This new year I was trying to come up with something a bit brighter than my usual bleak topics when I happened upon Julie A. Smith’s “David Lynch’s Rabbits.” Smith’s article about the director’s short horror-comedy videos appeared in the fall 2013 issue of the (print-only) House Rabbit Journal. I subscribe to the Journal because I am a rabbit enthusiast. I own a (crazy, disabled, angry, sweet and hilarious) lionhead rabbit named Peanut, I have fostered rabbits, and I have written about rabbits. And of course I also love the dark work of David Lynch.
Smith, a rabbit rescuer and a retired English professor from the University of Wisconsin, writes that Lynch’s Rabbits are “a wonderful joke on anthropomorphism,” adding that what attracts her to rabbits are “the things that remain impossible to humanize, like their different sense of time and timing, their obscure relation to cause and effect, their masked intentions. (…) I see them as beings inhabiting an alternative world of social cohesiveness and mutual understanding that leaves humans way behind.” I couldn’t have said it better. Without further ado, here’s Julie Smith’s article.
David Lynch’s Rabbits
David Lynch’s Rabbits (2002) may be the strangest rabbit film you will never see. Running just under 50 minutes, it was temporarily put up on Lynch’s website, davidlynch.com, as an eight-part web series. By 2011, the video had made its way to YouTube, where one can see it today, although the production values are low—images are often indistinct quite apart from the intentional fading in and out. I asked a friend to take a look at the piece; and when she returned the DVD, she said, “Lynch has a seriously messed up mind.” However, as a fan of some of Lynch’s other works, such as Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, Mullholland Drive, I was intrigued. In fact, when I first saw Rabbits, I had this strange feeling that Lynch understood something important about rabbits. But what?
Setting and Action
The setting is a single room, dark except for light from two lamps, located in “a nameless city deluged by a continuous rain.” The room looks as if it were in a dreary residence hotel or an apartment from bygone days. It has an old-fashioned radiator and a transom window above the door that tips open for ventilation, used before forced-air heating and cooling. A large passage in the back wall is framed in wood trim and provides an exit to nowhere visible; the furniture is nondescript—a brown couch, a lamp next to it, an ironing board in the back corner, and a telephone on a small stand with wood that looks chewed (love it!). The aqua walls are bare except for the shadows of rabbit ears cast by the lamps. The room recalls a box set for a theater performance or television show from perhaps the 1950s or earlier.
The three principal actors are humanoid rabbits named Susie, Jack and Jane. The action of Rabbits is a series of disconnected activities: Susie irons; Jack exits and enters the room; Jack and Susie each recite a dismal poem; a flame bursts out on the back wall; Susie enters the room with candles following a blackout; a deep voice, either divine or demonic (think Morgan Freeman on a record played below speed in an echo chamber) speaks prophetically in an unknown language; the telephone rings; steps are heard outside, and so on. The only “plot” is the movement of time from 7:00 p.m. to after midnight, and the ominous hint of a secret. The tag line reads, “Three rabbits live with a fearful secret.” References to a man in green intensify the impending doom; and the sequence ends with a knock, a loud scream, and the Rabbits huddled together on the couch.
Dialogue and Screen-Audience
If the action is disjointed, so is the verbal interchange between the Rabbits. They speak, but what they say is never in response to what has just been said:
“There was a call for you earlier today.”
“We are not going anywhere.”
“I almost forgot.”
“I knew that was what happened each time I thought about it.”
“Are you going to tell?”
“It is the rain.”
“I was wondering when Susie was going to do that.”
The lines are not the only non sequiturs. An unseen audience cheers, claps, laughs—all for reasons unknown. For example, every time Jack enters the room he gets a hearty round of cheers and applause. But why? Another time, the audience bursts out laughing at the line “Do not forget that today is Friday.” Thus off-screen viewers (you and I) are left perplexed about the relationship between the spoken lines, between lines and actions, and between both lines and actions and the audience’s responses. Accompanying all of this is eerie background music with sounds of rain and distant trains.
As one would expect, film critics believe that real-life rabbits are not critically relevant. However, in “Lynchland: An Overview of David Lynch’s Rabbits,” available at www.objectifcinema.com/ davidlynch/analyses/0004f.php, one unidentified critic tries to answer the question, “Why rabbits?” He or she says that because rabbits are less interesting than humans, having rabbit actors shifts the focus from the characters to the mechanical artistry of the work. He also believes that rabbits are a way to represent an identity crisis for humans lost in a world of darkness and confusion. She argues that rabbits are good stand-ins for humans because they are nervous creatures emblematic of fear; because they are beings filled with paranoia; because they are animals frequently used in dream symbolism; and because they are popular subjects for wall shadows. The critic thinks that the Rabbits’ cut-up dialogue represents the “vast chasm of isolation that can occur between [human] individuals.”
The blogosphere offers its own entertaining reads. One blogger at www.who honestlygivesashit.blogspot.com/2012/04/ david-lynch-rabbits-quick-analysis.html, lays out four possible interpretations. The first is that the rabbits are three everyday pet rabbits seen through the eyes of a small child. As such, they are as incomprehensible to him as are the adults in his world. The “weird monster head thing” (the demonic voice) is the boy’s pet dog or cat getting into the hutch. Alternatively—and this is my favorite—the rabbits are three hunters in hell who died and were reincarnated as their rabbit victims. Another possibility, the blogger writes, is that Lynch shows that humans like to see suffering, because he gives the audience three rabbits trapped in a miserable world while the audience laughs and applauds. Finally, the blogger concludes that Lynch had writer’s block and decided to make the audience come up with its own story rather than give it a coherent one himself.
Of course, none of these explanations shows any interest, never mind understanding, of our cherished rabbits per se, except perhaps the one about being trapped in a miserable world. As rescuers, we all know rabbits who have lived in a human-created hell. And while I would never presume to say what Lynch’s Rabbits mean to Lynch, I can say what I find compelling about them. On the one hand, they are a wonderful joke on anthropomorphism. Anthropomorphism seeks to give non-humans human-like qualities in order to make them familiar when they would otherwise be disturbingly alien. This is called intellectual domestication. Yet the three anthropomorphized Rabbits remain unsettling because they are anthropomorphized. There is just something about a rabbit doing her ironing that discombobulates one’s point of view, particularly when she keeps going over the same spot.
The attractions for me of the Rabbits are the things about them that remain impossible to humanize, like their different sense of time and timing, their obscure relation to cause and effect, their masked intentions. I find our real rabbits wonderfully mysterious in some of the same ways. In addition, the Rabbits have a powerful sense of presence and connectedness to each other without the usual human strategies for achieving that. They speak, but their communication depends not on what they say but on their responsiveness to each other apart from its mode or timing. Thus, while other critics see Lynch’s Rabbits as dysfunctional humans, I see them as beings inhabiting an alternative world of social cohesiveness and mutual understanding that leaves humans way behind.