In the Between

Twin Peaks and much of David Lynch’s narrative and artistic practice is shrouded in mystery. His work calls out to the audience to make sense of what has been encountered, yet he tells us there is no one correct way of making sense of his films. They are mysteries, hidden within secrets, with key pieces of narrative information left out to spark speculation and imagination. This has resulted in a plethora of possible readings, tracking, spiritual paths through eastern religion, Gnostic thinking, hermetic and occult ritual, conspiracy theory, quantum physics, modernism, post modernism, art theory, psychology, gender studies, materialism and so on.

My take as, I argued in What Is This All About is that Twin Peaks, like Lynch’s broader practice, exists in an absurd space, defined by this notion of ongoing sense making, amidst an existence that does by definition not make sense. In this article I will explore this idea further contextualising The Return and Twin Peaks within the liminal, alongside the absurd.

The town of Twin Peaks is framed and named for the two mountains spires that loom over it. In many ways these mountains act as a metaphor, mirroring the themes and ideas explored in the narrative’s text, through the lives of its people and their encounters with this world. Originally the town was portrayed as an idyllic place filled with secrets. Yet despite the double crosses, double lives, and threatening darkness, there was an overwhelming sense of goodness and a will to keep the darkness at bay.

However, the final scenes of Season 2 brought this reality into question. With The Return and an expanded canvas, both terrestrial and cosmic, Twin Peaks is now presented as a failing and darker world, grasping at the memory of what it once was. As such, we are forced to ask what had become of this beloved space, and how, if at all, it and this world can be returned to what it once was. This dichotomy, however, is not strictly speaking correct. From the moment Laura’s body is discovered on the beach by Pete Martell, the audience are confronted by pain and suffering. This is evidenced in Andy’s innocent sadness, in Sarah’s anguished, and now complex, howls of grief, as well as in Maddie’s murder and the resulting communal tears shed at the Roadhouse. What original Twin Peaks did, like Blue Velvet, was to reveal that which was always present but unacknowledged. What then to make of The Return, and what it reveals about its older self?

The badging of Season 3 as The Return also begs the question, ‘what or who is being returned, and to where are they being returned?’ Is it Cooper’s return from the Lodge into the world and to himself? Is it Laura’s return to life and to the memory of her trauma? Is it our return to a world we thought we knew, to find it changed, and not the thing we remembered it to be? In the following pages I will attempt to get at these questions by examining Twin Peaks from a liminal perspective. To do this I will first explore what the liminal is and how liminality is expressed within the world of Twin Peaks. I will then suggest that while the liminal may appear to be difficult to apply in some instances that it nonetheless offers insight into his world and how it can be made sense of.

Defining the Liminal Space

Liminality is a term originally coined by the anthropologist Arnold van Gennep,[1] when discussing traditional societies’ rites of passage, such as initiations. The term derives from Latin ‘limen’, literally transiting as lintel in English — the frame that supports a window or door, through which we pass or gaze — but also, more usefully as “threshold”.  The liminal therefore is conceived of as a space “that encompasses movement from the threshold of one state to another”.[2]  Within anthropology liminality is, as a concept, specifically related to and located within traditional ritual, ceremonial and spiritual practice. The defining academic within the anthropological space, after Gennep, is Victor Turner whose 1967 work The Forest of Symbols applies the term liminality specifically to ‘generalised ritual and social performativity”.

Turner spent many years observing traditional cultures and argued that the basic model of society is one of “structured positions” and that the liminal was defined by the “interstructural situation” between another structured position. Encounters with the “interstructural” condition for the individual and society were, he argued, experienced during periods of flux and uncertainty. This could include transitions from childhood to adulthood, birth, death and marriage, but also periods of war, disease, psychic and spiritual disturbance. The liminal in this space defined the period of transition, utilised to redefine place, purpose, and significance of the individual or group within society as well as the movement from structured positions through the unstructured and back to structured again. Turner further suggested that events that instigate liminal passage are intrinsically “defined through crisis and “life crisis rituals,”[3]  and I would argue connects the liminal with notions of existential crisis and personal confrontations with the absurd. In this context, it can be viewed both as the disturbance that initiates the need for liminal transition, as well as the inciting incident that necessitates Cooper’s journey to Twin Peaks. Laura’s death clearly reverberates throughout the community, the high school, and police department, disrupting these institutions, just as it throws the lives of her family and friends into flux as they grieve and attempt to make sense of her death and life. As such an individual and collective liminal processes is instigated, which Turner informs us is, by its very nature a state of reflection in which the “neophytes [and social grouping are] are alternately forced and encouraged to think about their society, their cosmos, and the powers that generate and sustain them”.[4]   I would also suggest that the audience, while viewing this spectacle at a distance similarly experience this crisis and embark on this liminal passage with the good people of Twin Peaks. If not why was there so much clamour for Lynch and Frost to resolve this mystery and to bring closure for that part of the audience uncomfortable with this open ended and absurd mystery?

