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(Credit: Ronald Grant Archive / Alamy)


Why David Lynch dissected a cat on the set of 'Eraserhead'


When it comes to Hollywood’s most idiosyncratic minds, David Lynch sits right on top of the pile, responsible for some of cinema’s most mind-bending experiences. From 1997s Lost Highway to 2001s Mulholland Drive, to uploading weather reports on a daily basis to his Youtube channel, Lynch is well-known for his eclectic behaviours and unabashed approach to his artistic form, no matter how truly peculiar the act. 

His debut feature film, 1977s Eraserhead may well be Lynch’s strangest film of all, a black and white piece of experimental wonder that the director likely made simply to turn heads. Including an iconically terrifying sequence involving a mutant newborn child, the film itself is a loose dreamlike sequence following Henry Spencer (Jack Nance), a man trying to navigate modern life, tussling with his angry girlfriend and difficult family. With the jury out as to what the film truly means, theories suggest toward fears of urban isolation, fatherhood, and sexual repression, though don’t hold out for Lynch’s explanation as he’s stated many times that he’ll never reveal the meaning. 

With a bevvy of on-set peculiarities, including Lynch’s insistence on blindfolding the film’s projectionist in order to conceal the secret as to how the film’s strange baby was made. Nicknamed ‘Spike’, Lynch made each crew member sign release forms saying that they could never discuss the making of the creature, leaving fans in the dark for decades. Though one potential answer for the baby’s origins could be the dead cat that the director acquired from a veterinarian on the set of the film.

Told that it couldn’t show up in the film, or at least be recognisable, Lynch managed to pick up the cat in a cardboard box, before storing it in a jar of formaldehyde, with the director reporting that “it went in like a slinky”. According to the director, it all comes from his interest in “textures”, and “organic phenomenon”, elaborating in an interview conducted in 1980 the director notes: “I’m real interested in textures… For instance, I once had this dead cat,” he said. “A vet gave it to me. I took it home. It was a real experience. I got all set up for it in the basement. And I dissected it. I put it in a bottle, but the bottle had a real small hole in it. The cat went in like a Slinky, but it got rigor mortis in there”.

Pressed further on the use of the deceased cat in the film, Lynch replied that it was used for research purposes, and specifically to “study the textures”, comparing his interest in the cat’s dissection to that of the beauty of a duck. In the director’s own enigmatic words, he comments: “I love the idea of a duck. Because there’s the bill, there’s the head and neck, there’s the body and feet, and then there’s that eye. That eye is real little, but it’s gleaming like a jewel. So, it can be little and still command as much attention as the big body”.

Continuing, the director explains further: “I think that those proportions in nature, in a duck, mean something. The proportion of the eye to the body, and the material, and the amount of ‘busyness’ in it…The textures and shapes are unbelievable. That’s why I dissected the cat”.

Noting that the experience, on the whole, was “unbelievable”, whether or not Lynch’s dissection of an actual cat was necessary remains up for debate, we just want to know where it ended up in the final film.