ambiguity for ambiguity’s sake (or not)

Last October, the Washington Post published an article on the ‘art’ of the ambiguous movie ending. A recent screening at the Walker’s newly revamped Cinema of Beasts of the Southern Wild, an independent film with a very unambiguous ending, had me thinking about the merits of the ambiguous ending. The Post article argues that, “the ambiguous ending has long been one of the hallmarks of the classic art-house film,” although the author allows that sometimes even a Hollywood film like Inception will sneak in an ambiguous ending (and clearly, as Beasts will attest, there are exceptions to the indie film rule).

In the Post review, Hornaday makes it sound as if an ambiguous ending’s only intention is to confound and frustrate the viewer. She writes, “when is a non-ending ending a legitimate artistic choice, and when is it just a cop-out? The answer lies in how effectively a filmmaker creates characters whom viewers are willing to care about and identify with — to the point of being willing to join them in perpetual limbo.” This implies that an ambiguous ending is an end in and of itself rather than means to an end (and ending to a means?). And this is certainly true of some films.

Inception (Hornaday’s example of a mainstream film that has borrowed the ambiguous ending) closes on Cobb’s spinning top, raising the question of whether he is in a dream or reality (you can view the ending here). How you decide to interpret the spinning top in the closing sequence of Inception will completely alter your perception of the film. Yet the film has no intention of giving you the answer or really even asking you to seriously contemplate the issue. According to an EW interview, director Nolan says he’s been asked about the spinning top more than any other element of any film he’s done. But he says, “there can’t be anything in the film that tells you the outcome one way or another because then the ambiguity at the end of the film would just be a mistake.” The ending is only meant to leave you with a frustration that you can’t know the answer (frustration that has such a kick because the two possible outcomes are so distinctly different).

But contrast this with Martha Marcy May Marlene. Hornaday does this film an injustice by grouping its ambiguous ending with Inception’s because upon closer inspection they have two dissimilar functions. Martha closes with Martha being taken to a mental health treatment center by her sister. As they drive they seem to be followed by a man (presumably sent by the cult from which Martha escaped) but the film ends before we discover if Martha arrives safely at the center or is kidnapped. While these two distinct outcomes are laid out for the audience and yet never actualized, it is made clear that both lead to a very similar future for Martha. Both the treatment facility and the cult are intended to confine Martha and strip her of any agency she gained by escaping the cult. The ambiguity in Martha forces the audience to realize that, despite the uncertainty of her future, the outcomes lead to the same place. This realization is made more powerfully by the ambiguous ending because while it is frustrating to know that the future will be unpleasant, it is even more frustrating to know that no matter what happens the future will be unpleasant. The ambiguous ending drives Martha’s nihilistic message home.

To some extent all films have ambiguous endings since we never know what happens after the credits roll, whether we are left with a conclusive scene or not. It is perhaps more practical and appropriate that Germans end their fairy tales “…and if they haven’t died yet, they are still living today” than our naïve “and so they lived happily ever after.” Perhaps we want to escape that uncertainty when we go to the movies. But I find it all the more frustrating to be left with a seemingly conclusive ending to a film that has so many more worthwhile questions to be asked. The ending of Beasts, a triumphant, and certainly visually arresting, parade down the bank of the Bathtub may leave the viewer with the warm fuzzies but washes away any of the more interesting questions the film raised. It might make it easier to say you enjoyed the last two hours — but it certainly makes it harder to take anything worth thinking about away from the film.

Putting on a Show

Whenever I watch two totally unrelated films in a short period of time, I like to try to review them within the context of each other no matter how random them may be (see Delightfully Repulsive and Objectivity and Southern Traditions). Last week, I finally caught We Need to Talk About Kevin (I had been meaning to for weeks after reading the book), directed and adapted by Lynne Ramsay, and also saw Grizzly Man, directed and narrated by Werner Herzog. Considering how different the genre and topics of the films were, I was surprised at how similar I found the themes and narratives.

