In his thank you message for Eraserhead, David Lynch states that whilst he knows there is plenty of suffering in the world there is this “all prevailing happiness underneath everything,”. This is key to understanding his cult television series Twin Peaks. Despite its darker moments, it has an affirming message of oneness and community. Lynch deliberately chose to focus on the lives and love affairs of the citizens of Twin Peaks, above the chase for Laura Palmer’s (Sheryl Lee) killer, and if the network ABC hadn’t pushed him to reveal the identity, he wouldn’t have. By focusing on the citizens of Twin Peaks, he shows his audience all sides of humanity. The quest to understand Twin Peaks has fascinated critics, fans and scholars alike, spawning dedicated research from its fan base, who create detailed fan theories around the true meaning of the surrealist show. Lengthy videos such as ‘Twin Peaks actually explained, no, really’ describe the popular theory to why the show is a metaphor for television itself and is regularly shared around Twin Peaks fan groups, whilst other fans theorise that even Twin Peaks doesn’t understand Twin Peaks due to the problems the first two seasons had with their network ABC. When asked about the popular ‘television’ theory in 2017, David Lynch stated that he didn’t write the show with allegory in mind. Understanding the show is something one shouldn’t aim to do. Twin Peaks affirms that whilst one may not understand life, it is important to feel it, and this is part of what makes the series essential lockdown viewing.
Along with the fandom’s commitment to the love of Twin Peaks, there is a striking commitment from the cast, which shows through the strength of their performances. When Kyle MacLachlan was asked to reprise the role of Special Agent Dale Cooper, he told Lynch “David, I never left Twin Peaks,”. “[My cast] know the world, and they love the world like me. [Our reunion] was so beautiful. I’m telling you – it was a lovefest,” said Lynch in 2018. Knowing that the cast has the same love for the show as its fans do enriches the viewing experience, as the passion shines through.
Contextually Lynch discovered his spirituality in the form of transcendental meditation when working on Eraserhead, which he famously described as his most “spiritual film”. He practices meditation twice daily and is also the founder of the David Lynch Foundation which promotes transcendental meditation as a “life-changing tool”. Many scholars such as Jeff Johnson and John Alexander have tied the moral and religious aspects of Lynch’s filmography to a nostalgic American identity and often non-traditional eastern religious influences. John Alexander (The Films of David Lynch)— researched here by Zachary Sheldon— argues that “the nostalgic elements of Lynch’s work— the deceptive 1950s-esque tranquillity of the town of Twin Peaks, for example— evoke a kind of Manichean belief system rolled into the postmodern sentimentality of contemporary American culture“. Manichaeism teaches a dualistic cosmology describing the struggle between a good spiritual world of light, and an evil, material world of darkness; a struggle that any fan of Twin Peaks will know is present in its world.
The life-affirming aspects are evident in Agent Cooper, who is known for his happy go lucky attitude and moralistic stance. “He had this crazy, over the top, sort of boyish enthusiasm that [went] with the character,” stated MacLachlan in 2018. The moments when Twin Peaks is at its most breezy and charming stem from his scenes, from the famous “every day, give yourself a present,” moment with Sherriff Harry Truman (Michael Ontkean) to his quirky investigation method that takes place in the middle of the woods, throwing stones at bottles to see what hits. Despite its harrowing moments, Twin Peaks has countless wholesome moments. For instance we see this in Andy (Harry Goaz) and Lucy’s (Kimmy Robertson) relationship, as their chemistry stems from her staunch dizziness and his charming buffoonery; a relationship that continues into Twin Peaks: The Return as viewers are treated to seeing them shopping online for furniture together on their work computers, arguing about whether to get the beige or the red chair. Twenty-five years on they still have the same chemistry, as Andy gives into Lucy’s wishes only for her to select his preference, the red chair.