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In traditional societies’ ceremonial practice requires the liminal passenger/s be isolated from the world so that they become invisible and exist in a state described as being “neither living nor dead… [or]… both living  and dead” … [5] “[occupying] a position of marginality and paradox between these separate states.”[6]  This position is expressed collectively in Twin Peaks through general public anxiety and mourning, and individually through the isolation of characters like Leland, who seems to have a mental breakdown, as well as Sarah, who is medicated by Doc Hayward and placed in a numbed state, dislocating her from her suffering. Donna and James also isolate themselves from their everyday world and embark on a quest to solve Laura’s murder. Of all the characters in this world (alongside Audrey, Briggs, Diane and Phillip Jeffries) Cooper and Laura are the most isolated, marginal, and paradoxical. This is literally articulated in Laura’s Red Room conversation with Cooper, in Season 2, Episode 29, and Season 3, Part 2, in which she states “I am dead. Yet I live”.  What’s more, both characters, it can be argued, occupy a position of extreme isolation and marginality by simply virtue of their positioning within the Waiting Room. This is further accentuated by the ambiguity of Laura’s backward speaking, and through the fragmentation of each character into doppelgängers, doubles, and tulpas. This is borne out throughout the entirety of Twin Peaks, from Fire Walk with Me, through Series 1 and 2, and into The Return.

In Fire Walk with Me we encounter Laura in crisis, the victim of abuse and violence, who chooses death instead of submitting to the demonic whims of BOB and her father’s incestual drives. This is not, however, the end of Laura. In the world of Twin Peaks she continues to exist as a Lodge entity, somehow caught in the Red Room despite her redemptive encounter with her angel in Fire Walk With Me. In this space she is both alive and dead, unable to move on to a final fixed position within the White Lodge, but still able to communicate with her fellow passenger Dale Cooper through dreams. When Dale similarly finds his way into the Lodge, he like her becomes trapped in this space, and it can be argued, does not re-enter the world of fixed positions until Part 16 — if at all. I say ‘if at all’ because the final shot in Part 18 locates Dale and Laura in a position they have occupied throughout the entirety of Twin Peaks, whether in dreams or reality, and suggests that there has been no passage at all, or that the fixed positions of this transformation is somehow differently defined and or not easily recognisable.

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No matter how the final outcome of The Return is made sense of, it is clear Turner would have not labelled it as liminal. For him, liminality was only to be applied to cultural and performative ceremony and ritual within traditional or religious structures. He instead applied the term ‘liminoid’ to secular practices and rituals like sporting events, political rallies and state funerals, where the actions of the group could be seen to mirror in some ways traditional practice. I would argue that Turner’s personal religious views and strict confining of the liminal to traditional, ritualistic and cultural practice prevents him from engaging with a broader and more inclusive understanding of the liminal. I also don’t think it is much of a leap to argue Lynch’s transcendentalism and Frost’s interest in Buddhism and occult locate Twin Peaks within Turner’s traditional and performative framework. Michael Daye likewise suggests in his article on the liminal Lynch, published in Filmint, that cinemas and theatres, can in fact be approached as sacred spaces dedicated to “the presentation of ‘other’ realities…[that] can be viewed as providing orientation, akin to other sacred spaces”.[7]  This conflation of the cinematic and performative spaces with the ritualistic and ceremonial, I would argue, can also be applied to the home cinema. With new technology, surround sound, and high definition monitors, the quality of the viewing experience is much enhanced and just as immersive. It can also be argued designations like film, television, and online content have now become blurred. What constituted one from the other is itself in flux. Lynch’s own categorisation of his Showtime limited event series as an 18 hour film, and Cahiers du Cinema’s and Sight and Sound’s naming it amongst the best films of 2017 further illustrates the transformational space all media and mediums are now located in.

