PEOPLE GET CUT, THAT’S LIFE
If Lindsay Lohan is not and has never been two women sensu stricto, we might be forgiven for believing something different; twice now she has split herself onscreen, and twice the overall effect was of exactly what it was: one girl refracted, even though there were two names, two sets of clothes, two miens. The first time was aged ten, for Disney: in the credits of The Parent Trap (1998) she’s introduced with fireworks, as if to signal or foreshadow later sound and fury. Lindsay split herself the second time to demonstrate that, contrary to popular opinion—Lindsay is, above all things, contrary—she had never wanted to belong to any Mickey Mouse Club that would have her as a member. She split like an atom going nuclear, a middle and an index finger making “fuck you”: split cells generating some disease, some mean internal warfare.
Lindsay played her second set of twins in Chris Sivertson’s sleazy, cultish flop I Know Who Killed Me (2007), filmed ten years ago last summer: one called Aubrey Fleming, who wears glasses and loves writing bad, short fiction about bad, lost women, and is skilled at playing the piano; and another called Dakota Moss, a foul-mouthed stripper. (It would be a waste of space for me to tell you which one Lindsay plays more convincingly—a prodigy in early life, the only thing she is a dedicated student of these days is chaos. She remains contrary. Stripping in the movie, she keeps on her bright red lingerie, but splits her legs like those two fingers: fuck me and fuck you.) Good-girl Aubrey is abducted by a small-town killer whose inventiveness with dry ice is the movie’s one surprise, and whose sick obsession is with women’s hands, and women’s feet, and amputating women’s limbs in general. When she is discovered half dead, sprawling in a ditch, she claims she isn’t Aubrey but Dakota. Alternating every word with “fuck,” she says that she’s a crackhead’s baby, and her crackhead mother “ODed, duh.”
The hospital cries trauma when they ought to cry film cliché. I have not said—I should certainly have said—that Aubrey-who-is-actually-Dakota gets two robot limbs, an arm and leg, and that the leg is battery-operated; and that Aubrey-who-is-actually-Dakota sometimes does not charge the leg, so that it drags beneath her hot-pants like dead weight, utterly grotesque but not that interesting. (Even in a sex scene, it just lies there. Lindsay, to her credit, absolutely does not.) Evidently dedicated to the films of David Lynch but woefully unskilled, the writer-director of I Know Who Killed Me conjures red rooms and blue roses and the guidance of a group of owls; a pet cat that is hairless, but with grape-sized testicles on show; a man whose only purpose is to masturbate a log; a serial killer who makes weapons out of ice-blue glass, and so on. What he has forgotten is to put the “psych” in “psychosexual mystery,” so that what’s mysterious isn’t necessarily that smart. The owls, here, are exactly what they seem. The girl is too—a dead-split representative of sex and scholarship, of vice and virtue, even if she is in fact two women and not one girl.
Even greater than the crime of serially killing women with your own invented instruments in some low-rate production meant to ape—in my opinion—our most singular and talented auteur, is being our most singular and talented auteur, and not adoring Lindsay Lohan. It’s not casting her in Twin Peaks: The Return (2017) when she so clearly needs returning to an audience that might accept her. Lindsay’s psycho, sexual, and a mystery. She is one of modern Hollywood’s great beauties, hoarse and charismatic and a little frightening. Lynch would do well to remember that although blondes à la Hitchcock show up blood like snow, a redhead would look sick, disorienting, in a red room. Lohan is one of those high-femme doubles he has loved for so long, one half fatale and one half a fatality. She is a pair entrapped in one girl. Who is the girl?
THIS IS THE GIRL
As a figure, Lindsay—like Lynch—deals in moral conflict: in the evil or the sexually freaky deep inside the safe, banal and quintessentially American. “The first child of a drug-abusing, felonious stock trader and a failed dancer” per the New York Times Magazine, it stands to reason that the sum of drugs plus fame plus capitalism plus failure would embody something wild at heart, and weird on top. At twenty years of age, a case in point: in Garry Marshall’s Georgia Rule (2007), while in the role of a girl who’s abused by her stepfather, Lindsay is painfully, bloodily Lindsay—she acts out, snarls and then threatens to fuck everybody, baring both a stripper’s abdominals and the sulky, freckled face of a preteen girl. (“Lindsay is, above all things, contrary.”)
Choosing to identify her by her work in Mean Girls (2004) or The Parent Trap feels these days like a false equivalence, as Lindsay being pre-sensual, or virginal, is like most people being pre-verbal. Lindsay’s sensuality, her body language, is in fact her primary language: it’s her favored mode of mass communication, to the degree that her voice even sounds like body language. Lindsay’s voice sounds just like Lindsay Lohan’s chest, her throat, her fingers clamped around a cigarette, her lazy walk. Her way of sitting, loose and low, interminably bored. Her pelvis. It sounds just like Lindsay Lohan with her legs extended from the window of an older man’s convertible in Georgia Rule. It has the very particular hoarseness that you get from whispering so as not to be discovered, or from screaming—crying out in fear or ecstasy, or in excitement.
This is not to say that Lindsay Lohan is a slut, or that Lindsay Lohan’s worth is only in her body, or the way she moves her body, or her presentation, or her ease and easiness: it is just to look at Lindsay Lohan. It’s to look at Lindsay move. It’s to listen to her croak, like somebody who’s lived ten lives and fucked a hundredfold more guys, “Would she have fucked you like that?” Casual, just like someone questioning the weather. Lindsay Lohan is the weather. She’s the moment just before a storm, when everything is hot and wrapped-in-plastic close and maybe dark or maybe not; but anyway, alive, expectant.
