Our guest writer, Robert Wolpert, has compiled an illustrated comparison of Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus and Twin Peaks. Join him as he connects the narratives.
A long time ago, when we were freshly stunned by the finale of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks: The Return, my sister, a mythology teacher, remarked how Agent Cooper losing Laura Palmer in the woods reminded her of Orpheus and Eurydice. I realized that I had some serious googling to do, as my mythology came secondhand from Star Wars and I didn’t recognize either of those names from the cantina scene.
This quickly led me to the work of French filmmaker, artist, and poet Jean Cocteau, and particularly to his masterwork, 1950’s Orphée (Orpheus). Many have been struck by similarities between Orpheus and Twin Peaks: backward talking, chevron patterns, creepy statues.
While some may cry “plagiarism,” I contend that Cocteau’s version of Orpheus stands as a magnificent blueprint, which Lynch and Frost’s original creation of Twin Peaks manages to mirror; a look-alike cousin whose arms bend backward on their own.
Cocteau starts many films with his own narration and literal signature. Those who believe “the dreamer” in the Twin Peaks narrative is a meta-reference to Lynch himself might appreciate the thought of Lynch-as-Gordon Cole contemplating this, dreaming of a black and white French cafe, looking through time at a clue from years before.
Cocteau begins by mentioning that the Orpheus of Greek mythology was a troubadour, who descended to the netherworld to rescue his wife Eurydice from death. Cocteau then emphasizes that his version of the legend isn’t concerned with specifics such as “where or when,” but is “entitled to be beyond time and place.” Then comes an admonition Lynch surely took to heart: “Interpret it as you wish…”
The film stars Jean Marais as Orpheus, a famous poet who has both writer’s block and wandering eyes. Hanging out at “The Poet’s Cafe,” a hip version of the Roadhouse, Orpheus soon spies the mysterious Princess (Maria Casares), her chauffeur Heurtebise (François Périer), and a young, drunk poet, Cegeste (Edouard Dermithe). Cegeste quickly starts an outdoor bar fight, loses some important poems in the scuffle, and then is run over by Twin Motorcyclists of Doom. Orpheus is witness to this and is thrilled and bewildered when the imperious Princess orders him into her limo to accompany Cegeste’s body. And then things get really weird.
The Villa/Waiting Room
Cegeste, it turns out, is currently dead. The Princess, who obviously has her own M.O., warns Orpheus not to touch the body, then reminds Heurtebise to “take the usual route.” This consists of crossing some train tracks, then turning on the limo radio, which, after some static, emits a voice: “Silence…goes faster backwards. Three times. I repeat.” The scenery outside the limo has reversed, black for white, an inverted landscape. It’s not Glastonbury Grove, but Orpheus is crossing a border into another world.
The limo is soon accompanied by the Murder Motorcyclists. They arrive at the Princess’ villa, located near a transmission tower, of the sort Cooper and Diane might drive to, where everything changes. Orpheus is convinced he must be sleepwalking. The Princess agrees. Orpheus pleads for an explanation, yet his hostess responds, “The dreamer must accept his dreams.” She leads him into a room featuring a lamp, a radio, and a mirror. The radio intones, “The mirrors would do well to reflect further. Three times.” The mirror cracks and Orpheus is instructed to wait in, well, the waiting room. Two servants arrive to offer champagne and cigarettes, but alas no coffee.
The cyclists stand guard nearby with the corpse of Cegeste. The Princess enters this room, doubled by her reflection in a full-length mirror. She orders Cegeste to “get up,” raises her right hand, and the young man rises in reverse motion to stand before her. She then asks: “Do you know who I am?” Unlike Cooper in the Red Room, Cegeste knows the answer: “You are my Death.”
Cegeste must now act as the Princess’ servant. Holding her dress, he walks into the mirror with her, accompanied by an eerie sound—similar to the one heard in the Red Room when The Man From Another Place rubs his hands together. Orpheus (with champagne and cigarette in hand) catches this from a doorway, much like Truman watching in disbelief as Cooper vanishes into the red curtains. Orpheus tries to follow but is unable to. He slumps against his reflection, then the scene changes to Orpheus in another place, asleep outside on the ground, his face reflected by a mirror in the sand.
