Watching “Twin Peaks: The Return” (TP3 for short), submerged again in the spell of the metaphysical drama created by David Lynch and Mark Frost, I realized I was feeling the same uneasiness and awe, the same suspicion about the nature of reality that I felt readying the books of Philip K. Dick (1928-1982), the unclassifiable science fiction author. The more I thought about it, the more similarities I saw between his work and Lynch’s.
SPOILER WARNING: Revealing plot details below and, possibly, dangerous knowledge about the nature of dreams and the universe.
To the general public, Philip K. Dick is best known as the author of stories that inspired popular movies like “Bladerunner”, “Total Recall”, “Minority Report”, “The Adjustment Bureau” or, recently, “The Man in the High Castle” series.
However, if we peel off all the layers of action and special effects added by the Hollywood machinery, at the core of Dick’s stories we find an eerie, sometimes paranoid vision of reality influenced by strange personal experiences, and narrative themes which (I intend to show) match in many ways the universe created by David Lynch.
A Jungian backdrop
One of the key intellectual sources of Dick’s ideas was the psychoanalyst Carl G. Jung (1874-1961). Jung developed concepts which are now mainstream, like the collective unconscious, structured by archetypical figures like the Shadow, the Wise Old Man, the Anima/Animus duality, etc. For Jung, dreams are vehicles that we use, via archetypes, to access the shared unconscious knowledge usually hidden to our minds.
Beyond the causal links and the linear time used by science in describing of the world, Jung sees a realm of meaning-based relationships connecting the events around us. This synchronicity (another key concept of Jung), the network of non-causal connections, is not affected by long distances in time or space. It defies rational, deductive logic.
Jung introduced to European and American minds the traditional Eastern practices, as a way to access the unconscious dimension forgotten in the Western world, to activate what he called active imagination.
Meditation was one of those practices, as well as divination. It was Jung who presented to the West the “I Ching” book used by one of the characters in Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle” (1963). Both this character and Dick himself, during the writing of the novel, decided their course of action by interpreting randomly chosen statements from the book.
In addition, Jung was also fond of Eastern spirituality. He rescued from the obscure pages of history the heterodox ideas of Gnosticism, which had existed in the fringes of the old Persian religion (in the form of Manicheism and other sects), Judaism and early Christianity.
One of the common tenets of the gnostic doctrine is dualism, the idea that good and evil forces are equally powerful in the universe. The gnostic God stays aloof from our human world, unreachable and unknowable, leaving the tasks of creating and managing the Earth to a complex hierarchy of imperfect entities (the Demiurge –sometimes identified with Satan–, Sophia, the Archons). These entities have differing goals and can be cruel or insane.
Popular interest in Gnosticism grew in the West after the discovery of ancient manuscripts in Nag Hammadi (Egypt) in 1945.
A Jungian approach has been sometimes used to understand the ‘logic’ behind David Lynch’s work (for instance, in “The Passion of David Lynch” by Martha P. Nochimson). We have no indication that David Lynch actually studied Jung, as we have for Dick and Frank Herbert (the author of “Dune“, with whom Lynch collaborated in the film adaptation), but it is clear that Lynch participates of many of Jung’s views, concepts and techniques shared by mystic traditions around the world.
The deep and dark wells of creativity
Lynch is a very active practitioner of trascendental meditation, introduced from India in the fifties. He also promotes it as a therapeutic method through the David Lynch Foundation. This meditation involves the repeated use of a sound or mantra and it is clear how important music and sounds are for David. He is very closely involved in the creation of the soundtracks for his movies and shows. For instance, Lynch is credited as sound designer in TP3, where the scratchy, windy or crackly sounds are characters of their own (“Listen to the sounds”, says the Fireman to Cooper in E1).
A famous example is the decision by Lynch to cast Frank Silva, who was set decorator in TP1, as a new character in the series. After Silva’s reflection was accidentally caught on camera (see below), he became the embodiment of the evil entity known as Bob, responsible for Laura Palmer’s death.
The most extreme example of Lynch’s surrealism might be Inland Empire, which was largely improvised from his daily dreams. Far from being accessory, the nightmarish scenes in Eraserhead, Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway and Twin Peaks present us with essential participants and truths that propel the story. The dreams of main characters like FBI agent Cooper give them (and us) access to a deeper layer of meaning and understanding of what is going on, but they also open new enigmas.
Despite our innate inclination to search for symbols and meanings, a vision in Lynch’s oeuvre may be just a vision, a crack in the wall hiding the unconscious ocean from our sight, and it can be interpreted in a multiplicity of explanations without ever exhausting its significance.
For Philip K. Dick, the nightmares and visions he experienced were not something he voluntarily sought or enjoyed, but unwelcome invasions of his already troubled life. Because of them, he doubted his sanity. Dick thought he might have schizophrenia or some other psychosis, but the doctors he consulted with rejected the idea. They probably thought Dick just had an exceptionally “active imagination”.
