The Jennifer Chambers Lynch Interview
With the imminent cinema and DVD release of her new film Chained, David Watson meets director and screenwriter Jennifer Chambers Lynch.
Few filmmakers have survived a journey like that of director and screenwriter Jennifer Chambers Lynch. The eldest daughter of the legendary director dubbed “Jimmy Stewart from Mars” by Mel Brooks, David Lynch, she penned the bestselling novel tie-in, The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, to complement her dad’s groundbreaking TV show, Twin Peaks. at 19 she wrote the screenplay for her infamous directorial debut Boxing Helena, a film unjustly pilloried by the (mostly male) filmmaking establishment, and by her mid-twenties it looked like she was washed up. After a near-fatal accident which required numerous surgeries, she released the fantastic, chilling serial killer thriller Surveillance in 2008 and, while her next film Hisss thankfully disappeared without trace after being butchered by the producers, her new film Chained cements her reputation as one of the most exciting and intelligent directors working in genre cinema.
“I think entertainment is manipulative,” says Jennifer Chambers Lynch. “And that’s not always bad, you know; we wanna make people happy, we want to scare them, we want them to ask questions, and this is ultimately, along with being a movie about a serial killer who kidnaps a boy, it is an examination of how the abuse of children creates monsters.”
A profoundly unsettling film, Chained is a bleak, beautiful, uncompromising piece of cinema that’s a very different movie from that originally envisioned by the producers.
Says Lynch: “It was a script that was sent to me by the producers and it was called Chained and it was about what this film is about. But it was excessively more violent and involved detectives chasing this guy down and it was a totally different kind of serial killer than who he is now.
“I was at first really shocked that they thought of me as the director as a possibility because I just thought it was really, really violent.
“And I’m more mentally twisted than physically cutting people apart, so I went in and talked to them about it. And after they told me they sort of thought I did violent films, they asked what I would do, how it would appeal to me more. I discussed exploring why this killer did what he did, what the relationship with the boy is and what becomes of someone with that damage.
“And they let me go for it. So I did a rewrite. And slowly but surely fell in love with the story.”
Bleak, gritty and claustrophobic, the film is a tough journey, a descent into Hell that’s tinged with humanity and hope. Determinedly ambiguous, what does Lynch want the audience to take from it?
“In the spirit of horror movies I hope they felt scared and unsettled,” says Lynch, “and I hope they felt respected as they watched it and treated intelligently.
“And I hope they leave the theatre and over the next few days, or hopefully even longer than that, take a second look at everyone they assume is good or everyone they assume is bad and ask what their damage might be and what their own damage might be and why they make the choices they make because that’s exciting to me.
“If you make walking down the street a different experience after a film, then you’ve done what the medium sets out to do.”
Like Surveillance, a child in jeopardy and the legacy of violence lies at the heart of Chained.
“I am fascinated with the way kids see things,” says Lynch. “It’s just so clear. They are genuinely innate in their needs and their vision. It’s pure.”
Lynch continues: “So Tim goes from wanting his Mom and hearing that she’s never coming back to being called Rabbit and very clearly seeing that this guy is in control and yet is not well, mentally.
“And that listening he does, even as a child, outside his door is a compassion thing. Again, much like with Surveillance, people forget how smart kids are.
“They’re not preoccupied with all this crap we are as we get older, so they’re seeing better than we are and I just love looking at that.
“It creates a sorrow about what we lose as we get older and it also hopefully creates an openness to why we shouldn’t be hitting them or abandoning them or thinking they don’t hear it or it doesn’t matter what they see. You know, respect the child, they grow up.”
Perhaps one of the most surprising things about Chained however, particularly given its problems in the US where it was slapped with the highly restrictive NC-17 rating, is that there’s very little onscreen violence. It puts its audience through an emotional wringer, it feels violent, has a very violent vibe, but much of the violence happens offscreen or out of shot. We hear it. We don’t see it.
“I like to watch people,” says Lynch. “I like to study people.”
