In spite of the defiantly – and unapologetically – male gaze that Lynch aims at his leading women, on balance his work stacks up as resolutely pro-female. Yes, he covets a ‘sexy’ image of womanhood, idolising the form and celebrating female sexuality, but he also allots women just as much agency as men. Throughout his work women are powerful, intelligent, expressive and demanding on equal critical inquiry. Janey-E (Naomi Watts) initially appears to be a light version of the stereotypical housewife – tilting to a more regressive mode that Lynch is sometimes guilty of – but this scene expands upon that assumption. It affords us another view of the woman, now seen independent of her husband for the first time.
Janey-E waits at a children’s play park in the sunshine for her rendezvous with the men that Dougie (Kyle MacLachlan) owes money to. Two men, Jimmy and Tommy (Jeremy Davies and Ronnie Gene Blevins, respectively), approach her with determination, but she is more than ready to match them. They explain to her that Dougie took points on a football game, borrowing $20,000 plus interest.
Janey-E challenges this ‘interest’, which the two men now chalk up to $52,000. She points out the family’s situation and that Dougie doesn’t have that kind of money. This is pretty shrewd on her part, considering Dougie’s recent haul from the Silver Mustang Casino of in excess of $400,000. There’s certainly no need to bring that to the attention of these men. She implores them with rhetoric that also rekindles the mindset of Dr. Amp.
“We are the 99%’ers,” she says, “And we are shit on enough.” The idea of the vast divide between the rich and poor; the 99 versus the 1, is a conversation that’s been occurring ever since the economic crisis of 2008. Hell, it has always been around in some form or another, but this particular way of phrasing or vocalising the gulf between classes, has only seemed to have grown in prominence in the years since this recent downturn. The Return was written by David Lynch and Mark Frost over a number of years, in the main during the early-to-mid part of the 2010s and this allusion would have been very much in their minds as part of the cultural dialogue. Janey-E’s use of it here is therefore unsurprising, even if her middle-class household doesn’t quite equate to a picture of hardship or poverty.
Still, it’s the attitude that’s perhaps the most important here, and in this scene Janey-E echoes the sentiments found in the tirades of Dr. Jacoby when he broadcasts under the pseudo-name Dr. Amp. One imagines that she’d find his show very compelling were she ever to find it.
Jeremy Davies’ weedy thug Jimmy tries to interrupt her but Janey-E continues, countering with her first, last and only offer of $25,000, which they accept.
It’s a sterling piece of work from Naomi Watts who imbues Janey-E with such a committed no-bullshit approach that the moneylenders can’t help but respect it. When Jimmy’s colleague Tommy tries to take the rolls of money from her hands, she snaps, “What kind of world are we living in where people can behave like this? Treat other people this way without any compassion or feeling for their suffering? We are living in a dark, dark age and YOU are part of the problem.”
Now, the delivery here verges on comedic in its melodrama, but the words themselves are an on-the-nose summation of the ideas that Lynch appears to have been wrestling with his entire career. Dark as his subject matter often is, it is countered by a disbelief in such darkness. Naivety clashes against impurity. This appears most starkly in Blue Velvet, but has echoed through his projects ever since his early shorts. Even the staging of this minor altercation is on theme, the backdrop of children playing in the park is a wry counterpoint to the deal being struck by Janey-E.
She leaves them with the money, allowing Jimmy a respectful summation of the exchange, “Tough dame”. Tommy agrees as we hear the wheels of Janey-E’s car screeching on the tarmac as she drives away.
Jeremy Davies may well be familiar to fans of sci-fi mystery television from his tenure on LOST as quantum physicist Daniel Faraday.
Next time: Oh no