Why David Lynch backed away from transforming Kafka’s The Metamorphosis into a movie

Contributed by
Mar 26, 2021, 3:00 PM EDT (Updated)

Directorial restraint is alive and well in 2017, at least so long as David Lynch is still making movies…or, in this case, not making movies.

The Mulholland Drive director, who’s made a career unearthing all that’s ugly beneath the sheen of human civility and nature’s skin-deep beauty, recently offered fans a bit more insight into his long-stalled hope of bringing a very David Lynch-ian film treatment to one of the David Lynch-iest of classic novels: Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.

Speaking at a “Close Encounter” fan event last week at the Rome Film Festival, Lynch said his ambition to adapt Kafka’s story — which follows one man’s confusion as he transforms into a giant bug — ultimately relented, once he realized Kafka’s work could only suffer if he subjected the novel to a transformation of its own.

“Once I finished writing the script for a feature film adaptation, I realized that Kafka’s beauty is in his words,” he told the Rome audience. “That story is so full of words that, when I was finished writing, I realized it was better on paper than it could ever be on film.”

The Metamorphosis was written in Kafka’s native German, and is notable for resisting a perfectly nuanced translation from German to English. Over the years, though, that hasn’t stopped a succession of filmmakers, TV directors and even comic artists from trying.

Lynch himself long has harbored the idea of bringing Kafka’s story to the screen. In fact, it’s one of the great, elusive unmade projects in a career that’s been partially defined by them. But something — artistic hurdles, money, and even audience demographics — always has gotten in the way.

“I wrote a script based on it once,” he told another Italian film panel in 2014. “At the time…there were two things: One, probably only a very small audience would have wanted to see the film, and a high budget to realize the insect and do the things based on the story.

“Also, in the end I felt that it was better left as a great book.”

Lynch was in Rome last week to receive the festival’s lifetime achievement award. Asked about his plans for another season of the recently-revived Twin Peaks television series, he replied only that it’s “too soon to tell if a fourth season is going to happen.”

If you’re among Lynch’s ardent followers, that kind of uncertainty is probably a torment you’re used to. Sometimes, being a David Lynch fan can almost feel like being trapped inside — what else? — a David Lynch movie.