“I just happen to like electricity,” Lynch says in Lynch on Lynch. “I like fire, and I like smoke, and I like the noise. But sounds have become little. The sound of a computer is just a Mickey Mouse thing compared to real power … it doesn’t thrill my soul.” Lindsay Lohan is no Mickey Mouse thing. She is electricity, soul-thrill, personified. She’s fire, red as red hair on blue velvet, and she talks like smoke.
RED, ET CETERA
Much is made and always has been made of Lindsay having red hair. We will not forget it; bleach does nothing. Black allows the red to bleed through like a hemorrhage. While in prison, inmates called her “firecrotch,” as if to fuck her were a hazard. She says having red hair only makes her “spunkier,” a line that might be said to have an unintended double meaning if it had been said by someone who did not mean spunkier just like that in order to be funny. Never think what Lindsay’s doing is in error. Adamantine, flinty, she knows how to play the game. Real gamblers sometimes thrill at losing: more so if they’re losing big.
In Twin Peaks (1990), spiritual banishment results in beaming to the Red Room, an elastic limbo that’s enshrined in pleated carmine curtains, and in which it is not strange, but logical, to be two versions of oneself. The Red Room’s denizens live on a substance they call “garmonbozia,” which looks like creamed corn but is really “pain and suffering.” In the pilot, red appears as Laura’s blood, as Audrey’s shoes, as Jocelyn Packard’s lipstick, as the doors of the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department, as the neon sign in the Double R Diner, on the lights of cop cars and the door frames of a high school locker room, on Julee Cruise’s fingernails, and on a gory hammer; as itself, alongside white and blue, in the American flag. It takes until the fiftieth minute of the third hour of Twin Peaksto see the Red Room for the first time, at which time it starts to morph into the shape we recognize the best.
Lynch, a gambler of a different kind from Lindsay, thrills at losing touch with—in two words—The Real. To watch a film by anyone, he has insisted, is to spend two or three hours in their psyche, or their dreams. In Lynch’s dreams, there are nearly no redheads. “On a cherry tree,” he’s said, “there’s pitch oozing out; some of it’s black, some of it’s yellow, and there are millions of red ants crawling all over it. I discovered that if one looks a little closer at the beautiful world, there’s always red ants underneath.” Late in Lost Highway(1997), there is one scene in which Alice-slash-Renee, played by Patricia Arquette, wears a bright red wig. Her husband walks in on her vigorously fucking an old man, a pimp, a porno baron, and instead of making an excuse, she shrieks—her voice so shrill that it rings like a siren—“Did you want to talk to me? Did you want to ask me whyyyyy?” Marriage, in a film by David Lynch, is always red and stinging hell, the venom hidden in the sap.
In the last two hours of Twin Peaks: The Return, the “real” Diane, the version of Diane that actually has a sex scene, wears the same red wig; her tulpa, banished to the Red Room and then vanquished, is a platinum blonde. Commenters have said that real, red Diane is a reference to redheaded poet and occultist Marjorie Cameron—that her sex scene is not sex qua sex at all, but ritual magic.
BLUE, ET CETERA
A rose is a rose is a rose is a joke,” Renata Adler wrote in Pitch Dark. In Twin Peaks, a blue rose is a blue rose is a signifier for the supernatural—“blue rose cases” in the FBI are those whose mysteries are, if not strictly psychosexual, then spooky, strange, extraterrestrial. Most guessed this earlier, but only recently found out for certain: in the fourteenth episode of Twin Peaks: The Return, Detective Albert Rosenfield explains the phrase’s origins in one specific case, presided over by both FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole (that is, by Lynch) and Special Agent Phillip Jeffries (that is, always inexplicably, and now a little painfully, by David Bowie). Looking for a missing girl named Lois Duffy, they end up at a motel and:
They hear a gunshot outside her room and kick the door in. They find two women inside. One on the floor dying from a bullet wound to her abdomen, the other holds a gun, which she drops as she backs away when they enter. They recognize the wounded woman as Lois Duffy. She speaks her last words to them: “I’m like the blue rose.” She smiles, then dies, then disappears before their eyes. The other woman screaming in the corner, they now notice, is also Lois Duffy. And by the way—Lois Duffy did not have a twin sister.
Albert points this out because he knows that it would be the most pat and most cowardly solution to a terrifying existential problem. Chris Sivertson, on the other hand, has no idea, which is why Chris Sivertson is not Lynch, and why the critics did not fete I Know Who Killed Me like they did Mulholland Drive (2001), or Twin Peaks, or Lost Highway. Even Inland Empire (2006), still notorious, still a brutal fucking trip, fared better. It’s not just aesthetics: I think Lindsay’s strip-club scene has shades of Laura Palmer in the Pink Room. I think blue-glass implements and dry ice as haute-stylized weapons for a killing are not necessarily a bad idea, an un-Lynch folly. Paraphrasing the Canadian David: there is nothing technically the matter with the instruments. The problem is the use or misuse of the body, and the use or misuse of the woman. If Sivertson knew enough to let us watch her, our good-bad girl Lindsay, shoot herself—to let us see her call herself a blue rose; to permit one Lindsay Lohan to dissolve into the ether, so that yet another could be charged with murder—then we might have seen a mystery solved.
