Feb 23, 2014

The Horror of Twin Peaks: Re-Visited

prom photo of the character Laura Palmer from the show Twin Peaks

This photograph is capable of destroying me. It's of Laura Palmer, a character, played by actress Sheryl Lee, on the television show Twin Peaks

Perhaps you need to know the story of that show to be moved by that image or be interested in anything I'm going to say here. I'm not writing this for those of you unfamiliar with the show. This one is for everyone who already knows, or tried and couldn't make it through the first episode because you didn't know what to look for, or maybe this one's just for me. Let's call it posterity.

Laura Palmer is a tragic character. You can see it in the eyes, red-rimmed and a bump too glassy. Her life isn't her own, due to her age, the problems of her parents, drugs, sex and forces beyond her own, or anyone's, control. (There's a little bit of Laura Palmer in all of us, I always say.) Things definitely did not end well for Laura, 25 years ago today, but there probably wasn't ever much of a chance that they would, once she was born the daughter of a man named Leland... Or, Le Land...  Or, The World. And, when Leland was just a boy, he had this neighbor...

David Lynch is a man who exists on the planet Earth. This is an important aspect of his career, oft skipped over in Critics' far-reaching attempts to describe his work with the perfect synonym for "surreal," which is to say "not real," which is just wrong. There is something absolutely "real" in Lynch's work, relatable to citizens of the planet Earth, else his so-called "confusing" narratives would certainly not have scored ABC's highest ratings in four years, let alone made it onto television in the Cheers-era of workaday men sitcoms. Lynch, when he's on target, may as well be a documentary filmmaker. It just so happens that his chosen subject can't be filmed with our current technology, so dramatic reenactments are necessary.

What unfilmable subject is this? There are many names. The ancient Greeks and Romans developed entire pantheons. It is the Tarot, Major and Minor. [The Force of Wands, the Intelligence of Swords, etc.] Freud had "The Unconscious." But David Lynch mostly just calls it "Bob."

Frank Silva as the demon Bob from the show Twin Peaks

That's Bob. You've probably met him, whether you know it or not.

Bob operates under the same basic principles of all demiurges capable of what Andrzej Żuławski called Possession. Oh, I guess I forgot to explain that part...

When a person of Ancient Greece expressed what we would call the "emotion" of "anger," what they said is that person was visited by or had come under the spell of Ares, the god of War. This way of thinking at first seems basically backwards from the contemporary logic of consumerism and pop psychology, in which we must "own" everything, including our anger. (I kind of gagged a little bit, typing that.) But look more closely. Everyone knows what a meme is, now, yeah? Can we all agree that memes have lives of their own? Is Wal-Mart really nothing more than all of the people who work for Wal-Mart? Or has Wal-Mart, as a corporation, become a self-sustaining entity, with systems of policy in place to ensure safety of Self regardless of what human cog may fall away? So, then, if "my" anger is capable of activating "your" anger, who's to say what's really happening isn't that Anger [Or, again, the "fire" of the suit of Wands] is having a conversation (or visiting) with Itself through the both of us? [Again, watch Żuławski's Possession, if you haven't.]

David Lynch has so deeply imbued his best work with the symbolism of this mythology that the work itself plays out as nonsense to those with a more, well, "no nonsense" mindset. The man's films are not pretension on a big budget. His oeuvre is the Shamanism of Horror and just outside of Twin Peaks is where It lives, in the Black Lodge, with Bob. Bob isn't Horror, though. Bob eats Horror. Bob enters this plane of existence to cause the worst kind of pain to us, so that He can feed upon it. [Typing this is raising my pulse. I can not stress to you how important it is to me that I write this article and how much it really does scare me to write it. Thinking something and saying it are very different things.] This is a concept that, when regarded as a plot device, is interesting, for sure. And maybe that's how you regard it, for years even. But you keep living and then maybe you decide to watch Fire Walk with Me after spending all day researching Tarot and looking for clues to the effect that the Major Arcanum may refer to aspects of Consciousness attainable by human beings... And suddenly FWwM is the scariest fucking movie you've ever seen in your life.

Obviously, there are myriad aspects to TP other than the Horror angle. To be sure, probably 95% of the show revolves around quirky characters living an oddly plasticine existence, full of soap opera melodrama and dad jokes. This is both intentional and a statement on the fabricated reality ["Formica."] most humans are content to pretend is The Real World. Why would anyone adopt this saccharine charade unless they, on some level, have glimpsed the potentiality for disaster that hides in every moment of our lives? Maybe it's the only rational response? [Perhaps the Eloi aren't such foolish creatures as Wells suggests, if the Morlocks are inevitable.] In the end, the perpetual cups of coffee and slices of cherry pie, every tortuous second that James Hurley is on screen, Bobby's overacting, Pete's crinkled nose, the voice memos to Diane, Invitation to Love, all of it only serves to make it that much more horrible when the rug is pulled out from under everything, when the suggestion is finally made, through Cooper's adulation of Annie Blackburn, that it is Love [read: having something to lose] which opens the door to the Black Lodge, or, worse, that there is no White Lodge, since it's never shown, merely spoken of, much as is Heaven, where everything is fine. Yes. Sure it is.

"Through the darkness of future past,
The Magician longs to see.
One chants out between two worlds,
"Fire-Walk with me."

Thank you for your time. Are there any questions?


[Rejoice, children! For since this writing, Twin Peaks has been renewed for another season by Showtime!]


  1. Anonymous9:05 PM

    I'm interested in Lynch's choice of directly showing horrific acts in Fire Walk with Me.