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A Religious (but Disturbing) Vision

In Catching the Big Fish, Lynch says he was raised Presbyterian and expresses respect for religion. “There’s truth there,” he says. He endorses not a religion, but a “practice”—Transcendental Meditation—as the path to world peace.

As a Christian, I disagree, but I respect his testimony of how meditation saved him from depression and anger. (“I often took out this anger on my first wife,” he confesses.) And Christian traditions often celebrate meditation, pointing to Christ’s own solitary retreats for prayer and fasting.

In Twin Peaks’ prevailing mode of lament, I find meaningful correlations with Christian understandings of sin and redemption. The overlap is strongest, however, in Lynch’s depiction of spiritual warfare. We see a villain’s deathbed repentance and deliverance. Cooper’s strongest allies are like guardian angels, his worst nemesis not a man but a demon.

In his essay “David Lynch Keeps His Head” (published in A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again), David Foster Wallace wrote that Lynch’s villains are “literally, possessed. … They have yielded themselves up to a Darkness way bigger than any one person.” Wallace went on to describe evil in Lynch’s narratives as a force that “moves and shifts, pervades; Darkness is in everything, all the time—not ‘lurking below’ or ‘lying in wait’ or ‘hovering on the horizon’: evil is here, right now. And so are Light, love, redemption (since these phenomena are also, in Lynch’s work, forces and spirits), etc.”

Thus, Lynch’s characters—like real human beings—can’t be reduced to “good guys” and “bad guys.” Perhaps Jesus was thinking of such spiritual forces when he voiced his prayer from the cross: “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” Evil storms through Twin Peaks like dark weather in ways that inspire empathy for the weak. As I watch, I feel the Spirit’s prompting: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Still, I cannot casually recommend any Twin Peaks manifestation. Lynch’s explicit scenes of cruelty (murder, sexual assault, you name it) and spiritual persecution (demon possession) could do more harm than good. “Lynch’s last name is strangely appropriate,” says a friend of mine. “His art feels like something that is done to you.” For some, that will ring true. Proceed with extreme caution and conscience.

Remember, though, that while Ephesians 5:11 exhorts believers to abstain from “the fruitless deeds of darkness,” it concludes with compelling instructions: “Expose them.” Lynch’s art doesn’t flinch in “exposing” human folly. Nor does he condone or glamorize it. If anyone finds his characters’ evils appealing, the problem is in the viewer, not the show.

Flannery O’Connor’s words seem particularly helpful here:

The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may well be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience. When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock—to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.

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‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ Gets Cosmic Conflict Disturbingly Right