A mystery’s solution is synonymous, in fiction, with the truth. Lindsay Lohan has desired to murder one half of herself for years. I could not say which half was which: which half the would-be murderess, and which the victim. I might say it depended on the host, her mood, the hour, the dawn-blue desperation of the moment. “Blue rose” is significant, per Albert’s wooden, permanently fidgeting babe protégée Tammy (played by the singer and not-actress Chrysta Bell) because it’s fake: because a blue rose is designed or wished for, shaped into existence, rather than homegrown. It is a mark of psychic or psychotic focus. So is self-invention. “A blue rose,” Tammy breathes, “does not occur in nature. It’s not a natural thing. The dying woman was not natural. Conjured. What’s the word? A tulpa.”
Tulpa, meaning “a being or object that is created in the imagination by visualization techniques such as in Tibetan mysticism,” does not necessarily feel like a word that Tammy ought to know, but it is still a perfect word. In I Know Who Killed Me, there’s a similar thematic strain, with “blue rose” meaning almost the same thing. On the poster, Lindsay, doubled and in profile, bursts from either side of one cerulean bloom; in the movie, she is given a blue rose by her blue-balled and patient boyfriend, who believes a rose might be a shortcut to a woman’s bed. Not Aubrey’s. Aubrey is as white-blue as a dreamed pale horse, as dead as ice. Her response-cum-question (“Where’d you find a blue rose?”) gets an answer so prosaic that it makes this rose a kind of anti-tulpa: “I passed a place on the street.” This would never happen in a film by Lynch, where he could just as easily have found it growing near a severed ear.
Predictably, the only prick she gets is in her finger, from its thorn. The blood is unreal, theater-curtain red and like a perfect orb. He does not even try to tell her that the blue rose is because she’s not like other girls, as Jim tells Laura in The Glass Menagerie, or as men have told young, insecure girls since time immemorial: this might have been too much like irony, a real script-writing technique. “In some cultures,” offers Wikipedia—easier by far to cite when writing about fakes and phony flowers than when serious—“blue roses are traditionally associated with ‘blue’ royal blood, and thus the blue rose can also denote regal majesty and splendor. Due to the absence in nature of blue roses they have come to symbolize mystery and longing to attain the impossible, with some cultures going so far as to say that the holder of a blue rose will have his/her wishes granted.”
It’s unlikely Lindsay feels her wishes have been granted, given that her greatest wish appears to be an Oscar, and her second greatest wish has always seemed to be some kind of real life, family-friendly normalcy. Caught halfway between both for a near-decade, she is here and there, where “here” is life as a civilian failure, “there” is stardom. I am dead, and yet I live. Aubrey Fleming’s long-stemmed blue rose is a joke on Twin Peaks. It is also, somewhat meanly, something of a joke on Lindsay Lohan. Lindsay is “blue” in the sense of “adult,” and her story is “blue” in the sense of “low, unhappy.” She is baby blue like Xanax. She is definitely these days looking like a blue rose as in “conjured—what’s the word?—a tulpa.” Not, in other words, so “natural.” Not like something human, or like something rendered in the more traditional, more natural red.
Blue, not red, is Lynch’s favorite color. This makes rumors that he banned blue-colored props from the set of Twin Peaks in Season One feel vaguely fetishistic, bordering on sadomasochistic. In Bluets Maggie Nelson relates a Dutch expression: “‘Dat zijn maar blauwe bloempjes’—‘Those are nothing but blue flowers.’ In which case, ‘blue flowers’ means a pack of bald-faced lies.”
OF COURSE I’D RATHER BE KNOWN AS A GREAT ACTRESS THAN
A MOVIE STAR, BUT SOMETIMES PEOPLE END UP BEING BOTH
How many times in films by David Lynch do characters say something like “I had this dream”? I’ve often wondered whether it might be more often than they say “I had this nightmare.” I have also wondered what, in Lynch’s universe, the fundamental difference might be. Lindsay Lohan, speaking to a journalist at InStyle years ago, announced her own dream thus: “I want to get married before I’m 30. And have my house. And make the kind of record I want. And I’d like to win an Oscar before then.” To an introverted and unfamous person, who would not desire to be a pop star or an actress, never mind a pop star and an actress, this sounds like a nightmare. To the reader who knows anything about the life of Lindsay Lohan, it sounds like an alternate reality.
Privacy is one way to avoid confusions of persona; it prevents a dangerous muddling of the public-private selves. In David Lynch’s maybe best-loved work, Mulholland Drive, the naïve Betty lands at LAX as if she’s either goofed on Xanax from the flight, or dreaming. “I’m just so excited to be here,” she trills. “I mean I just came here from Deep River, Ontario, and now I’m in this dream place. Well, you can imagine how I feel!” We hardly need to: Betty wears her manic love for the American Dream like something tailored for a premiere. Much like Tammy’s tulpa, one non-English word with no direct translation helps describe the way we feel about her—gigil. It is Tagalog, and means “a feeling of trembling, or the gritting of teeth, in a situation of overwhelming cuteness.” It describes the reason why we sometimes feel the urge to bite or eat our children, and it helps us understand why Betty must be, per The Rules of Hollywood, eaten alive.
Arriving at her aunt’s house, Betty meets a naked woman with amnesia—brunette to her blonde—and rather than reacting with alarm, agrees to help her rediscover her identity. The chase, for Betty, is a made-for-TV mystery, an adventure. For the viewer, it becomes an even more mysterious exercise around the halfway point, as one, the women make love; two, they visit a surrealistic nightclub; and three, the first half turns out to have happened inside “Betty’s” dreams, and Betty’s real name turns out to be Diane. In contrast to the chipper, gigil-stoking Betty, Diane is a failure and a drug-addicted wraith, and the amnesiac woman in the dream is Diane’s ex, whom Diane has arranged to have killed by a hit man. Further explanation would require too much of your time: suffice to say, the movie splits exactly at the axis of the A-List and the D-or-lower-List (the mid- or moderate point is of no interest to us, nor to Lynch), and the change is heralded by “Betty” opening a blue box with a blue key.