While debates over the correct use of the term liminality continues, it is worth noting that many academics and artists have embraced the term in a wider context. This has led the term being applied to periods of social, intellectual, and revolutionary turmoil as well as to categories like refugees, whose status and statehood is still to be determined, and to transgender, intersexual, bisexuals, and pansexuals peoples. The problem with the expanding application of this term is that anything and everything can be designated transitional, from sunset and sunrise, to changes in tide. As such, the definition at its extremities has been rendered redundant and perhaps absurd. This is not to suggest that all work in this space are without value. The video works of artists like Bill Viola, for example, can be seen as liminal, in that they often feature transformational experiences, encountered in ambiguous immersive spaces that sit outside of our experience of the everyday world. Similarly, Lynch utilises liminal processes and spaces to illustrate ambiguity, paradox, and transformation as he does in Club Silencio in Mullholland Drive. Within this space, Betty’s  experience of the world is reframed and shown to be an elaborate fantasy and self-deception to escape the unwelcome reality of her own life as Diane. Interestingly this sequence not only points to the liminal within Mullholland Drive but also to an intertextual and liminal link between this world and that of Twin Peaks. This is evident in Lynch’s decision to have Sheryl Lee, Laura Palmer, and Phoebe Augustine, Ronette Pulaski (though often debated), sitting across the isle and back from Betty and Rita in the same theatre. This intertextuality is further accentuated by the use of this same location as for the White Lodge in The Return, causing the audience to wonder at connections between these narratives, characters and the nature of the space they and we occupy.

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There are many other examples of between spaces within Twin Peaks like Jack Rabbit’s Palace, The Dutchman’s, The Pear Blossom Hotel, The Roadhouse, The Palmer House and the Waiting Room.  All these localities operate as conduits between worlds, realities, timelines and self, and like Club Silencio are more often than not occupied by guides, tricksters and threshold guardians, who are encountered within them. The Fireman, The Bosomy Woman, Phillip Jeffries, Diane’s Motel Double, the Roadhouse MC, Sarah Palmer, Mike and the Evolution of the Arm are all in some fashion guides who help or waylay those who cross their paths within these slippery spaces. In this, they serve a liminal function as “disproportion[ate] monstrousness [and ambiguous figures in their form and in the] mystery they embody”[8] who are encountered within this space. Turner informs us these entities take these frightening and exaggerated forms to deliberately segregate the liminal passenger from associations with the real to foster new ways of seeing and making sense of the world. (This in turn reflects the form and function of the theatricalisation of the existential, within the theatre of the absurd, [9] discussed in What Is This All About and points to a connection between the absurd  and liminal in form at least).

Bossomy Woman

It could be argued figures like BOB, serve this same purpose. For he is at once a familiar, possessing demon–Baal, the husband of Jowday, an orb of evil vomited into the world, and the embodiment of ‘the evil that men do’, created to foster contemplation about the nature of the world we, the audience, occupy . Again, Laura, who was born in this world, also appears as a monstrous and ambiguous figure, in her doppelgänger form, as an orb of golden light, as a Lodge entity who can remove her face (perhaps revealing herself), and through her earthly doubles, Maddie and Carrie. Each time we see Laura in a different form, we, the audience, and the characters who encounter her are asked to reappraise what each of us know of her. Was she the idealised prom queen, the lover, the friend, the charity worker, the drug dealer, the prostitute, the abuse victim, the frightened and traumatised teenage girl? Again, similar questions can be asked about Cooper’s identity, his actions, and intentions. This, however, is where identifying the liminal becomes difficult because a clear demarcation between the structured and unstructured, like the identities of these characters becomes difficult to ascertain. As a consequence, everything becomes fluid and changeable, causing us not only to re-frame the real within Twin Peaks but also to recast this entire space as ambiguous.

Paradox, Failure and Ambiguity

While I have speculated that the world of Twin Peaks and it’s narratives take place in a liminal space, it becomes difficult, with Cooper and Laura, and many other characters, to define from which fixed position their narrative arches begin or end. What we see for the most part is a series of larger, medium and smaller episodic scenes and sequences that are left hanging. Many of these sequences, and the small ones in particular, play out in the lives of characters who we only momentarily glimpse, who are not deployed to waylay or guide our main characters. While we don’t know what becomes of the characters in these non-sequitur scenes, Lynch indicates that they, like the main characters, have their own stories that occur, for the most part, out of sight. We are left instead to extrapolate from the main narrative a possible end, or to merely acknowledge them and then pass them by. While this makes sense when viewed through an absurd lens, it becomes problematic from a strict liminal position. This is compounded further in story arches with happy endings, like Nadine, Norma, and Ed’s, because Cooper’s actions alter the timeline and deny these characters positional change.

As I argued in “What is it all About”,The Return makes Twin Peaks an absurd drama, and a modern Sisyphean myth. How then, if Lynch has given us an absurd parable can the liminal be present in the narrative, when it provides no space for the existence of a structured state from which to leave and to arrive at? I will suggest this paradox can be understood liminaly in several ways. Firstly, that Cooper, Laura, and the world of Twin Peaks exists in a failed liminal state in which they have been unable to achieve passage from one state to the next. Secondly, and alternately, that we, as an audience, may have not been shown the fixed positions our heroes travel from and to. This, of course, raises the question of what these positions are, where they reside, which in turn leads to speculation about the text and our relationship to it. Lastly, I will suggest that it is possible this passage is an internal one, for both the characters within the work and ourselves as viewers and spectators outside of it, and that this process is as a consequence ongoing, much like Sisyphus’s toil.