Similarly to Lynch, Dick didn’t need (nor wanted) hallucinogenic drugs to open the visionary dimensions to him. It is true that his natural predisposition (some speculate he might have suffered temporal lobe epilepsy known to cause mystical experiences) might have worsened because of his use of amphetamines (taken to stay awake during long writing sessions). He also used other drugs like speed and mescaline. However, borrowing Aldous Huxley’s expression, the “doors of perception” had opened for Dick long before his stint with recreational drugs in the late sixties, memorably described in “A Scanner Darkly”, and opened much wider in the seventies when he was clean.
When Dick died in 1982, he left about 8,000 pages (he named them his “Exegesis“) detailing an infinite number of theories for his visions, explanations rooted in theology, cosmology and occultist traditions. Excerpts of these journals were published in 2011.
A very special source of visionary inspiration for Dick, stressed by Lawrence Sutin and other biographers, was the inner presence of his twin sister Jane. She died only a few weeks after their birth, and Phil always thought that she continued living inside him. He used to listen to her voice at night while writing. With time, the twin duality acquired a cosmological significance linked to the Gnostic ideas: the whole universe was wrong because one of the cosmic twins had failed to materialize as an independent, healthy being.
The dark side of everyday objects
Jumping in time and space
There are some motifs repeated all along Lynch’s universe, making us feel that all pieces of his work are connected by invisible links.
Beyond these repeating motifs, a distinctive feature of Lynch visual narrative is the juxtaposition of different timeline intervals. Often, it is not possible to say whether a scene belongs to the future or to the past, a question we hear in TP’s Red Room. Maybe it is with this uncertainty how, despite the aging of the cast, Lynch manages to create a circular or spiral timeline in the TP story.
This double time/identity confusion is evident in the TP3 finale when Cooper and Diane (or their tulpas) cross the 430-mile mark in the highway and go to a motel. When Cooper (Richard?) comes out from the room the next morning, not only the year has changed (car and motel are more modern) but probably their own identity, too.
Universe as a dream or hallucination
The dream themes are ubiquitous in “Mulholland Drive” (Lynch’s tagline for the film was “A love story in the city of dreams”), and become a starting point for the many interpretations that attempt to make sense of the story.
“I’ve been to one of their meetings,” reappeared agent Philip Jeffries says to his assembled FBI colleagues in the deleted scenes of “Fire Walk with Me” (reused in TP3). “It was above a convenience store. It was a dream. We live inside a dream.”, he concludes.
As the show progressed, what seemed just a crime investigation has been “invaded” by alternate dimensions initially seen in dreams: the Lodge, the Fireman’s fortress and other locations populated by weird-shaped machines have become the glue that holds together the narrative pieces.
“We are like the dreamer who dreams, and then lives inside the dream. But who is the dreamer?”, says Monica Bellucci to Gordon Cole/David Lynch in his own dream (TP3E14). We find again a combination of the two questions: the nature of reality and the problem of personal identity, both favorites of Lynch and Dick.
We know the source of Bellucci’s phrase. Commenting on the pervasiveness of the dream theme in “Inland Empire”, Lynch quoted a classic mystical text, the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: “We are like the spider. We weave our life and then move along in it. We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives in the dream. This is true for the entire universe.”
The dream nature of the Twin Peaks reality is again stated by Dale Cooper in the TP3 finale, but the question of who the dreamer is remains. Maybe the dreamer has Cooper’s face, ghostly overlaid in this scene, or maybe each member of the audience is the dreamer.
In “A Maze of Death” (1970), fourteen colonists assigned to a strange planet find themselves with no communications or help of any kind. They die one by one in the colony as they try to solve its mysteries. In reality, the colonists are suffering inside a virtual reality simulation they have entered trying to escape another torment: they are the crew of a stranded spaceship with no hope for rescue. But they have brought their angst with them into the simulation.
The idea of a “fake reality” is now mainstream thanks to movies like “The Matrix”, but Dick, as Lynch does, goes beyond a clear cut distinction between true and fake, between dream and reality.
In his award-winning uchronia, “The Man in the High Castle” (1963), we see an alternate world in which the German Reich and Japan won World War II and the US territory is split between occupying powers. What is more interesting is that inside this world there is room for an alternate storyline, told in a book called “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy”, in which the Axis lost the world. However, there are significant differences between the “Grasshopper” version and the actual historical events we know. It seems there are at least three possible historical lines, or more. No resolution is presented. We don’t get to find out which universe is “real”.
Sometimes it’s not entirely clear whether they mean to do evil or not, but they surely are scary, like the homeless in “Mulholland Drive”.
Since “Eraserhead”, we can see horrific creatures intruding into the “normal” life of the characters, sometimes taking over their bodies.
Dick experienced evil intrusions as part of his paranoid episodes. People around him, most frequently one of his wives, could suddenly appear as a hellish nightmare bent on destroying him.
In one of his early stories, “The Father Thing” (1954), a child sees his father replaced by an alien entity, a premise common to other works of fiction at the time (like the “Invasion of the Body Snatchers), but told with special poignancy by Dick.