“Dream” and “nightmare” are in fact not strictly accurate configurations, as the first and happier half is Diane’s dream, but we are led to understand that part two, miserable and dark, a downer, blue as any false rose, is real life. Any actress trying to succeed in Hollywood can be forgiven for dividing into two, if not more, selves. As Betty, Diane lives a life as charmed, as filled with mutual love and adoration, as a TV movie or a romance novel. Any part she is not hired for is down to intervention from dark forces, and not lack of skill: “This is the girl,” a sinister cabal of men insists repetitively, sliding the director some blonde’s headshot as if flashing a concealed gun.
No sane actress would return to being Diane after being Betty. It’s the case that it is almost never up to them to choose. To be “The Girl,” in Lynch’s parlance, is a temporary state; to be a girl, or an unfamous woman, maybe just a mess, a car crash, is the second, truer half. The last time anyone intones “this is the girl” is when Diane, discreetly passing her ex-lover’s headshot to a hired killer in a diner, says it. In I Know Who Killed Me, there’s a scene where several cops are talking about Aubrey, and one loads up Lindsay’s photograph onscreen (“this is the girl”). “She is,” he starts to say; then, picking up the stylus, in a joke so cruel it can’t be happenstance, he scrawls the word “delusional” across her face. She smiles like Betty in the picture, dumb and bright and Novocained.
ON HIGHWAYS, LOST AND OTHERWISE
I like to remember things my own way,” says the jazz musician and wife murderer Fred Madison when asked why he is fundamentally opposed to, of all things, the video camera. “How I remembered them, not necessarily the way they happened.” Filmed in David Lynch’s LA home, so that we’re meant to think that on some level, Fred is David Lynch—who by this time was twice-divorced, though thankfully not an uxoricide—Lost Highway is in part a meditation on nonlinear memory. (All the other parts of it are all the parts you would expect, albeit deconstructed like the body of a wife—an ex-wife in the ex-est sense. I would not necessarily say “sexist sense,” because God knows I always look for nuance in my so-called problematic favorites. Some might argue that this is my seeing David Lynch’s work my own way.)
Fred’s chosen path of not remembering, or selectively remembering in his “own way,” is a luxury not typically afforded to the famous. When he and Renee start receiving videotapes—first of the outside of their home, and then of both of them asleep in bed, the camera hovering like a paparazzo’s ghost—it is a violation of civilian social code; enough to call the cops. “Must be from a real-estate agent,” Renee says about the first tape of the house exterior, as if it were not the kind of tape that looked exactly like the thing you see before you die in a horror movie. It is funny how we justify things to ourselves to keep from melting down; the way we parse things not the way they really are, but how we see them. I have personally seen a photograph, or photographs, of Lindsay Lohan sleeping: one shot through the window of a taxi that approximates, per meme, a classical religious icon. I have seen, although I am not proud and would not watch one now, “leaked” sex tapes. It amazed me in the Noughties, and still does, that Lindsay did not have one.
It is obvious to anyone familiar with cinematic tropes that by the third tape, Fred and Renee’s story will descend into a darker, more foreboding place. It is less obvious that right around the sixty-minute mark, Fred will be cuffed for Renee’s murder, then condemned to the electric chair; and then, beset by aches and migraines while incarcerated, transform overnight into a different man entirely, a young and masculine mechanic named Pete Dayton. Narrative is banjaxed, and then axed. Pete, discharged, becomes involved with Alice Wakefield—Alice Wakefield being both a gangster’s moll, and Renee’s total double. Where Renee is brunette, Alice is a blonde. Where Renee is quiet and unfaithful, sexually disappointed by her husband, Alice is a pornographic actress who finds Pete intoxicating. Astute viewers, and perhaps especially viewers who are women, will deduce the implication: where Renee is real, her doppelgänger Alice is a fantasy, a dying killer’s dream. Publicity materials call the second half “a psychogenic fugue.”
Alice Wakefield, the invention of two men—Fred Madison, and Lynch by proxy—is a mess of contradictions, and a rabbit hole in lieu of being Wonderland. Fred’s desire conjures a chiaroscuro version of Renee, sex-trafficked but turned on by the coercion: he invents a wife whose infidelity is less deliberate, less about dissatisfaction; then decides that so he has not killed a woman who is innocent, she must have also, like a whore and a deceiver, loved it even though it happened to be rape. This is so male an impulse I could laugh, or cry. Accusations that Lynch is misogynistic always strike me as confusing his portrayals of the evilest truths about white, macho-esque cis-masculinity with an endorsement: one does not need to approve of brutes to write about them, any more than Nabokov had to approve of Humbert Humbert. (Lynch’s own retelling of Lolita calls her “Laura Palmer.”)
Lost Highway was originally set to be an adaptation of a book by Barry Gifford, with the very Lohan-circa-2007 title of Night People(1992). “Barry wrote this book,” Lynch said, “and in it, it had a phrase, ‘Lost Highway.’ And I said, ‘Barry, I love these two words’ … [it’s about] people in trouble, people led into situations that become increasingly dangerous. And it’s also about mood and those kinds of things that can only happen at night.” In I Know Who Killed Me, I already said that good-girl Aubrey writes short fiction: much like Lynch, she fixates on the highway as motif. “She knew a trick,” she writes about a character that we’re meant to see as autobiographical, and later meant to realize is a psychic image of her twin. “She knew how to turn her life into a movie, and watch things happen. Not to her, but to a girl who looked just like her. Was she watching a movie about a hitchhiking runaway on a lonely highway?”
