Dumbland (2002)

DumblandOver a period of years, director David Lynch (Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive) wrote and drew all eight episodes of what is known as Dumbland. It chronicles the story of a father, his wife, and his son. Despite the total length of the series being only 33 minutes, I was glad that it was over. Dumbland is crude and surprisingly not very funny, unless you find random — and I mean random — farts and vomiting funny. And I’m not even sure fans of The Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim would like this.

The father, who is nameless, resembles a pre-Neanderthal — if pre-Neanderthals were careless, unloving and stupid. What makes the show so unlikeable is the lack of almost any redeemable qualities in the dad. He beats his son, he beats his wife, and he beats random strangers. The one time that the dad remotely resembles a human being is in episode four (“A Friend Visits”), when he befriends someone who is exactly like him. I guess God does exist if there is someone else in the world that likes to “beat and kill things” other than the dad.

In episode five (“Get The Stick”), someone accidentally falls through the family’s fence, getting a stick caught in his mouth. The son repeatedly tells his dad to “get the stick” to which the dad tries every method possible to get the stick out, except cutting it in half. Gruesome violence ensues, which results in the man losing both eyes and getting run over by a truck. I’m more surprised that the dad actually tried to help the man, despite almost failing miserably and causing the man excruciating pain. The dad even had the audacity to complain that the man didn’t even thank him for getting the stick out.

The father lacks two things to make him a memorable character: any sense of humanity and motivation. He’s an abusive father and husband. He’s crude, but there isn’t any real motivation for him to be crude or cruel to his family. In episode six (“My Teeth Are Bleeding”), the father sits in his chair watching TV. A wrestling show is on and a wrestler repeatedly bashes his opponent’s head into the mat. His son repeatedly jumps on a trampoline. His wife repeatedly screams and shakes. Cars repeatedly drive by through a window. The father looks stressed from all of the repeated eye and noise pollution. The father is so desensitized by the world around him, he can’t help his son whose mouth starts bleeding or his wife who can’t stop moving uncontrollably. All he notices is a fly buzzing around him. The dad is used to his family being this dysfunctional and manic. He must see his son bleeding all the time (and he probably causes most of those bleeds too). I kept asking myself, how does this guy have a son, let alone a wife?

David Lynch succeeded in making a series so crude and stupid that it gave me a headache. Everything is crude: the animation, the characters, and the plot. The only redeeming artistry is the direction, which is surprisingly strong and tight. With the longest episode running only five minutes, Lynch crafts eight well-knit macabre blurs. The most satisfying moment is in episode eight (“Uncle Bob”) when the father gets slapped around by Uncle Bob — his mentally ill brother who vomits, slaps himself, should be in a hospital, and is protected by their mother. The father initially doesn’t protect himself from Uncle Bob’s slaps because their mother would kill him. At last there is someone willing to do to the father what he has done unto others countless times.

Through Dumbland‘s progression, the plot becomes more centered on describing the father’s character. The first couple of episodes use slapstick comedy to be funny and characterize the father, but the latter episodes become more abstract and require an entire film class to dissect. If he can be a likeable character, I think I’ll need more than eight episodes to change my opinion.

All eight episodes are animated in black and white. The sound channel is Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. It is not rated, but VERY mature.

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