No Place Like Home
Orpheus wakes (or does he?) to find that the Princess, along with her villa, has vanished. He eventually finds Heurtebise nearby, asleep in the limo. The chauffeur, following the Princess’ orders, offers to drive Orpheus home. Meanwhile, we are finally introduced to Orpheus’ wife, Eurydice (Marie Déa). Worried about her husband’s disappearance, she has involved a local Inspector along with her friend Aglaonice, to discover his whereabouts. The Inspector is unable to track down Orpheus or a woman “fitting the description” of the Princess at any local hotels, including “Hotel des Deux Mondes.” He and Aglaonice suspect an affair is afoot, and the local media will soon be all over it.
Sure enough, a reporter comes to Eurydice’s door (passing a horse and some suspicious statues on his way). Inquiring about the incident at the Poet’s Cafe involving Orpheus and Cegeste, the reporter is told by Eurydice that her husband is sleeping. At that moment, Orpheus arrives home and instructs Heurtebise to hide the Princess’ limo in the garage to avoid suspicion. As the reporter is leaving, he catches Orpheus leaving the garage: “So, you’re asleep, huh? I’ll let you sleep on, Orpheus. Pleasant dreams!”
Eurydice is elated when Orpheus finally enters the house; Orpheus is less than thrilled to see Aglaonice and the Inspector are interfering. They leave in a huff, yet Orpheus remains hostile to his wife’s inquiries. He even ignores the “great news” she is eager to reveal: she is pregnant. Orpheus insists that he needs to sleep. He climbs the stairs to their bedroom, then continues out the window to rejoin Heurtebise at the limo.
As Orpheus begins transcribing the limousine radio’s puzzling messages, Heurtebise introduces himself to Eurydice. It quickly becomes apparent that he is smitten with her (she does offer him coffee, after all.) Eurydice is obviously concerned about Orpheus’ new friendship with the Princess. Heurtebise notes that his boss “doesn’t like people meddling in her affairs.” He warns Eurydice that she has left the oven’s gas on; he doesn’t like the smell, as it reminds him of his recent suicide. Noting Eurydice’s confusion, he announces he is “from another place,” then lies to her, saying he “almost” killed himself. Back in the garage, Orpheus listens to the radio: “The bird sings with its fingers.”
The scene shifts to night, and the bedroom at the top of the stairs. Orpheus and his wife sleep in separate beds, because…reasons. The Princess “phases” into the room, and we get our first look at the chevron floor pattern, as well as flowery wallpaper. A strange noise accompanies the Princess. Cocteau narrates: “And that first night, Orpheus’ Death entered his room and watched him sleep.” The Princess turns her gaze to Eurydice, then we are back in the limousine.
Heurtebise has joined Orpheus at the limo, with Eurydice in the back seat. She’s unhappy with Orpheus’ latest obsession: “These words won’t feed our child.” Orpheus scoffs: “There’s a woman for you, Heurtebise. You discover a world and she speaks to you of baby clothes and bills.” The radio offered a “terrific message yesterday,” but today emits only “meaningless words.” (“38…39…40. Twice. I repeat.”) Orpheus can’t receive this strange station anywhere else. He is convinced there is great meaning to these bizarre messages. I’m on a “trail of the unknown,” he declares. “Where could they be coming from, Heurtebise?…I’m certain they’re meant for me.” Eurydice frets, “I could die and you wouldn’t even notice.” Orpheus’ cynical response: “We were dead and we didn’t notice.” Eurydice mocks the next numerical sequence (“2294. Twice”), and Orpheus angrily commands Heurtebise to take Eurydice away.
Heurtebise leads Eurydice to her bed, wraps her in a chevron-patterned robe (symbolism!) and pleads for her to rest. The phone rings—it’s the Inspector calling. Heurtebise takes a message, then vanishes, appearing outside next to the garage statue. The two menacing motorcyclists speed past as Heurtebise finally convinces Orpheus to comfort the pregnant Eurydice. Orpheus is going into town, allegedly to answer the Inspector’s queries. He apologizes to his wife for his bad temper: “I’ve got to wake up.” Of course, once he arrives in town, Orpheus is immediately sidetracked by the appearance of The Princess. He begins a fruitless chase to catch up with her, pausing by a small girl who is jumping rope in circles around our hero.
