You didn’t think we’d go through an entire Weird Scripts week without reviewing a David Lynch script, did you?
Welcome to Weird Scripts Week! This week, I’ll be reviewing odd scripts, odd ideas, and writing that’s just plain odd. It will all culminate Friday when I review the strangest premise I’ve ever reviewed on Scriptshadow. To check out Monday’s cross between an aquarium and a power drill, click here. Tuesday’s script will turn you into a vegetarian. Yesterday’s script will send you off into your own 24 hour video. And today is… well today we’re talking about spit.
Premise: When a guard’s tiny saliva bubble shoots out of his mouth and into the circuitry of a top-secret government project, it starts a chain reaction that discombobulates an entire town.
About: After some grandstanding from both Showtime and David Lynch on budget issues for Lynch’s new version of Twin Peaks, the series will be making a return later this year. A couple of low-rated Showtime shows may pay the price for that but if you want to work with visionary directors, there will be casualties. Speaking of casualties, One Saliva Bubble is Lynch’s passion project, and I don’t think he’s ever gotten over having to move on from it. The director of such films as Eraserhead, Dune, and Mulholland Drive actually had a co-writer on this script named Mark Frost, who went on to write the two 2000s Fantastic Four movies. He was also a writer on the original TV version of The Equalizer.
Writers: David Lynch and Mark Frost
Details: 140 pages (first draft – 5/20/87 draft)
For our fourth script in this week’s Weird Scripts series, we’re going to the granddaddy of weird – the maestro of misinterpretation, the grand pooba of pointlessness, the conductor of confusing. Yup, I’m talking about David Lynch. The old school Lynch came up during a time where you were actually encouraged – gasp – to be different. To try new and offbeat things.
What Lynch’s mentors didn’t know was that telling him this was like telling Homer Simpson he could design his own donut line. You talk about a guy who took advice to heart. Sheesh. I’d expect more sense out of an Amanda Bynes and Miley Cyrus collaboration than I do this man’s movies. Does One Saliva Bubble fall in line with the rest of his work? We shall see…
Somewhere near the tiny town of Newtonville is a secret military base. It just so happens that on this evening, at this base, a few guards are joking around near an exposed computer panel, and a spittle of saliva shoots out of one of their mouths, lands on the panel, and short-circuits a tiny portion of the wiring.
This causes a malfunction whereby the panel erroneously sends a signal to a military satellite to start a countdown sequence for some top secret weapon. 24 hours later, this satellite shoots a laser beam down to Newtonville, which bounces around, hitting almost everyone in town.
The hardest hit is the airport. It’s there where our four protagonists are located for various reasons. There’s the psychotic contract killer, Horton Thursby, the genius Swiss scientist, Professor Hugo Zinzermacher, the loser middle-aged family man, Wally Newton, and the town idiot, who’s just come back from the insane asylum, Newt Newton.
What this laser beam does is it displaces the minds of our four characters, so that Horton and Wally switch bodies and Hugo and Newt switch bodies. For reasons I can’t even begin to explain, while their personalities have been transported, none of the characters actually know they’re inside new bodies.
This leads to mayhem. For example, a major company has brought Professor Hugo in from Sweden to help them come up with a winning formula to defeat their nemesis. But instead, they unknowingly get Newt, who carries a sock full of toys with him wherever he goes. When brought to the company, Newt as Hugo starts playing with his toys on the floor, and the entire company rushes to figure out what it all means, what this genius is trying to tell them.
Horton, on the other hand, heads home to Wally’s home life, a life where the “old Wally” gets bossed around by both his wife and his son. When they try and pull that bullshit on him this time, he tells them that if they ever fuck with him again, they’ll regret it for the rest of their lives. Wally’s home problems: solved.
Wally, on the other hand (who’s now in Horton’s body), finds himself as the head of an organized crime ring, and his tough guy underlings are confused about his new nice-guy managing style. The professor, meanwhile, is brought back to Newt’s house, a place where Newt is assumed to be retarded. Which, of course, becomes very confusing when “Newt” starts solving math equations that would frustrate Will Hunting.
When an outside U.S. military division suspects something is amiss in the town of Newtonville, they send a couple of guys out there to get to the bottom of it. But it might be too late. Our characters have already turned, and it’s only a matter of time before they undo the balance of the town and the military establishment that birthed this horrid experiment.