The humour of Twin Peaks stems from odd comedic moments like this; moments of domesticity amplified to the absurd. The townspeople are united in their love of coffee and cherry pie and many of the pivotal scenes take place in the community hub, the local Double R Diner. Lynch is known for using classic symbols of 1950s America and turning them on their head, but many of the show’s happiest moments take place in the diner. For instance, Cooper meets his love Annie (Heather Graham) in the diner, Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn) has her trance-like dance scene, and Shelley (Mädchen Amik) and Gordon (David Lynch) meet. Some great one-liners come from the Gordon/Shelley scene, with Gordon naughtily flirting with Shelley, ordering the table three helpings of pie each and comically telling her outraged boyfriend “You are witnessing a front three-quarter view of two adults sharing a tender moment!” Gordon also breaks the fourth wall, stating that the world of Twin Peaks seems to be full of beautiful women, and contextually David Lynch was besotted with Mädchen, whom he affectionately nicknamed ‘Match-kin’(and MacLachlan, ‘Kale’). It is a joyous moment and a fan favourite. One is hardly able to discount Twin Peaks as being without heart when moments like these exist within it. Its inspirational moments can come at the strangest times, such as when Agent Cooper is shot and says the lines “It’s not so bad as long as you can keep the fear from your mind. But I guess that’s true about most things in life,”, a sentiment important to keep in mind during the troubles of lockdown.
Lynch’s art is meant to be experienced more than understood. This is something the characters of the Twin Peaks universe understand, as they don’t question its surrealism. When Cooper is visited by The Giant (Carel Struycken) in a dream, he understands it as a vision and is taken seriously by his colleges when he uses this experience as evidence towards Laura Palmer’s case. This willingness to accept the surreal as it comes adds to the message of Twin Peaks; that you need to feel, not understand. The same goes for the allusive character of the log lady Margaret Lanterman, who is known for the log she carries around and the prophetic insight she offers. Despite her eccentricities, she is taken seriously and through this, the police gain key evidence. Margaret is treated with enduring respect, respect that lasts long into Twin Peaks: The Return as she serves, again, as an aid to the sheriff’s department. Throughout Twin Peaks, there is a real commitment to the acceptance of oddity, and it is fun to lose yourself in Lynch’s surrealist universe as a distraction from the lockdown blues.
Throughout the somewhat darker Twin Peaks: The Return, the spiritual world permeates everything. Agent Cooper is at war with his literal self, echoing the dissonance of Laura Palmer being herself and not herself, and in the final episodes, his unwavering commitment to her murder case is shown. The Black Lodge’s surrealist antics connect right into the contrasting ‘sober’ view of the world; a reality which is still more entertaining than real life due to Lynch’s direction. Lynch is an avid promoter of transcendental meditation and is nearly obsessive with the theme of dreams, and this escapist element prevalent in Twin Peaks is perfect for lockdown. Twin Peaks consistently sticks to its theme of life being a dream, which we could all at one point wake up from. At times, this world view is used to create the show’s most terrifying moments, but there is a freedom in its sense that what happens is forever out of our control. “And then she said the ancient phrase; we are like the dreamer who dreams,” says Lynch’s character Gordon in The Return. Like dreams, Twin Peaks has dark themes, but these themes share their screen time with innocence and wonder. To understand Lynch’s art, you have to understand that the pure and the impure, the dark and the light, are concepts of equal importance to his vision, informed by the ethics of Manichaeism. “David doesn’t believe in constraint,” explained Laura Dern (Ansen 1990), “He believes in total freedom of expression. He’s the most firm believer in love of anyone I know. [Of course] he knows the twisted, dark side. If we repress one or the other, we’re in big trouble,”. Twin Peaks is an important emotional journey to take; a series that encapsulates a full vision of human life, one that brings a new and interesting outlook upon existence. In lockdown, more than ever, it is important to expand our minds and vision, and Twin Peaks is a brilliant series to do this through.
Twin Peaks is available to stream on NOWTV, and available for rent on Amazon Prime.
by Dandy Glover
Dandy is a soon-to-be film studies graduate from Merseyside, UK. She is especially interested in maverick and experimental directors such as David Lynch, John Waters and Lars von Trier. In the future she hopes to continue her film criticism and continue to educate herself about the medium. You can more from her in the form of essays and reviews on her blog, DandyReviews and more informal pieces on her Letterboxd @dandyig. You can follow her on Twitter @__ungezieferr__
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