The Poet’s Cafe denizens and Eurydice’s friend Aglaonice take this opportunity to visit the Inspector. It turns out the reporter who visited Orpheus’ home has printed an article describing Orpheus’ curious behavior during the Cegeste/motorcycle incident. Orpheus had passed along the radio messages he’d been transcribing to a poet acquaintance. The acquaintance thought the text was familiar; a younger poet confirms they were from the pages that Cegeste had dropped during the scuffle. The Inspector declares this is flimsy evidence to suspect their “national hero” Orpheus of wrongdoing. The mob leaves, insisting they will seek their own justice. Nearby, Orpheus gives up chasing The Princess and finally returns home. “Each night, Orpheus’ Death returned to his room.” But it’s not Orpheus she has come for…
Fell a Victim
It is morning, and Eurydice wants to seek Aglaonice’s advice regarding Orpheus’ predicament. Heurtebise, despite being an agent of The Princess, does his best to dissuade her from leaving. He begs her to stay and ominously warns her if she insists on riding her bicycle, she will be “dead tired.” But her fate is set in motion. She leaves; a bell rings—the motorcyclists roar nearer—and Eurydice is run down, off screen. Oblivious Orpheus sits in the garage, as the limousine radio emits meaningless beeps. Heurtebise carries Eurydice’s body upstairs to her bed. Death/The Princess arrives, dressed in black, entering through the mirror. She is accompanied by Cegeste, who has brought along a transmitter: the device responsible for the limousine’s cryptic messages.
Cegeste is slowly grasping his duties as a servant of Death. The Princess reminds him that if she appeared as expected, with scythe and shroud, she would be recognized, and it would make her “work” difficult. She orders Cegeste to “send the messages”—“A young widow’s mourning shroud is as brief as a noonday candle.” The lights in the bedroom flicker; the Princess retrieves a pair of plastic gloves. Heurtebise finally confronts The Princess about “her orders.” Suddenly dressed in white, she chastises him for falling in love with Eurydice: “You have no right to love in any world.” He warns The Princess of her own feelings for Orpheus. “Be quiet,” she commands, and he vanishes. Frustrated, and dressed once more in black, the Princess returns to Cegeste and the transmitter, ordering him to improvise. “Jupiter gives wisdom to those he would lose.”
Heurtebise reappears in the garage. He warns Orpheus that Eurydice is in “great danger.” (Um…understatement?) Orpheus suspects it’s a trick to get him to leave the garage. Back in the bedroom, the Princess is wearing her gloves and places a Leo Johnson-ish collar around Eurydice’s neck. “Get up,” she commands, and Eurydice rises (backward). “Do you know who I am?” “My Death,” Eurydice responds. “You belong to the other world,” the Princess informs her. Heurtebise returns to the bedroom. He watches angrily as the Princess leads Eurydice’s spirit towards the mirror, her corpse still on the bed. The two otherworldly visitors threaten to “report” each other. Cegeste quickly follows the Princess through the mirror, after she warns him not to look back at Eurydice’s body.
Orpheus finally leaves the garage, but Heurtebise admonishes him: “You’re too late.” Orpheus enters through the bedroom window; he sees Eurydice’s body and is in anguish. “Why? How?” Heurtebise responds, “She had a bad fall…I suspect other things as well.” The chauffeur holds out some hope: “There’s one way to undo your foolishness…You have one chance left.” Orpheus mutters that he is stuck in a dream or nightmare. Heurtebise grabs him: “You know Death.” Orpheus: “I’ve spoken of her. I’ve dreamt of her. I’ve sung about her. I thought I knew her, but I didn’t know her.” Heurtebise corrects him: Orpheus knows her personally, has even been to her room. It finally dawns on Orpheus: it’s The Princess.