Kevin, a drama, follows Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) two years after her son committed a high school shooting (a la Columbine) as she wades through her current existence and reviews her life leading up the event. Grizzly Man, on the other hand, is a documentary that tells the story of Timothy Treadwell, a one-time alcoholic/actor who found meaning in his life protecting and documenting bears in Alaska. The film uses Timothy’s own video footage, recorded during his last five summers in bear country before he was eventually devoured by a bear, as well as interview footage from those who knew him (or at least knew him well enough to opine on him).

While Kevin could be quickly summarized as a story about a boy who commits a school shooting, I don’t think anyone would mistake it for anything other than Eva’s story. The film is Eva’s struggle to come to terms with herself as a parent and her son’s development into a killer. Although the book does a much better job of questioning the validity of Eva’s perception of events, the film too reminds us that that we are stuck in Eva’s head for this retelling.

The sole purpose of her one-dimensional husband, Franklin, is to remind us that we could interpret Kevin’s actions in other ways. When Kevin cries all day, Franklin comes home to a sleepy baby and suggests that perhaps Eva is simply holding him wrong. When, more seriously, Eva accuses Kevin of pouring the drain cleaner onto his younger sister, Celia, Franklin yells that Eva is needs to seek help for her delusional displacement of guilt.  

Eva’s, and consequently our, frustration in trying to understand Kevin stems from his constant need to perform. The film is not subtle in its effort to demonstrate that Kevin is putting on a front for Eva. Our first big hit-you-over-the-head glimpse behind this mask is when Kevin becomes sick and loses the energy or perhaps will to perform. In a scene that to me seems to push just a bit too far into un-believability, Kevin snuggles with his mother and asks her politely to read on when she stops to ask him how he’s feeling. But as soon as he is feeling better he’s back to his old calculated ways again.

Another not-so-subtle indication of his inclination towards performance is when Eva catches a snippet of a post-incarceration TV interview. Presumably in response to a question on why he did it, he responds, “What are all you people doing right now, but watching me?” Kevin justifies his act of murder as a performance for a society that is starved for entertainment. But Eva realizes this response is itself just another act of performance. In the final scene she patiently tells him that she needs him to tell her why he did it. Kevin responds, “I thought I used to know but now I’m not so sure.” The answer would be unsatisfying to most, but Eva appears content because she has gotten past the barrier of performance.

In Grizzly Man, Timothy Treadwell too has an inclination towards performance that is revealed through Herzog’s clever direction. Because Grizzly Man is a documentary using Timothy’s documentary footage, you would expect there to be little performing. However, by playing Timothy’s footage past the point at which he expected it to be cut, Herzog reveals how Timothy was assuming a different character for each take. We see the awkward moments when Timothy lingers on camera, unsure of what to say next, but hesitant to leave the shot. (These movements in particular remind me of that final scene of Kevin because of that sympathy that Eva/Herzog has for the character once the mask has been pushed aside.)

While both Grizzly Man and Kevin play with this idea of performance, they seem to come to different conclusions about its place in human nature. In Kevin, Kevin’s performance is a frustration to Eva. Kevin’s penchant for performance hides his true, evil nature. It is only when he lowers his mask that we have any hope for his redemption at all. In a counterpoint to Kevin, Eva’s coworker also seems to be putting on an act for her but is overly warm and friendly rather than cold and distant. Eventually, Eva rejects his advances at a holiday party and he leans over to whisper, “Who would want you now?” reinforcing our negative associates with performance. 

In Grizzly Man we see this tendency to perform in nearly every character. Similar to the extended cuts of Timothy’s documentary footage, Herzog also leaves his camera rolling on his interviewees past their completed responses. We see the face fall and the arm drop of the coroner who has an especially exuberant interview, just minutes after he completes his dramatic retelling of Timothy’s death. In Grizzly Man, performance is not so much an indication of evil, but a necessary part of human nature and human storytelling.  

