I thought I was well prepared for the latest series of Twin Peaks. My my, how wrong I was. From demons bursting out of eerie glass boxes to decapitated victims, David Lynch’s latest offering packed a seriously dark punch – with his trademark brand of surrealism on full display.
Was it enjoyable to watch? I’m not sure yet. To be honest, I’m still recovering from a largely sleepless night, wide-eyed and thoughtful, pondering the meaning of what I’d just watched. It also got me thinking about his other great works; Eraserhead, Mullholland Drive, Blue Velvet, and of course, what many consider his finest moment – the original series of Twin Peaks.
What galvanises this director? What’s going on in his head, to be able to come up with stuff like this? And why does he keep returning to the same motifs, time and time again?
David Lynch – Key Motifs
• Drapes. The first episode of the new Twin Peaks was full to the brim of scenes in the Black Lodge – a nightmarish room with black and white flooring and ominous red drapes. It’s the most notable use of eerie curtains, but trust me, they appear in plenty of his other works – in Dorothy’s apartment in Blue Velvet, within the radiator in Eraserhead, and in Fred’s house in Lost Highway. As far as symbolism goes, they’re fairly self-explanatory. Humans are filled with dread when it comes to the unseen. The hidden monsters, lurking under our beds. And now, the concealed horrors behind those heavy, rippling red drapes…
• Dislocated noises. Another favourite theme. The first episode of Twin Peaks (the latest series) opened in the Black Lodge, with The Giant telling Agent Dale Cooper to ‘listen to the sounds’. And what sounds they were – strange, creaking noises that could be a number of things, or nothing at all. Lynch uses these random sounds to superb effect in many of his films. They’re often industrial or electrical noises, such as a light flickering or a machine whirring. Why does he include them? Is it merely to unsettle us? Or is it to highlight how little we really understand the 21st century world around us, and how easily it could turn?
• Doubles. Lynch is obsessed with including doppelgängers in his films. We met Agent Dale Cooper’s double in the opening episode last night – a shaggy-haired, dead-eyed version of the agent we all love, who was all the more terrifying for being the complete opposite of his double. This, of course, isn’t the first twin we’ve seen in the series – Maddie Palmer (Laura Palmer’s cousin) is uncannily like her dead relative, which is hardly surprising, given that they’re played by the same actress. It’s a theme that crops up in Mullholland Drive too – Naomi Watts plays both Diane and Betty – two very different characters who blur dangerously as the plot progresses. What’s so important about the idea of the double? Is it meant to represent the duality within ourselves – the light and the dark? Or simply show how easy it is for humans to fracture and break under pressure?
• Surreal objects. One of the weirdest things in the latest Twin Peaks was the electrical tree. An extension of the arm apparently, or so we’re told in the Black Lodge. If you’ve not seen it yet, it’s essentially a stick with electrical pulses running through it, and a blobby brain-like thing at the top. There was also a very strange scene with a carbonised man in a prison cell, who disintegrated, then floated off into the ether. Of course, Lynch loves throwing in a good smattering of weird into each of his works. Who can forget that terrifying dirty, hairy creature that lived outside the café in Mullholland Drive? Or the puffy-cheeked lady in Eraserhead? It’s these alien moments that are most unsettling, that rock our sense of reality and remind us that strangeness exists everywhere, even in the most mundane settings.
• Dreams. Dreams take on a lot of importance in Lynch’s films. Agent Cooper’s dreams provided guidance, helping him to solve the murder of Laura Palmer. John Merrick dreams of his mother in Elephant Man. And who can forget Ben’s rendition of "In Dreams" by Roy Orbison, whilst the frightening Frank stares on? Lynch has occasionally spoken about his love of dreams in the past – as a vehicle for exploring and embracing the subconscious. And probably for him, a great source of fresh material too!
Of course, I could go on. Few directors supply such rich material for examination – and that’s precisely why Lynch’s films work so well. They operate on different levels, entertaining our conscious minds, whilst niggling away at the sub-conscious. The result? A visual experience that’s enjoyable, yet deeply unsettling.