Among his paranoid visions, one made Dick truly afraid: he saw a gigantic eye watching him from the sky, an evil presence who seemed to control and spy on our reality. Philip ran home horrified and searched for an answer in both traditional and fringe religions (Was this entity the Gnostic demiurge?). From this point on, he will interpret many tragedies in his life as interventions of an evil god (for instance, the death of his cat, or the demise of his good friend Episcopalian Bishop James Pike in the Judean desert).
In the novel “Eye in the Sky” (1957), the protagonists suffer an accident in a particle accelerator and wake up in a strange world which turns out to be the private reality of a religious fanatic, and therefore dominated by a vengeful god.
The shadow of the self
A recurrent issue and mind-bending plot device used by Lynch is the fluid nature of personal identity. “Mulholland Drive” is an obvious example. The dark-haired woman we see in the beginning has lost her memory, she doesn’t remember her true identity. She is helped by a blonde aspiring actress, but later in the movie we see the blonde woman waking up with a different identity. Many interpretations suggest she might have been dreaming everything we have seen so far. And this is not the only identity shift happening in the movie.
With Twin Peaks, Lynch has created a full mythology based on the replication of bodies which share (or not) part of their identity.
These clones are called doppelgangers and tulpas in the Twin Peaks lore. The Lynchian concept of doppelganger as a kind of evil twin follows the Jungian archetype of the shadow (Mr. Hyde alongside Dr. Jekyll), different from the original meaning of the German term. The concept of the tulpa is taken from Tibetan mysticism (familiar to Lynch), a spiritual emanation conjured through meditation, which can become sentient and physically independent.
Many other stories written by Dick use the concept of false memories. In “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” (1966), which became the movie “Total Recall“, an ordinary clerk wishes to have an adventure in Mars and he gets involved in one (or is it just the simulated vacation trip he’s paid for?). A psychiatrist appears in the middle of his hallucination to convince him that he is delusional, but the protagonist doesn’t buy it.
In “A Scanner Darkly” (1977), based on a period in which Dick adopted the drug culture of the sixties, the protagonist is an undercover narcotics cop who hides his true appearance from other policemen to infiltrate a group of drug users. However, after trying a dangerous drug, substance D, he begins confusing both identities, treating them as different persons.
The last book Dick researched before his death in 1982 was titled “The Owl in Daylight“. His idea for the plot involved a mediocre music composer who suddenly becomes a genius, thanks to the invasion of his mind by an alien being. The alien comes from a planet with no concept of sound, and thus regards music as a supremely mystical experience (Lynch would love this concept). In a Faustian turn, the composer finds that the presence of the alien, while transforming him into a great artist, is also consuming him to death. He must then choose between life and art.
A more clear example is visible in one of his final and most moving novels, “VALIS” (published in 1981). In the book, Dick re-enacts his desperate search for an explanation of the 1974 visions, discussing many hypotheses with his friends, as he did in reality. What is fascinating is that he, Phil Dick, appears in the book as one of the gang, a moderately successful but mostly silent science fiction writer. He also has a doppelganger, Horselover Fat, who is the one with the crazy hallucinations and harebrained theories everyone pokes fun at. At one point, Sophia, a little girl who might be a divine incarnation, reveals to them that Dick and Fat are the same person. An identical pattern is used in “Radio Free Albemuth” (an early version of the VALIS, written in 1976).
The failed salvation
Neither Lynch nor Dick are fond of closed, happy endings. Their troubled protagonists don’t find a resolution, an explanation, an ending to their tribulations. Actually, we can hardly speak of an ending in their story arcs. Their plans to find an exit from their nightmares never work as expected. Salvation seems to be always close by, but always elusive.
How could it be otherwise given the “out of joint” visions of reality we have described?
Focusing on Lynch’s Twin Peaks saga, the “Fire Walk with Me” movie presented a seemingly happy final scene. Laura has endured torture and an attempt by Bob to possess her. She finally had to use death as the only way out. After this odyssey, she is comforted by Dale Cooper in the Red Room. Then, an angel appears to her and we can see joyful tears flowing on her smiling face.
As mentioned earlier, “VALIS” is the most touching account of Dick’s anguish about the dominance of evil in the world and in his life. Until his last days, Philip believed in the new coming of an eternal Savior who would appear in critical times. VALIS tells us about the search for this savior, which in the book seems to take the shape of a little girl. But the girl dies in an accident, reproducing once more the never-ending tragedy of the female half of the universe.
What about the cosmic female half of Twin Peaks? Will Laura Palmer ever find salvation herself? Maybe the fight will never end.
Salvador Bayarri is a Spanish science fiction author and specialist. With a Ph.D. in Physics, a degree in Philosophy, and a professional career in simulation and virtual reality, he writes screenplays (like The Owl in Daylight, a biopic about Philip K. Dick), short stories and novels like his Trilogy of the Spheres. He has been a finalist in the first Cificom Award for Artificial Intelligence stories (published in the “El abismo mecánico” anthology) and finalist in the Teatronika Award for robot-based screenplays. A blogger and frequent speaker at Hispacon/Eurocon and other venues, he likes to mix historical, biographical, philosophical and scientific aspects in speculative fiction.