Much like Kevin but perhaps more unexpectedly because of the documentary genre, Grizzly Man also does not attempt to be an objective character study. Herzog not only narrates throughout the film but also freely interjects his opinions. When Timothy mourns of the loss of baby fox finds he finds, Herzog waxes poetically,

“Treadwell came face-to-face with the harsh reality of wild nature. This did not fit into his sentimentalized view that everything out there was good, and the universe in balance and in harmony. Here I differ with Treadwell. He seemed to ignore the fact that in nature there are predators. I believe the common denominator of the universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility and murder.“

Looking at Grizzly Man’s narrative structure in comparison to Kevin helped me to understand Herzog not as a narrator or the director but as the protagonist of the film, much like Eva is the protagonist of Kevin. Grizzly Man is not the story of Timothy Treadwell as many synopses purport, but rather the story of Herzog discovering and retelling the story of Timothy Treadwell (a subtle but important distinction).

Herzog’s role as protagonist is highlighted at several points in the film—the most notable concerning the audio recording of Timothy’s final moments. The audio is described to the audience by the coroner but is never played during the film. Herzog is shown listening to the audio and asks that it be turned off because it is too horrible to hear. He tells Timothy’s past lover never to listen to audio and, in fact, to destroy it. One could argue that Herzog did not play the audio in the film to leave us in suspense. However, it seems to me that he did not play it because we did not need to hear it. It was enough for him alone to hear because the film is really about Herzog discovering Timothy’s story, not us discovering Timothy’s story. Although Herzog includes the requisite interviews with park authority and bear experts, naysayers and supporters, Herzog is less concerned with working out the story that everyone wants to hear—whether or not Timothy was crazy for spending his summers with the bears—and more interested in studying quiet moments captured on film.

Both films probe human nature and examine characters that most people have a difficult time understanding. While both films play with and utilize the theme of performance, Grizzly Man is much more successful in creating a multi-dimensional character. Because Kevin is so cold and distant, We Need to Talk About Kevin leaves you with too few emotional hooks to grab on to. Still, without seeing Kevin in the same week, I may have never noticed these ideas in Grizzly Man.

Internet, what have you done?

It looks as though Errol Morris and the wave of the truth-in-media-questioning “new documentary” style has trickled all the way down to the Internet meme. Trent Babbington and Walker Warren’s 30-minute documentary on an Internet-famous high school rap battle (which you can see here, although if you haven’t seen it already, it might just be too late for you) dredges the deepest corners of the Internet and reveals some interesting questions about truth, the Internet, and viewer perception.

People’s Champion: Behind the Battle from Trent Babbington on Vimeo.

On the surface, the documentary isn’t much better crafted than the original high-school-media-class-produced video, but, while not taking itself too seriously, it manages to uncover a bit about how we perceive our media-saturated world. As the AV Club review points out, “the story behind ‘Iron Mic’ emerges as a true-life example of the cliché of a group of multicultural students working together to make something for everyone—which is the last thing anyone who knows anything about the Internet would expect from a leaked video of a handicapped black student rapping on a closed-circuit segment.” The viewer realizes how quickly we assume (or don’t bother to consider) that there is no story behind the video. Suddenly we realize the racism or ableism of the video that so many YouTube commenters are quick to point out is not intrinsic to the video, but lies in the viewer’s interpretation of it. Eli Porter, who many people assume is a target of mockery was, in fact, rather respected amongst his peers for his rapping chops. The uncomfortably long pause that viewers believe stemmed from awkwardness or some sort of mental inability was, in fact, caused by the media teacher yelling at him to stop because he had cursed.

Throughout the documentary, pseudo-media pundits offer surface commentary in attempts to be humorous, but it turns back on them when we see that the ineptitude they ironically praise as skill is actually neither, but a result of circumstance that lives outside the video. For example, one commentator mentions that it’s “lame” that Eli’s opponent, Envy, “sucked up” to one judge by saying something along the lines of ‘I am so nice, I could be [the judge’s] brother.’ Well, it turns out that the judge’s brother was in fact a really nice guy who was well known around school.

