:: Article


By Nicholas Rombes.

Twin Peaks - Keywords


Twin Peaks is infused with a deep empathy, small but significant moments of grace and connection between characters. The three and a half minute, nearly dialogue-free, brightly-lit-by-the-morning-sun breakfast scene from part four featuring Dougie attempting breakfast as Sonny Jim guides him, a smile on his face, is both absurdly comical and deeply felt. Guided by Dave Brubeck’s 1959 jazz standard ‘Take Five’, roles are reversed: the childlike, vulnerable Dougie is the one guided through the rituals of breakfast by Sonny Jim, who seems to sense, intuitively and without question, Dougie’s fragility and openness.

In part 12 Carl Rodd learns that a fellow member of the trailer park, Kriscol, has been selling his blood to make ends meet.

Carl: Plus don’t pay me for any rent this month.

Kriscol: What?

Carl: Rent is due soon. Don’t pay it this month. And the next time you’re thinking about selling your blood, come talk to me about it. I don’t like it. I don’t like people selling their blood to eat. It’s true the hospital medical people need people to donate blood, but you’ve given enough already.

These moments are often unmoored from the larger narrative, small eddies that swirl off to the sides of the plot and yet are essential to the emotional resonance that Twin Peaks achieves. This deep regard for others and their well-being is rare in the show (perhaps expressed most consistently in Hawk’s character) which makes it even more powerful when it appears. The slow pace and persistently lingering shots and long takes also work to bring into focus the small habits and rituals of the characters, whether they are watching a segment of a boxing match repeated loop after loop, simply sweeping a barroom floor, or staring at each other patiently in between lines of dialog.


Aging and Difference

Strongly related to empathy is the show’s unique (in this era of digitally “corrected” faces) portrayal of aging faces and bodies: Carl Rodd (Harry Dean Stanton), Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie), Sheriff Truman (Robert Forster), Ed Hurley (Everett McGill), and so many others whose, craggy, lined faces are depicted in long-take close-ups. Even the faces of mid-career actors such as Laura Dern, Harry Goaz, Naomi Watts, and Kyle MacLachlan appear unaltered by excessive digital “beauty work”, allowing for an expressionistic style of acting that permits the face itself – without words or dialog – to convey meaning. (This perhaps contributes to the feeling that Christa Bell’s character is so out of place in the show.) And in the show’s depiction of everything from hearing loss, to a patched eye, to juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (Audrey’s husband, played by Clark Middleton), these conditions are neither trivialized nor played for sentimental effect.



In 1991 I was drowning in grad school, losing and finding my way through thickets of theory, trying to survive in a program that pitted the deconstructionists against the multiculturalists. I’d been a Lynch fan since 1987, when an unhinged, soon-to-be-fired undergrad professor sang the praises one afternoon of a film called Blue Velvet, which was available on VHS. (In the northwest Ohio of my youth, films like Blue Velvet did not play in theaters.) By the time Twin Peaks arrived, in 1990, I’d caught up on everything Lynchian I could find and in preparation for the series purchased packs of VHS tapes for recording. What at the time seemed like an imperfect, flawed attempt at capturing the series (terrible image quality, sound, etc.) now feels like a treasure, a time-capsule of how the series felt and was experienced at the time. 1991-92 was still an age of pixels, dot matrix printing, MS-DOS and, of course the VCR. In preparation for this piece I dug out from a cardboard box full of dubbed movie and family event tapes one that was labeled “Twin Peaks Season Two”, played it, recorded some short sequences on my cell phone, and uploaded them to Vimeo. The juxtaposition between Twin Peaks and the car and Budweiser commercials is a reminder that art often emerges not against but within commercial structures. These clips are from season two episodes that aired in the spring/summer of 1991 and were recorded from the station that carried Twin Peaks in central Pennsylvania, WATM.

The Return / The Eternal Return

“The greatest weight: What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence – even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!’” – Friedrich Nietzsche, 1882

“It isn’t time passing or the way he’s changed or the way he looks. It’s something here.” – Diane, referring to the Bad Cooper

“I like the saying ‘The world is as you are.’ And I think films are as you are. That’s why, although the frames of a film are always the same – the same number, in the same sequence, with the same sounds – every screening is different. The difference is sometimes subtle but it’s there. It depends on the audience. There is a circle that goes from the audience to the film and back. Each person is looking and thinking and feeling and coming up with his or her own sense of things. And it’s probably different from what I fell in love with.” – David Lynch


Atomic Bomb

“Now we are all sons of bitches.” – Kenneth Bainbridge, director of the Manhattan Project’s Trinity test, to Robert Oppenheimer, July 1945

“The head of Medusa. That’s what’s in the box. And whoever looks on her will be changed not into stone, but into brimstone and ashes. But you wouldn’t believe me. You’d have to see for yourself, wouldn’t you?” – Dr. Soberin, from Kiss Me Deadly, written by A.I. Bezzerides

“It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe.” – Harry S. Truman, 6 August 1945

“But neither can two great and powerful groups of nations take comfort from our present course – both sides overburdened by the cost of modern weapons, both rightly alarmed by the steady spread of the deadly atom, yet both racing to alter that uncertain balance of terror that stays the hand of mankind’s final war.” – John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, 20 January 1961

Chris Rodley: “Weren’t you present as an Eagle Scout at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy?”

David Lynch: “Yeah. The Eagle Scouts were asked to seat VIPs in these bleachers outside the White House. It was the coldest inauguration in history – 1961, January 20th, which is also my birthday.”


The Judys

“Well now. I’m not gonna talk about Judy.” Phillip Jeffries, Fire Walk With Me

“Why don’t you want to talk about Judy? Who is Judy?” Bad Cooper to Phillip Jeffries, part 15

Judy Garland

“Judy Westerman, my girlfriend at the time, was a Catholic, and she had a bond with this President [Kennedy] like you couldn’t believe! … And everybody say Jack Ruby Kill Oswald. It was called ‘The Four Dark Days’ and ironically Judy was in her darkened bedroom for those four days, so it really was dark for her!” – David Lynch interviewed by Chris Rodley

“Can I say hello to my friend Judy?” David Lynch, interrupting Jay Leno on The Tonight Show in 2001, at the 7:27 mark


Native American Genocide

“It’s a nation of killers, killing all along. Killed damn near all the Indians, didn’t they?” – Hutch, from part 15

The Trinity test was conducted in New Mexico, in the Journado del Muerto valley, or “Journey of the Dead Man”, home, at the time, to several dozen American Indian Pueblos and Apache tribes.

“It was an amazing character to play, it was one of the first times we saw a multi-dimensional Native character on television. I grew up with all these horrendously bad images of Indigenous people, and to think of a person of mixed blood, too, you realize that we’re all human beings so you’re looking at all kinds of aspects of how human beings exist in the world. But nature is the key and Lynch understood that. Nature is where the medicine is and mountains always have great medicine, great power to them.” – Michael Horse (Hawk) from a 2017 interview


Twin (doppelgänger, Tulpa) Peaks

Acting itself is a form of doubling, of playing someone else while still yourself. One person functioning, simultaneously, as two people, in front of a camera that, also, doubles and then reproduces, endlessly, the images.

“That which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art. This is a symptomatic process whose significance points beyond the realm of art. One might generalize by saying: the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence. And in permitting the reproduction to meet the beholder or listener in his own particular situation, it reactivates the object reproduced. These two processes lead to a tremendous shattering of tradition which is the obverse of the contemporary crisis and renewal of mankind. Both processes are intimately connected with the contemporary mass movements. Their most powerful agent is the film.” – Walter Benjamin, from The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, 1936


Kiss Me Deadly

The 1955 paranoid Cold War film directed by Robert Aldrich, whose mad incoherence is forecast in its opening credits which, notoriously, scroll the wrong way: down instead of up. The film stands alone in its embodiment of the insanity of the atom bomb not just in terms of its plot, but in terms of its expressionistically berserk camera work, lighting, and sound. Unlike Dr. Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick, 1964) – which is aesthetically coherent and rational – Kiss Me Deadly actually demonstrates (through technique) and embodies the madness of its ideas. Twin Peaks references Kiss Me Deadly’s nuclear iconography in glorious black and white, and in terminal light and fallout.

Twin Peaks - Keywords by Nicholas Rombes

Twin Peaks - Keywords by Nicholas Rombes

The Gordons

Bert Moorhouse as Gordon Cole in Sunset Boulevard

Frank Pickler as Detective Gordon in Blue Velvet

Mareck Zydowicz as Gordy in Inland Empire

And of course…


Nicholas Rombes

Nicholas Rombes
is author of the novel The Absolution of Robert Acestes Laing and director of the film The Removals. An updated edition of his book Cinema in the Digital Age will be published in November by Columbia University Press. He is a professor in Detroit.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, August 31st, 2017.