26 June 2006

My Special Agent, a.k.a. Twin Peaks Anxieties

This blog is better suited for my useless myspace blog, but as it's cinematic in theme, I figured I'd post it here. I'm aware that the entire series is regrettably not on DVD, so if you haven't finished the series, don't read this. Occasionally my iTunes likes to pick Julee Cruise/Angelo Badalamenti songs at random to bring me back into my own personal Black Lodge. This time, however, I was being an Internet loser, wasting time on Youtube.com and stumbled upon a bunch of Twin Peaks videos, which began, wonderfully, when I found the video of James (pussy), Donna (slut), and Maddy (R.I.P.) singing "Just You and I," or whatever it's called, which is one of the most wonderful scenes in the entire series. It's a not-so-casual reminder that Twin Peaks isn't merely a prime time soap opera, but a terrifying vision from a master filmmaker. When the show breaks the rules, as in this scene, you fall in love. When the shows breaks the rules, as in the last episode, you're left amazed and angry. Where did the compassion go? Everyone recognizes the second scene really strays faaaaar off track, once we find out who killed Laura Palmer and the unnecessary Windom Earle appears. It's like the film Candyman; the terror of the figure of Candyman goes away once he reveals his face. Once Earle becomes a literal character on the show (unlike Agent Cooper's trusted Diane), we aren't scared anymore... in fact, we're a little annoyed. [ This is just a mid-warning that this post will likely be utterly unscructured ] Anyway, back to YouTube, someone else felt the need to post a video of probably one of the most heart-shattering scenes of the entire series: the moment where Agent Cooper (Kyle Maclachlan) discovers that our killer has struck again. The video is posted below.

There's a visual representation of just one of the moments within the series (and film, Fire Walk With Me) that give me what I call Twin Peaks Anxieties. After about the third viewing of the show/film, I realized that I, shockingly, did not have the soundtrack to the film. So I bought it and got in my car to drive around while listening. The real doozy on the soundtrack actually isn't in the film itself, but the final, murderous episode. "Sycamore Trees," sung by Jimmy Scott, took me back to the Black Lodge, er, the end of Cooper's journey. Realize, at this point, David Lynch has become fed up with the show, perhaps because of the direction it turned and likely because of ABC's failing interest in the series. Realize, now, that Lynch took out such frustration on the characters and, most painfully, his audience. The particular advantage of television over films, as I discussed in my Six Feet Under blog, is the advatange of time. To complete Twin Peaks, it'd take around two days total -- and this is assuming you haven't taken any breaks. By the time our final episode rolls around, we know the town and its inhabitants as if we lived there. We know, by this point, that Laura Palmer's got some shitty taste in men. James is a tool-shed, Bobby's a douche-bag, Leo's a psycho, Jacques is a creep. At some point, we forgive Agent Cooper for turning down the romantic advances of the deliciously tarty Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) for the ex-nun Annie (Heather Graham, one of the shows few casting mistakes). We're happy Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle) has gotten over the much-welcomed (at least by me) departure of James. And these are only a few of our townsfolk. Aside from the whole impending danger of unholy union of Windom Earle and Bob, things in the town appear to be going smoothly... of course, until Lynch fucks up every one of their worlds. There are certain fatalities that we will let slide, but Lynch eventually crosses the line between acceptable and just insanely cruel. So cruel, in fact, it makes sense that most people did not accept his apology with Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

Other than the die-hard fans, most of the regular Twin Peaks viewers, when the subject is brought up, respond with feelings of bittersweet confusion. How could a show this brilliant, funny, and hauntingly moving kill itself in such a way? I can't figure out whether or not audience refused to accept Lynch's Fire Walk With Me apology because they didn't want to, or didn't pick up on it? Lynch is, of course, not someone whose films are easily decipherable, especially to those who just don't want to try (Twin Peaks had a slew of fans that were probably unfamiliar with his prior film work). On the surface, the film feels like a knife going deeper into your side. Why do we need to see the last seven days of our iconic, slain Laura Palmer? We know what happened, and it was more disturbing (so we thought) having not seen what had happened to her. Our apology, which we'd probably best understand as a way of Lynch's own personal completion with the show, comes in our final moments, where Cooper (who, as we know, ends up trapped in the Black Lodge) stands with Laura, as an angel joins them. The angel brings us back to a statement Laura says earlier in the film to Donna where she remarks "that the angels won't help you, 'cause they've all gone away." Despite the grimness of the film, we're left with our final, satisfying conclusion here. Cooper, who never met Laura in the flesh, finds eternity with the subject of his final and most important case. My friend Stewart described the relationship between Laura Palmer and Special Agent Dale Cooper as the strongest depiction of true love he'd ever seen. Cooper and Laura are not simply bound by the case at hand, as we discover fully through the film, but through each other's minds. It's makes it that much more heartbreaking to realize that Cooper reaches the end of his selfless journey with this case. If this isn't the epitome of classic cinematic romance.... you know the rest. I'll see you in the the trees...


Eric Dienstfrey said...