Perhaps the strangest part of the documentary is the lengthy post-bios, which make it appear as if this Internet video is some great hinge in these meme-stars lives that easily bisects them into before and after. The documentary is at once saying that this video is pivotal, a defining moment in the lives of these young adults and Internet viewers, and at the same time saying that it is a random fluke, and any fervor it draws is only because we see it out of context of their lives – for which it was just a moment of daily life.

More Than Forty Years After the Era of Mad Men and Advertisers are Apparently Still a Little Sexist

Due to my lack of actual television set, my commercial intake is thankfully limited to the four that repeatedly play before YouTube videos and in between segments on Hulu videos. My boyfriend has gotten the idea that if he clicks “no” on every Hulu pop up that asks, “is this relevant to you?” Hulu will eventually realize that commercials aren’t relevant to us and we’ll stop having to see them. Unfortunately, his great scheme has yet to materialize any promising results. While many commercials are getting a little too meta about the whole marketing business like this “straight talking” rivalry between Kotex and  Tampax (I do have a soft spot for commercials that address other commercials, although these are pretty bad), other brands seem to think that we not only watch commercials completely mindlessly but that the only people who watch Internet videos are straight, sexist, homophobic, young men.

Take for example this Sobe commercial where Kate Upton wins herself a refreshing drink by getting a man to stare at her, excuse my French, boobs. At least this ad has a bit of a post-feminist edge. Kate acknowledges that women are seen as sex objects and wields that power to get what she wants (which unfortunately is not a CEO position at a major company but a Sobe drink). As obviously demonstrated by her website (which delays the reveal of her portfolio of half nude photos with a three minute video of her getting half nude) Kate Upton (why do I keep wanting to write Middleton?) is working her lady bits for some cold hard cash (which I am sure she will use to cover up only the most revealing bits of those lady bits in an upcoming photo shoot). So this girl knows what her body can do, and is probably going to use it to make more than any female CEO  would anyway (sad but true).

Now the marketers who have really been living under rocks (and not like those hipster cavemen from the GEICO commercials) are whoever put together the “Five Seconds to Glory” Klondike bar commercials. The problem with the whole concept of the commercial where a man gets his Klondike bar after listening to his yapping bitch for five seconds is not only that it’s a little on the offensive side but that it’s completely tired and not funny. The idea is so tired that even if they had reversed the gender roles and the woman had had to listen to her husband talk to get her Klondike bar, that would have even been too tired to be funny. It’s like, “Hello, Klondike bar, we’re three steps past you. We’re way beyond using but not acknowledging sexism to using but not acknowledging physical abuse and violence in commercials.”

Now I understand why these marketers were living under a rock — they were too lazy to push it out of the way. And as if it weren’t enough to offend anyone who actually cares about what their partner has to say, Klondike bar has decide it’s a good marketing strategy to alienate those customers who might say care about what their same-sex partner has to say. All that’s left is to work a little racism into the next commercial.

Maybe I’m being a little too harsh on Klondike’s marketing choices. This could all be a part of a genius viral marketing scheme where these commercials will be featured on the next (delayed) season of Mad Men as the proposals from the new unpaid intern who Don will have Peggy fire because well, one, women should do all the thankless grunt work and, two, because the ideas suck.

John Waters at the Walker

John Waters in the Walker galleries [from the Walker’s website].

In a peculiar collision of coincidence and luck, I won a pair of tickets from my boyfriend’s former boss to see John Waters’ “lecture” at the Walker. The talk was a prelude to the opening of Absentee Landlord, “his devious and sometimes irreverent curatorial intervention” in the permanent collection exhibition, Event Horizon.