Orpheus remembers the mirror at the villa. Heurtebise confides the “secret of secrets…Mirrors are the doors through which Death comes and goes.” Orpheus can’t understand such “frightening things,” and says that “no man” could do what Heurtebise is suggesting without dying, to join Eurydice. Heurtebise (and clearly Cocteau) drives the point home: “A poet is more than a man.” Eurydice’s corpse is just one of her forms, as The Princess is one version of Death. “It’s all false.” Heurtebise invites Orpheus to join Eurydice in “another world,” but first he wants to be clear if Orpheus’ heart is truly with his wife, or with The Princess. “Is it Eurydice you wish to find, or Death?” Orpheus sheepishly admits: “Both.”
The Princess had left her gloves behind on the bed. Heurtebise instructs Orpheus to put them on (which he does in another backward sequence). “With these gloves, you will pass through mirrors as if they were water.” The chauffeur indicates a clock on the desk: it is almost 6:00. Orpheus hesitates at the mirror. “Perhaps you’re afraid?,” Heurtebise questions. “You do not have to understand. You just have to believe.” (Well, damn, Cooper! There’s the reason for your failure at the Lodge!) The two men enter the mirror as the clock strikes 6:00, while outside the world’s oldest postal carrier rings the front gate bell and delivers the mail.
Cocteau’s depiction of the next sequence is fascinating. Heurtebise appears to be moving forward while standing still, the wind blowing his hair, while Orpheus walks slowly, almost swimming, behind him, through Post-World War French ruins. Heurtebise explains: “This is the Zone. It is made of men’s memories and the ruins of their habits.” They pass by an old woman pushing a cart, and a young glazier carrying panes of glass; prisoners of the Zone who think they are still alive. Orpheus struggles to keep up, so Heurtebise takes him by the hand.
Elsewhere, in a room of the Villa, Cegeste is being questioned by four dour old men. These “judges” ask about the messages he had been transmitting, as well as Heurtebise’s behavior. Cegeste is led out, and then the Princess is interrogated. We learn that she had been given orders (or permission) to “take a young man into her service” (Orpheus), but decided on her own initiative to “take his wife as well” (Eurydice.) The Princess defends the situation as “a series of circumstances.” The judges respond, “There are no circumstances allowed here,” only orders. The judges whisper to themselves, while a nearby motorcyclist announces that “a suspect and a witness” have arrived; Orpheus and Heurtebise enter the room through a mirror.
Heurtebise surveys the room and thinks they have been led into a trap. “Stay calm,” the Princess tells him. “These are my judges.” Heurtebise is accused of “taking part in an intrigue in which Death was involved without permission.” Heurtebise explains that he was just following the Princess’ orders. The judges then remind him, “You lingered in their world, which you had no right to do.” Orpheus is ordered to step forward. He is bewildered by what is taking place. The judges ask him what his profession is. “Poet,” Orpheus responds. Emphasizing a stack of papers on the desk, one of the judges replies, “The card says ‘writer.’” Orpheus: “It’s almost the same thing.” Judge: “There is no ‘almost’ here.” Orpheus then goes on to define being a poet as “To write, without being a writer.” The judges exchange incredulous looks.
They return to questioning the Princess. She admits that she knows Orpheus, that she “took” his wife, and that she did so “to get her out of the way” so she could have Orpheus to herself. Orpheus is shocked. He tries to reply. “Silence,” the judges warn him. They ask the Princess, twice, if she loves this man. “Yes,” she finally answers, confessing that she “entered his room to watch him sleep.” The judges demand that she sign one of their papers. She does so, and she and Orpheus are led from the interrogation room.
Heurtebise is questioned further. Eurydice is led into the room, dazed and confused. She recognizes the chauffeur, and rejects the judges’ claim that Heurtebise behaved “shamefully.” The judges ask Heurtebise, twice, if he loves Eurydice. “Yes,” he admits. “That is all we wanted to know,” the judges conclude, forcing him to sign the same paper as the Princess.
What follows is an illuminating scene between the Princess and Orpheus, who now embrace as lovers. What the Princess divulges in this sequence, about the Zone and its rules, is a more explicit explanation than Mr. Lynch and Mr. Frost managed in 25 plus years of television, movies or books regarding the mysteries of Twin Peaks.
