Usually, the more you understand something, the less you will need to fear it.
The anxiety dreams and nightmares of my youth have been all but erased due to my understanding of the world, understanding about my lack of knowledge, and other mechanisms for action within my own psychology. When I first saw the below animated GIF, I immediately understood why it would be perceived to be terrifying, hilarious, both, or neither. It also triggered an association for what was for me another association trigger: One of the most disturbing films I’ve seen, David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.
Not scary per se, but disturbing. Unsettling. An unplaceable oddness. In Mulholland there is a masterful build-up, starting with a cryptic scene in a diner, which ultimately has the character who is describing a state of pure terror to another, walk outside to confirm that fear, as a horrid creature slides out from behind a corner in a most inhuman way—not only is the figure petrifyingly ugly, but the way it moves is the clincher: nothing human moves like that, in a linear, gliding fashion, and in such a triggered manner.
That scene reminds me of one of my most fear-inducing recurring dreams as a child: alone at my house, walking downstairs from the safety of my room, all the windows dark with night, and as I walk towards the kitchen, the head of a figure, presumed to be a robber intent on killing or harming me, quickly pops up—the moment of paralyzation occurs, the head slides away from whence it came, not slow, but not too fast; it doesn’t mind being seen. The paralysis melts, and I have to wake up, because that’s it: that’s the end. The unanswered nature, combined with the uncertain demise, is what makes it so terrifying. The chills that I would get in Lynch’s surrealist mind-maze were the same that I’d feel in that dream and others.
That a few frames of a presumably screeching elderly woman exiting stage-left in a weird manner can elicit the heights of cinematic tension through mere GIFfery is fascinating, lending versatility to how the web can provide media feels in an instant. But it also further defines the five minutes that Lynch crafts through his singular direction—it is a scene that will live on, beyond the ephemeral meme-sharing thrills that come from a copy & paste, and into how we relate our waking- and dream-selves to ourself and to those around us.
Further reading: Alex Gladwin does an excellent job of analyzing the whole scene in his write-up, The Tuesday Zone: The Winkie’s Diner Scene from ‘Mulholland Drive’.
Original GIF post here.