The performance, entitled This Filthy World, was strange blend of stand-up comedy, one-man-show style autobiographical monologue, and artist talk. (And I am a little unclear about the relation this performance at the Walker has with a performance he gave in 2006 of the same name that was filmed and made into a documentary by Jeff Garlin). He covered topics including his Baltimore upbringing, his films, and stray observations on the artworld and American pop culture.

I left his performance feeling pleasantly satisfied, which generally might be a compliment but I am not sure if it would be for Waters. But to be honest I am still a little unclear about his intentions. His talk came together much in the way his movies do—or at least the two films I have seen, Hairspray and Cry-Baby, his most commercial films. Both are blends of genres. Hairspray and Cry-Baby are not quite perverse enough to be underground cinema, not quite wholesome enough to be mainstream, not quite obscure enough to be art house. The lecture worked in a very similar way—not accessible enough to be comedy (many of the art references were over my head), not deep enough to be an artist’s lecture, and not thorough enough to be an autobiography. On the surface they came together cohesively, but taken apart and considered, it’s hard to know what to make of them.

Unexpectedly, some of Water’s sharpest gems were his quips on the artworld. Waters spoke of his fondness for “fugitive material,” art constructed without the consideration for longevity. His example was of a painting that he bought which was primed and left out until it was covered in mold at which point Waters hung it up in his home (I can’t vouch for the factuality of this story). He explained that the work was hideous, wouldn’t last, might destroy his home, and kill him.

Perhaps some of the dissonance in his performance arose from his volatile location between mainstream acceptance and the kitschy-pop underworld. How do you reconcile a fascination and involvement with the low class when you fly first class (and are misrecognized as Steve Buscemi),  wear designer clothes (no matter how trashy they look), and are invited to curate and speak at one of the most prestigious art institutions in the world? I suppose that all “outsider” artists must struggle with the tension between artworld acceptance and the values on which they originally built their art. But I do wonder, since he has been working for so long—he joked that he would be the oldest performer at Bonnaroo this weekend—if he tires of keeping up his persona.

For the most part, Waters seems content to quietly drift into mainstream culture. While he still speaks fondly of the boundaries he’d like to push, he appears less interested in putting those ideas into action. He opened the show with a bit on the openness of the Walker. How far, he pondered, would the Walker let him take his ideas? He spoke of car crash sounds in the garage, audience nudity, dead bouquets littering the stage, and female urinals. But the crashes were limited to the elevator, the audience was fully dressed, he spoke in front of a beautifully arranged living bouquet and I was able to comfortably pee sitting down before and after the show. I appreciate that, as he explained in the Q&A, he values wit over shock. But from the “Pope of Trash” I wanted a little more trash and less trash talking.

What You See is Not What You Get


Sometimes, I wonder if movie poster designers ever see the final cut of the film and think, “Wow, that really has nothing to do with the poster that I made.” I have no idea how much of the movie material a designer is given to work with these days. I am sure it’s more than designers were given in the early days of cinema, when films were marketed to theaters a year in advance. Then, the designer had little more than a general concept and a few star names, which could possibly change before the film ever made it to the theaters.

I went into Circo knowing very little about the film. In fact, we picked the film from the poster in the theater lobby, which is unusual for me as I usually do extensive pre-movie research and a fair amount of hemming and hawing about my options. And while sometimes it’s better to go into a film with no expectations, how commercially successful a movie is has a lot to do with properly setting expectations. While Circo will probably never be a box office hit, despite critic praise, the poster didn’t really set me up with the proper mindset. A film poster doesn’t need to be a miniature trailer for a film, but it should give you a taste of the flavor of film, if not a full bite.

In the poster for Circo, the blue sky reflecting in the blue tent’s canvas gives me the impression of hopeful, boundless opportunity—something the film lacks. As becomes clear from the description provided on the film’s website—“Set in the cinematically rich milieu of a century-old traveling circus in rural Mexico, Circo follows the family-run ‘Circo Mexico‘ as they struggle to stay together despite mounting debt, dwindling audiences, and a simmering family conflict”—this isn’t exactly a happy-go-lucky tale. (Also, thanks for making all the content an image, web designer, forcing me to re-type that quote by hand).

