Friday, December 08, 2017

COLUMN: Twin Peaks, again.

"I'll see you again in 25 years."

That's one of the many cryptic things that (maybe) Laura Palmer tells (maybe) Agent Dale Cooper in the maddening final episode of the groundbreaking ABC-TV series Twin Peaks. At the time, none of us -- perhaps not even Twin Peaks creators David Lynch and Mark Frost -- knew how true to her word Laura would be.

25 years later, we all just had the chance to witness Laura and Cooper's reunion. In a brilliant 18-episode arc, Lynch and Frost resurrected their critically-acclaimed cult series exactly 25 years after its premature end. Without doubt, it's been my 18 favorite weeks of the year.

I love Twin Peaks. What's better than a murder mystery morphed into a surreal dreamscape of eccentric characters, altered reality, and supernatural bogeymen? It's still the most ground-breaking show to ever air on network TV -- which is also why it only lasted two seasons. Fanboys like me were hooked, but the general viewing public grew tired of the weird and became impatient when the central mystery of the show went unanswered. Upon news of the show's cancellation, Lynch returned to film a finale that offered more questions than answers and left fans wondering what they'd just seen.

Twin Peaks still gets talked about more than many shows half its age. Arriving at the dawn of the internet, the show spawned chat rooms and websites where fans could argue over theories and plotlines until their screens burned out. It's a world I fell into with glee.

A decade ago, our newspaper sent me to Fairfield, Iowa to interview David Lynch. My job was to find out about the foundation he created that funds the teaching of meditation techniques to schoolkids. There I was, sitting in a tiny office, one-on-one, with the mastermind of my favorite TV show. My mouth duly inquired about meditation, but inside I was resisting every urge in my body to start yelling, "WHAT'S THE BLACK LODGE? WHO'S JUDY? WHAT'S THE SIGNIFIGANCE OF THE HORSE IN EPISODE 14? TELL ME! TELL ME NOW!"

Long-time fans hoped that this new coda would finally answer some of these nagging mysteries from the original show. Long-time fans should have known better. Ditching network TV for the freedom of Showtime, there was nothing to rein in Lynch this time. Answers? Who needs answers? Instead, this summer's outing gave us all new incomprehesible questions to ponder for the next quarter-century. There were no tidy bows to be had. Basically, it was awesome.

And humbling. I really fear that I'm not a very deep person. I have a hard time recognizing symbolism or hidden layers behind art. If it's not staring at me from the surface, I miss it. Many people think the plot of "Aliens" is a metaphorical retelling of the Vietnam War. Some say "The Wizard of Oz" is about the Jungian Process of Individuation. You can find Christian allegory in everything from "Star Wars" to "The Lord of the Rings." I once took a religion class in college where the final essay exam asked us to explore the religious signifigance of "Thelma and Louise."

There's a must-watch documentary called "Room 237." No film director has ever been more gifted at hidden meanings and complex artistry than Stanley Kubrick. Lynch devotees don't hold a candle to Kubrick nerds when it comes to overanalyzing, and "Room 237" presents a dozen or so credible theories put forth by film geeks about hidden symbolism in Kubrick's film adaptation of "The Shining." One guy is convinced the movie is a treatise on the plight of Native Americans (mostly based on a prominently-placed can of Calumet baking soda.) The next geek thinks its about the Holocaust. The next claims it's about how different genders view sex. I just thought it was a pretty sweet movie about a creepy guy with an axe.

I've mentioned this in a column before, but it bears repeating. In the late 80's, there was a Scottish band called The Cocteau Twins who had a singer named Liz Fraser who possessed an angelic set of pipes. The band were lauded for their unconventional ethereal music, with Fraser's wide-ranging vocals often abandoning English language altogether in favor of semi-comprehensible tones and syllables. Imagine if Adele were to start scatting and you're kinda there. Fraser has often said that real English words and lyrics lie behind her flowery emotives, so a popular Cocteau Twins website used to take fan submissions of the best guesses as to the actual lyrics of their songs. And I distinctly recall looking at the submissions for one particular song, where one listener interpreted the song lyrics to be about flowers growing in a garden, and the next thought that the exact same song contained graphic lyrics about rape and abortion. That's when it hit me: the Cocteau Twins are a musical inkblot test. The lyrics aren't the story here. The real art might just be in what the fans THINK the lyrics are.

I'd love to sit down with all my favorite filmmakers and find out exactly what symbolism is MEANT to be there and what's been dreamt up by fans. Someone on the web actually found a still photo of Kubrick on the set of "The Shining" meticulously placing the baking soda can into his shot, so maybe The Shining IS all about Native Americans. Kubrick left our planet way too soon for us to find out. Lynch is notoriously tight-lipped and tells viewers to take away what they want from his films. Maybe the only real answers to Twin Peaks are in our minds, however we wish to interpret them. Maybe in another 25 years, we'll find out more. 

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