David Lynch, to the uninitiated, is a big ol’ weirdo in the sense that he’s one of the most brilliant and influential filmmakers of the last thirty years or so who is rarily talked about in the same breath as the other greats to come out of the 70s and 80s. His first film originally took him 7 years to complete and the grotesque experimental steam-punk nightmare Eraserhead immediately caught the eye of several other big name mainstream directors. George Lucas came knocking and offered him Return of the Jedi but Lynch went with the much more bizarre and difficult to adapt science fiction film Dune. He then went on to creep out the film landscape with surrealistic noir-ish thrillers like Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive however categorizing them in that way does his work a massive disservice. David Lynch is, in reality, a genre all his own, particularly in the sense that a Lynch piece and reality are rarely in the same room together and although most of his films have gone on to achieve a cult-status in one way or another, the most mainstream success that Lynch has ever experienced was Twin Peaks.
How a writer depicts their characters can say a lot about how they interpret the people and the world around them and if this example is to be taken with Lynch it’s that he usually depicts them as either hapless rubes with dark secrets or sadistic monsters hiding in human flesh. There’s a consistent hokiness to each and every one of his innocent characters and normally this might be attributed to a talented technical or artistic director who is not great with actors. But this particular scene in Mulholland Drive refutes that. No, each and every detail means something and is intentional either to the story or, most importantly to Lynch, to create an atmosphere. And it’s this thing that pilots his work, a dream-like quality of impermanence and haunting, often deeply disturbing imagery with no regard for the audience’s well-being or permission that makes him the unique voice that he is.
That stilted cloying quality that is found in many of the characters in Twin Peaks lends itself to one of his favorite tropes: affectionately depicting every day modern Americana and then stripping it down layer by layer to reveal some macabre underbelly of sexuality and violence. This is exemplified at the beginning of Blue Velvet when two teenage lovers go strolling through a picturesque park on a spring day only to stumble upon a severed human ear laying in the middle of the grass; it’s the juxtaposition of the familiar with the morbid. Twin Peaks, in this way, is more a parody of the popular soap operas in the 80s and 90s as depicted by a master of surrealistic horror and unfortunately the original series doesn’t exactly stand up over time. The ultimate mystery of who killed Laura Palmer is still thrilling and beautifully foreshadowed but there are so many side plots, some of them brutally obnoxious, and so many drawn out sequences of people weeping while holding each other as the maudlin musical score drones on it’s not going to be easy for modern audiences to absorb.
In the new Showtime revival of Twin Peaks much of the fat has been trimmed away and with the restrictions of network television have been lifted the results are much closer to his film work than the original TV series. While this might actually alienate both newcomers and fans of the original the only question that remains is whether or not it can stand alone as its own incarnation and in this it largely succeeds at being David Lynch’s vision. It feels like his universe and his imagination which, is to say, pant-shittingly frightening, indescribably weird, and more than a little funny. More specifically, it looks, feels, and sounds like nothing else out there and if there was any concern that he may have lost some of his edge with age it’s unfounded. As a director and the sound designer, he still so effectively fucks with the viewer at times it’s difficult not feeling like someone put the wrong kind of mushrooms on your pizza.
As referenced by another publication, Twin Peaks: The Return might be the only show on television right now that can’t be spoiled in the traditional sense. For instance, (minor but obvious spoiler) the series opens with the first obstacle that the audience would expect: Agent Dale Cooper must find a way to escape the Black Lodge. And he does, kind of, but it’s less about the if and more about the how. And it’s just something that has to be experienced personally. Adjectives fail in the same way that someone describing a dream is never interesting because it’s so difficult to encapsulate what that dream really felt like, the familiar strangeness of it. This is the language that Lynch trades in, his canvas is that dreamscape where things sometimes are more sincere and important than what is happening in the real world or rather, his version of it.
It’s a good thing that Showtime is releasing the series in increments rather than all at once, it’s a show that shouldn’t be lumped in with the current binge-watching trend. At the risk of coming off cliche, David Lynch is an artist, not some Johnny Come-Lately with a camera and a dream and his work deserves to be processed, to be dissected in the way that only the internet can. Before there was Lost or The X-Files there was Twin Peaks and although it is way too early in the revival’s run to stake any predictions, Lynch might be the only one of the three capable of a satisfying ending.
HA! Just kidding. What the shit was that talking brain synapse/tree in the Black Lodge. What the hell did Dougie throw up on the ground and who was the eyeless lady who got knocked into space? WHAT WAS WITH THAT FLOATING TALKING FACE?! That was as much of an rational article as I could write without the utter insanity breaking through. More to come when the next part of the series is released….