You're so dead on to notice the romance between Cooper and Laura. It comes from Preminger, but it's coated in Lynch's emotions and it's one of the better points in FWWM.

The show does go downhill after episode 14, but I'll say that showing Palmer's murder in FWWM is far worse. I was obsessed with this show when it first aired, back when I was... 8? 9? It scared the shit out of me, and once the murderer was revealed (easily the scariest moment in television history) I couldn't get out of my mind how Laura was killed. Like an Eco novel, they give you the remnants of the murder and you're so disturbed by all the elements that you can no longer sleep at night. Then Lynch shows it to us, and it wasn't half as scary as I imagined.

And did you ever notice the influence of Blake Edwards on David Lynch?

Patrick said...

FWWM feels more sadistic to me than the final episode. The last episode, while very harsh on the characters, comes organically out of the story at that point. I love the apocalyptic uncertainty of the finale, when I first watched it, I thought it was a two hour episode, and I was stunned when I realized that Cooper banging his head against the mirror was it.

I think the reason why audiences didn't respond to FWWM is because it's such an oppressively harsh movie. The opening offers this bizarro inversion of Twin Peaks, even though tonally it's the closest thing to the series. From there, it's one long descent into darkness until the final moment with the angel. I love the film, but it's also got a very small target audience. People really have to have seen the entire series to understand it, and by the time the film came out, the show was far from cultural prominence.

I think it's Lynch's best film, and the fact that it was savaged by critics is frustrating. But, in recent years, it's been rehibilitated a bit, and I think the release of the second season on DVD will give a lot of people an opportunity to rediscover the film. The brilliance of the film is the way that Lynch tells a story that simultaneously provides a fitting closure to the series and a great opening for it. We'll probably never know what happened after Cooper got possessed, but emotionally, the scene with the angel leaves us totally satisfied.

reassurance said...

Here’s where I disagree (sort of). Viscerally, Fire Walk With Me is unquestionably darker and extremely more violent than the show (though I think the murder of Maddy is considerably more disturbing than Laura’s death). However, I see FWWM as Lynch’s final goodbye to the “town,” and though we know of Cooper’s final demise, I don’t see it as pessimistic or as hopeless as the conclusion of the series. Lynch doesn’t give us the conclusion we need easily by any means; it took me several viewings to really interpret both the ending and the necessity of the film itself. How I see it (this probably shouldn’t be read by those who haven’t finished the series or seen the film): the final shot in the film, of Laura laughing/crying with Cooper standing above her as they are joined by the angel, is Lynch’s answer to “what happened to Cooper?” and “where did Laura go when she died?” Though an angel represents Christian theology, I never saw the Black Lodge as Hell and the White Lodge as Heaven, though the latter is a more accurate comparison. In one of the early episodes of the series, Laura whispers to Cooper in his dream (I’m pretty sure this is the first time we see the Black Lodge) that she’ll see him in 50 (?) years. She then whispers the name of the killer in his ear, which he, of course, forgets upon waking. Laura also says, when lying with Donna early in FWWM, the line about space and the angels going away, not to mention the angel disappearing from the painting. However, the angel appears at the end. My interpretation is that the angel is both Dale and Laura’s passageway into the White Lodge, as the Black Lodge is simply the gateway to it. That our hero and our victim finally meet one another in a sacred place makes me want to believe that this is the closure Lynch wanted us to take.

The DVD of FWWM doesn’t help in its lousy reputation, as nearly every one of the cast members (except for the actor who plays the One-Armed Man) give their reasons for not liking it. I think it’s easily one of Lynch’s greatest achievements. My friend Stewart actually made an amazing comparison between FWWM and Mulholland Drive. Why FWWM works better than Mulholland Drive is that it’s secrets aren’t contained entirely within the film. He described FWWM as a painting on the wall; what’s contained in the painting is what we see in the film. The wall, however, is what’s not explained, or the universe of FWWM. The film raises more questions than answers (take for example the David Bowie character, who introduces a whole new element of the supernatural), but ultimately I think it gives us the one essential answer we needed from our emotional and time investment in Twin Peaks.

Patrick said...

I would agree that there's a lot of warmth and a sense of closure at the end of the film. There were rumors that Lynch wanted to do more Twin Peaks films, but this really feels like a definitive ending. However, I think the warmth of the ending doesn't counteract just how intense the rest of the movie is.

Have you seen the European pilot? That ends with a title that says 25 Years Later, then the Red Room scene. I believe Laura makes some reference to the 25 years in the final episode. So, I imagine that Laura is in a sort of purgatory for 25 years, until she can tell Dale who killed her, and thus uncover her killer back in the present. Once both her and Cooper are finished with this duty, they can ascend into the white lodge.

And that wall analogy is great, I love how the film has these loose ends, particularly the Bowie scene. It's such an unconventional structure, easily Lynch's most experimental feature since Eraserhead. The thing that makes it so successful for me is that it's simultaneously so experimental and out there, and so emotionally potent, particularly that final moment.