Directed by David Lynch
Starring Kyle MacLachlan, Laura Dern, Naomi Watts, Miguel Ferrer
Film Feature by Seamus Conlon
David Lynch’s serialised 18-hour film Twin Peaks: The Return closed on a baffling and deliberate bum-note that would lead those familiar with the similarly obfuscating Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive to consider how much of the epic may have been a dream or hallucination stemming from a particular character’s consciousness. After a penultimate episode that felt as if the series was accelerating towards climax, the finale relinquished momentum and resolved for a conscious anti-climax. Largely devoid of music or spectacle, the last episode scuttled along towards an endpoint so unexciting it left this reviewer in disbelief that the film should end in such mute non-catharsis. To the extent that the labyrinth of Twin Peaks: The Return could be called a narrative, it took a final swerve the viewer can only dimly comprehend, and immediately calls into question what objective reality the prior seventeen hours had.
But to interpret Twin Peaks: The Return as the subjective projection of a personal perspective, as is the trendy position to take on some of Lynch’s more recent films, is to miss the point of this late-career epic – like a religious artwork, this cinematic mammoth accesses a higher, spiritual, impersonal level of reality. In a dream sequence a cameo star quotes the Upanishads, claiming that ‘we are like the dreamer who dreams the dream and then lives inside the dream.’ This Hindu reference points to the metaphysical, rather than relativistic, viewpoint of Lynch’s work, but a religious quality pervades this magnum opus.
The cinematic coup de grace of Twin Peaks: The Return is its eighth episode, where we deviate from the present-day narrative to witness the evil spirits that haunt Twin Peaks being birthed into the world inside the mushroom cloud of the first atomic bomb test. In a psychedelic sequence of virtuoso pure cinema that genuinely warrants clichés such as ‘mind-blowing’, ‘jaw-dropping’, we see elemental forces battling against each other in the cosmic corruption of our universe by evil. When a supernatural entity inhabiting a higher plane of reality responds to the unfolding mayhem by giving birth to the future-spirit of Laura Palmer form his brain, we can be reminded both of Athena springing forth form the forehead of Zeus, as well as perhaps Milton’s God responding to the chaos Satan will imminently wreak upon the cosmos by resolving to send Christ to redeem the world. Expanding upon the revealed messianic dimension of Laura Palmer, when the series hints that Laura may never have died, the Islamic version of Jesus’ story comes to mind, in which the prophet never died but miraculously escaped whilst a decoy was crucified in his absence.
How familiar Lynch may be with various different religious texts is somewhat irrelevant – his work, and this one in particular taps into archetypal forces. Perhaps the greatest beauty of Twin Peaks: The Return is its ability to sway back and forth between the eternal and the temporal, the universal and the particular. Lynch brilliantly uses technique to communicate the duality between higher and lower levels of reality. The mundane, sometimes willfully tedious scenes of small-town life are shot with documentarian indifference and naturalistic sound design, whereas Lynch’s trademark use ominous, groaning soundscapes typically announce an entry into the hyper-stylized supernatural realm.
Reviews may desperately try to politicize Twin Peaks: The Return by hooking it to contemporary concerns over nuclear warfare, or ideologically reducing it to the gendered violence that crops up so frequently during the film, but the true greatness of this cinematic marathon is its ability to leap beyond the fleeting towards something timeless, beyond here and now.