Twin Peaks – David Lynch’s Unfinished Masterpiece: Riddhiman Basu
David Lynch as a filmmaker is acclaimed for his surrealist and often mind-bending cinema. The most celebrated among them are the films ‘Lost Highway’, ‘Mulholland Drive’ and ‘Inland Empire’, which are considered to be his masterpieces. However, ‘Twin Peaks’ is never considered to be in this league. By ‘Twin Peaks’, here I mean the two seasons of the TV series as well as the film ‘Twin Peaks – Fire Walk With Me’. While the series is counted among one of the highest rated television programs ever, the film was panned by audience and critics alike. The two combined, however deserve to be called a masterpiece, though an unfinished one.
The series premiered on 8th April, 1990. Seven more episodes were produced, and the series was renewed for a second season that aired until June 10, 1991. The show derived its name from a fictitious small town in Washington named ‘Twin Peaks’. The series mainly deals with the murder investigation of a teenage girl named Laura Palmer(Sheryl Lee). FBI agent Dale Cooper(Kyle McLachlan) arrives in Twin Peaks for this purpose. He has certain psychic abilities and employs unconventional methods of investigation. In the course of this investigation, he gets exposed to the seedy underbelly of a seemingly peaceful town. He also learns about the dark forces or spirits that affect the individuals of the town in a variety of ways. He stumbles upon the mythical places known as the black lodge and white lodge and finally enters the black lodge.
The film released a year after the last telecast of the series is a prequel, which portrays the last few days of Laura’s life. However, it also expands upon the fate of Dale Cooper after entering the black lodge and hence serves as a sort of sequel as well.
The film was quite different in mood from the series. It was grittier, which made it unsatisfactory for the fans of the series. The critics were unable to judge the film properly due to lack of familiarity with the series and generally decided in the negative. It was unfortunately ‘booed at’, in its Premiere in the 1992 Cannes Film Festival. This disconnect is probably the major reason due to which the entire Twin Peaks saga did not get its due in its time. Over the years however, it has achieved a cult status among viewers, but is still not considered to be among Lynch’s best works by critics.
Now let us look at some major driving aspects of the twin peaks saga:
In Ep 2 of Season 1(Zen, or The Skill to Catch a Killer) of the series, Cooper has a strange dream. He first encounters a one-armed man(Al Strobel) speaking about himself(Mike) and Bob(Frank Silva). He tells him that they lived above a convenience store and were both touched by ‘the devilish one’, resulting in a tattoo on their left arms. But when he saw the face of God, he cut that arm off. Bob says that he has not changed his ways and will kill again. The scene dissolves into a red curtained room where an aged Cooper is sitting on a sofa. He encounters a dwarf(Michael J. Anderson) and Laura Palmer. They speak in a strange accent. When music starts playing the dwarf starts dancing. Laura comes to him and whispers her killers name in his ears. Cooper is able to remember the name upon waking up, but forgets it in the morning.
Laura’s mother Sarah Palmer(Grace Zabriskie) also has visions of this Bob and it is subsequently revealed that Bob is the murderer of Laura Palmer though they find no traces of him. However, he is able to find the one armed man resembling the one from his dream with the help of police.
A key aspect of this story is possession of humans by spirits. This is first revealed In Ep 13 of the series (Demons). Gerard, the one armed man is revealed to have a dual personality which he keeps in check by injecting himself with a drug ‘haloperidol’. When Cooper, on the instruction of his senior Gordon Cole(played by David Lynch himself) refrains from giving Gerard the drug, his other personality comes out. He addresses himself as ‘Mike’, a spirit who uses Gerard as a vehicle. He also explains that he has parted ways with another fellow spirit ‘Bob’, who is responsible for the murder of Laura. While Cooper is aware of Bob’s true face through his psychic abilities, he realizes for the first time that to track down Bob he must find the vehicle of Bob. In the next episode (Lonely Souls), the host of Bob is revealed to be Laura’s own father Leland Palmer(Ray Wise).
When he is arrested, Bob causes him to commit suicide(In Ep 15: Arbitrary Law) and leaves him. In the final episode of the series (Ep 29: Beyond Life and Death), it is revealed that Bob has taken possession of Cooper after he entered the Black Lodge. Another instance of possession is that of the Giant(Carel Struycken). The Giant is a benevolent spirit who appears to Cooper and gives important clues at various stages of the investigation. He is revealed to possess an elderly waiter(Hank Worden) of the The Great Northern hotel in the final episode.
In the film it is further revealed that the Dwarf (Man from Other Place) whom Cooper saw in his dream and also in the Black Lodge actually represents the severed arm of Mike(the evil side). His intentions however do not seem as benevolent as it appeared in the series. He seemingly helped Cooper to settle a personal score with Bob.
An interesting visual motif is used in the series and especially in the film to hint on the possession of Leland by Bob. The characters of the grandmother(Frances Bay) and the grandson(Austin Jack Lynch in the series/Jonathan J. Leppell in the film) appear both in the series and the film and it is understood that they are also inhabitants of the black lodge.
The grandson is shown at times with an opaque mask. These are the times that correspond to the possession of Leland as can be noticed upon attentive viewing
In Ep 18(Masked Ball) of the series, Cooper asks Deputy Hawk(Michael Horse) about the White Lodge, something he heard from Major Briggs(Don S. Davis), an air force major stationed in Twin Peaks. Hawk being of the native Red-Indian descent is able to fill him in with the ancient legend regarding the lodges. He tells Cooper that the White Lodge is the residing place of benevolent spirits who control the nature and people in Twin Peaks. However, there is also a place called the Black Lodge, which is a shadow self of the white lodge, with evil spirits. One needs to cross the Black Lodge in order to reach the White Lodge. Later on in the series we learn that the military is also looking for the mythical lodges. Through a chain of events, Cooper is forced to look for the Black Lodge himself and enter it in order to rescue Annie Blackburn(Heather Graham), his love interest. When he finally enters the Black Lodge in Ep 29(Beyond Life and Death), he finds in it a red curtained room exactly similar to his dreams, where he meets the dwarf. He also encounters Bob in the lodge, who traps him there and takes over his body. The Dale Cooper emerging from the lodge is actually Bob.
The film reveals a unique quality of the lodges, their timeline. The Black Lodge being sort of a different dimension runs on a timeline that is entirely different from the real world. To understand this refer to the below diagram
The above line represents the timeline of the black lodge/white lodge, while the below line represents the same for the real world. If point B represents the point in time in the real world when Cooper enters the Black Lodge, A represents the same point according to the timeline of the Black Lodge. As can be seen from the diagram, the point A is much earlier in the reference frame of the real world, corresponding to a time even before Cooper actually arrived in Twin Peaks. This is interpreted from the fact that Laura is able to see Cooper as a resident of the black lodge in her dream before her death, the very event that would bring Cooper to the town. See also has a vision of a bleeding Annie, who tells her that the good Cooper is trapped in the Lodge and cannot come out. Again this event corresponds to a time in the real world(after Cooper would enter the Black Lodge) that is in the future.
Since all this happens in the prequel film, it also becomes sort of a sequel to the series and explains what happened to Cooper after he entered the lodge. Laura also reaches the black lodge after her death, which is again much earlier than she actually died(Anne’s vision says, “ I am in the Black Lodge with Dale and Laura”). In the final scene of the movie, she is able to find her angel who would take her to the White Lodge.
Through the series and the film, it is inferred that the lodges are in fact a counterpart of heaven and hell. The Black Lodge with its malevolent spirits represents hell, while the White Lodge with its benevolent spirits represents Heaven. The spirits of the Black Lodge feed on ‘garmabozia’, which is the pain and suffering of humans. This is represented as creamed corn to the spirits and is referenced many times in the series and the film. The White Lodge, which is never actually shown, is understood to inspire goodness.
The aspect of incest is another vital component of the story. Leland, possessed by Bob has carnal relations with his own daughter. In his own self, he is seen to repent this deeply(in the film). Laura is aware of a presence that seeks her flesh every night, but sees the true face of Bob and hence does not realize that it is her own father. She tells her friend Smith(Lenny Von Dohlen) that Bob is having her since she is 12. Although not clearly implied, it can be deduced that it is this sexual harassment which turns her into a cocaine addict and nymphomaniac at such an early age. Towards the end, she comes face to face with the truth about the vehicle of Bob. This causes further depression and brings her to a stage where she wants to die. When Bob wants to possess her and fails, he uses Leland to kill her in a fit of rage.
As can be understood from the preceding sections, the plot has a deep vein of surrealism. But, there may be another way to look at the whole thing, that can be termed as ‘entry into the real through the surreal’, where the surreal becomes a metaphor for the real. In this interpretation, the black lodge and white lodge serve as symbolisms of the good and bad selves in humans. This point of view would shed an entirely different light on the events occurring in the town. The cases of possession could be viewed as multiple personality disorders. It would be up to the viewers to choose which interpretation they would prefer. This aspect is strongly hinted in Ep 16 of the series (Arbitrary Law). When his companions react in disbelief about the possession of Leland by Bob, Cooper asks them, “Is it easier to believe that a man raped and killed his own daughter? Any more comforting?”
It is indeed unfortunate that the story could not be completed as was intended. During the run of the series, there were differences between David Lynch and co-producer Mark Frost. The premature revelation of Laura’s killer on the insistence of Frost caused a huge dip in the TRP of the show and ultimately led to its cancellation after Season 2. Lynch had planned to film a trilogy to complete the story, but abandoned that plan after poor reception of the first (and only film).
However, it has now been announced that a limited series on Twin Peaks would be premiered in 2016 and will be directed by Lynch himself. Lynch and Frost have come together once again to finish what they started. This will be a continuation of the original series with the timeline shifting to 25 years later.(It may be interesting to note here that in the final episode of the series, when Cooper meets Laura in the black lodge, she tells him, “I will see you again in 25 years”)
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