Orpheus is elated and concerned that the Princess revealed her love for him to the Judges. “One cannot lie here,” she explains. “I loved you even before we met. I don’t have the right to love anyone…and yet I love.” “You’re all powerful,” Orpheus reminds her. She responds, “In your eyes. Here, Death takes on innumerable forms. Young and old, they receive orders.” Orpheus protests, “They can’t kill you.” “What they do is worse,” the Princess replies.
Orpheus wants to know where these “orders” come from. “They are sent back and forth by so many sentinels, like tom-toms of your African tribes…the echoes of your mountains…the wind whispering through your trees,” the Princess answers. Orpheus insists that he will confront whoever gives these orders. “My poor love, he exists nowhere,” the Princess continues. “Some say he thinks of us. Others, that we are his thoughts. Others say he sleeps and that we are his dream…his bad dream.”
The story continues; the Menacing Motorcyclists interrupt the Princess and Orpheus. Orpheus hopes they can escape. The Princess swears she will find a way to “bring [them] back together.” Orpheus declares, “A miracle will happen.” The Princess solemnly tells him, “Miracles only happen in your world.” “All worlds are moved by lovers,” Orpheus insists. The Princess explains, “In our world, no one is moved. One goes from Judge to Judge.”
The Judges announce their verdict. “Orpheus’ Death” and her aides are released on bail. Orpheus is free, on condition that he never speaks of what he has seen. (Tough luck for a poet!) And tragically, Eurydice is free to leave on condition that Orpheus never look upon her. “A single glance at her and he will lose her forever.” Heurtebise is given permission to help the married couple with their predicament, under the judges’ “watchful eye.” Orpheus, Eurydice, and Heurtebise leave through the mirror. The judges vanish, abandoning the Princess and Cegeste in the Villa.
Time and Time Again
Eurydice, Orpheus, and Heurtebise arrive back home just as the clock strikes 6:00. How can that be, Orpheus asks. “You must not speak of these things. You gave your word,” Heurtebise warns him. It immediately becomes clear that Orpheus is angered and frustrated by these new rules (not to mention leaving the Princess behind.) Only Heurtebise has Eurydice’s interests in mind. He lovingly admonishes her not to look in a mirror; Orpheus “might see you.” He is also worried about what Eurydice thinks of his admission of love for her during the trial. However, Eurydice has no memory of what happened there.
Orpheus’ anger intensifies, and he takes it out on Eurydice. “I’m not going to live with blinders on. [Only Eurydice could’ve created] the awful position I’m in.” Heurtebise points out, “She’s suffering.” Orpheus fumes, “Women adore complications.” He starts looking through a magazine, then freezes as he comes to an article about himself and Eurydice. Heurtebise reassures him, “A picture of your wife is not your wife.” Orpheus wants a decision made regarding their living situation. Eurydice offers to live someplace else. Orpheus rolls his eyes and decides that he’ll sleep on the sofa. The near misses continue as Heurtebise has to vigilantly prevent Orpheus from looking at Eurydice. “It’s her fault! She could provoke even a corpse to turn around!” Eurydice sobs, “I should have stayed dead.” Orpheus storms upstairs. His wife and Heurtebise realize he will soon sneak off to the limousine again.
That night, in her chevron robe, Eurydice approaches her husband on the sofa. She has decided to “save him from himself.” She starts to wake him, then is crushed as she hears him talking in his sleep about the Princess’ declaration of love. Just as Orpheus is startled awake, “a short blackout” causes Eurydice to “miss her chance.” In the darkness, she lies to Orpheus, saying she only came downstairs for a book. Orpheus turns away from her and she leaves. Cocteau narrates: “She had to go on living. And the next day…”
Orpheus sits in the limo, listening to what sounds like morse code. Heurtebise glibly describes the noise as “stock market quotations.” He warns Orpheus that Eurydice wants to join them in the garage. The arguments and tension continue with Eurydice in the back seat. Then, she looks in the rearview mirror, and Orpheus sees her reflection. She vanishes. (Heurtebise’s grim response is quite Lynchian: “That was bound to happen.”)
At that exact moment, an angry mob (comprised of those seeking justice for Cegeste’s disappearance) arrives at Orpheus’ gate. Devastated and desperate, Orpheus responds to Heurtebise’s quip, “It had to happen. Life is sculpting me. Let it finish its work.” In a scene reminiscent of both Twin Peaks: The Return and the Mystery Man of Lynch’s Lost Highway, Heurtebise produces a gun from the Princess’ limousine and hands it to Orpheus. “This is your house,” he instructs Orpheus.