So what then is this failed liminal state, and how is it expressed within Twin Peaks? Turner tells us when the initiate “neophytes are withdrawn from their structural positions and consequently from values, norms, sentiments, and techniques associated with those positions, they are also divested of their previous habits of thought, feeling, and action.” During this period, as has already been stated “the neophytes are alternately forced and encouraged to think about their society, their cosmos, and the powers that generate and sustain them.”[10] It also needs to be noted that implicit in this process are oppositional forces that reduce and diminish the cosmos, throwing it into chaos. Turner draws our attention to this inversion when he notes that while the monstrous and disproportionate are utilised to encourage the neophyte to see the world in new ways, they are also used to remind them that their success is not guaranteed, and that if they fail they may become trapped in a “limbo-like state excluded from full cultural participation in their society”. [11] He is at pains to make clear this is not a hypothetical, if the liminal passenger fails they are ”placed in an ambiguous and failed state of being in which they are trapped in an “essentially unstructured” state from which they will most likely never emerge. [12] It seems likely that Cooper occupies such a state at the end of The Return having failed to recognise the inherent futility of seeking to save Laura or to defeat Judy. The same can also be said of Laura who in attempting to escape her fate through death finds herself located with Cooper in the same unstructured Red Room space. Cooper and Laura are not however alone in their fate, and it is for this reason that it is possible the entirety of Twin Peaks is a failed liminal space closed off from structured fulfillment. This is evident in Harold Smith’s isolation, in Stephen’s addiction and in both of their suicides, in the life of the 119 Woman, Ella, the burger rash girl, and in the person of Billy, who may or not have been seen, and whose existence may be entirely in question.

Big Ed Alone

These traits are also evident in Ed Hurley’s life. In Episode 13, when we first see him at the Double R, we hope that he and Norma are together but soon learn that this is not so. Soon after we see him sitting alone at the Gas Farm. His isolation in this scene is stark, compounded by his eating of what appears to be corn soup, and by the glitches and momentary loops manifest in the reality that surrounds him. We see reflections of passing traffic in the Gas Farm. Windows seemingly stutter, and Ed’s own reflection similarly and momentarily disconnects from his psychical form, as if the flow of perceived reality has been disrupted by a glitch in the data stream. Perhaps Ed’s reflection is itself rebelling against the trapped material position he occupies. Yes, this is a metaphoric representation of an emotional state however it is not an isolated phenomenon. It is instead an effect and affect related to, movement through Lodge portals, acts of violence perpetrated by Lodge linked entities, and a sign that our characters are trapped within an unstructured and untethered reality. Not even Norma and Ed’s eventual coming together can alter this because Cooper’s actions and the machination of Lodge entities unfix this singular moment of peace and elation. This occurs no matter whether you accept the eternal loop or splitting time line theory. In the loop theory Ed and Norma get together, then this event is negated and the whole process is repeated in perpetuity, while in the splitting time line theory the negative remains alongside an alternate pathway. As such there is no deliverance but an infinite and absurd multiplicity of possible outcomes and no one defining act of finitude or release.

It is this ongoing-ness and repeated-ness that accentuates the ambiguity and unstructured nature of the world/s these characters inhabit and the state they occupy as trapped liminal passengers. This is especially evident in the lives of characters like Audrey and Annie who are overtly sited in ambiguous and failed liminal localities. Audrey’s relationship with Charlie, who plays the monstrous in her life, the circularity of their arguments, and the 1940’s and 50’s furnishings and décor within this space all point to a disconnection from structured reality.  This is confirmed when Audrey performs her dream-like dance at the Roadhouse and is confronted by the monstrousness in another guise when the bar fight shatters her delusional projection. In retreating into a white, ambiguous, and limbo-like space Audrey is confronted by the nature of her entrapment. While this may eventually give her the ability to negotiate her reality and make the world her own, she clearly does not have the faculty to do so in this instance, but is instead thrown into a state of existential crisis and nausea.

Audrey Wants to FInd Billy

Similarly  Annie Blackburn as described by Mark Frost, in The Final Dossier, exists in a catatonic state, in which she seems not to age, and from which she emerges once a years to relay “I’m fine.” Despite this reassurance we know from Season 2, Episode 25 that Annie is only telling us what we want to hear, applying a social convention and not telling us how she actually is. Yes Mark Frost’s, The Secret History and The Final Dossier locate these events within the real Twin Peaks and not within some failed liminal space. However, they also inform us Annie and Audrey are afflicted with psychological and physiological conditions that isolate and ultimately exclude them from the cultural practice of their community. I would also argue there is no real indication this is the actual position these characters occupy. Frost has repeatedly implied that the narratives within The Secret History are not to be trusted and contain unreliable witness accounts, if not outright obfuscation and misdirection. Tamara Preston’s also tells us in The Final Dossier that her thoughts about the events that have transpired and her memories of them, have become “fuzzy and more indistinct the longer” she remains in Twin Peaks. [13]  In doing so she calls into question the changing nature of her seeming reality and her own ability to identify and record events in relation to the real, and as such becomes another unreliable witness.

