The Eye of the Duck scene, an idea conceptualized by David Lynch, is a highly particular proposal from a highly peculiar filmmaker, which can be spotted in action in plenty of great films once it has been pointed out to you.
Now, since we are talking about David Lynch here, a man who for his film Eraserhead bought a semi-embalmed cat carcass off of a veterinarian, dipped said cat carcass in tar and then never even used it in the film, it may be prudent to clarify that we are not talking about literal ducks, nor literal eyes. The Eye of the Duck is rather a single scene, which ties together and suggests the ethos of the film as a whole.
As Lynch puts it; “A duck is one of the most beautiful animals. If you study a duck, you’ll see certain things: the bill is a certain texture and a certain length; the head is a certain shape; the texture of the bill is very smooth and it has quite precise detail and reminds you somewhat of the legs (the legs are a little more rubbery). The body is big, softer, and the texture isn’t so detailed. The key to the whole duck is the eye and where it is placed. It’s like a little jewel. It’s so perfectly placed to show off a jewel – right in the middle of the head, next to this S-curve with the bill sitting out in front, but with enough distance so that the eye is very well secluded and set out. When you’re working on a film, a lot of times you can get the bill and the legs and the body and everything, but this eye of the duck is a certain scene, this jewel, that if it’s there, it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s just fantastic.”
On several other occasions Lynch has explained that the appearance of the eye is just as important as its placement. But how do you uncover the Eye of the Duck, a single scene in a film which may be full of great scenes? Well, working off of Lynch’s revelation of the Eye of the Duck in Blue Velvet, the distinction becomes more clear. He says it’s the In Dreams scene.
College student Jeffrey has stumbled unto a mystery, and uncovered that psychopathic gangster Frank has kidnapped nightclub singer Dorothy’s husband and son, in order to force her into sex slavery. Jeffrey and
Dorothy become involved in a consensual sadomasochistic sexual relationship, causing Jeffrey emotional distress as he continues spying on Frank to save Dorothy. Frank catches on and abducts the two, bringing
them to a gangster’s den. The scene begins: Whilst Dorothy is allowed to see her family, Frank forces Jeffrey to watch one of his cronies to performing a lip-sync of Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams”. Frank is moved to tears, and then angrily cuts the performance short, apparently reminded of something painful.
In a film as bizarre and packed as Blue Velvet, it’s surprising that Lynch could have a single Eye of the Duck, but upon inspection, it’s completely correct. The clashing forces of Jeffrey being dragged well beyond what he can handle, the sordid criminality, pasted over by a performance of classic and sentimental Americana, giving way to buried trauma. This is Blue Velvet.
There are more declarative scenes of the hopeful purpose of Blue Velvet, but they do not reflect the long dark night of the soul that watching the film itself is. And so, The Eye of the Duck is not necessarily the climax of the film, the acceptance of the theme or conclusion of a character’s arc, it is simply the scene which in a few minutes captures the unique alchemic mixture of qualities which defines the film. Perhaps now you’ll be able to enjoy recognizing them in the films that you love, or forming your own.