The screaming of the mob is accompanied by what could be described as tribal tom-toms. The crowd confronts Orpheus. They demand to know where Jacques Cegeste is. One man grabs the gun; Orpheus punches the attacker, who then shoots Orpheus. Frightened, the mob runs off. Both the local police and the Villa’s motorcycle thugs arrive. Heurtebise calmly retrieves the gun. He and a biker drag Orpheus into the back of the limousine and drive off as the local officers round up the intruders. Heurtebise stops driving. One of the cyclists pulls up and confirms that “it is done.” Orpheus lies dead, like Cegeste before him.
For the Last Time
Heurtebise guides Orpheus’ spirit into the Villa, through the mirror in the judges’ room, and through the crumbling ruins, while the tom-toms pound away. Cocteau narrates: “This is no longer the same journey. Heurtebise leads Orpheus where he should not lead him.” This includes a sequence where the two men appear to tumble and slide along the sides of a building. Cocteau played with this technique in his first film, The Blood of a Poet (1930). While Cocteau would later consider that film the first of his “Orphic Trilogy,” for the purposes of my essay, I will only comment on this one similarity to Orpheus.
Cegeste and the Princess (in a gorgeous new dress) wait as the two men approach. The Princess says she has been crying for Orpheus to return. Orpheus declares that he heard her tears and waited for her. They embrace and again profess their love for one another. The Princess sadly asks Orpheus if he will obey her, no matter what she asks, even if she “condemned and tortured.” “I belong to you,” he responds. The Princess quickly addresses Heurtebise: “You know what I expect of you…It’s our last hope and we haven’t a second to lose.” Heurtebise asks her to reconsider, yet she refuses. Cocteau describes what is to come: “The Death of a poet must sacrifice itself to make him immortal.”
The Princess begs Orpheus “for the last time…do not try to understand what I am going to do.” At the Princess’ command, Cegeste grabs Orpheus’ legs, and Heurtebise grabs his torso, covering his mouth. Orpheus struggles against the two men, but Heurtebise and the Princess act in tandem, performing a spell or ritual on the poet. The Princess frantically orders Heurtebise: “Seal him up!…Work! Work!…I’ll help you. I’ll work along with you…Count, calculate, labor as I labor.” Heurtebise is tiring, his eyes closed tight as Orpheus seems to die a second time. “Go deep inside yourself and escape from yourself. Run! Overturn all obstacles!,” the Princess encourages her assistant.
The film switches between the Princess and men “re-killing” Orpheus, and Heurtebise leading Orpheus’ spirit back to the living world. The Princess instructs Heurtebise: “Set out. Go back in time. What has been must no longer be.” Heurtebise takes Orpheus back through the ruins, past the old woman and glazier, right through his bedroom mirror at home. Heurtebise informs the Princess that they are “in the room.” They continue their spell as Orpheus is forced to remove his gloves, which he returns to Heurtebise. Eurydice lies on her bed nearby, and she wakes as Orpheus approaches. Eurydice asks: “Were you watching me sleep?…I had a terrible nightmare.” Orpheus seems a different person, showering his wife with kindness, even inquiring how the “young boy” is behaving. Eurydice corrects him: “It might be a girl.” Orpheus insists, “It’s a boy.” They embrace, with Orpheus oddly remarking, “There’s only one love that counts: ours.”
At this point, Heurtebise slowly fades from their bedroom. It is apparent that something is not quite right with the reunited couple. Orpheus seems to have had his memory of the Princess erased, along with his usual brutish behavior toward Eurydice. And should I broach the subject of Eurydice’s pregnancy? She definitely died at least once, yet she’s still expecting?
Anyway, back to the ruins of the Zone; Orpheus’ body is gone, Cegeste is exhausted, and Heurtebise confirms to the Princess, “It is done.” The bikers enter the scene, to take the Princess and Heurtebise away to their punishment. The Princess gives Heurtebise an unusually heartfelt thanks. “It was nothing,” the chauffeur replies. “We had to return them to their mire.” Hands on their shoulders, the bikers lead the prisoners away. Cegeste is left behind, and we have finally reached “Fin.”