When I got back to my computer, I looked carefully into the poster, squinting at the scenery around the tent, for some hints of lurking trouble but everything looks just spiffy. Circo makes no attempt to present the lives of these family members as care-free as this perfectly sunny day. From the moment the film opens with the father recording circus announcements on a beat-up tape recorder that his father will play from the roof of a beat-up van drawing children from the small dusty towns out into the streets, we see how much of a struggle keeping the circus alive is. The moment this poster depicts never shows up in the film. I wanted to like the film, but I didn’t and, I don’t want to point any fingers, but I wonder if the poster set me up for failure.

An Open Letter to MTV

MTV, I am not ashamed that I tune in regularly every week for a full hour to watch the Real World. I know that the commercials that fill more and more of that hour every year are more mentally stimulating than any of the random moments of daily life that you curate, edit together and call programming. I don’t mind that you stitch together sequences that have no chronological relationship. I’m not even going to give it a second thought that I noticed Mike was wearing a shirt in one episode that he didn’t make until the next. And if you ever had any true intention of promoting social change and acceptance that has long since faded like the cast’s concern that Zito was a “gay porn star.” I’m not even going get into the fact that being in porn does not in fact make you a porn star. Well, at least not until MTV finds you and quietly attempts to tuck away your past. MTV, you of all people should know that you can never delete anything off the Internet.

I accept all of this. There’s just one thing that I cannot understand about this new season, MTV.  Why do you stage all of the cast confessional interviews so that the Real Worlders spill their hearts out while looking over their shoulders? How I am supposed to believe that Nany has serious daddy issues when all I can think about is how she must be developing a serious crink in her neck.

You know, MTV, I understand that the direct-to-camera confessional-style proclamations are getting a little stale. But, really? Does having the cast posing perpendicular to the camera and craning their necks around really do anything but distract us from Heather’s Bratz doll-like features. Let’s please remember that our suspension of disbelief that the Real World in fact the “real” world is already tottering precariously like Adam after a few too many drinks. I just hope, MTV, that you are willing to shell out some major dough for some massage therapy after this season has wrapped up.

Getting to Know Your Neighbors

                          Rain in the Suburbs and Shine in the City. Stills from An Education.

Ostensibly, An Education has nothing to do with suburbs and cities. But, beneath the love story, the cultural ideology concerning these loaded places plays out. Popular culture has given the suburbs a terrible rap—even though more than a fourth of Americans live in suburbs according to a 2009 PEW study (I couldn’t find any stats for the Brits). Movies often portray the suburbs as a homogeneous locale full of hidden crimes, post-work cocktails, failing marriages and absentee parenting (see The Ice Storm, Little Children, American Beauty). If there is a lesson to An Education besides the fact that rich, fun older men are always already married, it’s that the suburbs are soulless. An Education takes a cold look at the suburbs, using many of stereotypes held against them to color the coming-of-age tale.

Set in suburban England in the early 1960s, An Education follows Jenny, a high school student set on attending Oxford University. When Jenny sees a much faster route out of the suburbs in an affair with David, an older, funny, and only mildly sleazy chap, she pushes her educational goals aside. Well, we all know how this story ends. That’s right, ladies, it is too good to be true. And Jenny may have found that out 120 minutes sooner if she had only gotten to know her suburban neighbors. It turns out David and his wife (and child) live in the very same neighborhood as Jenny. When she discovers his mailing address on some hidden letters, she exclaims, “That’s why I was always running into you.” Suburbanites are so cloistered away in single-family homes that they do not recognize their neighbors, let alone know them.

An Education doesn’t waste any time depicting the positives of Jenny’s ‘burb. For Jenny, the suburbs are full of dull classes, nagging parents, restriction and torrential downpours. If Jenny, before she meets David, is the boring suburbs, then David is the stimulating city. He represents the notions of freedom, culture, and excitement that Jenny associates with escaping from her family home.