She continues: “I think film and TV are visual mediums and that watching a movie is voyeuristic. You pay money to sneak into a dark room and watch other people live out there lives in silence as if you’re peeping in their windows.
“I think to suggest that we don’t all like to observe one another is absurd. I like that the audience feels there was more nudity in it and that it was violent because, for me, if you look at it, it’s all behind closed doors, so it’s the audience that fills in.
“And I love that because I could never make up the things you’re afraid are happening back there. And I think that’s fun; it’s giving you the opportunity to make part of the film.
“I think obviously with the MPAA they really thought this is waaaaay too violent, way too real, no, no, no. I tap into that because that’s what I’m afraid of and that’s what I like to do.
“I don’t like to hurt people or watch people get hurt but I think we’re all natural voyeurs and that a visual medium should be treated visually. In the same way that reading a scary book, what the readers imagine independently is so much better. Which is why it’s so hard to adapt a book into a film because suddenly you’re deciding what everybody saw the whole time and you can’t, you cannot win.”
Part of what is so fascinating about Chained is the sense that the audience is watching something taboo, something forbidden. The film humanises both victim and victimiser, something perhaps that the filmmaking establishment and the MPAA are uncomfortable with. Or perhaps they’re just not comfortable with a woman making a smart, intelligent film about serial murder and child abuse where the last thing it seeks to do is titillate.
“Can you imagine the shit I would’ve gotten if I’d made Saw?” asks Lynch. “Have you any idea what the board have done to me? And yet those producers and directors are making tons of money and nobody’s asking why.
“If I had made a movie like that, oh my God, I’d be in jail. I do not understand. I think it’s absurdist. And they got an R. It’s a mystery.”
Lynch continues: “Hopefully, what it is, is that I’m actually making people feel really f*cking uncomfortable. These are uncomfortable subject matters; they should feel uncomfortable.
“At the end of Surveillance I sexualised violence but I sexualised it in a way that explained how f*cked up the characters were.
“I didn’t want to sexualise the violence in Chained because it’s about the horror of violence and how it doesn’t stop rolling over on itself. But I think if I had made it funny or sexy or if I had made you not care about Bob or Rabbit, I would have gotten an R.”
Perhaps they’re uncomfortable because the film takes real world fears, real female fears, the fear of getting into a stranger’s car, the fear of walking down the street at night alone, the fear of being raped, murdered, and puts the audience in the victim’s shoes, bringing those fears home and making them real for a male audience.
“All the good horror films make a certain house scary or a certain thing or an upside-down cross scary. All of those things are really potent,” says Lynch. “I like making a taxi cab driver seem maybe not as harmless as you might first assume.
“And I like thinking you never know what someone\s gone through or when they’re gonna make a bad choice.
“It’s cathartic, it’s helpful. And I think it helped my daughter be there every day, she was the girl in the plastic bag who got pulled into the basement, I do think it helped her, strangely, talk about and think about what she would do if she was ever in trouble.
“It’s not curing cancer, this is not a message about how to protect yourself, but it hopefully is getting people talking about being careful. And kinder. It’s really a film about how we should stop hurting each other and we should start with the kids because they’re the ones who grow up and hurt people.”
Her father David, no stranger to controversy and screen violence himself with films like Blue Velvet, Wild At Heart and Lost Highway, was reputedly horrified by the resolution of her earlier film Surveillance. It’s tempting to wonder how he reacted to Chained.
“He didn’t talk to me about the end of this one,” laughs Lynch, “he just said: “You made a good film but you sure are doing a lot of horror Jen-O.” I don’t know how he felt about the end of this one.
“And I’m not sure if I want to know.”
Says Lynch: I think he gets very upset when I have unpleasant feelings come up. And he really didn’t want Bobbi to die in Surveillance. He was really pissed off at me.
“He kept saying: “You’re the sickest bitch I know!” But that’s where my head went.”
Chained opens at UK cinemas on Friday 1st February 2013 and will be released on DVD and Blu-ray from Anchor Bay Entertainment UK on 4th February 2013.