This is the second in a three-part installment on the work of David Lynch and its relationship to feminism, just in time for the long-awaited release of season 3 of Twin Peaks, now slated for 2017.
CW: Discussion of sexual assault, IPV
One thing I’ve learned over the years about Lynch’s works is that they’re not an easy watch (See: preceding reference to racism, sexism, ableism, and transphobia). On TP, characters of color, such as Josie Packard and Tommy “Hawk” Hill (yep, that’s really his name) speak in stilted English, or adhere to vague animist traditions that don’t refer to an actual, specific culture (Tommy’s tribal heritage is never named). Johnny and Audrey Horne suffers from unnamed intellectual and emotional disabilities which manifest in a mishmash of symptoms (he beats his head against a dollhouse when he learns of Laura Palmer’s murder; she is depicted as a hypersexualized coquette, yet simultaneously naïve and emotionally disturbed). David Duchovny’s character, DEA agent Denise Bryson, has received plenty of flack for being insensitive to the trans community.
And then there’s the violence. All of the violence. I feel like I need to offer a content warning before I even begin to explain the depth and intensity of the sexual violence, incest, intimate partner violence, and psychic/emotional trauma that are woven into the very fabric of the show. Most of the horrific violence is perpetrated against women; indeed the central whodunit of the show revolves around the rape and murder of a small town’s beloved teenage girl. Yet, as I explained to my less than impressed new friend at the bar, it has never felt gratuitous to me. Really. As I explained to her, I trust where Lynch takes his audience and why. The first few episodes of TP show how distraught everyone in the community is over this crime. Laura Palmer is a human being. Unlike CSI or Law and Order: SVU, she isn’t simply one in a parade of desecrated bodies discovered by a wisecracking team of investigators completely numb to the atrocity of it all. Indeed, her death shakes an entire community who has known her since her birth.
The violence visited upon Shelly Johnson at the hands of her husband Leo are nothing short of traumatizing, particularly for those of us who have lived through the misery of such relationships. The first time the viewer sees Ronette Pulaski, she is crossing a bridge back into Twin Peaks, bruised, bloodied, and in a state of shock after a night of unspeakable abuse. For the sake of those who haven’t seen the series, I won’t give away the identity of Laura’s murderer, but all I can say is take care of yourself when/if you get around to watching the prequel, Fire Walk with Me. Yet amid all of these haunting stories and gruesome images emerges a strange sense of “empathy with” rather than “sympathy for” the survivors and victims.
This brings me to perhaps one of the most nebulous and fascinating parts of Lynch’s work. I consistently fail to be able to fully articulate this to another person when I discuss my love for his oeuvre but I’ll give it a try… Lynch is an absolute genius when it comes to capturing and relaying a feeling. Indeed, TP’s major themes rely on trusting one’s gut, paying attention to feelings, and refraining from relying entirely on the logical and objective. Agent Dale Cooper (played by Kyle MacLachlan) is both the hegemonic ideal of urbane, white masculinity and driven largely by his ability to tap into his intuition.
Aside from how the characters are crafted, Lynch’s work manages to transport the viewer into worlds that feel like they’re a real slice of the director’s subconscious in a way few directors dare to do. Rather than sprawling and domineering, most of Lynch’s films occupy an intimate, even claustrophobic landscape. Interpersonal relationship dynamics and private fears are splashed across the big screen for all to see. Like the robust works of Jackson Pollock, the supposedly masculine strokes speak to a more chaotic and panicked interior; inner turmoil is at the forefront, cranked to a scream rather than sequestered to their typical whisper.
Tune in next week for Part III, wherein we wrap up our discussion!
Photo credit: WomenWriteAboutComics.com