Life is but a dream: The continuing allure of Twin Peaks

By Phil Saunders - Editor/Publisher

When Twin Peaks burst onto the television landscape in the late eighties, David Lynch had already established himself as a film maker with Eraserhead (1977), The Elephant Man (1980), Dune (1984) and the most significant of his early works, Blue Velvet (1986).

His cache was symbolized by the caliber of actors lined up to work with him, including Laura Dern, Dennis Hopper, Kyle MacLachlan (whose star rose quickly soon after the release of Blue Velvet), Piper Laurie, Peggy Lipton, and Harry Dean Stanton just to name a few. His casts for Wild at Heart (1990), Lost Highway (1997) The Straight Story (1999) and Mulholland Drive (2001) only solidified the kind of appreciation actors have for his style and approach to film making.

But to call David Lynch a product of Hollywood would be a misnomer. Lynch started his career in the visual arts while attending the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. He dropped out after a year and has said he did so because the program offered him nothing. In fact, much of Lynch’s career has been about deflecting formalism and pursuing what most exclusivist artists might describe as a higher calling. As such, Lynch has parlayed his celebrity status into over 20 visual art shows between 1967 and 2015. In fact, his core fan base has included sycophants of his visual art, as much as his film work.

Born in Missoula, Montana, residing in Sandpoint, Idaho with his father, a research scientist and his mother an English language Tudor, the family moved to Spokane, Washington when he was still a toddler. The family then moved to Durham, North Carolina, then Boise, Idaho, and then Alexandria, Virginia. Lynch also returned to Spokane in the seventies, and it has been suggested, the characters for a segment of Wild at Heart are based on his drinking buddies during that time in Spokane.

Episode 8 provides an amazing piece of visual art, bridging the gap between Lynch’s visual art and his film making. A landmark piece.

There is little doubt that the Pacific Northwest had an impact on Lynch, which we can only assume is why he decided to set his landmark television work, Twin Peaks, in a place clearly located in the real world location of North Bend, Washington. It should also be noted that his leading man MacLauchlan was born in Yakima, Washington and continues to reside in the Pacific Northwest, starring not insignificantly in the comedic hit Portlandia.

Now that Lynch has done it again with Twin Peaks: The Return, he has managed to again court controversy, division and critical acclaim. The verdict is still out on audience, but as only a true visual artist would commit, he makes art, the art he wants to make, and allows the rest to unfold as it will.

What has been most vexing for mainstream audiences in the most recent romp across the United States, only to settle in that magical place he created in Twin Peaks, has been the way Lynch uses narrative and what film critics might call Mise-en-scène.

The further development of an alternate reality, complete with Tulpas, truncated versions of characters, and seemingly surreal depictions of the mundane minutia of everyday life, references what may become Lynch’s most significant personal contribution as an artist in modern times: Transcendental Meditation.

David Nevins, David Lynch and Kyle MacLachlan at the Showtime TWIN PEAKS premiere in Los Angeles, California. Photo: Rob LaTour/Shutterstock

As a recent student of the discipline, which has grown in popularity along with the increasingly schizophrenic culture of modern society, TM draws on Vadic traditions and the work of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Why is this important? Because what Lynch sees and what the rest of us see, in many respects, is very different. His reality doesn’t simply encompass the world of the empirical, it also delves deeply into the realities created by the mind. Transcendental meditation encourages practitioners to spend twenty minutes in the morning and twenty minutes between work and the evening (dinner time) to contemplate the mind through meditation. Unlike many preconceptions about meditation, Transcendental Meditation isn’t about controlling thoughts, it’s about using a mantra (given to you and secret) to support a journey deep into the nature of thought with the goal of supporting a healthy mind and body. For meditators, the mind is everything, but also something the exists both within and apart from the body.

Given this perspective, and it should be noted that Lynch’s most creative period emerged soon after he began practicing transcendental meditation in the mid-seventies, it should not be too alarming that Lynch, arguably in the twilight of his career, would use the opportunity of Twin Peaks: The Return, to engage the concept of multiple realities, alternate universes and the use of paradigms to support an entirely different way of seeing the world.

I write this hoping that those of you are flummoxed by what Lynch has contributed with Twin Peaks: The Return, will consider revisiting the entire series, from the first to the last. It may be our last chance to fully unpack the creative mind of David Lynch as he takes one more swing at the mainstream. I doubt we will see him again, whacking away at this audience. The challenge he poses is sublime and his work will forever be viewed as one of the true masters of our time.

Fire walk with me.







About Phil Saunders (17 Articles)
I have been a professional writer since 1988 when I began my career as a music journalist. In 1998 I began working at CBC, after returning to work with a Master's in journalism from the University of Western Ontario. In 2000 I co-produced a feature film that was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival among other North American film festivals. In 2016 I published a book on the Toronto underground music scene called No Flash Please: Underground Music in Toronto 1987-1992. I am also a photographer and documentary filmmaker.