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Favorites: Women of Lynch

Here at 25YL Site, we handle a lot of heavy lifting. Analysis, interpretation, deep discussion, introspective interviews…you name it, we’ve got it. “Favorites” is our new series that takes a lighter approach to the material we normally cover. Each week, one of our writers will take you through their list of favorites – whether it’s moments, scenes, episodes, characters, lines of dialogue, whatever! – in bite-sized articles perfect for your lunch break, a dull commute, or anywhere you need to take a Moment of Zen. So sit back and enjoy this week’s offering: Paul Casey’s list of Favorite Women in Lynch Films.

Some say that David Lynch hates women. They say this because women are subjected to all kinds of bad situations in his work. I say that this is nonsense. Not only does David Lynch clearly not hate women, he has written and directed some of the best female performances of the last few decades. If he hated them, why on earth would he write such compelling and complex female characters? That such bad things happen to the women in David Lynch’s work is a result of Lynch seeing women as representing the best in humanity, and that great evil always seeks to destroy what is good. This does not mean that his female characters aren’t full of imperfections; they are. But their resilience in the face of a misogynistic world is what makes them the best of us. In the spirit of appreciation and understanding I have gathered my favorite female characters from the work of David Lynch. Let us know some of your favorites Women of Lynch in the comments!

Isabella Rossellini – Blue Velvet (1986)

blue velvet 2

David Lynch’s first truly great female character came in 1986 with Blue Velvet. Rossellini is magnetic in her ability to display such conflict and pain. Torn between two men, one of whom is good and pure, and another who is evil personified. The scenes between Dennis Hopper’s Frank Booth and Rossellini Dorothy Vallens are sublime examinations of a certain kind of perverse sadomasochism. Special mention also for the scene where Dorothy pressures Kyle MacLachlan’s Jeffrey to hit her. Few people understand the paradoxes that exist within a person and how the desire to be punished manifests itself in wishing to receive pain, quite like David Lynch. This is something that would be examined in similar fashion in the excellent Secretary starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader.

Sheryl Lee – Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)


Sheryl Lee deserved an Oscar for her performance in Fire Walk With Me, the still criminally underrated prequel/sequel to the original Twin Peaks. Lee tapped into a deeply resonant emotional power in expressing a young woman destined for great and terrible things. Self-destruction is what it is, so long has she suffered through unspeakable, yet familiar horrors. Of all of the great performances on this list, Laura Palmer is unquestionably the most iconic and the one that all others will be judged against. We love you Sheryl Lee!

Naomi Watts – Mulholland Drive (2001)


Naomi Watts is the only person to appear twice on this list, and for good reason! Watts’ role in Mulholland Drive is one of the most beautiful, heart-breaking performances of anyone, regardless of gender. Mulholland Drive is among many people’s favourite David Lynch work, so beguiling and intriguing is it. At the heart of all the mystery is a performance of supreme artistry and emotional wallop. We have all loved and lost and while we may not have gone as far as Watts’ character here, we can all relate to the hole that is left when a loved one leaves. As The Flaming Lips said on The Spiderbite Song: “When you fell in love, it was so sweet. So devoted, completely swept off your feet. Love is the greatest thing a heart can know. But the hole that it leaves in its absence can make you feel so low.” Destroyed by love; that is what Watts expresses so well here.

Laura Dern – INLAND EMPIRE (2006)

Laura Dern Inland Empire

Laura Dern is David Lynch’s favorite woman, having appeared in four of his works. INLAND EMPIRE is her masterpiece. INLAND EMPIRE is the story of an actor who gets dangerously invested in her work. The lines between reality and fiction blur and things go very, very bad. Dern delivers a towering performance, which shamefully received no recognition from the Academy. Like most of David Lynch’s work, INLAND EMPIRE is replete with mystery, and it is the performance of Dern that anchors the viewer in reality while they peer through the hole in the cloth and get taken on a terrifying and beautiful journey.

Naomi Watts – Twin Peaks: The Return (2017)


When my mother watched Twin Peaks: The Return, she fell in love with Janey E, and so did I. Compare Watts here to Mulholland Drive and see two performances from different universes. Janey E is a pure-hearted soul, who loves her husband Dougie (for all of his oddities) and her son, Sonny Jim. While I adored everything about The Return, it was Janey E and Dougie Coop that made my heart swell with love. She is so damn funny, so sweet and touching. I could watch Naomi Watts in anything. She is so damn good and my favourite woman to feature in any David Lynch work.

Those are my favorite women from David Lynch projects! Please let us know who your favorite female characters are on Twitter (@25YLSite – and use the hashtag #TPFaves!) or on our Facebook group.

Written by Paul Casey


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  1. Agree with all you say. But would like to see Grace zabriskie mentioned as well. Relatively small parts. In IE and TP and wild at heart, but so good in all.

  2. Are there still detractors who claim Lynch is a misogynist? Or have they grown silent, realizing themselves fools? By now it’s clear they failed to make their point. They never understood the purposes of cinematic drama – and they didn’t like art which was designed to make implicate the audience and make us feel uncomfortable

    • He is not Lars Von Trier by far, but still…his women get subjected to horrible abuses, much much more then the men. I am a big Lynch fan too and a woman. Also like Von Trier.

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