How do you live?; or, Miyazaki contra Lynch

(This is more of a Note than a “review”. Again, a “diary log” that probably makes sense to me the most than to you. Don’t read this if you do not care about the things that I do. And this text will have a really weird and often unfair comparison between this movie and David Lynch. But in a gist, I think I was also in the process of maturing as the movie was playing).

Some days ago, I was wondering why thinking about David Lynch puts a really bad whiff in my mind but I never reached the answer until I finished watching this movie.

I used to love David Lynch when I first saw his works. But his “growth” coming from his engagement with Transcendental Meditation and all that creative guru bullshit he shares really made me reconsider – for a very long time now – how to re-evaluate his works, especially, the connective form across all of them which is the logic of Dreams.

Lynch, in his core, is just some anachronistic hippie: he spoke of “unlimited potential” and “creativity as inner strength” and also avoidant of “negativity” whenever given a chance to share his ideas on art. He doesn’t really sound creative, IMO. Were the words have different connotation just because Lynch said them? That they contain magically different signifieds just because HE IS David Lynch and not some TED talker from Silicon Valley? Because HE DID SOUND like a TED Talker from Silicon Valley who just finished reading Stephen R. Covey (and wasn’t David Lynch’s only book… a Self-help book?).

If you think about it, the way Lynch deploys his “dreams” are always infantilizing and at most – unoriginal. The dreams in Lynch’s early shorts to Eraserhead are all straight out of the Freudian books (OH yeah, like how the Surrealists thought half a century before him). Those that came after that era were mere narrative aid or obscurants. Somehow I think Lynch knew that the most significant thing he did After Eraserhead was Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me to the point that Twin Peaks: The Return – the backbone of his contemporary career – wouldn’t have ever been possible without the movie prequel. But the Dreams in Twin Peaks as a whole fall in just the three categories mentioned above that are contained stronger within the small world of that small town that the stranger Agent Cooper sees as strange because… he’s a stranger. Of all the claims of “creativity” and “weird” and obscure with Lynch’s dreams, his visions are always small.

If you think about it, you can actually say that David Lynch and Hayao Miyazaki are contemporaries. The two work on different scales, of course in different contexts, but I’m focusing here on conceptual deployment, I’ll get to the materialist part on different occasions.

Well, on Conceptual Deployment, Miyazaki’s works since Nausicaa are often described as “dreamlike” and it’s easy to understand why. Unlike Lynch whose voice and writings can always be referred to his “ideal individual”, Miyazaki often speaks of history. From the concerns of the two, you can just jump to conclusion where am I heading here. Adrian Mendizabal already wrote of Miyazaki’s engagement of history here so I won’t expound further. What I’m concerned with is how this engagement affects Miyazaki’s deployment of the dreamlike.

I can only do this by comparison. While Lynch’s “dreamlike” mentioned above is “small” (i.e. individualized, almost privatized and contained within a limited frame that it becomes alienating – which alienation is often fetishized as “obscure” and “weird”), Miyazaki often depicts dreams as almost like the waking life but not totally. A dialectic between the familiar and the strange – but the strange was not alien in Miyazaki’s world but something that crosses the waking life and the sleeping life. It is not an accident that Ghibli’s logo of choice is Totoro because that’s what he is: something that crosses between waking and sleeping life – the dream.

The Dream is what is being asked of the original title of this movie: “How Do You Live?”. Living does not start and end in your waking state, it continues in your dreams. You’re not in some decontextualized Red and Black Room or Movie Studio in your dreams: your dream visions are always situated within your material and historical context. Almost all common dreams continue a very familiar mundane waking life scenario that gets muddled with disorganized but also similarly familiar information. How Do You Live?’s approach to dreams at the brink of Miyazaki’s old age, feels organically more like how I remember dreaming.

There’s a weird complex at play when I compare Agent Cooper’s and Mahito’s dreams. The Adult Cooper dreams of clues to solve his puzzle – is this really how adults dream? Or do we just place special consideration with him because he’s the protagonist and he’s a Zen buddhist that apparently brings him enlightenment? Infantilizing if you ask me.

Contrary to Mahito’s dreams … well, let’s have that one encounter with the great granduncle who built the tower: that very conversation between them is almost transcendental to all children who, at one point, PROBABLY HAS DREAMT THAT THEY RULE, IF NOT ALMOST RULE, THE WORLD. That fleeting fantasy that we have of super power. Miyazaki gave us that, but his point was not for us to remain a child, but to grow with our dreams, and outgrow them, unlike what David Lynch has done to Dale Cooper even after 30 years.

It is very rare for me to have this “human” moment when watching a movie. But I really felt like How Do You Live? is something you can make a child see to enjoy and then they’ll think about it later on to make sense of it and even when they grow up as adults and rewatch it, it will make them realize that they still need to grow up, and no amount of corporate self-help pseudo-yoga post-hippy idealism should justify childishness and infantilization of adults (and that, the arts are commonly the suspect in this). Because you will face history, whether you like it or not. Maturity is not just about coming of legal age or being out in the labor force, but that transition that opens one to the potential of engaging with the conditions that made those emerge and to fully engage with it. Maybe we can now shift our cinematic language of how dreams and dreaming should be in a way that does not exclude history.

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