“I Wonder Who I Will Be?” – David Lynch’s Existential Nightmare Series ‘Rabbits’


The fearful mystery of David Lynch’s web series of nightmare images.

One of David Lynch‘s lesser-seen projects, Rabbits emerged in 2002 on his website, though you’ll no longer find it there. A series of eight shorts, it was described by Lynch as a sit-com, though the tagline “In a nameless city deluged by a continuous rain … three rabbits live with a fearful mystery” doesn’t suggest a laugh a minute, and indeed there is little to raise a chuckle here. Instead, this is Lynch at his most nightmarish, a bizarre and disconcerting series of disconnected moments that slowly builds in its weirdness towards a typically Lynchian moment of horror at the end.

In essence, Rabbits features three humanoid rabbits who occupy a single room, which we see in a single locked-off shot. If there is anything about the sit-com here, then it is the family unit – Jack (Scott Coffey) is the suited male and father figure, Jane (Laura Elena Harring) is the mother, wearing a dressing gown and continually ironing the same item, and Suzie (Naomi Watts) is the daughter. And yes, that really is the actors in the rabbit costumes, stumbling around unable to see. Sit-com tropes are toyed with as audience laughter and cheers and dubbed onto the soundtrack, usually in inappropriate moments – though the cheering as Jack walks in through the door will be a very familiar sensation for anyone who has watched US sit-coms, and the wild laughter at inane or unsettling inferences is similarly recognisable from studio audiences who whoop at every empty comment. But beyond this, Rabbits is the stuff of nightmares – the dialogue is unconnected, though you suspect that if someone was to sit down and reconstruct it (and this is Lynch, so I’m sure someone has), it might start to make a degree of sense – certainly, there is a building threat that the show creates, with much of the disconnected dialogue suggesting a mystery and a growing unease.

The minimalism of the show – the single basic set that reflects the barely-furnished rooms that are scattered through Lynch’s works from Eraserhead to Twin Peaks, Angelo Badalamenti’s score that is as much sound effect as music – helps build the sense of unease. Lynch filmed the show in the garden of his house, shooting in the evening to ensure full control of the lighting, which does much to create the creepiness that pervades the show. The outdoor set enabled Lynch to film looking down on the room, rather like a theatrical stage as viewed from the circle, and the unblinking eye watching the events helps to enhance the sense of paranoia. The set and some moments from Rabbits later turned up in Inland Empire.

If you think I’m exaggerating about how unsettling and disconcerting this series is, consider this: Rabbits has been used in psychological experiments, with the intent of creating a sense of existential crisis among subjects. The tests, designed to make people feel ‘unpleasantly uncomfortable’, were part of trials to see if acetaminophen (the main ingredient in Tylenol) could deal with moments of existential crisis in the same way that they deal with a headache – the results were promising, but not conclusive. Perhaps Rabbits is too much even for medication to deal with.

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