There’s actually a lot more to this story (more characters – more body switches) but to try and summarize them all would require the help of Michio Kaku and Neil deGrasse Tyson. There are people dressed in Heinz bottles, a roller skating rink where everyone skates in rhythmic unison, and an obsessive thread where everyone keeps complaining that there’s “no cheese” in town.
So did it work?
Well, I’ll say this. This is easier to follow than your average Lynch movie. That’s probably because Lynch has a co-writer this go-around. When you don’t have to explain anything to anyone, you can follow whatever whim you fancy. But if you have a co-writer, he needs to know what you’re doing so he can do the same.
The simple act of having to explain yourself requires you to follow some sort of logic, and that’s not how Lynch prefers to write. As a result, there’s something of a story here. I’m just not convinced it’s very good.
Body-switching movies are essentially dramatic irony movies. We know who the person in the body is, but the other characters do not. This allows for a lot of fun scenes that write themselves. For example, we know that Wally’s wife and son run his life, that they bully and berate him every day. So when a cold-blooded killer shows up at home that night in Wally’s body, we know mom and son are in for a world of hurt.
The problem with the premise is that Lynch and Frost are trying to bullshit us. “Bullshitting” is when you fudge something you know you shouldn’t be fudging and hope the reader either doesn’t notice it or goes along with it. The thing is, the reader always smells the bullshit. You might get it past a few really dumb people, but any reader or audience member worth their salt is going to smell your shit from a mile away. I’m going to say this once: You’re not as sly as you think.
The bullshit here resides in the form of the body-switching rules. The switches allow for every single trait of the characters to be transferred into the new bodies EXCEPT their knowledge that they’re in a new body. This becomes a major plot hole because how are we supposed to believe that a contract killer isn’t all of a sudden aware that he’s not with his gang anymore, but hanging out in a middle class suburban home with a wife and son?
It doesn’t make sense. And eccentric directors like Lynch shouldn’t get a pass just because they’re weird. I’m fine with doing the crazy dance on your pages. But you can’t bullshit us on the major hook of your story.
Speaking of story, while this is more coherent than most Lynch films, it’s far from perfect. The body-switching and subsequent division of characters into their new lives is just a reaction to this laser beam event. Once that’s happened, the characters lack a point or a goal.
Lynch and Frost attempt to bring in this second military presence to draw the story to some sort of conclusion, but it’s a half-hearted attempt at best. It comes in so late that we’re not even sure what the military’s goal is or what they’re trying to do. Stop it? Turn these four people back to normal? Does that really matter?
And I think that’s the most telltale question of all. “Does it really matter?” If fixing the problem inherent in your story (in this case, the body switching) doesn’t matter (or only barely matters), that means there are no stakes to the story, which would explain why, when you read One Saliva Bubble, you’re not ever engaged.
Think about this in terms of Tom Hanks’s “Big.” If he doesn’t change back, he misses 30 years of his life. He never gets to see his family again. There are some real stakes attached to him not going back to his kid body.
This would also explain why the script is 140 pages. Usually, when don’t have some sort of structure in place to push you towards the third-act climax, you just keep writing more and more scenes. And why wouldn’t you? If your characters have nowhere to be (no problem to fix, no goal to achieve), you’ll naturally just keep exploring the premise (in this case, body switching).
So where does One Saliva Bubble fall on the Weird Scripts Week scale? That’s a great question. I think it lands at number two behind “Bessie.” It’s a weird script, but it’s not Lynchian weird. I’m still debating whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
Script link: One Saliva Bubble
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Playing something as a gimmick compared to playing something as authentic. When you play a concept as a gimmick, you won’t be able to explore your characters in a meaningful way, and, as a result, those characters will never resonate with your audience. So here, Lynch and Frost choose to play their premise as a gimmick. You could almost call this “The Zany Adventures of Four People Who Switch Bodies After Being Hit by a Laser Beam.” For example, the writers aren’t interested in, say, Horton the Killer learning to take care of a family for the first time in his life. They just want to show the fun scenes of a school bully beating up the son character so that our contract killer in disguise can square off against the bully and make him piss his pants. And I’m not saying those scenes aren’t fun. But they’re surface-level scenes. Unless you’re reflecting on how the unfamiliar experience you’ve put your character in CHANGES that character, you’re not really exploring that character or making them compelling to the audience.