Sunday, June 11, 2006

Beowulf, David Lynch, and Evil

The best bit in Beowulf occurs just after Grendel’s monstrous mother attacks and the survivors decide to go after her in her lair. We are told “It is no pleasant place. From it the surging waves rise up black to the heavens when the wind stirs up awful storms, until the air becomes gloomy, the skies weep.” When they get to this “many a lair of water-monsters” it is truly horrible: “Then they saw on the water many a snake-shape, strong sea serpents exploring the mere, and water-monsters lying on the slopes of the shore such as those that in the morning often attend a perilous journey on the paths of the sea, serpents and wild beasts.” What is interesting is its location: the monster Grendel and his mother “hold to the secret land, the wolf-slopes, the windy headlands, the dangerous fen-paths where the mountain stream goes down under the darkness of this hills, the flood under the earth. It is not far from here.” That last sentence is a fantastic anti-climax.

The idea that evil is not far away is picked up persuasively by David Lynch. In Blue Velvet Kyle MacLachlin appears to live in a picturesque suburb, with a sweet old lady, but is warned not to go on Lincoln street. Later in the film, as Dennis Hopper is introduced, we discover that Lincoln Street and the surrounding neighbourhood is composed of dangerous, run down tenement apartments like something out of 1980s New York. In Mulholland Drive the spirit of pure evil lives behind a diner. Evil isn’t in some far away place like the land of Mordor in The Lord of the Rings; it’s (almost literally) right around the corner.

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