You are on page 1of 27

Watching Twin Peaks, and seeing people react to the death of Laura Palmer - I noticed something about the

way they cry.

Not crying in general, though. There are all kinds of tears in Twin Peaks. Forged as a send up of the evening soap opera norm that dominated network TV during its first
season, an abundance of emotional display contributes to the cinematic vernacular that allows Twin Peaksa weird, often inscrutable showto masquerade as something
that actually belongs on network primetime. So... we see people get emotional over sorts of stu, including more than 1 death. But the most notable, and reliably
extreme, upset we see is that over the death of Laura specifically.

When people cry over the death of Laura Palmer specifically it is an intense, and often a whole body aair. Weepers grimace and
grip their craniums. They may convulse, or in the case of Lauras father
Leland, seemingly lose control over their body all together NO SPOILERS Across three seasons we see people lose it over the death of the shows not-main, but arguably
most important character.

And maybe thats the long and short of it. For us, the audience, to appreciate the importance of Laura to the world of Twin Peaks, we must believe that she was, in fact,
important to the people who occupy that world. Seeing as how the show begins with her death, were not treateduntil later in the seriesto direct insight about her
relationships, an intense emotional display becomes the fastest way for us to understand oh man. She was really something else, huh?

But. This doesnt jive.


Lynch and Frost, the creators of the show, were uninterested in following the murder of Laura Palmer to its conclusion. The original show pitch involved hooking
audiences on a mystery and then having that mystery slowly fade as the complex, intertwined relationships of a surprisingly intrigue ridden small town took the
foreground. Lauras death
was the cow catcher, but not, to really stretch the metaphor, the track upon which the Twin Peaks train was meant to run. To purposefully oversell her importance to the
audience, then, seems calculating and disingenuous in a way rather unlike these weird, but otherwise exceptionally earnest filmmakers.

So then why the


melodramatic waterworks? Id bet dollars to pie that in standard Twin Peaks fashion theres not one answer - but several, potentially mutually exclusive yet somehow still
coexisting explanations perfectly defensible via Lynchs intuitive yet impossibly coherent directorial practice. Theres one explanation Id like to put forward. I arrived at it
after deeply considering the plight of the
Tibetan people
and throwing some rocks.
It is not, I dont think, that the residents of Twin Peaks are crying over Laura, per se. But over her image. To which you may understandably respond Yes of course they
are Laura is GONE - what is left but an image? And to which I would respond - fair. But just bear with me here.

There is a insane system of imagesa river of visual meaning running under Twin Peaks, aecting its entire operation like the
Psychomagnotheric Slime Flow of Ghostbusters 2. Its current is strong and we best not wade too deep lest we get carried away and I further distract from drinking and
snacks but... to just dip a toe: arguably the most important image is that of
Laura herself, whose appearance as a wholesome young woman is challenged by the often seedy, unthinkable particulars of her various relationships. Those
relationships help chart a path through labyrinthine storylines that were perhaps intended to be the REAL focus after Lauras story was, uh, wrapped up.

The most powerful manifestation of Lauras complex, story driving image is her

iconic homecoming photo. It becomes a totem in the Twin Peaks universe: an item of great emotional, and spiritual impact... as well as an erstwhile stand in for the
woman herself. It is displayed prominently but also
danced with and addressed. It adorns the season 1 and 2
box set and Vulture, in an article about the finale, describes its eect as bewitching. A beautiful photograph of a complicated woman, this image produces what political
and aesthetic philosopher Jacques Ranciere calls dissensus.

DISSENSUS
Dissensus, for Ranciere, is not just disagreement. Its the colliding of two, seemingly mutually exclusive worlds. The political protest,
Ranciere says, is dissensus: its the infiltration of one worldthat of workers, or immigrants, or women seeking rights or simply, a presenceinto another world where
theyre denied just that. Dissensus, Ranciere writes, is the putting of two worlds in one and the same world. A kind of living, breathing contradiction.

So, when I say


Lauras image causes convulsive sadness because it produces dissensus, I mean it produces a kind of world-within-a-world contradiction: as her death results in the
uncovering of her various selves, and lives, those who see her iconic photo are forced to confront the complexity of Laura, and their own relationship with her and if we
wanna go deep down the Twin Peaks rabbit hole: the complexity of relationships, identity or heck why not: even BEING in general.

To see the
simplified, beatific image of Laura Palmer is to see, simultaneously, and unexpectedly, all at once the whole workings of a world which challenges the possibility of that
images existence. Laura is at once a simple and divine beauty, and a crushing, soul-rending enigma.

This is dissensus, and an example of what Ranciere calls an


UNACCEPTABLE
IMAGE
unacceptable image. These images, Ranciere says, are the base level of art: a challenge to what was previously thought sensible, in both senses of the word sensible.
The unacceptable image Ranciere says, isnt quote (and strap in for this one)

An Unacceptable Image is not


anticipated by its meaning and
does not anticipate its affect

anticipated by its meaning, and doesnt anticipate its aect. In other words, to have its meaning described - one could not, sight unseen, predict the image itself
and upon creation, one could never predict how the image would impact its viewers.

Unacceptable images arent unacceptable because theyre forbidden, but because they are dicult to accepta challenge to common sense, as Ranciere saysand in
being so, they produce intense emotional, psychological reactions. As art often does, but also, arguably, as Laura does.
Dissensus is one possible way to understand the function of Lauras image, and the reactions it inspires stronger and more dramatic, at least as far as sadness goes,
than anything else in the show. But dissensus is perhaps also a way to understand Twin Peaks system of imagesits
psychomagnotheric flowwhich produces worlds within worlds, challenges what is thought sensible, and creates a parade of unacceptable images. But also
this image of Coop which is, just to be clear, perfectly acceptable. Damn fine, even.