Nightlies: The Red & The Black in Twin Peaks

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A little something to get you in the Halloween mood…

As I mentioned in my last “Nightlies” (though perhaps parenthetically), Twin Peaks has remarkable stage-set designs, with red and black functioning in a symbolic way.

Here’s a brief inventory of instances where red appears:

– Josie Packard (Joan Chen) has red lipstick

– Pete Martell (Jack Nance) wears a red jacket

– Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn) wears red shoes (of course, she also has those darned cute black-and-white Oxfords)

– Donna Hayward (Lara Flynn Boyle) wears a red dress

– the walls of the local high school are white with prominent red stripes

– there’s a recurring shot of a traffic light turning red

– a singer at the Roadhouse bar (played by musical artist Julie Cruise) has red nails, lips, and earrings

– that same bar has red booths

And this is only in the Pilot episode. Red resonates, acrues a particular importance, as the show progresses, until we see that room with red curtains in Dale Cooper’s dream.

Lynch attracts our eyes with bright exterior colours, hinting at a blackness underneath. Indeed, we often see red when it is being swallowed up by the night: a fire burning in a dark room; a traffic light turning red, swaying there, on the empty street or highway; the dark shadows that encroach on the edge of the otherwise lovely things in the town of Twin Peaks (some of which are red).

Lynch is so idiosyncratic about that black/red color pattern that even the minorest of minor characters, the life insurance salesman who visits Catherine Martell to sign some papers, is wearing a black-red striped tie.

Hmm. What does it all mean? Though many of the show’s central mysteries were resolved (including, the question, who killed Laura Palmer?), Lynch left many mysteries to our imagination (though the new season of the show, set to air in 2017, promises to reveal a few more famous secrets). One hint, which is hardly satisfying, is to be found in the unsettling refrain, uttered by the one-armed man, “Mike”:

Through the dark of futures past, the magician longs to see. One chants out between two worlds, “Fire walk with me.”

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