We’re tricked ourselves into assuming that Dakota is an outlet for the good girl’s secret, secretly warped sexuality: the Alice to her Renee. This is made completely perfect, or is killed, depending on your viewpoint, by the viewer’s knowledge that both girls are played by Lindsay Lohan. Most young, blackened-inside party girls are Alice and Renee in one soul. They are self-defeating, contradictory. They give in to symbolic trafficking. They trick; they deaden as a trick. “She always felt like half a person,” Aubrey says about her twin. “Half a person with half a soul. Sometimes, if she dreamed hard enough, she could bring the two halves together. But she always awoke with the same feeling of loneliness and loss.” “Unfortunately,” said a writer at the Daily Beast this year, as though she really were two entities, “the life that Lohan would like to live is frequently undermined by Lindsay Lohan herself.”
Lindsay sabotaging Lindsay is a Lynch plot. Half of Lindsay Lohan, the “bad” half, will always be a bona fide Night Person: she’s the one who, drunk or high or desperate for the contact high of true celebrity eight years ago, drove down Mulholland Drive at nearly 2 a.m. to see Jack Nicholson; to buzz the intercom for half an hour (“Dick Laurent is dead”); to endlessly request, “Jack, open the gate, Jack, open the gate,” until he did; to leave three hours later, wrecked, like a starlet’s Maserati in the canyon. This one is the Lindsay who ensures the other Lindsay never gets to work on time—who makes her uninsurable, and mean with nausea, and who never once allowed her to forget her father, nor her mother, nor her early life. The Lindsay who believed she’d have an Oscar by the age of thirty, and imagined she’d release an LP full of hits, must sometimes watch this other Lindsay with the kind of distance normally reserved for watching things occur not to yourself, but to a girl who looks just like you.
LINDSAY’S MIDDLE NAME
Lindsay Morgan who? Lindsay’s birth name is “Lindsay Dee Lohan.” If she’s told you that her name is “Lindsay Morgan Lohan,” she’s lying.
And your name? What the fuck is your name?
LIKE UNCLE’S DAY IN A WHOREHOUSE
As Gordon Cole, it’s true that Lynch, as writer and director, has the opportunity to satirize himself: in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me(1992), we see him maybe lampoon his own methods, choosing to have Cole convey the details of the case not through conventional discussion, but by having Lil, his cousin—aka his “mother’s sister’s girl”—perform a dance to be decoded. In another red bobbed wig, like Diane’s or like Alice’s when she is fucking Dick Laurent, she grimaces and spins; she wears a red dress, to which she has pinned a false blue rose. “Is this uncanny staging,” Slavoj Žižek asks, “to be read as expressing Cole’s inability to communicate properly … which is why he can only get his message through by reducing the feminine body to a cartoon-like two-dimensional puppet performing ridiculous gestures?” “Tailored dresses,” Agent Desmond says, as one example of Lil’s abstract figuration, “are code for drugs.”
Lindsay also stars in her one directorial exercise—a music video for a song whose title might as well have been used for Twin Peaks, “Confessions of a Broken Heart (Daughter to Father).” Rolling on a filthy bathroom’s floor dressed in a ball gown, she looks freakily like Dina Lohan, and is blonde: next door, two actors play her warring parents, and next door to this, a different room, a less embattled scene, her real-life brunette sister plays her sister. As the camera pans out, it’s revealed that Lindsay Lohan and her “family” are displayed as tableaux in the windows of an NYC department store, and passersby are gawking and taking photographs. They hold the pictures to the glass, and Lindsay sees her parents fighting, and her sister crying. She howls as if she’s Laura Palmer in the Red Room, or as if she’s Donna being told that Laura Palmer’s dead.
If this does not seem like a subtle exercise in self-expression, it’s worth mentioning that Lindsay Lohan was at this time eighteen years old. Teenage projects are not known for their sophistication; this one in particular is like a primal scream, the lyrics of the song as minor and breviloquent as those that David Lynch once wrote for Julee Cruise. (“I am broken,” Lindsay cries out several times, “but I am hoping.”) Lindsay does not try particularly hard to look cute, or to look cool, or to look less than unhinged. She sings, “I love you” like a hoarse lush. She is signaling in easily elucidated body code (“tailored dresses are code for drugs”). At the song’s end, she breaks down into a flood of tears so raw that either Lindsay Lohan really is her generation’s greatest actress, really did deserve that Oscar before thirty, or they’re real. Her face warps like a backwards tape. It’s stretched like Laura Dern’s. She gets her message through, Žižek would say, by using her feminine body, by being a puppet: performing ridiculous gestures.
A HISTORY OF BAD MEN, OR: BRUTAL FUCKING MURDER
David Lynch’s films are, at their heart, about the dissolution, deconstruction, degradation and decomposition of an American fantasy. Being heterosexual and a man, it figures that for Lynch, this means the dissolution, deconstruction, degradation and so onof women: naked, sexually available and fully mysterious women specifically, i.e. babes and seductresses. Being a female movie star, it figures also that the work—the life and work—of Lindsay Lohan is the same thing. It’s about the dissolution, deconstruction, degradation and decomposition of The Figure and Persona Lindsay Lohan. Lindsay’s garmonbozia might drown a grown man; it could fill her own weak smoker’s lungs. “Let’s not forget,” she tweeted in 2010, “that my father kidnapped me from a court room when i [sic] was 4 years old and is crazy.”