Meanwhile…in 1960, Jean Cocteau released his final film, Testament of Orpheus. Cocteau died three years after the film’s release, and very knowingly made this film as a summation of his life’s work. While Jean Marais does not actually appear in this “sequel” as the title character, François Périer and Maria Casares reprise their roles as Heurtebise and the Princess, while Edouard Dermit has a more prominent role as Cegeste. I want to touch on a handful of interesting connections between this “sequel” and Twin Peaks, but there are many more to discover.
Just as the Showtime Twin Peaks: The Return starts with a flashback to Cooper and Laura in the Lodge from the Season 2 finale, Testament of Orpheus opens with Cegeste watching as the Princess and Heurtebise are taken away to their apparent doom. The film quickly switches to a lighter tone, as Jean Cocteau appears as himself, stuck between the many worlds he has created on film, as well as on stage and in his poetry. Cocteau is trying to reach a Professor whose scientific knowledge can help him get “un-stuck” from “space-time.” Cocteau’s many attempts are humorous, as he finds the Professor as a young boy, a baby, and a dying man in a wheelchair until finally reaching the correct moment in time.
Cocteau actually says “What year is this” during one attempt, and asks the startled Professor if he recognizes him from his earlier time-jumps. The Professor calculates that is has been “250 years” (not 25!) since Cocteau’s earliest adventure in time. Despite changes made to the timeline, the Professor assures Cocteau that his “return cancels them out.” (There’s enough fodder in that line for both fans and detractors of the Showtime series.)
The Professor asks Cocteau how he was able to time travel. The director responds, “Poets know many awesome things…It is difficult to explain being timeless, even more difficult to live in it. One becomes confused.” Cocteau continues his travels, reunites with Cegeste, and eventually appears before a “Preventive Tribunal” overseen by The Princess and Heurtebise. Cocteau obviously enjoyed putting himself, his ideas, and dreams “on trial” at the hands of his own creations. Cegeste is questioned regarding his role in Cocteau’s adventures. The Professor is even summoned to testify while wearing pajamas. The Princess informs him, “You are asleep, but you are not dreaming us…You will awake and remember us as figures from your dream.”
The Princess continues her interrogation of the filmmaker (in a very meta moment, from a film filled with nothing much else!) and Cocteau claims not to understand her question. The Princess snaps, “I think you do understand but choose to play the simpleton rather than to come clean.” She again confronts Cegeste (and in turn, the actor Edouard Dermithe) regarding the nature of an actor playing many roles: “Are you quite sure you did not break free of your own authority so you could try to fuse the personalities that trouble you by splitting into two?” Staying in character, Cegeste insists he has followed the correct rituals in aiding Cocteau, and that the route by which he appeared as one of “fire and water.”
Cocteau’s defense of his actions in the movie (and in life) is: “There is nothing worse than being forced to live, as you describe it, between two worlds.” The Princess rises, puts on one long black glove, and declares that Cocteau is “condemned to live.” She then fades away. Cocteau immediately addresses Heurtebise by name, as an old friend, and asks him about The Princess. Heurtebise humorously “shushes” the director, as if they’re giving away a secret. He then reveals to Cocteau what became of the characters from Orpheus in a manner that would make Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier blush.
Heurtebise says of the Princess: “You know that, being in love with a mortal, she attempted to infringe upon the temporal laws of man.” “And Orpheus?” Cocteau asks. “His survival was a mirage,” Heurtebise responds. “That divine mind died, and Eurydice returned to Hades. As a great mortal said, ‘One must not spit against the wind.’ “
After Cocteau’s trial, there are sequences involving people with freaky horse masks, and death, and white eyes, but you can find that on Reddit, or better yet, seek out these movies for yourself. I first heard of the connections between Cocteau and Lynch’s works from numerous sources, ranging from online to interviews, to recent reviews of the Showtime series. Yet the greatest gift I have received is falling in love with another filmmaker, and being able to dream of the strange and wonderful things to be found between the worlds.
May the forest be with you.
Robert M. Wolpert