Affecting Profundity: Cognitive and Moral Dissonance in Lynch, Loach, Linklater, and Sayles

in Projections

Abstract

Cognitive dissonance provides a model for understanding how we experience film texts as profound. This article looks at the ways in which filmmakers might motivate or exploit the pleasure of resolving familiar narrative dissonance to inspire emotions associated with profundity, sublimity, or transcendence. David Lynch scholarship provides a primary case study in the conflation of cognitive dissonance and transcendence, however it is contended that moral obligations to rape and trauma victims are sublimated in the process. Alternative moral dissonances across a range of different cinematic modes are subsequently addressed. Comparative analysis of vigilantism in American revenge and “social cleansing” films, Ken Loach’s social realism, Richard Linklater’s Bernie (2011), and John Sayles’s Lone Star (1996) permits an exploration of variability in filmic dissonance and narrative comprehension, as well as alternative approaches to filmmaking ethics and responsibility. The article concludes with suggestions for an applied ethics extended from cognitive film theory

Warren Buckland in his introduction to Puzzle Films (2009: 7) and Gerwin van der Pol (2013) in his analysis of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s 1979 film Amator have both noted that film theorists discuss but never quite name cognitive dissonance. Van der Pol lists writers who “regard film viewing as a process where, minute by minute, the spectator redefines the information provided. The film cognitivists fail to mention cognitive dissonance, despite it apparently being on the tip of their tongues” (2013: 360). Meanwhile, Buckland and his contributors emphasize teleological uncertainty and audiovisual narrative’s ability to inspire ontological skepticism. Although it is fine to discuss cognitive dissonance without naming it as such, using other terms to describe its experiential qualities, it might be fruitful to look closer at some of our assumptions regarding the implications of narrative dissonance. In particular, the curious pleasure of dissonance: if dissonant experiences produce negatively valenced affect that we find aversive and seek to shift, how do we come to find narrative simulations of this process pleasurable? We may need to feel some exertion in resolving a cognitive contraposition (two or more conflicting thoughts, conceptions, or values) but also comfort in possessing the appropriate tools of narrative comprehension to reorder information and resolve mental stress; this is known as dissonance reduction or resolution. We can ask what strategies for dissonance reduction are employed by film spectators and analysts, and at what point we need to emerge from the stress associated with cognitive dissonance into a more comforting affective coherence in order to explain the experience to ourselves as profound.

In A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (1957), Léon Festinger suggests we are motivated to reduce the discomfort produced when we perceive contradictions in our understanding of the nature of the world and its causal structures. Discordance between one’s own actions and self-concept (counter-attitudinal behavior) and conflict between two beliefs revealed as contradictory (such as the accommodation of new information that invalidates past commitments) might both cause dissonance. There is, thus, a distinction we can draw between dissonance in one’s self-identity and in one’s apprehension of an external world, although the two are closely related, especially as we will often gravitate toward beliefs about the world which advantage the self. We can then adjust attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors “by removing dissonant cognitions, adding new consonant cognitions, reducing the importance of dissonant cognitions, or increasing the importance of consonant cognitions” (Mills and Harmon-Jones 1999: 4).

Although much experimental work throughout the ensuing decades focused on dissonance in self-concept and ego maintenance (Greenwald and Ronis 1978), some controversy remains around the role of the self in dissonance reduction: whether one is motivated primarily to protect one’s ego or to maintain consistency between cognitions. Both seem plausible, and even harmonious. Since this first wave of dissonance studies, new models have proposed that we are motivated to align attributions of the consequences of our behavior with social norms of responsibility (Cooper and Fazio 1984), or that we are motivated to preserve moral and adaptive self-integrity (Steele 1988). Others attempted more unifying theories (Stone and Cooper 2001) and advocated a return to and refinement of the original theory (Harmon-Jones 2002). This article assumes that all such motivational models may be accurate under various circumstances and with personality variation, and so addresses attempts to both maintain consistency and protect one’s ego following dissonance arousal, as well as acknowledging the pressure of social norms. The point is not to present an argument either way but rather to analyze how film scholars have placed value on versions of cognitive dissonance in their work, asking how we might achieve greater specificity in our descriptions of film narrative utility if we are more precise regarding the nature of the cognitive processes involved.

Much of the literature on the films I discuss points to their peculiar construction of physics and disruption of our implicit attempts to put together a logically consistent world in our mind as we watch a film. We have tended to emphasize the fact that disbelief requires more cognitive effort than belief (Gilbert et al. 1990) and thus reified the effort of sensemaking in confounding cinema to explain why we find these works pleasurable; however, it is worth asking how radical these ambiguities really are. I turn to David Lynch as my primary case study, partially due to the extraordinary language used to describe his work. In surveying the literature on Lynch’s filmmaking, I found abundant references to the profundity of his artistry. However, I was also interested in looking deeper as, despite the severity of conservative values being communicated quite clearly across his oeuvre (for a look at his Zoroastrian moral dualism, see Johnson 2004) and in interviews (for discussions of his Reaganite economic liberalism, see Lynch and Breskin 1997: 92; Lynch and Powers 2009: 227), Lynch remains something of a sacred cow to many of my peers, and I wanted to challenge some key assumptions we have made about the effects of his films on hypothetical spectators.

Lynch remains something of a sacred cow to many of my peers, and I wanted to challenge some key assumptions we have made about the effects of his films on hypothetical spectators.

Perhaps one of the most widely referenced profound experiences Lynch is capable of provoking has to do with temporal and spatial disjuncts, upsetting our intrinsic reliance on their consistency. Anne Jerslev observes: “Many of David Lynch’s films open by establishing a certain mode of spatial impossibility … Space in Lynch’s films is fluctuating and profoundly ambiguous” (2004: 151). She goes on to say of his road movies that “time becomes spatial or space turns into time spans” (152). Likewise, Jeremy Powell (2014: 310) recently aligned Lynch and Gilles Deleuze’s profundity, as both stage “properly philosophical” interventions against a dominant concept of time. The introduction of the Mystery Man (Robert Blake) in Lost Highway (1997) provides a good example: the Mystery Man’s disembodied voice over the cell phone cannot be at the party and at Fred Madison’s (Bill Pullman) house at the same time (see Figure 1). This contradiction is represented in the soundtrack by aural phasing, the jarring effect of the same sound played very close together emanating from two different sources (in this case, mouth and phone speaker), a visceral and direct aural dissonance, in both the musical and the cognitive meaning of the word. Michel Chion believes Lynch developed this technique when working on his short film The Grandmother (1970): “Having learned that to join, to build, one must first separate, Lynch began, with ever-increasing clarity, to construct continuities by means of discontinuities, to join by separating. Like many directors, he does this through the image but also, and with far greater originality, through sound” (1995: 44). Chion’s breathlessly sycophantic description of the “Lynchian problematic” also finds that a short film like The Alphabet (1986)

Figure 1
Figure 1

Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) on the phone with the Mystery Man (Robert Blake) in Lost Highway (October Films, 1997)

Citation: Projections 11, 1; 10.3167/proj.2017.110104

“works according to no logic we have ever encountered” as he “imbues each image with a host of contradictory meanings” (14, 21).