David even takes her to Paris, the epitome of a city for Jenny, where life is music, wine and cuddling. At this moment, when the pair is gallivanting across Paris, the film holds the perfect opportunity to reveal the flaws of the city and sing at least a few praises of the suburbs. The film never takes advantage of this opportunity to show a bit of urban grit, though, and we are left with a 2D portrayal of the city. In fact, it isn’t until they return to the suburbs that David’s secret marriage is revealed (coincidentally, at the same time it is revealed that he is not an urbanite at all but a suburban dweller).

Even Jenny’s deflowering is bungled while in the suburbs. Having missed their flight to Paris, Jenny and David stay in a motel by the airport. When David comically offers Jenny a banana to begin the deed, she has finally had enough of the baby names and condescending treatment. She goes off on a tirade of how he must not baby her any more. In essence, she is asking him not to see as her a sheltered suburbanite but as a sophisticated urbanite.

It is only once Jenny is forced back into the suburbs that she begins to see their potential. When she has sunk to her lowest point, kicked out of prep school and with no marriage to support her, she turns to her school teacher, whom she previously insulted as boring (a.k.a. suburban). Entering her teacher’s home, Jenny remarks, “This is lovely, all your books and pictures.” Her teacher replies, “Paperbacks and postcards…” to which Jenny asks, “That’s all you need, isn’t it?” The question lingers there. Are these representations of the life Jenny wants, the images of the city tucked neatly away in the suburbs, enough to satisfy her?

As the film wraps up with an incredibly trite voice over, we know Jenny will go to Paris again, but it seems unlikely she will stay there. Instead, Jenny appears to declare that maybe the suburbs aren’t so bad. She can even have domesticated mementos of the urban world from short-lived trips. But it is hard to be convinced of Jenny’s ‘realization’ since the film never really rebukes the idyllic nature of the city. Despite the attempt at an uplifting ending, the viewer is left with a sinking feeling that Jenny is only settling. The film trots out these tired clichés of the suburbs, challenging neither the viewers’ culturally formed opinions of the suburbs nor Jenny’s.

Lynch and Barbie Sell Some Brew


David Lynch is doing coffee now. Or, apparently, he has been for seven years—he had been for five when this Moviephone article was published in 2009—but Lynch just released this ‘commercial’ promoting his beans today. David Lynch’s Signature Roast brought to you Barbie’s broken neck. Right around 2:01 Lynch sounds like he’s about ready to pop Barbie’s head off because she can’t remember the name of the coffee. You would think a man who makes a commercial by lip-syncing for a plastic doll would come up with a more creative name for his brew than “David Lynch’s Signature Cup Coffee” but I don’t even drink coffee so who I am to say what coffee drinkers like on the label of their beans. And I am glad that Barbie is so concerned that it’s organic and fairly traded—Barbie doesn’t come off as the most eco-friendly gal to me but then again she has been known to change with the trends.

It took me a while to be convinced that it wasn’t a prank but it is Lynch and sometimes celebrities do …things. Like a couple weeks back when the Flaming Lips decided to release a flash drive full of new tracks inside of a gummy brain. Pitchfork summarizes Coyne’s description of the scheme, “it’s a life-sized human skull completely made out of edible gummy bear stuff. It also has a gummy brain inside of it and, inside of that, there’s a USB flash drive that has three new songs on it. It’s pretty outrageous.” I just hope there isn’t something strange—say, Barbie’s head—buried in Lynch’s grounds. Although when paying $20 for a 16 oz. canister, one hopes that there’s a little extra something special inside.

And is it just me or does Barbie sound suspiciously like the man talking to the toad in this video that I tried—and failed—to make viral a few years back?

Editor’s note: Apparently Mattel has asked Lynch to remove the video from his site and Vimeo. Lynch posted this image in its place: