By: Jay Dyer
“‘I learned that just beneath the surface there’s another world, and still different worlds as you dig deeper.’ – David Lynch
If you’ve ever sensed the flimsy, thin veneer of what parades itself as the good ole US of A, and felt a bit like you’ve been sold a fake, then David Lynch’s Twin Peaks is a series you must see. More like an initiatory experience than a mere television series, Twin Peaks functions as a hilariously terrifying vision of the real America lurking in the seedy underworld beneath the façade of white picket fences, much like the picturesque severed ear on the beautiful lawn in his celebrated 1986 comedic horror, Blue Velvet. Twin Peaks might even properly be titled an esoteric dark satirical soap opera. There are countless reviews, essays and analyses of Lynch and Twin Peaks, but almost all miss the complex system of symbols and hidden meanings that relate directly to high level occultism.
Before we go there, we must discuss set and setting: Twin Peaks is aptly described as quintessential Lynch. Fans often speak of scenes being “Lynchian,” but nothing stands out with that epithet better than this surrealist, neo-noir melodrama that magically captures the spirit of America itself. Differing from later Lynch focused on Hollywood (which is itself the Inland Empire), Twin Peaks is more akin to his 1990 film, Wild at Heart, in its presentation of America in miniature. Like later Lynch films, however, Twin Peaks does share its deeper occult symbology with films like Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire. In this analysis, we will delve even deeper into that unique place, the subconscious dreamscape of Lynch, and decode the scenes and images many still find mystifying 25 years later.
Worth mentioning before delving into the narrative itself is Lynch’s preferred style. Part horror, part neo-noir, part comedy, part melodrama and part soap opera, the Lynch/Frost collaboration collates a vast array of Hollywood classics, from Hitchcock “doubling” to Otto Preminger’s 1944 noir classic, Laura. Parallels between the myna bird from Hitchcock’s The Birds, and the hard-hearted detective who finds himself taken with an apparently murdered Laura, abound, and Lynch intentionally includes countless parallels to sprinkle his work deriving from the Golden Age of cinema.
As we enter the world of Twin Peaks, protagonist Agent Dale Cooper (played by Kyle MacLachlan) arrives to investigate the enigmatic murder of popular high school blonde babe, Laura Palmer (played by Sheryl Lee). Based on an unsolved murder from Twin Peaks co-director and creator Mark Frost’s hometown, Laura will function as the focal point for the show’s arc. However, as Agent Cooper unravels the actual story of Laura’s demise, the truth involves a much wider conspiracy than originally conceived. With his unorthodox divinatory methods of solving crime, Cooper astounds local law enforcement with the concept of utilizing synchronicity to associate similar names with inanimate objects in a game of rock toss. This odd practice will configure Cooper as both a classic pulp detective figure along the lines of Sam Spade, but also grant a mystical side from which he will draw to peer into the psychosphere. Couliano writes, citing Eliade of the shaman in descriptive terms that capture the spirit of a Lynch work:
“Mircea Eliade defined shamanism not as religion properly speaking, but as a “technique of ecstasy,” a system of ecstatic and therapeutic methods whose purpose is to obtain contact with the parallel universe of spirits and to win their support in dealing with the affairs of a group or of an individual.” (Out of This World, pg. 38)
As I commented in previous analyses, Lynch, through Cooper, is drawing on a highly complex and deeply rooted eastern notion of formal and essentialist association that extends beyond immediate space and time. The stage is thus set for Cooper to be much more than a clever detective, but rather we see the emergence of his role as an other-world traveling shaman. Later in the series, his spiritual “gifts” are noted by Native American deputy Hawk and General Briggs, where Cooper is eventually revealed to be the one who can travel to, and call, between the worlds, fulfilling the role of the magician from the series’ famed tagline below, “fire walk with me.” This is the role of the shaman I described in reference to Lost Highway, citing Levenda’s analysis:
“In Twin Peaks, it is the light in the morgue over the place where the body of Laura Palmer had been kept, and which is then visited by Mike, the one-armed man, who recites the famous poem:
“Through the darkness of futures past
The magician longs to see;
One chants out between two worlds
‘Fire walk with me.’”
There, in a strange little verse, we have the key to unlocking the mystery not only of Twin Peaks but virtually all of Lynch’s films: the suspension of normal laws of time (“futures past”) and the idea that the magician lives “between two worlds.” The suspension of normal, linear narrative event in favor of a dreamlike, hallucinatory set of images that are taking place all over the fourth dimension is part of Lynch’s appeal as a director, and part of what makes his films so frustrating to the filmgoer. His realization that there are two worlds, and a place to stand between them, is what contributes to his aura as a modern, twenty-first century initiate of the Mysteries, for that is what “mystery” films are: elucidations of the core Mystery behind reality.” (Sinister Forces, Vol. 3, pg. 151).
And this forms the solution to Lost Highway, as well. The shamanic and magical elements are here in full force, as Fred is a character trapped in different psychical worlds that seem to unfold and envelop other psyches, as we will see.”
Interpreting Twin Peaks accurately involves understanding the notion of “twilight language,” or Sandhyabhasa. It is my contention that Twin Peaks should be read in this way, as if the series itself were a yogic text, and this is natural given Lynch’s (and Agent Cooper’s) preference for eastern meditation. Indian scholar Vijay Mishra comments on the ambiguous semiotic discourse involved in twilight language as follows:
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