Introducing his book on Lost Highway, The Art of the Ridiculous Sublime, Slavoj Žižek instructs us that we are to take Lynch’s work “thoroughly seriously” and refers us to his own attempts to unravel Lynch’s enigmatic “coincidence of opposites” by way of example (2000: 8). But we could equally ask what writers like Žižek find so pleasurable about these opposites, why we feel seriously productive in consideration of them, and why we work so hard to nominate these “enigmatic opposites” as cinematic sublime. The oppositions in question produce cognitive dissonance by colliding ideas and worlds that the viewer has invested in but seemingly cannot coexist. This in turn inspires the need for resolution, and thus mental effort is required to find a way to reconcile conceptual conflict and make sense of the narrative. Although he points to a number of these oppositions, his primary point is “the opposition of two horrors: the phantasmatic horror of the nightmarish noir universe of perverse sex, betrayal, and murder, and the (perhaps much more unsettling) despair of our drab, ‘alienated’ daily life of impotence and distrust” (17). But is this technique really so seriously sublime, to tell a majority of people that their lives are drab, alienated, and impotent, to lampoon the everyday of an imagined class of unenlightened “suburban-megalopolis” constituents by making them inextricable from a cooler underworld of noir cliché depravity and pop-referential aesthetic hyperbole?

Other patterns in location of the profound are observable across Lynch readings. Martha P. Nochimson in particular has referenced as profound the confusions between two or more character identities (2007: 13; 2012: 54; see also Riches 2011: 27), as well as dissonance in narrative comprehension and dramatic irony: “[Eraserhead] challenges the spectators to deal with profound narrative issues as they view the story. The narrative depends on the conflict between the audience’s perception of the barely formed matter … and the characters’ beliefs that they are dealing with a baby” (Nochimson 1997: 152; see also Bulkeley 2003: 50–51). Thematic binaries and the lack of subject resolution, unity, and even coherence in Lynch’s cinema generates “profound tensions”:

He thrives on the tension between two major incompatibilities in his work: nature, with its unseen balances and its mysterious, nonconscious economies; and conscious culture marked by the reductive linearities of language, with its fierce logical coherence … he embraces the profound tensions between them, tensions that remain part of the life of the work because they are never fully resolved.

(Nochimson 1997: 201)
Nochimson also refers to dissonance in meanings attributed to popular culture, as she says of Blue Velvet (1986): “the performance of popular music will take on a more profound and complex meaning as it evokes not only surfaces but depths as well” (1997: 105; see also Alexander 1993: 29). All of these conceptions of the profound in Lynch’s work come back to a central value: the metaphysical upset triggered by spectatorial cognitive dissonance.1

If a story fundamentally attributes some kind of causality to events, then a function of narratives that stress these metaphysical dissonances is to offer an antidote to telic certitude, presumed to be at the heart of dominant storytelling modes (Thompson 1999). In lieu of coherent models for understanding cause-effect relationships on a particular subject, temporal and spatial disjuncts in narrative remind us both of our limited knowledge and limited capacity for knowledge. This seems like a reasonable narrative function, promoting some manner of epistemic humility. According to Torben Grodal, it might also explain why superstition and supernature are integral concepts in art cinema; he names Bergman, Tarkovsky, Wenders, Kieslowski, Lynch, and Trier as examples (2009: 106). Yet if we are to politicize this narrative experience, the magnitude and generalizability of dissonance become critical. In Festinger’s initial theory, the pressure we feel to change attitudes or behavior reflects both the personal value of the ideas at stake and the ratio of dissonant to consonant elements. It is possible that, once we know how to read Lynch, there is little left at stake for us. We have already engaged dissonance resolution in learning the language necessary to be conversant with his cinema, and thereafter, we encounter neither significant threats to the commitments we have developed nor enough dissonant elements to challenge the consonance we have advanced in explaining his art to ourselves. Familiarity with a certain narrativized dissonance device is clearly going to ease the sensation of dissonance, as we are prepared with the tools to resolve a problem, making it no longer a problem. That is, ambiguity in a narrative may still cause cognitive dissonance, but the period of mental stress induced might be curtailed as we have rehearsed resolutions to similar narrative problems. This brings attention to our aptitude as a film reader, which may then be a source of personal gratification.

Yet if we are to politicize this narrative experience, the magnitude and generalizability of dissonance become critical.

In 1987, Festinger reviewed some avenues of exploration in dissonance theory that had eluded the contemporary research, and pointed to examples of dissonance that were much more prevalent and mundane, yet nonetheless important for comprehending our cognitive construction of the world around us, and behavioral change:

If somebody is in a room, wants to leave the room, and just walks straight into a wall where there is no door, I would think there was considerable dissonance. And the usual way in which that dissonance is reduced is the person looks around and says, O my God, the door is there, and he walks out the door.

([1987] 1999: 384)
The experience of watching a film may differ from our apprehension of the world, although film responses do rely on the same perceptual faculties (Plantinga 2009: 62), and its dissonances can be equally mundane. We continually reassess past information as new information is presented to us, yet if the information is substantial enough, it may give us cognitive pause. In this case, we still may not need to become aware of our resolution process or active in our decision to resolve a dissonance that the film resolves for us. I am concerned less with that which gives us cognitive pause than with those narrative dissonances that are prominent enough, and important enough for ascertainment of an unfolding narrative’s meaning, for us to become aware of the effort required while we reach a resolution. Our cognizance of such dissonances produces an attentional politics: the focus or subject of dissonance makes a claim about what should concern us, and in Lynch’s work, metaphysical upset becomes more important than rape and trauma.

Blue Velvet and the Attentional Politics of Dissonance

So if Lynch’s diminutions of the domestic quotidian permit philosophers like Žižek to express their disdain for majority unenlightened lifestyles, what else do they permit? A number of films, unpleasantly asserting their misogyny as existential comedy, also reveal an impulse to blame, punish, or deride women (at worst offering their simulated abuse as nihilistic catharsis) for a perceived awfulness seething under our white picket fences. Blue Velvet in particular invites us to laugh during a violent rape scene—a prejudicial embodiment of esoteric “darkness” lurking behind the mimicry of suburban domestic life. Scholars have continued to assert this hubris as subversion, but perhaps journalist Janet Maslin put it best when she decried Blue Velvet in a 1998 New York Times article:

Less closely examined was the lingering effect of a film in which Isabella Rossellini performed much of her role stark naked, and was violently abused again and again by Dennis Hopper’s character, a man so bizarre that his behavior could not possibly raise any rational objections. As a result of this, kinkiness in the art film had a new lease on life, and sexism in a serious context was respectable all over again.

The pertinent detail here is that Hopper’s performance as the abusive Frank is so bizarre that it cannot raise rational objection, the ironist leaving the objector open to the charge of prudishness; it is also what makes the sexual abuse comedic. Lynch himself acknowledged that he found the scene “hysterically funny” and could not stop laughing while filming it (Lynch and Breskin 1997: 65).

Blue Velvet’s bug motif labors the film’s pivotal conceit: that contemporary America ignores or willfully sanitizes the darker aspects of life, and thus mimicry of a more sordid “real” is taking place, which the film sets out to indict and expose, as per the creepy-crawlies from underground and mechanized birds that feast on them (see Figure 2). Susan Saegert critiqued the sustaining misconception of the suburban, private, and parochial as feminine and the urban, public and productive as masculine in “Masculine Cities and Feminine Suburbs” (1980), and Blue Velvet is no exception: “the classical dichotomy of the patriarchy is reaffirmed through Lynch’s mixture of misogyny from both the classical realist text and modernist one: Men deal with the important issues of reason (deduction), and action, and the potential for death; whereas women are passive as sites of trivial emotion” (Shattuc 1992: 834). Lynch’s suburban works fit into a formula identifying the suburban malaise as a female problem, the regressive mores and routines particular to women’s domesticity, and so deserved of the most scorn and degradation for their crimes:

Is the feeling of its fifties furniture the postmodern pathos of political transgression bowdlerized as merely outré decor? Or does its design artifice provide the cold gloss of indifference, hiding a more profound anger toward the feminine and its schlocky ornamentation? … Blue Velvet is a powerful work of art because it raises these questions without ever finally answering them and because it produces such strong feelings from such kitschy material.

(Nieland 2012: 46)
Figure 2
Figure 2

One of the many bugs of Blue Velvet (De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 1986) being eaten by a robin.

Citation: Projections 11, 1; 10.3167/proj.2017.110104

Lynch’s suburban works fit into a formula identifying the suburban malaise as a female problem, the regressive mores and routines particular to women’s domesticity, and so deserved of the most scorn and degradation for their crimes.

Nieland not only demonstrates the assumption that the feminine and the suburban are united in their mundanity; he excuses Lynch from belittling women because the audience is invited to feel so much. This truly is, then, affected profundity. The depth of feeling is produced by purportedly unresolved dissonance between the feminine connotations of kitsch art direction and Lynch’s transgressive postmodern stylism. They are hard to reconcile, and so their juxtaposition yields profundity.2 Again, the affect of the film and one’s cognitive stimulation are the most important filmic values. When Lynch is able to “stimulate emotions of profound intensity” (Bulkeley 2003: 59), yet somewhere else other audiences are identified as having lesser emotions, we have a problem. We might call this problem a hierarchy of acceptable affect. Registering the advised dissonance in these scenes also requires a viewer to be enthralled with the artist status of the filmmaker, as one of the key principles in conflict is Lynch’s persona as a “deep” director. But why should issues of misogyny remain unresolved, and why should our fascination with the authority of the filmmaker—or our own emotional response—supplant analysis of his images of rage against women? According to Greg Olson, “Lynch the artist knows that our alert senses can transport us into experiences of profound discovery” (2008: 223). These hedonic concepts of emotion and sensory stimuli read like statements of fact, but they lack the rigor to state what is being discovered when we experience emotive extremes.

It gets worse. When confronted on his choice to have Dorothy (Isabella Rossellini) ask Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) to beat her, Lynch defended himself by reference to reality, upending claims made by Laura Mulvey (1996) among others that his aestheticized violence is a mere metaphor, elevated by references to the oedipal yet safely unimpeachable behind the bars of symbolic merit and refraction: “there are countless examples like that in real life,” he says, “so why do they get so upset when you put something like this in a film? … People get into all sorts of strange situations, and you can’t believe they’re enjoying it, but they are. And they could get out of it, but they don’t” (Lynch and Ferry 2009: 43). Lynch profoundly misunderstands the psychology of domestic abuse by assuming both that women enjoy it and could “get out of it” if they really wanted to (Stark 2007), and then goes on to reassert male privilege by making it all about the male antagonist: “Frank is totally in love.

He just doesn’t know how to show it” (Lynch and Ferry 2009: 43), he says of the abuser. Lynch is not, it should be noted, filming a mere episode of consensual sadomasochism, but the sustained abuse of a dependent woman without the options for safe escape, employment, or agency and whose son is held captive by Frank throughout the film’s duration.

Finally, Lynch has justified Frank’s violence thusly: “There are some women that you want to hit because you’re getting a feeling from them that they want it, or they upset you in a certain way” (Lynch and Borden 1992: 86). However, after Barbara Creed’s influential “A Journey Through ‘Blue Velvet’” (1988) and Lynne Layton’s “Blue Velvet: A Parable of Male Development” (1994), Blue Velvet scholarship, often treating the film as an oedipal puzzle to unravel with real answers of lasting importance, also points to real-world problems we can prolong by continuing to read film with the tools of psychoanalysis Lynch’s filmmaking rather facetiously throws at our feet, when we do have at our disposal social sciences that are more precise, internally consistent, and actually evidenced. Why not turn to research on domestic and sexual abuse? Why not use such sciences to explain Lynch’s flagrant rape victim blaming instead of vitalizing the puzzles of his mind? According to Jane M. Shattuc, one of Blue Velvet’s few scholarly critics, “feminist criticism such as Bundtzen’s [1988] and Biga’s [1987] can no longer rely on the universality of psychic response as posited by Freud and Lacan when discussing postmodern film” (1992: 79). She goes on to explain: “Any attempt at a serious psychoanalytic study of a film so ironic in its use of sexual excess falls into a classic postmodern trap. A major strategy of the postmodern is to render political or moral positions impossible” (82). Although I use misogyny as a primary example, it should be noted that others have pointed out how Lynch’s oedipal enthrallment glosses racial violence, too (Willis 1991).

In Lynch scholarship, “public outrage and moral confusion” are referenced (Rodley and Lynch 1997: 126), along with a feminist backlash (Layton 1994: 379), as responses to Blue Velvet’s release, yet rarely do we hear those voices, and even more rarely do theorists respond to their arguments, which appear confined to reviewers like Maslin and Roger Ebert (1986). As Norman K. Denzin points out, “With few exceptions (McGuigan and Huck 1986), the dominant cultural readings did not dwell on the violent treatment of women in the film’s text” (1991: 75). Shattuc is one of the few writers to name Lynch’s work as a forerunner in “the postmodern commercial patriarchy” (1992: 75), yet contemporaries have seldom referenced her article. In fact, Sara Ahmed (1998: 174–182) is perhaps the only writer to reiterate Shattuc’s claims in the face of Blue Velvet’s continuing canonization. C. Kenneth Pellow (1990) appeared to provide the perfect fodder for Shattuc’s position two years earlier when he declared that the film’s aesthetic design and narrative logic crimes were worse, and therefore more worthy of detailed reflection, than its moral or gendered crimes. To argue, as many now have, that attendance to portrayals of gendered violence in Blue Velvet reduces the multifarious meanings of the text (Brunette and Wills 1989) is pure sublimation.

However, scholars such as Sharon Willis were less enchanted when Lynch took the joke a step further for his next film, Wild at Heart (1990), a fantasy in which women are completely subject to male hypersexual brutishness, the mother’s oedipal guilt is reified, and which begins with “a white man’s unaccountably vicious murder of a black man … all the more chilling for the utter silence of the narrative with regard to its cross-racial nature” (Willis 1991: 275). Here, Lynch truly literalizes his misogyny during a scene in which Bobby (Willem Dafoe) successfully arouses Lulu (Laura Dern) with sexual violence and begins to rape her, until she appears to “want it” and asks him to “fuck me” after which he—as in Hopper’s Blue Velvet performance, with comically bizarre overacting—refuses her. Lynch’s earlier breakthrough Eraserhead (1977), too, presented a feature-length essay on the fear of women’s fertility, childbirth, and infancy, combining images of menstruating poultry and the brutalization of swaddled and spermlike alien infants, albeit presenting as confessional more so than his later films.

Figure 3
Figure 3

Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe) sexually assaults Lula Pace Fortune (Laura Dern) in Wild at Heart (The Samuel Goldwyn Company, 1990).

Citation: Projections 11, 1; 10.3167/proj.2017.110104

In Lost Highway, Lynch revised his earlier images of sublimely compromised womanhood in the only way he knew how—by staging yet another contraposition only reconcilable by letting the director have it both ways: “The dreamer resolves a contradiction by staging two exclusive situations one after the other; in the same way, in Lost Highway, the woman (the brunette [Patricia] Arquette) is destroyed/killed/punished, and the same woman (the blond Arquette) eludes the male grasp and triumphantly disappears” (Žižek 2000: 38). I like to think of this as dissonance insurance: it is harder to take aim at poor morals when we are clouded by a proximate, sometimes unrelated dissonance, the resolution of which must take precedence. We cannot approach Lynch’s views on rape until we resolve the dissonances of his moral universe.

The dissonance of proximate inseparability and difficulty of clarity itself may be what Lynch enthusiasts read as profound—again constituting a claim that the inherent work of mental stress is somehow beneficial—but is there some utility to moral specificity, if not seriatim, that is being missed? Considering a lack of scholarly repulsion toward Lynch’s victim blaming, I think so. One moral dissonance that comes up in descriptions of Lynch’s work—including Jeff Johnson’s account of his early viewings of and beguilement with Blue Velvet (2004: 6) and Carl Plantinga’s discussion of physical and sociomoral disgust in cinema (2009: 211–212)—is the difficulty in reconciling feelings of repulsion and fascination. To preserve a concept of ourselves as basically good people, we have to explain our fascination with antisocial acts, and in the case of Lynch fandom, we can resolve this dissonance by downgrading our disgust response, authenticating the work we have done by reference to the mental effort required. However, to have merely felt these things and moved on is not enough. We can still spend mental effort toward unenlightening ends: the repulsion we feel might be reasonable, as in the case of sexual abuse, and overemphasizing the value of this affective contradiction in and of itself may lead us to trivialize or otherwise devalue the utility of repulsion.

These films and the scholars brandishing them as philosophy all make a primary claim about what is worthy of our attention.

The point I would like to make here is that these films and the scholars brandishing them as philosophy all make a primary claim about what is worthy of our attention. At worst, such dissonances are positioned as a paradoxically more “realistic” alternative to the impoverished coherence of an imagined mainstream. But most of the time, the claim is merely that having our attention turned in on internal metaphysical conundrums transcends other attentional cues in narrative, which may direct us to diegetic immersion, uncorrupted emotional identification with character, moral problem solving, or any number of other apparently uncritical thought processes we may pass through in consideration of a narrative film. The horror in Lynch’s films is that we are moved swiftly on from rape and trauma without them being flagged as important to understand separately to his metaphysical clues. Domestic and sexual abuses are sublimated, becoming mere cipher for the mind of the author, and these themes come to be about the author rather than the people involved in such situations. Johnson’s assessment of Kenneth C. Kaleta’s famed 1995 work on the director concludes, “Kaleta finds art in Lynch’s metaphysics. He refers to the moral frame as if it were incidental, subordinated into the creative process” (Johnson 2004: 30). This is no mere horror of amorality; this is the horror of the privileged bully, able to tell victims that their suffering is not as important as one’s own loftier interests.

Recognizing this may lead us to critical reflection on some of the claims made in much film and narrative theory: that dissonance introduced into a narrative is necessarily political, or that being disrupted or having expectations subverted as an audience member necessarily require of the audience some manner of generalizable critical thinking. This is a scholarly third-person effect, reaching back to the theories of Bertolt Brecht, among others, to buttress film theory. We assume that a hypothetically conjured general spectator is miraculously unaware of audiovisual diegetic constructedness and therefore uncritical of its manipulations. The theory holds scant evidence from any real audience studies. Its illogic is also exposed when Lynch is simultaneously asserted as an auteur who “shows without editorializing, prioritizing, or moralizing,” and who “never comments—he presents” (Kaleta 1995: 15, 91), ignoring the storyteller’s attentional cues that are in themselves a commentary on what is important for an audience to consider or to know. In this way, Lynch is described as a hands-off conduit for thematic truths, the cinematic equivalent of an automatic writer, merely receptive to grand themes passing through his camera. Chion insists that in The Elephant Man (1980) Lynch is “making himself passively receptive to his theme so that the film may transcend him” and of his work on the television series Twin Peaks, “as a whole, the series transcends its authors, including Lynch” (1995: 61, 112). Clearly these are all more or less statements of faith, arguments assuming an externality we can see and hear through Lynch’s work. The conflation of narrative solution with real-world productivity confers on the auteur a prophetic status, a direct link to higher, realer truths, which may appear antithetical to the key proposition that metaphysical dissonance opens us up to the ineffable and the unknowable (Nochimson 1997: 207). We can ask, in this case, what it means when Nochimson counsels us to accept the mystery of the world. If acceptance involves some manner of dissonance reduction, how has the reduction occurred?

Writing on forking-path narratives, David Bordwell insists that “cognitive manageability” is still key even in narratives that suggest radical differentiation from our understanding of the laws of time and space; comprehensibility still relies on narrative devices and conventions that appeal to folk psychologies (2002: 90–91). This is true of Lynch’s cinema, too, as his symbolism remains comprehensible to those whose locality his surrealist narrative conventions speak to. These conventions have embedded in them a set of assumptions that are also readable, and they suggest models for understanding the world: “As in the case of a metaphor, when an explanation in concrete terms is not available, we almost involuntarily seek for a more abstract or higher meaning” (Bacon 2011: 45). This is still explanatory reasoning, no more transcendent than anyone else’s reasoning.

I contend that, after Festinger’s primary methods for resolving dissonance, we might achieve reduction using two methods. We can change the conflicting cognition (the puzzle cannot be articulated, but my engagement in the puzzle itself is worthwhile), and we can add new cognitions to justify our initial position (instead of worrying about my engagement with misogynistic works, I will be productive in psychoanalysis).

Yet problems remain: one is in the case of effort justification. Once we have spent some time in attempts to resolve a filmic puzzle, we will be more likely to exaggerate the value of our goal to reduce the dissonance of its lack of utility in our lives. As Elliott Aronson and Judson Mills’s seminal research “The Effect of Severity of Initiation on Liking for a Group” begins: “It is a frequent observation that persons who go through a great deal of trouble or pain to attain something tend to value it more highly than persons who attain the same thing with a minimum of effort” (1956: 177). This is writ on a large scale if we spend an exceptional amount of time in written analysis of a film puzzle.3 These theories also rely on a presumption that dissonance reduction or resolution will be a consciously rational or metacognitive process rather than instinctive, reactionary, or emotional. However we cannot assume this, as fMRI studies have indicated that post hoc rationalization of decisions we have made can often occur quickly and without extended deliberation (Jarcho et al. 2010), and Linda Simon and colleagues (1995) found under multiple conditions that trivialization was a much more prevalent method of dissonance reduction than attitude change. We cannot forget, too, that film is marked as entertainment, and we will thus approach it differently than we would an unfolding event in a context involving other, nonfictive, thinking and feeling agents. We cannot extrapolate so directly to real life. In one study, music was found to reduce the cognitive stress of dissonance (Masataka and Perlovsky 2012), and as much film is full of music, we need to take into account what other factors specific to entertainment media might be working alongside any metacognition to resolve dissonant responses. Again, we can experience cognitive dissonance pertaining to apprehension of the world around us and dissonance of self-identity. Lynch scholars cross freely between the two as if one always prompted the other. This is, of course, incredibly convenient, and dissonance becomes unhelpfully generalized—an example of how we might presume inherent benefits to metacognition instead of looking at the type of metacognitive process being performed.

The object of dissonance and upset is of equal importance and can be centered on human rather than metaphysical problems.

I have set up Lynch’s gender politics as a particular example of how our unthinking equation of opaque mental work with productivity is revealed as flawed in order to demonstrate that this is no petty distinction; there is much at stake here. We need closer analysis of the type of mental work employed and, even more importantly, the object of the mental work: what it causes us to ponder and compels us to conclude. That is, I want to emphasize that the object of dissonance and upset is of equal importance and can be centered on human rather than metaphysical problems. For example, other applications of an onscreen cognitive dissonance theory might include problematizing character engagement (van der Pol 2013), pedagogical uses of cinema, and exploration of the ethics of dissonance. Instead of generalizing the politics of dissonance reduction, we might look at specific instances of dissonance and their relative ability to inspire attitudinal or behavioral change: what filmic encounters might promote an “ethical afterlife” (Stadler 2008), changing the way we act in the world, and is the severity of dissonance during engagement important in evaluating film’s disruptive capacities?

Moral Dissonances in Social Realist and Social Cleansing Cinema

It would not be fair to suggest that a brief analysis of Lynch’s cinema presents any comprehensive totality of dissonant devices available to filmmakers. To bring ethical point to a discussion of Lynch and dissonance, the remainder of this article investigates alternative uses of narrative dissonance in the work of a range of filmmakers and considers the moral implications of each; these comparisons also fill out an understanding of the key role cognitive dissonance plays in narrative comprehension. Let us turn, then, to what is perhaps the most obvious counterpoint: a social realist diegesis, in which the construction of the world itself does not work to inspire cognitive dissonance in the spectator but can focus us on the problems faced by a particular character within that world.

In Ken Loach’s Land and Freedom (1995), David (Ian Hart) experiences dissonances between narratives of resistance after Franco’s successful wedge politics divide the socialist movement; in Carla’s Song (1996), George (Robert Carlisle) experiences dissonance in his concept of romantic unity with his partner Carla (Oyanka Cabezas) on following her to Nicaragua, as he faces a gulf in transnational relative poverty and existential disparity in the two worlds they

Figure 4
Figure 4

George Lennox (Robert Carlyle) travels to Carla’s (Oyanka Cabezas) homeland, Nicaragua, in Carla’s Song (Universal Pictures, 1996).

Citation: Projections 11, 1; 10.3167/proj.2017.110104

come from. In Ae Fond Kiss (2004), lovers Roisin (Eva Birthistle) and Casim (Atta Yaqub) experience a dissonance of fraught cross-cultural hybridity between religious, familial, and workplace expectations they have absorbed in contemporary Glasgow. All of these character dilemmas are pegged to a concurrent dissonance in their moral self-concept. We observe the characters’ attempts to resolve these dissonances with varying success, but importantly, the viewer is asked to experience the dissonance with them, and in so doing ask themselves difficult questions about the values their politics are predicated upon. Cognitive dissonance is revealed as a compelling model for narrative comprehension, meaning making, and pleasure, not just of the avant film but of realism, too.

I have made the case that the object of dissonance matters more than stimulation of dissonance itself, and cinema may force reevaluation of unstable presuppositions we bring to contextualized moral issues, yet responsibility in filmmaking and film viewing might not be as simple as merely foregrounding ethics. Consider another counterexample: the vigilante film. Vigilante and social cleansing cinema deemphasizes metaphysical upset in favor of a simple moral dilemma. I am thinking less of unambiguously pro-vengeance movies like Death Wish (Michael Winner, 1974) than I am social cleansing thrillers like The Boondock Saints (Troy Duffy, 1999), comedies like God Bless America (Bobcat Goldthwait, 2011), revisionist superhero films like Super (James Gunn, 2010) and Kick-Ass (Matthew Vaughn, 2010), horror crossovers, including the rape-and-revenge films that Lynch’s cinema at times recalls, or horrors that turn their extremism into grotesque comedy, from the overstatement of recent American grindhouse parodies to the understatement of British productions like Sightseers (Ben Wheatley, 2012). These cases all present a relatively simple moral dissonance: the graphic nature of retribution tests the limits of our punitive impulse, usually playing our desire for vengeance against a fractured sense of fairness and law abidance, or the coolness of violently dispatching inferior citizens against our squeamishness, to reveal a contradiction between two spectatorial desires. The spectator’s discomfort becomes the drama of the film. The ambiguity that can be produced by this type of narrative famously led to the television broadcast of a qualification during Taxi Driver’s (Martin Scorsese, 1976) end credits: “To our Television Audience: In the aftermath of violence, the distinction between hero and villain is sometimes a matter of interpretation or misinterpretation of facts. ‘Taxi Driver’ suggests that tragic errors can be made. The Filmmakers.” However, rarely do social cleansing films present earnest attempts to understand a context in which vigilantism fuses with the public imaginary, like the post-Vietnam America of Taxi Driver. More often they are focused on the virtue or otherwise of the maverick vigilante, asking the viewer to determine their moral standing rather than question the initial classist presumption that some lives are worth less than others. These films present as fantasies and rarely ask us to seriously consider righteous murder, but a condition of engagement is to indulge one’s superiority, which is magnified if we assert the context as in some way real, as did British politicians (Cox 2009), actor Michael Caine (“Caine Calls for National Service” 2009), and director Daniel Barber (Barber and Carnevale 2009) following social cleansing release Harry Brown (2009), motivating a social realist aesthetic to nourish the most dehumanizing presumptions of “Broken Britain” social conservatism. Again, this is attentional politics: we are focused on a moral dissonance that precludes attendance to the inherent classism of the diegesis. Many of these films are also fame narratives in which the vigilante’s violence inspires others to “fight back,” reducing mass violence by means of mass violence. The reward the vigilante receives comes in the form of local notoriety and kudos, tapping into the unfortunate narcissistic psychopathology of many of those who actually commit large-scale planned homicides (Schlesinger 1998). In the words of Kick-Ass’s protagonist: “In the world I lived in, heroes only existed in comic books. I guess that would have been OK, if bad guys were make-believe too. But they’re not.”

Foregrounding moral dissonance alone is not enough to generate a film’s worth or utility in ethical debate (just as metaphysical dissonance alone does not generate unassailable artistic virtue); we should look at the substance of the moral dissonance. In the case of the social cleansing film, cinema can focus us on moral problems that start from immoral presumptions. Nor can an aesthetic, like social realism, be the genesis of cinema’s political value (Loach himself flirted with righteous vigilantism in 2009’s Looking for Eric). Again, a question we could ask is whether the moral dissonance is easy to resolve. After we have focused on a moral issue and faced a contradiction in our moral conclusions, have we truly applied some kind of effort to reconcile the contradiction: has edification taken place? Have we complexified and subsequently clarified our thoughts on moral matters?

In the case of the social cleansing film, cinema can focus us on moral problems that start from immoral presumptions.

Humanistic and Symbolic Dissonances in Linklater and Sayles

Other films may foreground ethics but do not work in a strictly realist mode. Richard Linklater’s 2011 film Bernie offers an alternative moral dissonance in a film exhibiting some distancing effects. The movie fictionalizes a true murder case in which the culprit, Bernie Tiede (Jack Black), was so loved by the members of his community that his prosecution had to be moved out of town to ensure a fair trial. However, the story is not entirely fictionalized: it moves between direct-to-camera accounts from local citizens, and actors playing key figures in the case. Eventually, the locals begin to appear in small scenes alongside the actors (see Figure 5). In the film’s only gruesome scene, we see the aftermath of a car accident, but a small, poorly costumed grim reaper is wandering about at the back of the scene, and as one supposedly deceased teenager is wheeled off on a stretcher, he cannot control a case of the giggles. The audience experiences concurrent dissonance: not knowing what is fictionalized and who is a reliable source of information, which conflicts with both our sense of narratorial trust and our implicit distinctions between truth and fiction, but the dissonance also chimes with problems in the American justice system. The spectator’s oft-assumed role as jury to character misdemeanors is complicated by recognition of the unreliability of narration, in film as in court trial. At the same time we experience dissonance in coming to terms with the contradictions in Bernie’s moral impact: he is a murderer, yet also a famously selfless and invaluable member of his community, who spends money gleaned from the homicide to benefit local people and institutions in need of assistance. This speaks to difficulties in exactly the kind of binaristic moral categorization Lynch’s cinema endorses (Johnson 2004: 36). Bernie is about human complexity and dimensionality, challenging the shortcuts we take to comprehend personality details and achieve moral certitude; it is a cinematic essay on gossip and accountability. As Katrina G. Boyd puts it, “the film references stereotypes but bases much of its humor on the interplay between such shorthand characterizations and their incongruity with the particulars of the story” (2015: 48). By the end, it does not make sense to be on anyone’s side, and all we can do is acknowledge that most people have both positive and negative effects on the world.

Figure 5
Figure 5

The eponymous Bernie (Jack Black) with some locals in Bernie (Millennium Entertainment, 2011).

Citation: Projections 11, 1; 10.3167/proj.2017.110104

An extra conflict is added when humor is crafted from nonfiction, as we wonder how much distance between ourselves and the material is appropriate, reexamining these boundaries again when real-world figures intervene in a biopic, and then again when the real-world figures begin to perform scripted versions of themselves. Our sense of knowledge and certainty on which moral judgments rely is thus disturbed, but the technique is not employed to reprimand the audience for narrative immersion or their inability to see how narrative information is contingent, coopted, and political. Rather, one dissonance offsets the other: epistemic dissonance further complicates the moral quandary and the resources we usually draw on to resolve a similar problem. This is a truly complex moral dissonance, rather than just a puzzle of author intentionality, that we must work hard to resolve by reevaluating our moral presumptions.4 Moreover, the work we do has implications for how we comprehend and interact with one another at large, especially in legal settings. Indeed, evidence uncovered in the wake of the film’s release led to a revisiting of the case and Tiede’s eventual release from prison (Boyd 2015: 51).

There are also examples of symbolic devices employed within otherwise realist contexts that may inspire moral dissonance. John Sayles’s ensemble drama Lone Star (1996) uses a fictional murder mystery to trace historical racial and familial tensions in a Texan border town, but also features characters talking openly to one another about those tensions and how they should be managed. Similarly to Bernie, it looks closely at the narrativization of local histories. Sayles employs one of his most famous camera tricks in Lone Star to “emphasize his central theme: history is merely a collection of highly subjective appraisals … In several scenes, Sayles gracefully glides his camera from a flashback to a contemporary scene, allowing past and present to exist simultaneously in the same tracking shot” (Leydon 1996). The camera movement describes the fortifying partialities of historical storytelling and autobiographical reminiscence, wherein the past is so loaded with instructive meaning for an individual that their conviction renders it indistinguishable from the present. Characters then use this certainty—and the evocations of vivid storytelling—to convince one another of their versions of historic events. Retellings reinforce the public imaginary. This technique also represents Sayles’s intervention against cinema conventions clearly delineating past and present, one of the many borders the film sets out to challenge: “It’s almost not like a memory—you don’t hear the harp playing. It’s there,” he explained in an interview (Carson and Sayles 1999: 204). It calls our attention to “the problematic seamlessness of any narrative sequence” (Mitchell 2016: 30), and the necessary temporal border construction of storytelling becomes another site of dissonance.

Lone Star depicts dissent among the black, white, Latin, and indigenous communities, who are all attached to different yet simplified versions of events: early on in the film, we witness a group of concerned parents bullying a couple of schoolteachers about their history curriculum, but what the dissenters care the most about is the teaching of distant military history. Exasperated, Latina teacher Pilar Cruz (Elizabeth Peña) tells a roomful of parents, “I’ve only been trying to get across part of the complexity of our situation down here: cultures coming together in both negative and positive ways.” A colleague goes on to defend her: “We’re just trying to present a more complete picture.” This scene sets up Lone Star’s pivotal dilemma: how retellings of past conflicts keep them alive, reinscribing divisions between people, yet at the same time, how acknowledging the lasting influence of a violent history remains necessary. The remainder of the film maps these conflicts onto parent-child legacies across three generations. Throughout the narrative, county sheriff Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper) and Pilar come to represent the problem a hybrid America finds itself in. Once teenaged lovers whose parents kept them apart, apparently for reasons of racial purism, as adults they learn that they are in fact half-siblings, their parents’ affair being a town secret—an even more potent mystery behind the murder mystery.

They initially appeared to symbolize north and south, but now their symbolism incorporates the realization of historical causality and personhood as equally incestuous, problematizing national and hereditary borders between people, and this is combined into a personal moral dissonance of acceptable loving—a dramatization of the political in the personal, as Sayles was by now known for (Norden 2006). Although they become the personal embodiment of this humanistic problem, Sam and Pilar are not merely symbols. They are at the same time complex individuals we have come to care about, and the moral dissonance is dimensional, difficult to resolve, because of the mediating factors of multifaceted character detail.5 Pilar’s response is: “Forget the Alamo.” Her answer invokes the political resonance of their personal problem. We need

Figure 6
Figure 6

Pilar Cruz (Elizabeth Peña) and Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper) reignite their love affair as adults in Lone Star (Columbia Pictures, 1996).

Citation: Projections 11, 1; 10.3167/proj.2017.110104

to remember and reiterate past conflicts to avoid them, to show how a postcolonial context implicates various peoples, and to reflect on the politics of assimilation (as in the famous rallying call, “remember the Alamo”); but at the same time, we need to stop reiterating these stories to allow one another the space to move on and forge new connections not bound to historic conflicts or identities (the reformulation, “forget the Alamo”).

The moral dissonance is dimensional, difficult to resolve, because of the mediating factors of multifaceted character detail.

Conclusion

Moral cases are famously tricky to make in arts evaluation, and description is always a simpler task than prescription. Partially, I would like to address a moral nonattendance—or resistance to an applied ethics extended from cognitive theory—writers like Thomas de Zengotita (2013) perceive in philosophy’s adoption of cognitive and evolutionary sciences. But I also wonder what use our analytical information is unless we ask what we ought to do with the information; as philosophers, we should be equipped to ask these questions. I clearly start from the assumption that filmmakers and film audiences have readily discernable responsibilities that can be located in the films themselves, and if we are to explore such responsibilities, maybe the way a film asks us to experience and resolve cognitive dissonance is a good place to start looking.

A recalibration toward moral responsibility in film theory need not entail advocacy of any formal policing of morality in cinema, but rather a self- regulation. Selective moral disengagement is apparent in Lynch scholarship: Albert Bandura’s (2002) moral justifications, sanitizing language and exonerating comparisons are employed on behalf of the filmmaker. We need to pose the question: in the resolution of cognitive dissonance, what work are we doing, and what work do we think we are doing? The very nature of dissonance, in that it challenges past commitments, entails opportunities for change, if not accommodation of new information into one’s preexisting schema or self-identity. But this does not mean that merely feeling dissonance will invariably prompt reflexivity. When affirming as profound the experience of dissonance alone, we ignore the fact that we can resolve disconfirming information by further investing in preexisting beliefs, a kind of feedback loop of confirmation bias explored by Festinger and colleagues in an earlier work When Prophecy Fails (1956). A circular logic is produced when we ignore and discard evidence that incites dissonance and reattach to our initial conviction. One explanation is that “measures of dissonance reduction may actually arouse more dissonance by reminding participants of their dissonant cognitions” (Simon et al. 1995: 259), so avoidance remains the most attractive option (Elkin and Leippe 1986). We have to look harder for the conditions of attitudinal change. Merely provoking a dissonance in narrative is not enough.

Lynch scholars have asserted their own experience of a comforting and spuriously politicized resolution of cognitive dissonance as more important and profound than the values these films peripheralize, and refuting this can lead to claims that we are not spiritually open to the unknown. Lynch’s critics, however, are not refuting cognitive limitations or the limits of human knowledge, but the notion that this filmmaker in particular has special access to these things, making the unknown somehow known, visible, listenable, apprehensible. In a maddening paradox, that very thing we claim as a reminder of our cognitive limitations makes its own claim to surmount them.

Notes
1

For further examples, see Odell and Le Blanc (2010) and Rombes (2004: 69) on good and evil in Lynch, or McGowan’s nonsensical “profound commitment to fantasy in its real dimension” (2007: 112). Although many of these references to profundity remain vague, it is clear there is a sense of relationality within the value judgment that is the profound—a sense of successful communication, a unity of opinion between author and audience that makes us feel whole and recognized, a shared sublime in the gratifying sense that we are both capable of the same complex thought. Relational gratification makes us attach to that thought and invest in it. For example, some viewers might conversely read Baraka (Ron Fricke, 1992), juxtaposing images of ethnic otherness to suggest human spiritual unity, as profound global consonance. This feeling of unity might rely on an emotional contagion particular to the facial access provided to us in film (Smith 2010). Yet on the other hand, cognitive dissonance is integral to an intellectual profundity, and at times superiority, that we circulate in film and in media theory. We rarely read a narrative or artwork as profound unless it is some way revealing or reflects an insight that we value, which involves some sort of cognitive effort or ancillary reasoning; cognitive dissonance can activate these associations. Familiarity with specific uncertainty values in film convention, such as causal nonlinearity, gets to the heart of the contradiction that is profundity: the profound suggests sublimity or transcendence, but at the same time the excess we imagine is contained by human intentionality and sociality. Profundity entails a kind of authorship or common knowledge of an agreeable idea and is thus conferred and controlled.

2

It is interesting to note, too, that the inherent women’s dissonance of these pictures (“wanting” rape) is not to be resolved within the film but accepted as a natural, menacing consequence of her suburban being; there is a politics of who is allowed access to resolution here.

3

However, if a film contains traumatic images and scenes of horror, perhaps the attachment is again intensified, as with hazing rituals: Aronson and Mills (1956) found that in order to resolve cognitive dissonance between the severity of initiation practices and group attachment, subjects were likely to retrospectively explain their participation by perceiving the group as more valuable. This may be the case with devotees of the figures of extreme cinema. Many of Lynch’s supporters speak of the profundity of his horror, and the coexistence of fascination and repulsion, in the same way. Bret Wood, for example, says that Lynch’s “collision of idyllic love and the horrors of war, technology and medicine, provide a profound synthesis” (Hughes 2001: 103).

4

Becoming aware of our affective dispositions may also incite a different kind of pleasure—the pleasure of active reassessment—to those evoked by merely observing the moral fortunes of protagonists we have attached to, as in affective disposition theory (Zillmann and Cantor 1977). This experience may go some way toward explaining why viewers can derive pleasure from narrative dissonance: it furnishes us with work to do that we feel we have the intellectual aptitude for and so experience a “flow” (Csíkszentmihályi 1990). However, in the case of Bernie, the work asked of us is centered on an invitation to applied ethics extended from the film’s pivotal dissonance rather than an internal, diegetic puzzle.

5

Sayles writes extensive, interconnected backstories for all of the characters in his movies, which are then provided to his actors before filming. On perusing Lone Star’s character breakdowns, they suggest connections between characters that are not borne out by the events of the film (Sayles 1995, n.d.): a “cognitive map” of intentions (Palmer 2004) that is tacitly expressed, informing performances more so than narrative progress or dialogue, but still possible for an audience to ascertain. This speaks to another kind of ineffability, but a much more human one. In an interview with Scenario Magazine, Sayles explained how he achieves unspoken emotional-motivational dissonances between his characters: “You put two people together with different points of view. It’s what I do as a director. I go over in the corner with one actor and talk to them about what they should be thinking in a particular scene, and then do the same with the other actor. And then you adjust it to get the right emotional tone” (Sayles and Lippy 1995: 192). Sayles adds, “I don’t want to have characters who just represent a certain position, but who have idiosyncrasies. You know, Wesley Bird-song isn’t just a two-dimensional Indian with a roadstand, he’s a really interesting guy, with a very dry sense of humour. He has another life [outside the events of the film]” (196).

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  • RichesSimon. 2011.“Intuition and Investigation into Another Place:The Epistemological Role of Dreaming in Twin Peaks and Beyond.” In The Philosophy of David Lynch ed. William J. Devlin and Shai Biderman2544. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • RodleyChris and David Lynch. 1997. Lynch on Lynch. Boston: Faber and Faber.

  • RombesNicholas. 2004. “Blue Velvet Underground: David Lynch’s Post-Punk Poetics.” In The Cinema of David Lynch: American Dreams Nightmare Visions ed. Erica Sheen and Annette Davison6176. New York: Wallflower Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • SaegertSusan. 1980.“Masculine Cities and Feminine Suburbs: Polarized Ideas, Contradictory Realities.” Signs 5 (3): 96111.

  • SaylesJohn. 1995 and n.d. Lone Star Character Breakdowns, box 94, John Sayles Papers, University of Michigan Library (Special Collections Library) Ann Arbor.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • SaylesJohn. 1996. “Lone Star: Writing and Directing Lone Star.” Interview with Todd Lippy. Scenario 2 (2): 5053 and 192196.

  • SchlesingerLouis B. 1998. “Pathological Narcissism and Serial Homicide: Review and Case Study.” Current Psychology 17 (2): 212221. doi:10.1007/s12144-998-1007-6.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • ShattucJane M. 1992. “Postmodern Misogyny in Blue Velvet.” Genders 13: 7389.

  • SimonLindaJeff Greenberg and Jack Brehm. 1995. “Trivialization: The Forgotten Mode of Dissonance Reduction.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 68 (2): 247260. doi:10.1037//0022-3514.68.2.247.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • SmithMurray. 2010. “Darwin and the Directors: Film, Emotion, and the Face in the Age of Evolution.” In Evolution Literature and Film: A Reader ed. Brian BoydJoseph Carroll and Jonathan Gottschall231245. New York: Columbia University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • StadlerJane. 2008. Pulling Focus: Intersubjective Experience Narrative Film and Ethics. New York: Continuum.

  • StarkEvan. 2007. Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life. New York: Oxford University Press.

  • SteeleClaude M. 1988. “The Psychology of Self-Affirmation: Sustaining the Integrity of the Self.” Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 21: 261302doi:10.1016/S00652601(08)60229-4.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • StoneJeff and Joel Cooper. 2001. “A Self-Standards Model of Cognitive Dissonance.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 37 (3): 228243. doi:10.1006/jesp.2000.1446.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • ThompsonKristin. 1999. Storytelling in the New Hollywood: Understanding Classical Narrative Technique. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • van der PolGerwin. 2013. “Cognitive Dissonance as an Effect of Watching Amator.” New Review of Film and Television Studies 11 (3): 354373. doi:10.1080/17400309.2012.750067.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • WillisSharon. 1991. “Special Effects: Sexual and Social Difference in Wild at Heart.” Camera Obscura 2526 (25): 274295. doi:10.1215/02705346-9-1-2_25-26-274.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • ZillmannDolf and Joanne Cantor. 1977. “Affective Responses to the Emotions of a Protagonist.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 13 (2): 155165. doi:10.1016/S00221031(77)80008-5.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • ŽižekSlavoj. 2000. The Art of the Ridiculous Sublime: On David Lynch’s Lost Highway. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

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Contributor Notes

Wyatt Moss-Wellington is a PhD student at the University of Sydney undertaking a project on “Humanist Narratology and the Suburban Ensemble Dramedy.” In 2012, he completed an MA research thesis on the cinema of John Sayles. Recent publications include “Humanist Ethics in John Sayles’s Casa de los Babys” in Film International (2015) and “Sentimentality in the Suburban Ensemble Dramedy: A Response to Berlant’s Optimism-Realism Binary” in Forum (2015).

Projections

The Journal for Movies and Mind

  • View in gallery

    Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) on the phone with the Mystery Man (Robert Blake) in Lost Highway (October Films, 1997)

  • View in gallery

    One of the many bugs of Blue Velvet (De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 1986) being eaten by a robin.

  • View in gallery

    Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe) sexually assaults Lula Pace Fortune (Laura Dern) in Wild at Heart (The Samuel Goldwyn Company, 1990).

  • View in gallery

    George Lennox (Robert Carlyle) travels to Carla’s (Oyanka Cabezas) homeland, Nicaragua, in Carla’s Song (Universal Pictures, 1996).

  • View in gallery

    The eponymous Bernie (Jack Black) with some locals in Bernie (Millennium Entertainment, 2011).

  • View in gallery

    Pilar Cruz (Elizabeth Peña) and Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper) reignite their love affair as adults in Lone Star (Columbia Pictures, 1996).

  • AhmedSara. 1998. “Screens.” In Differences That Matter: Feminist Theory and Postmodernism166190. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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  • AlexanderJohn. 1993. The Films of David Lynch. London: Charles Letts.

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  • JerslevAnne. 2004. “Beyond Boundaries: David Lynch’s Lost Highway.” In The Cinema of David Lynch: American Dreams Nightmare Visions ed. Erica Sheen and Annette Davison151164. New York: Wallflower Press.

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  • JohnsonJeff. 2004. Pervert in the Pulpit: Morality in the Works of David Lynch. London: McFarland.

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  • LynchDavid. 2009b. “‘Getting Lost Is Beautiful’: Interview with John Powers.” In David Lynch: Interviews ed. Richard A. Barney221231. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.

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  • MasatakaNobuo and Leonid Perlovsky. 2012. “Music Can Reduce Cognitive Dissonance.” Nature 244: 914. doi:10.1016/j.bbr.2013.01.036.

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  • MaslinJanet. 1988. “Sexism on Film: The Sequel.” New York Times14 February.

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  • MillsJudson and Eddie Harmon-Jones eds. 1999. Cognitive Dissonance: Progress on a Pivotal Theory in Social Psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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  • MitchellLee Clark. 2016. “Frontiers and Border-Crossing: Incest, History, and Cinematic Structure in John Sayles’s Lone Star.” Journal of Popular Film and Television 44 (1): 2941. doi:10.1080/01956051.2015.1074154.

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  • MulveyLaura. 1996. “Netherworlds and the Unconscious: Oedipus and Blue Velvet.” In Fetishism and Curiosity137154. Bloomington, IN: BFI.

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  • NielandJustus. 2012. David Lynch. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

  • NochimsonMartha P. 2007. “Inland Empire.” Film Quarterly 60 (4): 1014. doi:10.1525/fq.2007.60.4.10.

  • NochimsonMartha P. (1997) 2003. The Passion of David Lynch: Wild at Heart in Hollywood. Austin: University of Texas Press.

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  • OdellColin and Michelle Le Blanc. 2010. David Lynch. Harpenden: Kamera Books.

  • OlsonGreg. 2008. David Lynch: Beautiful Dark. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.

  • PalmerAlan. 2004. Fictional Minds. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

  • PellowC. Kenneth. 1990. “Blue Velvet Once More.” Literature/Film Quarterly 18 (3): 173178.

  • PlantingaCarl R. 2009. Moving Viewers: American Film and the Spectator’s Experience. Berkley: University of California Press.

  • PowellJeremy. 2014. “David Lynch, Francis Bacon, Gilles Deleuze:The Cinematic Diagram and the Hall of Time.” Discourse 36 (3): 309339. doi:10.13110/discourse.36.3.0309.

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  • RichesSimon. 2011.“Intuition and Investigation into Another Place:The Epistemological Role of Dreaming in Twin Peaks and Beyond.” In The Philosophy of David Lynch ed. William J. Devlin and Shai Biderman2544. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • RodleyChris and David Lynch. 1997. Lynch on Lynch. Boston: Faber and Faber.

  • RombesNicholas. 2004. “Blue Velvet Underground: David Lynch’s Post-Punk Poetics.” In The Cinema of David Lynch: American Dreams Nightmare Visions ed. Erica Sheen and Annette Davison6176. New York: Wallflower Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • SaegertSusan. 1980.“Masculine Cities and Feminine Suburbs: Polarized Ideas, Contradictory Realities.” Signs 5 (3): 96111.

  • SaylesJohn. 1995 and n.d. Lone Star Character Breakdowns, box 94, John Sayles Papers, University of Michigan Library (Special Collections Library) Ann Arbor.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • SaylesJohn. 1996. “Lone Star: Writing and Directing Lone Star.” Interview with Todd Lippy. Scenario 2 (2): 5053 and 192196.

  • SchlesingerLouis B. 1998. “Pathological Narcissism and Serial Homicide: Review and Case Study.” Current Psychology 17 (2): 212221. doi:10.1007/s12144-998-1007-6.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • ShattucJane M. 1992. “Postmodern Misogyny in Blue Velvet.” Genders 13: 7389.

  • SimonLindaJeff Greenberg and Jack Brehm. 1995. “Trivialization: The Forgotten Mode of Dissonance Reduction.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 68 (2): 247260. doi:10.1037//0022-3514.68.2.247.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • SmithMurray. 2010. “Darwin and the Directors: Film, Emotion, and the Face in the Age of Evolution.” In Evolution Literature and Film: A Reader ed. Brian BoydJoseph Carroll and Jonathan Gottschall231245. New York: Columbia University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • StadlerJane. 2008. Pulling Focus: Intersubjective Experience Narrative Film and Ethics. New York: Continuum.

  • StarkEvan. 2007. Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life. New York: Oxford University Press.

  • SteeleClaude M. 1988. “The Psychology of Self-Affirmation: Sustaining the Integrity of the Self.” Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 21: 261302doi:10.1016/S00652601(08)60229-4.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • StoneJeff and Joel Cooper. 2001. “A Self-Standards Model of Cognitive Dissonance.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 37 (3): 228243. doi:10.1006/jesp.2000.1446.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • ThompsonKristin. 1999. Storytelling in the New Hollywood: Understanding Classical Narrative Technique. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • van der PolGerwin. 2013. “Cognitive Dissonance as an Effect of Watching Amator.” New Review of Film and Television Studies 11 (3): 354373. doi:10.1080/17400309.2012.750067.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • WillisSharon. 1991. “Special Effects: Sexual and Social Difference in Wild at Heart.” Camera Obscura 2526 (25): 274295. doi:10.1215/02705346-9-1-2_25-26-274.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • ZillmannDolf and Joanne Cantor. 1977. “Affective Responses to the Emotions of a Protagonist.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 13 (2): 155165. doi:10.1016/S00221031(77)80008-5.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • ŽižekSlavoj. 2000. The Art of the Ridiculous Sublime: On David Lynch’s Lost Highway. Seattle: University of Washington Press.