Journey Through Twin Peaks

One of the most engrossing films I’ve seen in recent years is Room 237,  a film essay exploring the depths of critical analysis on Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. The Shining is one of my all-time favorite films, because it carries an atmosphere that is almost intangible, but careful viewers have pieced together the various tricks that Kubrick used to create that atmosphere. A lot of people focus on the moon-landing theory behind The Shining, but that’s only one interpretation of the film among many, and it’s the least plausible. It doesn’t fit in with the some of the other more plausible analyses, but leaving it in certainly helped spread the word about Room 237. 

Mostly, I just love the idea of film criticism as entertainment. So much so that I immediately planned on a similar treatment of another work I find as equally open to interpretation, Twin Peaks. If you couldn’t tell, since this is not the first blog I’ve written about the TV show, and until JJ does another layout change you’re looking at some heavy Peaks imagery directly to the left, I’m a little more than obsessed with the franchise and will needlessly fit it into unrelated conversations. “Oh, you love the new Batman vs. Superman trailer? You know what else is dark and brooding? Twin Peaks. Go home and watch it. Yes, it is on Netflix.”

If I couldn’t make the film essay myself, I at least wanted to present my interpretation of Laura Palmer’s struggle as a powerful symbol of ending a cycle of physical and sexual abuse. Laura is the hero of Twin Peaks because she refused to let the horror that tormented her continue, whether it was by some demonic presence or something closer to home.

Joel Bocko beat me to it. His series, “Journey Through Twin Peaks,” presents a thorough and beautiful analysis I could never pull off on my own. Unlike Room 237, however, he did it all himself and threw it up on YouTube, instead of submitting it to Sundance. But I think that’s fitting, because it turns out there is quite a bit more to Twin Peaks than the feature-documentary format offers.

I’ve watched Twin Peaks in its entirety about four times since 2010, and Bocko highlights points in the series that I never noticed. It’s the loving criticism the series deserves. He presents a coherent thesis, that the magic formula of Twin Peaks is a child of the tension between David Lynch and Mark Frost, and backs it up with specific examples of the different ways they treat characters and situations. I wouldn’t recommend doing so, but someone could easily watch his series without any knowledge of Twin Peaks and have a clear understanding of what makes the show work.

But there’s no good excuse for not watching Twin Peaks. I particularly like the analysis of the end of Fire Walk With Me, though he credits it to someone else (spoiler, obviously) that the flashing light on Laura’s face as she sits in the Red Room with Dale Cooper is actually Laura watching the entire series and reacting to the impact her life had on the town, both good and bad. Seeing it through that lens completely decimated me emotionally. It could easily be one of David Lynch’s most beautiful moments. (Update: Joel provided the source of this theory in the comments below.)

Bocko also suggests that everything Lynch has done since is not only influenced by Twin Peaks, but actually about the experience of making Twin Peaks. That’s a powerful realization, especially since I was also under the assumption that Lynch never lingered on projects, and for years seemed too willing to put the series behind him.

However, I think he and I would disagree about whether the series should continue without Lynch. I think Frost’s vision of the series is underrated, as does Bocko, but I also think it’s only fair that he gets a crack at developing his ideas on his own, since Lynch had a chance to go back and explore Laura Palmer’s character. I stand by it. Twin Peaks without David Lynch would still entice me.

Anyway, the whole series is on YouTube, in 28 different videos, divided into four parts. He covers the entire series with surprising depth, explains some background on the mystical influences on the mythology, and defends Fire Walk With Me as a crucial masterpiece to Lynch’s entire career. I’ve been waiting for a satisfying treatment of Twin Peaks like this, and if I couldn’t do it myself, I’m at least glad it’s done so well.

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Cody Ray Shafer

Cody is a writer and media critic living in Salt Lake City, Utah. When he's not writing he plays guitar and sings with his wife Sara Beth. They have one son, Oliver, and pug, Hugo.

3 thoughts on “Journey Through Twin Peaks”

  1. Wow, I am beyond flattered that you devoted a whole piece to my exploration of Twin Peaks! Thanks so much for your appreciation & endorsement. I come bearing good news too as far as future video essays go – starting hopefully this month, maybe next, I’ll be doing additional videos for Fandor (at the invitation of Kevin B. Lee, a truly great video essayist and essentially founder of the form, who offered some crucial support to the project when there was risk of it being taken down by CBS last winter).

    I love that TV theory too, and here’s the article where I found it, by Hussein Ibish: http://ibishblog.com/2010/01/24/relationship_between_twin_peaks_and_fire_walk_me/. Such a beautiful poetic interpretation of the moment. I hesitated to include any narration over those final images, but I had to because Ibish’s thoughts are the perfect culmination of Journey Through Twin Peaks, and the genesis behind it: my realization that the show and the film (which is my favorite part of Twin Peaks, and which I’d frequently defended from overzealous series fans) were not complementary, and not merely incompatible. Anyway Ibish includes a lot of great observations about the film in this essay, so I highly recommend reading the whole piece.

    As for Lynch & Frost, here’s the thing…I will be pretty much ok (if certainly disappointed) if Lynch does not direct 8 out of the 9 episodes. But I will admittedly be crushed if he doesn’t direct the finale. I already kind of have my doubts that the beautiful ending of Fire Walk With Me should be replaced as the conclusion to the Twin Peaks cycle but if it is going to be, I feel it just has to be done by David Lynch. He’s the only person I would trust to come up with something as good, all respect to Mark Frost. I compared it on Twitter to Stanley Kubrick & Arthur C. Clarke collaborating on 2001, with Clarke not getting enough credit; all the same when they did a sequel without Kubrick directing I don’t think anyone felt like it was a proper continuation of the story (full confession though: I haven’t seen 2010! So I’m speaking of the reputation not necessarily the quality of the film, though I think it’s fair to speculate it does not top the final image of the Star Child in 2001).

    That said, I agree it would be really interesting to see Frost do his own take on Twin Peaks, that is if he chose to direct and/or showrun the new limited series. In a way, though, I think we may have already gotten that with season one of Twin Peaks since Lynch was off shooting Wild at Heart (except for episode 2 of the series, shot near the end of production out of sequence). Even though Lynch seemed to get all the credit for the most popular season in the media, it really seems more like Frost was shaping it closely probably even more closely than he would shape a 2016 series (since the latter half of season one had no Lynch contributions to the screenplays whereas Frost wrote two episodes).

    If nothing else, a multiple cooks-in-the-kitchen approach will provide further material for an eventual Part 5 of Journey Through Twin Peaks, wouldn’t it?

    1. Thanks for stopping by!

      Actually, it seems like we’re agreed on the Lynch/Frost thing. But Lynch’s style is so well known now that I think any competent director could pull of whatever he had in mind, since he did already write all the episodes. But then, as you pointed out many times, he likes to come up with new things on the spot.

      But like I said on my other Twin Peaks post on this blog, the ideal situation would be for Lynch to be on board 100%, but if for some reason that doesn’t happen I still want to see whatever the result would be. It can’t ruin anything that’s come before it for me, so I’d rather be disappointed with a product than with nothing at all.

      As for Frost’s vision, we’ll at least get a big chunk of that with his upcoming book.

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