The following article was published in N-SPHERE September 2010 issue.


There has always been a fascinating thing about envisioning death. It is something we can’t perceive in the everyday life, we can only make assumptions, create an image, based on some sort of reason. In film, the director does not need those steps, he can always articulate moods, he can induce emotions. Many films have dealt with this theme, directly or indirectly, but I found most of them mainly concerned with the act of dying itself. However, I chose three films, which I thought they weren’t: Mulholland Drive, Persona and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Persona deals more with the death of communication rather than the death of someone, however Bergman’s approach keeps it on-topic, especially since we are not talking about death as a physical process. Physically, there’s nothing to say, nothing needed to be said, it’s all very clear. But death, as a refusal?

The core of Persona revolved around this refusal – one’s refusal to communicate with the environment, with the so-called system. Silence can make you walk through it all carelessly, lack of reaction, lack of response, lack of nearly anything, because one can’t be taken away nor be denied what one doesn’t have any longer. But, as the film says, reality inflicts upon anything.

There is a tendency in people to create or summon illusions in order to escape their own actions, or a series of disturbing events, or their own fears. It may seem to have nothing to do with death, but as I said, we are not discussing the physical process here. If you leave that aside, you may realize that it does. It is a process of alienation, to begin with, and in this process, many people may picture themselves completely different from how they are in reality. It is a process: you sacrifice something you find no satisfaction in or no meaning for, in order to achieve something that works and means something to you. You want your own ordeal to mean something. All the three films share some common ground with the lines written above, but two of them especially: Mulholland Drive and Twin Peaks, the first especially. Twin Peaks channels the outlandish to underline how easy we can fall for what we perceive as evil and to create some balance between what we find terrifying and what we find eerie or hypnotic.

However, Mulholland Drive follows the scheme: a woman creating a frail world in which all of her dreams come true, where the person she wants is nearly faceless (so that she can have that person as long as she wants, projecting on him whatever fantasies she has). Thus, reality inflicts itself again: our deeds, what we are, our fears break through. We might think we have created a secret world, but ultimately, that world is part of us, and as long as we were touched by fear, traumas, it isn’t secret.

There is something else that stands out in Mulholland Drive: the way it was crafted. We are made believe that what we are seeing is real, from the very beginning and even during the moments when we were slightly perplexed and we take very little notice of what is happening. Lynch plays the fantasy first, exposing an ill-fated heroine by showing us her fantasies. This might be considered fun in a Wild Disney film where you would take your kids to watch, but here, the effect is terrifying. You see something hypnotic, maybe even too eerie or idealistic and then, sooner or later, you realize what lies beneath. It is as if someone casts a spell on you to make you walk together with a charming companion: you enjoy their presence, only to learn in the end that they passed away some years ago and what you are experiencing now is the image from when they were still alive.

Death is not present in Mulholland Drive, not until the end of the film (when Diane/Betty pulls the trigger), death as a process is subtracted, but the dead themselves aren’t.

On a lighter note, for those of you who have seen both Mulholland Drive and Persona, there is a particular scene present in both of those movies. A key scene (cinema-wise) from Persona which is “summoned” in Mulholland Drive as well.

There is the color blue that has its share of importance in both Mulholland Drive and Twin Peaks. We have the blue rose cases in Twin Peaks, we have the blue box, the blue key, even a lady with blue hair in Mulholland Drive. In both of these cases, asides the mysterious note, blue is something that separates two layers: we have the blue key which we see in both of the Mulholland Drive layers (the dream and reality), a blue key which is the reason for one character’s physical amnesia and the other’s desired one. Gordon’s blue rose case crosses the line between the mundane and the unearthly by having one agent disappear, one coming out of nowhere after some years of absence, some eerie out-of-nowhere sounds and so forth.

However, while Mulholland Drive is reserved in the sense that it maintains the immediate reality, as we know it, Twin Peaks becomes freewheeling. Twin Peaks channels the feeling of that reality, but messes around everything else. Here, death is not something subtracted, but something that is foreseen in many ways and – as it turns out to be – something that is desired.

At its core, Twin Peaks has a simple plot: a man who rapes and murders his own daughter. It’s something one would be keen on watching, right? But instead of merely showing that, Lynch fragments his male protagonist (Leland Palmer) in such way that we can be sympathetic as we see something more than just a murder. Leland comes and kisses Laura goodnight, after a very disturbing dinner table scene, in a very powerful scene. He does that in such a sincere way, that one may realize that at some moment he acknowledges the damage he is doing, but simply cannot stop.

In the same manner, he fragments the female protagonist (Laura Palmer), who is a prom queen with a “sweet tooth for nose candy”, hence the most primitive plot description would sound like this: a man rapes and murders his cocaine-addicted daughter. Sounds even promising, right? But the film barely lets you see this, and even its most depraved scenes are in facto very painful at their core.

Twin Peaks wraps and places everything according to its own rules, in a world to which we feel connected. Of all three, in Twin Peaks/Fire Walk With Me (I consider them a single project), the idea of death is the most pronounced. Let us remember one of the first lines of the TV series: “She’s dead, wrapped in plastic”. The prequel (Fire Walk With Me) reeks of the awareness of death – there are no mysteries here for those who have seen the series: “Tonight is the night that I die [...] I know he wants me, I can feel his fire, but if I die, he can’t hurt me anymore”. There are also ghostly presences throughout the series: “The Chalfonts” – an old lady and her grand-son, who weren’t in fact the Chalfonts, the real persons being the ones who lived there before; there is also a scene in which Laura watches herself; there is a ring (“with this ring I seek wife”) which Cooper tells Laura not to take.

There is an interesting idea: in Persona, the idea of death is sketched by the lack of communication – which means that we have a theoretical image applied to something else. In Mulholland Drive, we can sense it, but we cannot see it, and thus becomes creepy and disturbing. In Twin Peaks/FWWM we can both see it and sense it, and it is spooky sometimes, but there is also a mesmerizing “sequel” of it: there is the blue rose (or Holy Grail if you want, ’cause none of them really exists. Yet both of them are connected to a (con)quest).

That’s it for now, see you on the blue box or the black lodge.

Movie still: Persona. 1966.

by Shade

Full article here.