Sarah Palmer’s narrative similarly offers the audience a further and truly horrifying example of failed liminality in which the monstrous and disproportionate have completely entrapped her. From the moment the Woodsmen’s words put her to sleep, Sarah is entangled in a body that is no-longer her own but a vehicle through which destructive and diminishing cosmological forces are allowed to act in the world. At once, Sarah becomes the victim of an external representation of the monstrous to others. This is evident in the glitching and looping that defines her existence and her inability, when present in herself, to navigate the simple progression of time and the appearance of turkey jerky in her local grocery store.

Sarah Palmer

The ongoing nature of Sarah’s entrapment further supports the proposition that Twin Peaks is located within a failed liminal reality. Even if you argue Sarah’s circumstances are a device through which trauma can be examined, it is still obvious that she remains trapped figuratively, if not literally. This is apparent in the lack of narrative opportunity she is given to navigate the adversity and tragedy she has been subjected to. When we first see Sarah in The Return she is not a campaigner against domestic and sexual abuse but instead watches entranced as lions tear a wildebeest apart on her television. In this moment she seems quite literally subsumed by the monsters in her life, drowning her suffering with vodka and cigarettes, unable to escape the forces that possess her, her memories, or the high school portrait that haunts her every moment.

On Locating Two Fixed Positions

While this view may seem bleak, it is possible we have not been shown the full extent of this reality. What appears to be a failed liminal state may still be in passage, with its final fixed positions not yet achieved or revealed. This allows for a host of possible scenarios to be explored,  1, that there is a fixed start and end position which the authors have not yet, or will not reveal; 2, that the first structured position has been revealed but not the final position; 3, that Twin Peaks, in its totality, exists in an elaborate fantasy constructed by one or more characters to make sense of a life crisis/’s and structured positions that have not been revealed; and 4, that this work is meant to be entered into and liminaly navigated by the audience, who ascribe positional change on the successful completion of their passage as they set fit. I will not however examine all these options but instead focus on option three and four.

How then to make a case for option three’s fantastic unstructured reality? How has it been constructed, by whom, to what end? As I have argued in the Black Lodge/White Lodge debate about the reality experienced in the Carrie Page scenes, Lynch and Cole’s “we are like the dreamer who dreams and lives inside the dream” indicates that the whole of Twin Peaks may not be what it appeared to be. It also draws attention to positions located outside of the text and begs the question ‘who is the dreamer’? The term “dream” is also problematic because it threatens to render the work unsatisfactory and inauthentic. However because Lynch does not reveal who the dreamer is, or make their reality apparent, we are able to explore this space freely without it, or our experience of it being rendered inauthentic. This fluidity is possible because how the term ‘dream’ is used and defined is by no means clear. Has it been used to focus our attention onto our understanding of being in the world, and how  “the experience of consciousness and memory” influences that process.[14]  Or does it have to do with what we do during actual sleep, or, during the “wonderings [and wanderings] of our brain while awake, “day dreaming”… imagining and fantasising?”[15] The term “dream” is also problematic because it is difficult for any viewer to identify which realities within Twin Peaks are dreams with any clarity.

Right from the beginning of this series, Lynch has drawn our attention to dreaming, through the presentation of dream-like realities within the narrative; as an analytic tool used by Cooper, in the somnambulist Dougie state occupied by Cooper, in Candie’s “dreamy” presence, in the music Audrey Horne dances to at home at the Great Northern, in the Double R Dinner and at the Roadhouse . Everywhere we look the possibility of dreaming and nightmares abound. While Lynch infuses this cosmos with the dreamy he also asks, perhaps unconsciously, that we view Twin Peaks in relation to his other works. Much has already been made of The Return as a journey through Lynch’s filmography and art practice. This is not just a matter of exploring aesthetic reflexivity but rather the presentation of themes, language and symbols that guide our reading and analysis of this work. To this end, Mullholland Drive, Lost Highway, and Inland Empire, which explore the world through the prism of dream, fantasy, self-deception and psychic confusion are all relevant. Mullholland Drive in particular illustrates how Lynch creates realities that appear to be real, which he then reveals to be fabrications. Right from beginning of this film when Betty arrives in LA, she repeatedly tells us that this reality is “unbelievable” and a “… Dream Place.”

