Director: David Lynch
Cast: David Lynch (voices)
My Rating: ★★★, or 6/10.
In Short: Disgustingly sadistic and delightfully perverse; ultimately effective
David Lynch’s DumbLand is almost like a return to the early shorts he made in the late 60s and early 70s, and with echoes of the experimental mania of Eraserhead. The only difference is, DumbLand is, in Lynch’s own words, a lot more “absurd, stupid and crude.” It is an animated series of eight four-minute episodes in the life of a family that consists of a raging, short-tempered drunk who “likes to kill things,” and abuses his shivering, unintelligable, shrieking wife and inquisitive but annoying tooth-shaped son. Each episode is loaded with profanity, violence and blood. Lynch’s vision is an ultimate dystopia of disgusting sadism and sick humour.
The first episode, “The Neigbour,” sees the angry, murderous protagonist named Randy admiring his neighbour’s shed, screaming foul language at helicopters, and discovering his neighbour’s sick sexual habits (cue the wonderfully perverse, oddly hilarious line “I am a one-armed duck fucker”). The next episode, “The Treadmill,” is a battle with technology as Randy, in a rage, attacks his wife and her treadmill. “The Doctor” sees Randy electrocute himself and be hypnotised by a sadistic hospital worker. “A Friend Visits”, one of the darkest episodes, sees Randy beat his wife and destroy her new clothesline (“What if I had to come out in the middle of the night and take a shit? I COULD SLICE MY FUCKING HEAD OFF!”) before having a discussion with his Southern friend, who tells stories about how he loves to kill animals: sheep, deer and people. “Get the Stick” is disgustingly over-the-top and excessively graphic, as it observes a man with a stick stuck in his mouth get beaten and crushed to pieces by Randy as Randy’s son cheers him on, his grating and repetitive voice emphasising the chaos. “My Teeth are Bleeding,” examines the effect of observing violence as Randy, in a trance, watches his wife scream uncontrollably, his son’s mouth bleed incessantly, cars roar past the house and a wrestler on TV smash his opponent’s face into the floor repetitively. “Uncle Bob,” the most unmistakably Lynchian of all the episodes, sees Randy forced to take care of his mentally and physically disabled uncle, who vomits, hits himself and suffers from disturbing flatulence. The final episode, “Ants” sees Randy get his comeuppance as he is terrorised by insects who sing an uncomfortably catchy song (“When we look at you… we see an asshole…”).
DumbLand is the definition of absurd. Each episode is so dark and strange with such sadistic humour that we don’t know whether to laugh or grimace. The dialogue, as horrific and profane as it is, is unavoidably hilarious, and the incredibly graphic violence is a recurring form of punctuation, that slams the viewers face into the floor, taunting and haunting them with this horrific dystopian vision. Some episodes are driven by dialogue and method rather than violence (“The Neighbour” and “A Friend Visits”), whereas other episodes are simply sickening in their absurdity (“Get the Stick,” “Uncle Bob”). My favourite episode, “My Teeth are Bleeding,” has to be, on its own, one of the best achievements of Lynch’s whole career. It is one of the best shorts of his whole filmography, and definitely the highlight of this series. There is no profanity or abuse here, just an uneasy and unnerving mood, and a combination of freakish images that suggest Lynch by way of Buñuel.
Overall, the series is going to trigger different reactions from different people. Even those who enjoy and laugh at most of the episodes, will find themselves solemnly silent with such serious analytical episodes such as the aforementioned “My Teeth are Bleeding.” Some will be sickened by it all, but also strangely amused and entranced (as I was). And others will call it worthless garbage. Each of these opinions has plenty to back them up. DumbLand is not entertainment, but it is worth something. It is bitter, cynical and heartless, but the director himself was smart enough to acknowledge its stupidity, and while on a whole the series is too absurd to liken to or even qualify as cinema, it proves (particularly with “My Teeth are Bleeding”) that Lynch’s concoction, as dark and weird as it is, is a wondrous and curious creation.
Watch all eight episodes of DumbLand below: