David Lynch Used an Unconventional Method To Create ‘Eraserhead’


The Big Picture

  • Director David Lynch credits transcendental meditation for expanding his consciousness and inspiring the surreal imagery in his films.
  • Transcendental meditation is a secular practice of silent meditation that creates a deep sense of calm and rest.
  • Lynch’s work, such as Eraserhead and Twin Peaks: The Return, explores the space between conscious and unconscious minds, influenced by transcendental meditation.

In 1977, during the filming of Eraserhead, director David Lynch was having creative problems, prompting the director to take up the practice of transcendental meditation (TM), brought to the world in the 1950s by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and further popularized through the 60s by groups like the Beatles and the Beach Boys.

Lynch credits transcendental meditation with expanding his consciousness and leading him toward what he calls the creative “big fish,” which inspired the surreal, nightmarish imagery of his films, as discussed in his book Catching the Big Fish, which details the practice’s incredible influence on his filmmaking. In an interview between Lynch and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, the director calls Eraserhead his “most spiritual film” and the testing ground for a process that would carry on throughout his subsequent films. Lynch goes on to discuss how his existential fears about fatherhood were challenging to pinpoint, and transcendental meditation would be the brush by which Lynch would paint them. The director discloses in Catching the Big Fish that he would sit alone in the dark and repeat a private mantra with his eyes closed. The clearing of his mind allowed the images audiences now know as Eraserhead to flow freely, allowing him to access parts of his creativity he never knew existed. Lynch is such a believer in the practice that he formed the David Lynch Foundation, which focuses on disseminating transcendental meditation practices to the public.


Henry Spencer tries to survive his industrial environment, his angry girlfriend, and the unbearable screams of his newly born mutant child.

Release Date
February 3, 1978
David Lynch
Jack Nance , Laurel Near , Charlotte Stewart , Allen Joseph
89 minutes

What Is Transcendental Meditation?

Transcendental meditation is a more or less secular practice of silent meditation developed and disseminated by guru and physicist Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He began teaching the technique in India around 1957. Still, after several world tours between 1958 and 1965, the practice spread worldwide, capturing the hearts and minds of creatives in Europe and the United States of America. The secular spiritualism of transcendental meditation became fashionable after groups like the Beach Boys and the Beatles adopted the practice and took off, as detailed in Philip Goldberg‘s American Veda. Just look at the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, and you can see how thoroughly the practice penetrated the minds of the lads from Liverpool. The world seemed ready for a new type of spiritualism. “The Giggling Guru,” a moniker bestowed upon the Maharishi because he often laughed during interviews, seemed to offer people something tangible and less esoteric than contemporary religions.

How Does Transcendental Meditation Work?

According to the David Lynch Foundation, transcendental meditation is neither a philosophy, lifestyle, nor a religion. It is, instead, a twenty-minute practice where the practitioner sets a timer and finds a comfortable resting place with their eyes closed. The practitioner will then perform a mantra, a repetitive sound unique to each person. Think, for instance, of popular mantras such as “My Body Is A Temple” or “I Rest To Honor My Body.” The practitioner will remain in this state without focused attention or open monitoring. This is unique to the practice where more traditional forms of meditation involve active focus and the tracking of breath, sound, and/or thought.


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By contrast, TM practices are effortless, inspiring a deep sense of calm within each person. Practitioners such as Martin Scorsese, Ellen Degeneres, and Jerry Seinfeld testify to a deep sense of rest that recharges the mind and body. The mind quiets, and practitioners journey inward, stoking their mental processes and priming them for better performance in the waking world. The timer goes off, and the practitioners go about their day, indulging in the practice as often as they would like or need to.

What Does Transcendental Meditation Have To Do With the Films of David Lynch?

So, what does all this transcendental meditation stuff have to do with David Lynch and his films? The best way to think about it is that transcendental meditation is the ocean the surrealist director swims in when looking for the big fish of an idea. In a message from David Lynch to would-be practitioners, he says:

“I started Transcendental Meditation® in 1973 and have not missed a single meditation ever since. Twice a day, every day. It has given me effortless access to unlimited reserves of energy, creativity, and happiness deep within. This level of life is sometimes called ‘pure consciousness’—a treasury. And this level of life is deep within us all.”

