And when they did, they built a pentagon that could not be levitated, from which Alan Ginsberg tried and failed to exorcise the demons.
Lynch freed them from their five-sided prison, and they invaded the president’s liquor cabinet, filling up on the swill of their elementals, which placed them squarely in the pocket of Empire, inspiring bank managers and home-on-the-range psychos to pour their filth into rivers now flowing serenely into crisp, dollar-bill oceans. Lynch blew himself like a backpack filled with cherry bombs and his pieces continued to make films, but suburbia was no longer listening. Even the wild dogs cowered before the gates where his banner lay, its emblem embossed with streaks of worthless silver nitrate.
Ryan Gosling comes across as the last person one would expect to pick up the banner that David Lynch dropped, but “Lost River,” which he both wrote and directed, wears its Lynchian lineage proudly, from its title, substituting the river for the highway, to its theme song, turning blue velvet to deep purple. Unlike Lynch, who treads the road of madness via a form of ultra-sanity that embellishes ordinary surfaces with subliminal insinuation , Gosling makes a direct address to the realities that have burned the people from the land.
The unwanted residents cling to the crappy shacks being burned and razed by bloody pimp bankers, ignoring the warning to “Leave or die.” Creeps that would have been mere bullies in David Lynch’s world now prowl the nightscape, cutting off the lips of young men while women pay off their mortgages in clubs where they might once have been forced to strip off their clothes, but now strip off their faces.
Gosling embeds his vision of a not-too-far-in-the-future America with warnings to get out of this cauldron before you get cooked in it. Houses are burning, people are bleeding….both the human and non-human landscapes have become deformed. The river is the only way out, but it soon will dry up. “Lost River” is a revenge of the land upon the people, a ghost dance collision of matter and antimatter, a final warning, not only to America, but to the entire Northern hemisphere, that the possibility for survival is in the realization that the family, not the dwelling place, defines the parameters of home, and the movement toward life is a southward motion.