Wonderful and Strange: My Life with Twin Peaks and David Lynch

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Twin Peaks wasn’t the first. I had seen Dune, broadcast on a local channel, the extended television cut. That is where I first remember Kyle MacLachlan from. The blue-eyed Paul Atreides, savior of the desert planet Arrakis. What I remember most though is the nightmarish Duke Vladimir Harkonnen brilliantly played by Kenneth MacMillan. These would come to be the two sides of David Lynch I would get to know: the staid hero and the dark evil beneath everything.

April 8th, 1990. The day everything changed for me. I remember sitting on the living room floor as the ABC Sunday Night Movie started, the two-hour premiere of a new television show. It was my mom who wanted to watch it so my presence there was simply default. One television in a time where tablets and the like were a distant dream. So I sat there and became lost in another world. The music was so strange and the people even more so. The hero of the show was unlike any I’d ever seen. And there was a constant menace just under the surface of this dream-like landscape. I remember the chills on my skin in the final shot of the episode: the gloved hand in flashlight holding up the broken heart necklace Donna and James had just buried.

The very next week was when David Lynch indeed planted himself in my mind for what will likely be the rest of my life. The second episode is coming to an end, and Agent Cooper settles down for the night. Then his dream begins. We see Mike reciting the poem I still know by heart, then the grimy vile Bob. Suddenly the image shifts to a small man standing with his back to us, vibrating. He spins around and shouts “Let’s Rock!” yet something doesn’t sound right. He moves in an unnatural way that unsettles me. By the end of this dream sequence, I felt hot tears of fear spill down across my cheeks.

When I was very young, I remember neighbor kids with more liberal parents describing horror films they had been allowed to watch: Freddy, Jason. The like. My horror film was Twin Peaks, something beyond just a masked man wielding a machete. This was deeper and more confusing. And more important somehow. I spent 1990 and 1991 lost in this world. I’ll never know why my parents, deeply conservative Christians who vote Republican by default, allowed me to watch this show. I suspect my mother was seduced by the same mysterious, dreamlike world it portrayed that hooked me in. Only one time was the television shut off during an episode. Around halfway through the second season the killer of Laura Palmer is revealed. The murder scene that accompanies this reveal is so brutal, accentuated by the crunching wet sound design that I will give to my parents that this moment was not entirely appropriate for an 8/9-year-old child.

My dad was working nights by the latter half of the second season, so my mom was watching the show again. I would sit on the floor and watch too. I remember the series finale. I remember the whole odyssey through the Red Room and the horrific reveal of Cooper’s fate in that last shot. Then I sat in utter shock that it was over. There was going to be no more. Months later, the film Fire Walk With Me was announced. It would be rated R, so I knew right away I wasn’t going to see it anytime soon.

Years passed.

We got America Online in 1997. I was 16. I can’t recall what reminded me, but at some point, I discovered the online presence of Twin Peaks. I hadn’t seen the show in six years, but on these sites, I was brought back to it by fuzzy screen captures taken from worn out VHS recordings. I discovered the shooting script of Fire Walk With Me, a film I still hadn’t seen and poured through it one night. Giving myself chills imagining these scenes played out in my head. I read through many of the television series scripts to refresh my memories of the details. I felt it reviving itself in me.

It was December 2001, when the first season came out on DVD. I was 20 years old in college and didn’t hesitate in snatching them up. It was a difficult set, the two-hour pilot was owned by a different company, so the DVDs have none of the setup needed for anyone new to understand. I found a Chinese bootleg copy of the pilot on eBay and snatched it up. It was unknown if season two was coming to DVD anytime soon and after revisiting those first seven episodes I just couldn’t wait. I dropped some cash on the complete VHS collection of the series on Amazon. I finally got my hands on Fire Walk With Me and like a lot of people was turned off by it at first. Now I have grown to understand it better.

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The first season of Twin Peaks DVDs

When I was talking Literary Theory and Criticism, we had to take one of the theories we’d learned and apply it in an essay. I chose to examine how Twin Peaks deconstructs the detective story through the waking and dream states. My college papers have been lost to time, but I suspect if I were to read it now I’d cringe and then immediately begin to revise it. I remember showing Laura Palmer’s dream sequence from Fire Walk With Me to the class as part of an example in how Lynch tears apart any sense of time so that a traditional investigation seems laughable.

In college, I finally began to dig into Lynch’s filmography proper. I watched Blue Velvet, Eraserhead, Wild at Heart, Lost Highway, and Mulholland Drive. Mulholland Drive was the first time I properly began to analyze a film beyond its surface level. The DVD came with a single insert that listed the chapters and on the other side “David Lynch’s 10 Clues to Understanding Mulholland Drive”. I began to learn about the ciphers Lynch embedded in his work. At some point, I purchased Lynch on Lynch, a collection of interviews that gives a deep overview of his work up to 1999. I still have this book and have paged through it countless times, growing a greater understanding of how Lynch approaches his craft.

mulholland drive insert

I also came to love moments from Lynch’s body of work. Jeffrey Beaumont gazing out between the slats of the closet doors while the crazed Frank ravages Dorothy Vallens in Blue Velvet. The strange man approaching Fred at the party and pulling him into a mind blowing nightmare of twisted reality in Lost Highway. I still think Johnny Farragut’s death at the hands of Juana Durango and her crazed minions in Wild at Heart is one of the most terrifying sequences in a film. Post-college I’d watch Inland Empire with my brother; it’s a very experimental digitally shot feature that is more about playing with themes and ideas than telling a story.

I am very glad I saved The Straight Story and The Elephant Man for this month, two films I don’t think I would have appreciated enough when I was younger. They highlight that beauty Lynch can pull out from the darkness and reflect the deep empathy of the man.

David Lynch has taught me so much over the course of my life. Strange to say about a person I’ve never met. What I have learned from him is that beauty can come from what we first might perceive as ugly. I learned never to simply trust the surface level of things, but to feed curiosity and explore all the angles and complexities. I have learned that some moments need to be still and quiet, we need to exist in them until our instincts tell us it is time to move on. Some of those moments are peaceful and serene, other moments you want to pull away because of the horror you see. But you need to stay with them. I have learned that characters don’t develop just through a plot, but that music and atmosphere can be used to tell the audience about someone in a deeper way than a story structure can. Most importantly I learned that your art is yours. Sometimes, there is an audience clamoring for it, and other times you just make it to feed your own soul. He taught me to not allow my beliefs to be dictated by the current status quo but to go with what I know is true to myself. I honestly don’t know how I could ever thank David Lynch enough.

To paraphrase Agent Cooper, I have no idea where tonight’s premiere of Twin Peaks will lead us, but I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange.

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