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Here, Lynch is signalling to the audience, we are in Diane’s dream, a fantasy that re-imagines her disintegrating romantic and failed professional life as something better and more fulfilling. In this world, Diane is no longer an unloved failed actress but Betty, a young go-getter, realising her dream to become a star, while finding love with beautiful amnesiac Rita.  Similarly, when Cooper drives into Twin Peaks, he wants to set the world to right, by solving the crime and by giving Laura’s family, friends and the community the closure they desire. His infectious optimism and wonder at being in this town, at its trees, its coffee and cherry pie, and his warm interactions with the people who live here finds a clear correlations in Betty and her naive excitement at being in the Hollywood, and in helping Rita recover her identity.

Cooper pie

The opposite is also true. When Diane’s Betty fantasy can no longer be maintained, she is forced to confront a reality she would rather elude. In a state of crisis and despair she seeks to end her suffering by taking her own life. Cooper also finds himself  in a similar position when he returns Carrie to Laura’s home only to discover he is in the wrong time and place. While Cooper does not take his own life he is thrown into a state of crisis and existential uncertainty. However unlike Mullholland Drive, The Return refuses to show us Cooper’s actual reality, or to clearly identify it. We may witness the disruption and fracturing of this fantasy with Carrie Page outside the Palmer House and in the Red Room sequence but we are not shown the world beyond these spaces. Perhaps Laura/Carrie whispers the truth to Cooper in the closing scene but we as an audience do not know what is said.

As I have indicated, I believe Cooper is the character we need to examine to make sense of this narrative and to unlock its liminal space to reveal it’s hidden structured positions. We know that in Fire Walk with Me, Dale intuits that the murderer of Teresa Bank‘s will strike again and in doing so described a potential victim to Albert very much like Laura Palmer, long before he had known of her existence. This illustrates Cooper’s intuitive abilities, which we have seen before, but it might also signal his own hand in the construction of this ambiguous reality. It is also worth noting that the same day Cooper encounters Special Agent Phillip Jeffries, who points at him and says to Cole…

“Who do you thinks this is, there?”

This sequence is often interpreted as Jeffries having knowledge of Cooper’s doppelganger MR C, predicting the fragmentation of his identity and signalling the difficulty with which Lodge associated entities navigate time and space. If however we examine Twin Peaks as a self deceptive fantasy or as psychological retreat form an untenable reality  “who do you thinks this is, there?” could be interpreted to mean ‘who do you think this person is, imaging themselves to be Cooper’? In this moment Phillip Jeffries becomes like the Master of Ceremonies at Club Silencio asking the audience to pay attention to the reality we are presented with. As such they become manifestations of this constructed space who are aware of its artificiality. This encounter with Jeffries is given further significant in The Return when Cole’s Monica Bellucci dream causes Cole and Albert to remember Jeffries visit and his questioning of Cooper’s identity.  This remembering then draws attention to  the significance of “dreaming” and “remembering” and asks the audience to question the nature of this reality they are presented with – just as Monica’s location is brought into question by the actual shoot location, the proximity of the gallery showing Lynch’s art work, and by the presence of Cole played by Lynch within the scene. It is also worth asking why some Lodge encounters are remembered while others are not. When Agent Cooper wakes from his Dougie sleep he remembers everyone and knows everything – including who Freddie is and what his green garden glove is for. The one thing Cooper does not remember however is when he is once he crosses into the Odessa reality. This is curious because Cooper does not forget who he is, or what he needs to do. His introducing himself to Alice Tremond as special agent Dale Cooper is evidence of this. Could it be however that Cooper’s inability to remember when he is, is not a consequence of movement between Lodge realities but instead the dream revealing itself by making illogical shifts in location, time, and identity visible to the dreamer. As a consequence the integrity of the dream is undermined and becomes unsustainable – as it does for Diane in Mullholland Drive and Fred in Lost Highway?

How then to make sense of what is going on? Could Cooper’s backstory, like Diane’s in Mullholland Drives, hint at the real? [16] If I was to single out one event as a catalyst to for Dale’s crisis and escape into delusion it would be his love affair with Caroline Earle and her subsequent murder. In this reading Caroline’s death provides a psychological trigger traumatic enough to justify Cooper’s retreat into fantasy.  Not only is he tormented by Caroline’s murder, and his inability to protect her, he is also wracked with guilt at his betrayal of his FBI partner by sleeping with his wife, and as such believes himself responsible for her death. It may be that Dale and Caroline are not who they appear to be. They may be someone else like Richard and Linda, like Betty and Diane, Rita and Camila, Fred and Pete, Renee and Alice, Devin and Billy, and Nikki and Susan. No matter who they are in reality Lynch provides us with enough precedence in his past work to suggest this conflation and confusion over character identity has been employed in Twin Peaks. Using Caroline is also interesting because it makes Twin Peaks, somewhat like Inland Empire, a space in which the definitive reality is difficult to identify, in contrast to Lost Highway or Mullholland Drive where its is relatively easier to track.

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In this ambiguous and paradoxical space Laura, Annie and Carrie all then become proxies for Caroline within Cooper’s delusion and attempt at redemption. The evidence for this is found in the conflation of Caroline, Laura, Annie and Carrie’s characters within the season two finale, in Fire Walk With Me, and in The Return.  As such the narrative begins with Caroline’s death and ends with Carrie’s return home. The fact that Carrie is the diminutive form of the name Caroline is not accidental. It is also significant that Laura, whose death sparked this whole investigation is revealed to be Carrie in the Odessa reality.  This confusion and correlation is further explored in the season 2 final when Annie Blackburn is abducted by Caroline’s husband and murderer Windom Earle and taken into the Black Lodge where she latter appears to Dale as herself, Annie but also as Caroline and Laura.  This conflation continues in Fire Walk With Me when Annie appears to Laura, in her bedroom, wearing Caroline’s dress, and tells her…

“My name is Annie. I’ve been with Dale and Laura.  The good Dale is in the Lodge and he can’t leave. Write it in your diary.”

While the movement through time and space exhibited by Lodge related entities makes sense of this paradoxical event it can also simply be explained through the prism of Dale’s retreat into a self-delusional and self-consoling reality. Annie is therefore able to speak with Laura because she like Laura populate Dale’s liminal reality (and may or may not exist independently outside of it). As such they both exist to play a part in a fantasy that allows Cooper to save the girl, who represents Caroline, and to put the world to right. This scene is also intriguing because at no time does Annie warn Laura about her impending death. Strangely the message seems to rely on Laura dying so her diary can be found in the course of her murder investigation so the real Cooper can later be identified, and Bob and Mr C disposed of. This then allows Dale to go on to save Laura/Carrie and bring her home. Twin Peaks as such becomes not about Cooper saving Laura but instead about Cooper needing to be saved from his own despair.  As such his inability to save Laura or to remove her trauma becomes all the more poignant because it highlights his own suffering – and makes his delusion impossible to maintain. Perhaps we see in Audrey waking to her reflection Cooper waking to himself, and in Annie’s phrase “I’m fine” we hear his delusion, a deflection from the actual state of his reality.  The question then becomes will Cooper be saved and escaped the trapped liminal space he occupies by becoming conscious of his condition or will he retreat further into inauthenticity and an ongoing and tragic process of eternal reoccurrence.

Screen Shot 2018-04-11 at 8.11.53 am

Either way this reading makes the liminal an internal journey embarked on by the characters within the text. We have identified a possible fixed position from which Cooper may have entered the liminal space and another possible position he may be able to exit from, if he is able to acknowledge the trauma and monstrousness that cuts off his liminal passage. What the outcome is we will never know. Interestingly Turner tells us displacement from social structure, like that experienced by Cooper can also occur “when individuals fail to remember or perform the correct rituals for ancestor spirits”  required within the broader performative and ritualistic structure of the society. [17]  These failures to comply with ritual obligations then lead to afflictions that can only be removed through “curative practice that involves the participation of the afflicting spirits”… who “contain within them the cure as well as the affliction”  [18]  Cooper’s illness and misfortune is in this case personal, psychological and spiritual. Perhaps by engaging with the afflicting forces in this space he may be able to find his way back into himself and into the world.

This portrayal of suffering, and of attempting to make sense of a world that will not easily be made sense of  in turn causes us as spectators and viewers to ponder, our relationship with Twin Peaks, and our own experience of adversity and crisis. All works of art, literature, music and film perform this function, removing us from the real so we can see the world again with fresh eyes. One doesn’t have to look far to see Lynch and Frost want us to ask deep questions about; the decline of western culture, our relationships with toxic masculinity, violence, the state of the environment, and our own psychic, spiritual and temporal well being. These ideas are shouted to the sky’s by Doctor Amp, through the shows portrayal of violence, trauma and suffering, but are also expressed in the good, embodied by Frank Truman, Deputy Chief Hawk, Andy, Lucy and Margaret.

Diane's Double

Together Frost and Lynch have created a cosmos that allowed us to leave behind the structured positions we occupied as viewers and fans, disrupting our preconceived notions of what we believe Twin Peaks to be, and in so doing have made us see the world anew. In doing so they have also drawn our attention to the act of watching and listening through their portrayal of recording cameras, security monitors, digital devices and glass boxes, reminding us of our participation in the narrative and of our complicity in what was portrayed on screen. The Fireman told Cooper “it is in our house now” and in doing so asked us to question where Judy was located within Twin Peaks, and within our own homes and lives. The clicking of evil, indifference, suffering and trauma didn’t just manifest in the White Lodge or in Ghostwood forest but in our own living rooms and where-ever else we watched and listened. And as we watched we saw Carl Rodd give comfort to a grieving mother on the side of the road. We also watched as Richard Horne threaten to rape a young lady, beat Miriam nearly to death, and terrorise his grandmother. In that instance we all became like Cooper and Johnny Horne, constrained and running on the spot, unable to change what we saw. Yet in that moment, and many others like them we were asked to “pay attention”. Jacoby, Monica, Cooper and Cole all looked out of our screens at us asking us to wake up from our dream.  To try to make sense of the monstrous and the absurd in our own lives and in the world around us, and perhaps to try and change these things, no matter how futile our attempts. It is interesting to note that “Dale” means the space between two hills or mountains. Perhaps Twin Peaks as a liminal space is asking us to find the space we occupy in the world and in so doing to find ourselves. Perhaps this liminal journey Lynch and Frost want us to take is not one of strict fixed positions but instead an ongoing process, of becoming aware of being in the world, of making sense of this journey as best we can, and perhaps changing direction to find a better path no matter how futile or absurd that choice may seem.

cooper dream

In my next article I will attempt to explore the process of making sense embedded within Twin Peaks through the heimlich and unheimlich and the experience of thrown-ness.


Baré, Simon. “This Is Me, My House (Negotiating Meaning Amidst the Betwixt and between of an Absurd Existence).” University of Sydney, 2016.

Camus, Albert. ‘The Myth of Sisyphus”  [Le Mythe de Sisyphe]. Translated by Justine O’Brien.  Camberwell, Victoria: Penguin Group (Australia), 2005.

Frost, Mark,  “Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier.” Macmillan, London, 2017.

Frost, Mark, “The Secret History of Twin Peaks.” Macmillan, London, 2016

Esslin, Martin. “Theatre of the Absurd.” The Hudson Review 67, no. 4 (Winter 2015): 7.

Victor Turner. “The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual.” Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 1967


[1] Victor Turner, Betwixt and Between: Liminal Period, The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual (Ithica, NY: Cornell University Press, 1967), 94.

[2] Baré, Simon. This Is Me, My House: Negotiating Meaning Amidst the Betwixt and between of an Absurd Existence. (University of Sydney, 2016), 3.

[3] Baré, Simon. This Is Me, My House: Negotiating Meaning Amidst the Betwixt and between of an Absurd Existence. 23.

[4] Victor Turner, Betwixt and Between: Liminal Period, The Forest of Symbols. 105

[5] Ibid, 96-97.

[6] Baré, This is Me, My House, 3.

[7] Michael Daye, “‘Light the Cigarette, Fold Back the Silk’: Defining David Lynch as a Liminal Film-Maker,” Filmint 11, no. 6 (2013): 129.                                                               Baré, Simon. This Is Me, My House: Negotiating Meaning Amidst the Betwixt and between of an Absurd Existence. 25

[8] Turner, Betwixt and Between: Liminal Period, 102 -04.

[9] Ibid., 104 -05.

Kennedy, “The Oxford Companion to Theatre and Performance”.

[10] Turner, Betwixt and Between: Liminal Period, 105.

[11] Ibid, 102.

[12] Ibid, 97-98.

[13] Frost, Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier, 137.

[14]  John Bernardy (ed)  – Untangling the Upended Ending: Where do Richard and Carrie exist? – Submitter April 20, 2018

[15]  Ibid

[16] I am not saying this is Cooper’s fantasy alone but believe his is the simplest case to make. A similar case could also be made for Laura, Diane, Sarah, Cole, and Jeffries being the dreamer within this world. I would also like to point out that I am not making a complete case for this reading but will return to the subject in a purely speculative article when time allows.

[17]  Baré, This is Me, My House, 24.

[18]  Ibid. It is worth noting the ritualistic structures discussed here, and the language and behaviours required to pass through the liminal, are prescribed and problematic in that they can be sued to enforce social and political hierarchies within society.  This was discussed on the Diane Podcast “Salvation, Heaven and Hell”  published on March 28th, 2018.

Written by Simon Baré

Simon is a filmmaker, video artist, educator and writer . He was awarded a Master of Fine Arts (2016) and Master of Film and Digital Image (2013) from the University of Sydney. Simon is now a PHD Candidate at the University of Sydney researching sense making within modes of practice that resist, invite, and confound categorisation. Simon is ambitious to further his academic and teaching carrier while furthering his research-based film and art practice. Alongside his interest in art and screen media Simon enjoys skateboarding, mountain biking, and cooking for his family.

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