In short, TM is a place where thought and form exist in their most prototypical state and a place Lynch will continuously visit and explore throughout his filmography.

Lynch’s zeal for the practice is so profound that he founded the David Lynch Foundation in 2005, an organization dedicated to disseminating the practice. The goal is to bring the practice to schools so that every child can benefit, giving them greater self-awareness and creativity. Lynch certainly brings enormous creativity to his films, which are often surreal, cryptic, and ill-explained by the director. Consider the film Inland Empire, a Möbius strip of a film and arguably his most cryptic. When asked about the movie’s meaning, Lynch often refers to the tagline, “A Woman In Trouble.” He gives no other explanation, an effortless approach to questions that entices fans to dig deep into the work. The film has a simple premise, a type of mantra that devolves into a phantasmagoria of sight and sound without focused attention, one frame drifting to the next, seemingly out of sync with time and space. It is reminiscent of the practice of transcendental meditation itself. With Inland Empire, Lynch invites the audience to dream with him, a feature that permeates his work.

The Influence of Transcendental Meditation on David Lynch’s Work

As mentioned, David Lynch considers Eraserhead to be his most spiritual film. It is an existential dive into Lynch’s fears about his impending fatherhood, a difficult feeling to pin down. How can an abstract idea like that take form within the context of a film? Yet the lurking fear of the film is everywhere. His fear of bringing a child into the world is reflected in the industrial wasteland of a city stoked by an alien mantra of a screaming baby that runs almost throughout the film. The shrill screams of the child combined with the nightmarish monochromatic fever dream that exists in every frame is a product of Lynch’s leap off into the deep end into “pure consciousness.” His visuals form from this meeting of the conscious and unconscious mind, a cohesive blend of feeling and form made possible by transcendental meditation.

In Twin Peaks: The Return, Lynch explores this space between the conscious and unconscious mind through the psycho-spiritual journey of Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan). Dale’s consciousness is sent into a realm beyond the Red Room, falling into an extraordinary castle and sitting in an endless ocean of consciousness populated by a lonely tower filled with psychic entities/archetypes lost among the eternal waves of prototypical ideas. Dale traverses the tower, encountering floating “faces” representative of ideas and information drifting by until he eventually materializes into the real world, bringing a more profound sense of himself into reality. He is finding himself again within the Doppelganger of Dougie Jones, giving him greater clarity and the ability to solve the twenty-something-year-old mystery left fuming in the world of the show and the minds of his fans. Both body and mind are rejuvenated. It’s a clever way of giving life to an existential space deep within every person — a brilliant display of “show, don’t tell,” a cardinal virtue unique to cinema. Predictably, Lynch is tight-lipped about the show’s meaning but explains to audiences that the clues are all there if one is willing to do the work.

But it doesn’t stop there. Lynch’s mantras as detached lines of dialogue are a feature of his films. The Rabbits of Inland Empire speak in banal non sequiturs that stand apart from the foreboding and terrifying visuals. In Wild At Heart, Lula (Laura Dern) and Sailor (Nicolas Cage) often repeat the mantra “The Power Of Love,” which stands at the heart of the film as the two’s love continually collides with the hate and violence of the world. Lynch sees meditations and their mantras as an antidote to the world’s evils. In Blue Velvet, after finding a severed ear, Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) is horrified by it and sits there breathing rhythmically in and out, trying to soothe himself. The meditation process allows the characters and their director to overcome horrors by transcending consciousness in a blissful detachment from the world and its horrors. The reprieve is an essential feature of Lynch’s films, where characters often lick their wounds over coffee and in diners, wrestling with their private darkness within the safety of familiar surroundings. It’s a comfortable place to do some meditation.

While the films of David Lynch are challenging to understand, they are deeply imbued with meaning, which the director leaves up to the audience to glean from their frames. One way of looking at his prolific body of work is to think of them as portals through which the audience can access the eternal current of the creative ocean of ideas that lives within all people. They are exercises in transcendental meditation and visual and auditory mantras that launch the audience into existential quandaries of deep exploration and reflection. That’s part of Lynch’s charm; he doesn’t spell it out for people; he allows the film to speak for itself and for the audience to dream, if only for a little bit.

Eraserhead is available to stream on Apple TV+ in the U.S.

Watch on Apple TV+



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