Some of the most memorable scenes in “Twin Peaks: The Return” have found David Lynch revisiting the experimental highs of his most radical film work. Cooper’s strange trip in Episode 3 was a return to the sound and fury of “Eraserhead” and “Inland Empire,” while the sight of the camera looking down at Amanda Seyfried’s glowing Becky Burnett in Part 5 recalled the delirium of “Mulholland Drive.”
But the series’ boldest moments have occurred when Lynch has infused his own dark style with the most iconic cinema ever made. That was certainly what happened in the legendary Part 8, in which the director channeled his inner Terrence Malick to tell the wordless origin story of evil (IndieWire called the scene “the closest we’ll ever come to seeing David Lynch’s ‘Tree of Life”), and that was the case in Part 10 when the murdering Richard Horne (Eamon Farren) robbed his grandmother, Sylvia.
Lynch’s staging in this four-minute sequence made it feel like the director’s own version of Stanley Kubrick’s controversial rape scene in “A Clockwork Orange,” with a dash of Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games” thrown in for disturbing measure. The imagery alone of a wealthy, idyllic suburban home and its inhabitants being terrorized by a male sociopath recalls these movies, but it’s the way Lynch created his unnerving tone through camera shots that was most representative of Kubrick’s violent dysfunction.
If you go back and re-watch the infamous “Clockwork” scene, you’ll notice how Kubrick’s reliance on fixed camera positions and long stationary shots increases the level of uneasiness to the actions being depicted. Kubrick holds his camera and lets the violence play out in voyeuristic fashion for the viewer. This decision not only inflicts helplessness in the characters inside the frame, but also for the viewer watching in a way that is downright nauseating. Lynch utilizes and twists this method in “Twin Peaks.” He keeps the camera mostly in fixed positions, but he doesn’t force it to remain entirely still. Lynch opts for a handheld camera so that the shots feel as if he was filming on a rocking boat. The slight left-and-right bobbing creates a kind of queasy motion sickness that sets the tone for what’s taking place.
Lynch also borrows Kubrick’s masterful balance of closeups and wide shots to ratchet up feelings of horror and hopelessness, respectively. Lynch puts the camera close to Sylvia Horne (Jan D’Arcy) in all of her shots, amplifying the shock of her facial expressions and capturing the distraught nature of what’s occurring. There’s an intimacy to the way she is filmed up close that is so horrific given what’s occurring. But he takes a wider approach in filming Johnny Horne (Eric Rondell).
Johnny is tied to a chair throughout the scene after sustaining a head injury in the previous episode, so there’s already a level of hopelessness to his situation. But the wide shots force the viewer to observe all of his panicked movements to survive, from his feet running in place to his body fidgeting and trying to break free. These shots are not violent in nature, but they are full of extreme panic and terror. In taking Kubrick’s voyeuristic approach to filming Johnny, Lynch forces the viewer into a state of distressed submission.
The sound choices are also essential to how the sequence operates. Kubrick’s rape scene is without music, a purposeful choice that serves to make all the victims’ cries for help feel louder and more punishing. Lynch could have certainly taken this route, but he instead layers his character’s shrieks over a rather soothing orchestral melody. It’s a composed music choice that acts in direct counterpoint to the disorder of the events and adds to the scene’s tormenting nature. The melody is beautiful and calm, but what’s happening couldn’t be more opposite.
The second noise is the constant loop of Johnny’s stuffed animal saying, “Hello, Johnny, how are you today?” Intentional or not, appropriating a friendly childhood toy into something menacing and twisted is similar to the method used by Kubrick when he had Alex belt “Singin’ in the Rain” while he destroyed the home and his buddies carried out a rape. There’s an innocence to both the song and the stuffed animal that both filmmakers corrupt by including them in these scenes. Lynch has the toy’s catchphrase repeated as the scene carries out as a constant reminder that a loss of innocence is taking place. Like the orchestral music, its consistency juxtaposes the chaos of Richard’s actions and keeps the horror coming.
In just four minutes, Lynch managed to create his very own “A Clockwork Orange” and gave “Twin Peaks: The Return” one of its most unforgettable sequences. In moments like this scene and Part 8, watching the director take the touchstones of Malick and Kubrick and make them feel purely Lynchian has provided a sensational kick for “Twin Peaks” fans that call themselves cinephiles. As the series heads into its final episodes, here’s hoping Lynch has more twisted homages in store.