Monday, August 16, 2010


After twenty five and a half hours of watching the baroque twists, enigmatic deadends and garrulous detective work in the Twin Peaks TV series, Twin Peaks – Fire walk with me’s two and a half hours of muted horror are numbing and shocking – but, unlike its more playful forerunner, it offers some kind of deliverance.

FWWM brings to life, so to speak, Laura Palmer, who we have previously seen through homecoming queen portraits, picnics rendered on video, and the figure in the Red Room who appears to Special Agent Dale Cooper and guides him towards her killer. In the TV show, she is only knowable through her relationships with other people – friends, cops, sexual partners, pillars of society, who examine her, unearthing her secrets or trying to keep them hidden.

As Bobby cries out at Laura’s funeral, everybody knew that Laura was in trouble. The disconnect between Laura’s life and the way she is portrayed is palpable, but it is easier for the town to maintain a facade, pouring sweet sentiments onto her memory and endlessly repeating the mantra of how beautiful she was. The answer to the question of who killed Laura Palmer is immersed beneath a fug of words. The truth eludes even the meticulous Cooper until he is liberated from the restrictions of words and clues and abandons himself to dreams and visions.

Although, as the series progresses, Cooper moves away from clue-solving to a more intuitive search for the evil in the woods, the question of BOB – his origins, the extent of his control over Leland, his movement between the lodges and the immediate world – remains unanswered (and perhaps unanswerable). After the stunning scene in the Roadhouse – where Cooper and the Log Lady receive a visit from the Giant and, under the spell of Julee Cruise, the town becomes immersed in a wave of grief – and the death of Leland, the show becomes more wacky and more straightforwardly rational.

Ironically, the removal of his FBI badge coincides with Cooper’s dwindling capacity to cross the thresholds into other worlds. The plot descends into a largely tedious Oedipal battle with Windom Earle, once a father-figure to Cooper and now bent on psychopathic revenge. Chess-games, maps and keys lead him towards the Black Lodge; but without the divinations of Laura, the Log Lady and BOB (all of whom barely appear in the second half of the second series), Cooper is forced to surrender his soul and succumb to possession.

FWWM brings out what has been repressed throughout the TV series: the story of a woman whose father abuses her, but who is released from her trauma by gaining access to spaces beyond ordinary life. Where Laura is a mere cipher in the TV series, in FWWM we are exposed to the brutal violence to which Laura is subjected. Martha P. Nochimson notes that films rarely invite us to identify with characters who are violated by incest; since identifying with the (usually female) victim is unpalatable for (especially male) viewers, most films lead us to identify with a figure – a doctor or detective – who uses clear, scientific thinking to rid the world of chaos and lead the victims to safety and “wholeness”. Twin Peaks, with its alliance of FBI agents, Project Blue Book operatives and mystics, merges rational control with submissions to the unconscious – but after Special Agent Chet Desmond is transported to the lodges after searching for a ring under a trailer, it is clear that conventional detectives do not belong in FWWM. Words are dispensed with, in favour of visions, images, and Angelo Badalamenti’s score, which moves from a Kind of Blue modality to the apocalyptic melody of Cherubini’s Requiem in C Minor.

The “eye of duck scene” – Lynch’s phrase for the scene which, while not necessarily important to the plot, nevertheless marks a transition point for the direction of the narrative – occurs straight after Desmond’s disappearance. Realising that today is February 16th and the time 10.10am, Cooper warns the bellowing Gordon Cole that something is about to happen, something he has seen in a dream. As he has foreseen, the AWOL Agent Philip Jeffries – played by David Bowie – has entered the building. He sees Cooper, a flicker of recognition passing over his face, before stammering an explanation of what he has seen above the convenience store.

The scene is baffling, but invigorating too. We have seen something which the detectives cannot. What we see and hear does not make sense, but it suggests an opening to another world which transcends rational sense. Like the dream sequences in Twin Peaks and FWWM, Jeffries’ recollection rewires our thoughts so that while we are in it, we get the impression of a larger order beyond the stifling world of Laura Palmer. It is, as Nochimson says, “reality as the subconscious might represent it” – muted, muffled and dark, but revealing immanent, uncaused noise and movement.

Like his great hero Bacon, Lynch lets his medium paint the unconscious. As Bacon refers to painting as something which happens to him, so Lynch asserts that when he is directing, ninety percent of the time he doesn’t know what he is doing. As Bacon introduces movement onto the canvas by painting slow and fast areas, so in the convenience store there are slow areas (the garmonbozia sitting on the formica table) and fast areas (the woodsman, the jumping man behind the mask, the mouth charged with electricity, Jeffries’ endless scream). And as Bacon throws handfuls of paint at a canvas, or inscribes involuntary marks into the paint, so Lynch obscures the sound of this scene, so that the mutterings of Jeffries and the declarations in the convenience store overlay each other. It may be down to pure chance (Bacon says that "very often I think probably what makes one artist seem better than another is that his critical sense is more acute. It may not be that he is more gifted in any way but just that he has a better critical sense"), but this scene is an epiphany, and it tells us why Cooper is wrong to tell Laura not to take the ring in her dream, and why taking the ring eventually enables Laura to cross the threshold into another world.

In the TV series, Cooper’s attempts to reach the black lodge were thwarted by his inadequate recourse to thoughts beyond language; likewise, as FWWM progresses, Laura gradually becomes at one with the unconscious world beyond her humiliated circumstances. A key scene is the one in the pink room (a dark doppelganger scene to the TV scene in the Roadhouse, when the Giant appears) , where the doe-eyed Donna has tracked Laura down and is herself being abused by a punter. Even at her most exploited, a beam of light wakes Laura from her stupefied nightmare and she rescues Donna. This is Lynch at his best, introducing salvation at the point of deepest corruption (conversely in the next scene, a tender scene between Laura and Donna is interrupted by Leland’s vision of his daughter and Ronette in their underwear).

When Laura eventually finds her angel - a real one this time, unlike the confection on the picture in her bedroom (rather like the idyllic picture of the child which John Merrick treasures in The Elephant Man) - she is watched by Cooper at his least detective-like. What has happened makes a mockery of his Bureau investigations early in the first TV series, and sets up his journey towards the lodges.


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