Early trauma is defining, even when we wish it weren’t. “When I was little,” Lynch has said, “my brother and I were outdoors late one night, and we saw a naked woman come walking down the street toward us in a dazed state, crying. I have never forgotten that moment.” He has not allowed us to forget it, either. In Blue Velvet (1986) we see Dorothy, a nightclub singer and a sexual kidnap victim, reenact it as if the director were retracing mental, Freudian steps. “He put,” she whispers urgently, afraid and turned on, “his disease in me.” When Ronette in Twin Peaks has been raped and is held on life support, the nurse tells Agent Cooper: “This girl doesn’t know where she is, or if she is.” Diane, in Twin Peaks: The Return, remembers being raped by Cooper’s doppelgänger, something she reveals before disclosing that she is a tulpa, whispering horribly “I’m not me, I’m not me.” In Inland Empire, one of Nikki/Sue’s most vibrant, violent selves delivers an incendiary monologue about her near-rape as an adolescent girl, a tour de force that Dern allegedly delivered as one part of sixty-minutes-plus of written speech.
“There was this man,” she tells a suited figure who might be a cop, a therapist or an avenging angel:
His name was—doesn’t matter what his name was. A lot of guys change. They don’t change, but they reveal. They reveal what they really are. Know what I mean? It’s an old story. When I get mad, I really get mad. I gouged a man’s eye out when I was fifteen once. He was trying to rape me. I mean: the fucker had it out. He was pushing my legs apart. I got a finger in his eye socket. Pretty quick, rape was a long way off his mind. He was crying and screaming like a baby. “What a fucking man you are,” I said.
What a fucking man is James Deen—porn star, Lindsay Lohan’s co-star in The Canyons (2013) and—since 2015 when his former girlfriend Stoya tweeted, “James Deen held me down and fucked me while I said no, stop, used my safeword. I just can’t nod and smile when people bring him up anymore,” and several women followed suit—alleged rapist. Having been filmed three years earlier, The Canyons did not trade directly on Deen’s reputation. Retroactively, it did resemble something like a taped confession: playing Christian, written by Bret Easton Ellis as a reimagining of Patrick Bateman and a riff on Christian Grey from Fifty Shades of Grey (2011), he is a rich and sociopathic brute. His girlfriend, played by Lindsay Lohan, loves him even though he’s loathsome; they are codependent in the style of Dorothy and Frank Booth in Blue Velvet, so that he expresses all his love through violence, and she gladly takes it.
Her unfaithfulness, because this is a film that’s written by Bret Easton Ellis and directed by Paul Schrader, ends in sudden, barely-meditated murder, and a bloodied body in the bathtub. Christian is the killer, and the victim is a vapid female yogi. Rather than a reference to The Evil That Men Do (1984), it seems like a nod to the inevitable. Narrative conventions rule, in life and fiction; twists are rare in both, and real surprise—the pleasant kind—is practically unheard of. In an exposé disguised as on-set coverage by the New York Times Magazine, the writer Stephen Rodrick witnesses a scene of such bathetic and discomfiting intensity that I have not forgotten it in five years since its publication.
“Deen came to life,” he says about a fight scene—or more accurately an assault, domestic—in The Canyons, “throwing the negligée-wearing Lohan hard to the ground and pounding his fist into a wall with such fury I wondered if he had broken his hand. Lohan lay slumped on the floor, her hands guarding her face, shoulders shaking, tears pouring down her cheeks … After three shots, Schrader said he was satisfied, and Lohan fumbled for a cigarette. She headed downstairs, and someone complimented her work. ‘Well,’ [she said], I’ve got a lot of experience with that from my dad.’ She didn’t elaborate, and no one asked.”
HEY PRETTY GIRL, TIME TO WAKE UP
Number of times that Lindsay Lohan has attended rehab, according to Google: more than six.
Number of times that Lindsay Lohan has done cocaine, according to Lindsay Lohan: not more than ten or fifteen.
OTHER MISCELLANEOUS LINKS BETWEEN DAVID LYNCH AND
LINDSAY LOHAN THAT FEEL AS THOUGH THEY SHOULD BE NOTED
In Twin Peaks and in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, BOB’s female victims are discovered with a letter on a scrap of paper pushed beneath one of their fingernails; in court and on probation, Lindsay—who might argue that she was a victim of, if not her circumstances, then the system—offered her own barely coded message with a manicure that read, minutely, on her middle fingernail, “fuck u [sic].” In I Know Who Killed Me, Julia Ormond phones it in as Aubrey’s mother; she also appears in Inland Empire, as the screwed-up and screwed-over wife of Billy Side, and then as a mad murderess with a screwdriver. The strip-club manager who finds Dakota bleeding on the floor, a sultry witch more Lynch than Lynch, is played by Bonnie Aarons; who is maybe best known for embodying pure evil as the filthy, soot-black tramp behind the Winkie’s diner in Mulholland Drive.
In the Red Room, Laura Palmer speaks both like and unlike we do, edited by Lynch so that what’s spoken backwards is played forwards, and distortion turns the piecemeal testimony of a teenage girl into dreamlike, gnomic code. In 2016, everybody claimed that Lindsay Lohan had adopted a new accent—sounding “Euro,” meaning “Eurotrash,” both like and unlike her previous self. In Mulholland Drive, a prostitute is pictured outside Winkie’s—in a detail so Lynch, so suggestive of male sexual violence without actually showing it, that it feels somehow tender rather than unethical—with a bruise shaped like a man’s hand, fingers tightly closed, around her arm. Undressing in The Canyons, Lindsay’s bruised all over. She is grabbed at, literally and otherwise, by many hands—and always has been.
“The most controversial bit of casting in Lost Highway … is going to be Richard Pryor as Balthazar Getty’s boss at the auto shop,” wrote David Foster Wallace, on-set and defining “Lynchian” (say it with me: “a particular kind of irony where the very macabre and the very mundane combine in such a way as to reveal the former’s perpetual containment within the latter”) for Premiere in 1996:
Meaning the Richard Pryor who’s got muscular dystrophy that’s stripped him of what must be 75 pounds and affects his speech and causes his eyes to bulge and makes him seem like a cruel child’s parody of somebody with neurological dysfunction. In Lost Highway, Richard Pryor’s infirmity is meant to be grotesque and to jar against all our old memories of the “real” Pryor. … And yet at the same time Pryor’s symbolically perfect in this movie, in a way: The dissonance between the palsied husk onscreen and the vibrant man in our memories means that what we see in Lost Highway both is and is not the “real” Richard Pryor. His casting is thematically intriguing, then, but coldly, meanly so.
Compare this with a (female) critic’s view of Lindsay Lohan’s face for Grantland, in a piece about The Canyons:
Lohan’s face is bloated and looks strange from fillers that her young face did not really need … she is on her own planet as an aging diva straight out of Tennessee Williams. At age 27, she is already on the verge of being washed up as a party girl. Which seems ridiculous, until you remember that Lohan has been washed up and come back 10 times already.
In other words: her casting as a washed-up party girl, a former actress and a jaded airhead is thematically intriguing; and it’s coldly, meanly so. This Lindsay is and is not “real.” As with the audience’s memories of the prior Richard Pryor, there is fundamental discord: two discrete but overlapping version-visions of the girl, one vibrant and one less so.
It does not take much excavation, or that much imagination, to decipher Schrader’s use of tumbledown, long-ruined movie theaters as a motif for not only movies, but for Lindsay Lohan (who is also derelict, iconic and profoundly cinematic). “Okay, tell me something,” Lindsay’s Tara asks the friend she’s out at brunch with, barely holding back a smirk at Ellis’s self-referential dialogue: “Do you really like movies? Really, really like movies? When’s the last time you went to see a movie in the theater? … Not premieres. Premieres don’t count. I don’t know, you know, I guess maybe it’s just not my thing anymore.”
If Richard Pryor, who in my eyes is still Richard Pryor in his role for Lynch, is rendered “Lynchian” by dint of disability, it’s arguable that Lindsay Lohan—who is absolutely Lindsay Lohan in The Canyons, even at the same time as she isn’t—is her Lynchest self for Schrader. Drink or drug addiction, most enlightened medical professionals will tell you, is a genuine disease. This Lindsay’s sick; she also has the perma-dignity of something once held to be indisputably majestic, like the dead marquees. Is Pryor meant to be grotesque? Is Lindsay? Yes, and no. When we talk about Lynch, when we plot the Lynchian, it’s vital to believe the cat to be not hypothetically both dead and living in the box, but literally both dead and living: Laura Palmer—who tells Cooper in the Black Lodge that she’s dead, and yet she lives—is named after the “murder victim” in the Otto Preminger noir thriller, Laura (1944), who it later turns out was not killed at all.
Lynch insists that he had not intended to be cruel in casting Pryor—only reverent. I believe him. I believe, too, that Paul Schrader casting Lindsay Lohan in The Canyons was as much an act of love, a gesture of pure faith, as anything to do with the uncanny or grotesque; I believe he may have cast the memory, the living cat, of Lindsay Lohan, and not any later, sicker model. “See?” he tells Rodrick on-set, observing her in playback with her face set in “a wholesome smile that would not have been out of place in the world’s best soda commercial.” “That’s why we put up with all the crap. You can shoot bad movies with actresses who are always on time. But look! The rest is just noise.” “Without the garish makeup,” the reporter later says, “Lohan looked sadly beautiful, and it was easy to see why men like Schrader were willing to put their lives in her hands.” Who would not fall for Lindsay? Many of us have.
Lindsay Lohan’s father once sat down and described the kind of dancer he was looking for,” a strip-club proprietor told the New York Daily News. “We sent some girls over. Funny, they all seemed to look like Lindsay.”
Funny. Later that week, apparently “Lindsay wanted to meet the girls who’d danced for her dad”—which suggests that either Lindsay Lohan cares enough about receiving her father’s love that she’ll do it by surrogate, even if that love is not the kind of love that’s strictly appropriate, or perhaps that Lindsay simply wanted to see herself the way he sees her. “Daddy’s little girl” is complicated when the girl in question has been famous since she was eight, and an object of extremely public, mostly male and often middle-aged desire since she was sixteen. Michael Lohan, for his tireless work on Lindsay Lohan, is the devil.
Laura Palmer, a celebrity of sorts in Twin Peaks in the way that only a popular blonde can be, especially if she is also a prostitute, is the victim of a father who is literally demonic. Fire Walk with Me, a prequel to Twin Peaks as loved by critics now as it was loathed on its release, depicts her antic, druggy, anhedonic final week on earth. Both hooking and participating in the local Meals on Wheels scheme, Laura manages to balance light and dark, bad girl and good, within one body: Lynch, so often a divider of his female muses, knows when he should stick to single figures. His work sketching Laura as a total, involuted individual, instead of only a Lolita—even though she is a teenage rape-and-incest victim, and therefore a prime trope—is some of his most humane. “She’s in high school,” Cooper says about a premonition in which it’s revealed to him the kind of girl who’ll die next—this girl being Laura. “She’s sexually active, she’s using drugs, and she’s crying out for help.” “Well damn, Cooper, that really narrows it down!” yells Albert. “You’re talking about half the high school girls in America!”
One suspects “half” is conservative. Somehow both sexually vivacious and a dead, dark void inside, the Laura Palmer who inhabits Fire Walk with Me is one whose trauma covers her like dirt. Like Diane’s tulpa, Laura’s actions telegraph I’m not me. “Palmer,” Suzanne Moore wrote for the Guardian in 2015, “when given voice, was another of Lynch’s beautiful but deadly masochists.” A reporter interviewing Lindsay in the selfsame paper, a few months earlier, talks about her nixing “the destructive voice in her head … the one that, against her first instincts, told her to get in the car drunk, or turn up late for the court appearance, or to have just one more.”
“Do you think if you were falling in space,” Donna Hayward asks, “you’d slow down after a while, or go faster and faster?” Laura’s answer is a fatalist’s, a death wish: “Faster and faster. For a long time, you wouldn’t feel anything. But then you’d burst into fire, forever. And the angels wouldn’t help you, because they’ve all gone away.” It may be better to burn out than fade away; but if the burning lasts forever, doesn’t all that fire hurt? Laura might be Joan of Arc—but they burned witches, too. Acting out, behaving like a tramp, a bitch, a wild unstable mess, she’s only playing to the crowd. Her goldenness is tarnished, but remains. “Lindsay looked a little raw. And yet shining through her worry and stress and whatever else was currently affecting her mood was her all-American beauty,” Nancy Jo Sales wrote about the golden, tarnished Lohan at age 24, in an interview for Vanity Fair. (“I grew up really fast,” the actress later tells her, “just because of the situations I was subjected to because of my father.”)
“When this kind of fire starts,” says the Log Lady in Fire Walk With Me, “it is very hard to put out. The tender boughs of innocence burn first, and the wind rises, and then, all goodness is in jeopardy.” “I don’t know when I can come back,” trembles Palmer—come backoffered up as two distinct words, given that she isn’t actually Lohan. “Maybe never.”
I DO NOT THINK IT WILL BE MUCH LONGER NOW
Three years ago, Lynch illustrated several poems in Dark Sparkler, by the actress Amber Tamblyn: a compendium of texts about dead, famous women, some fake and some too real, none of whom had made the leap from Hollywood to publishing in their short lives. He refused on principle to work on anything that featured Sharon Tate. “He didn’t understand,” said Tamblyn—who would later give the Tate commission to another Lynch collaborator, and another previously suburban freak, musician Marilyn Manson—“why that moment [of her death] needed to be revisited. I realized it’s probably a generational thing. That experience was so, so terrible for people that were around then.”
Lindsay Lohan, who dressed up as Sharon Tate on Instagram the same year that the book came out, on Charlie Manson’s birthday, has her own page in Dark Sparkler. Owing to the fact she’s still alive, it’s blank. “I am not going to project onto your story,” the author-actress said to Lindsay, through the medium of an interview in New York magazine:
I am giving this back to you to write. This belongs to you. Your poem has not been written yet, and it belongs to you. It’s less a statement that she deserves to be grouped in with a bunch of dead women and more of a statement of she deserves to be in there because she is treated like those dead women already; she is treated like she is already dead.
To speak to Lindsay through, to quote myself, a “medium”—albeit one who is in fact a journalist—as if she is a spirit and cannot be spoken to on, for example, Twitter or the telephone, seems equally egregious. It is equally suggestive of her being dead. The subtext of including space for Lindsay’s eulogy is absolutely not that “it belongs to [her],” but that it is inevitable that she will end up there. Nobody in Tamblyn’s book lived past the age of forty. She and Lindsay are three years apart in age—she’s 34 and Lindsay 31—and she and Lindsay were both Disneyfied child stars; although about child-stardom, Tamblyn says, in poem form, “a child star actress is a double-edged dildo,” and not once has Lindsay talked about her early fame as if it were a sex toy.
In the Twin Peaks pilot, everyone’s hysteria about the death of Laura Palmer is entirely at odds with everyone’s complicity. “I and others worried that [the series] might change Laura from a fully human survivor of abuse into some sort of magical chosen one, dampening the human element of the show,” said critic David Auerbach after Twin Peaks: The Return concluded. “I now think that Laura is special, but she is special because of her pain. Laura lives through a horrendously dark youth.” When Cooper finally locates the adult “Laura,” finding that she is in fact called Carrie Page, and has no recollection of Twin Peaks or her abuse, the shock is partly in the sight of Laura Palmer as a fifty-year-old woman; like a fifty-year-old Lindsay Lohan—like Lolita pregnant, no longer an adolescent—we had never thought to picture it.
The idea that pain purifies the soul is one I’ve never much agreed with; it is often cited by those causing pain, as if they did the girl—it’s usually a girl, which is not quite the same thing as a woman—something like a favor. Suffering, pain, should not be destiny, or an identity. Laura Palmer was not wanted dead, but martyred slowly, and alive; she may as well have been an industry in Twin Peaks. Local blondes who are homecoming queens and victims of their fathers are, like Cooper’s sad and druggy sexually active high school girl, a dime a dozen. They allow small towns, small-minded and bad men, to run, as if they’re electricity.
No one is surprised, accordingly, when they spark out. When Pete Martell calls Sheriff Truman and says, “She’s dead—wrapped in plastic,” Sheriff Truman does not bother asking “who,” but only “where?”
Art credit: Richard Phillips, Gagosian