Tag Archives: David Lynch

Twin Peaks: Breaking The Frame

As always, SPOILERS, darling.

(In the midst of other investigations and other projects, I return to this mystery. The thoughts below, what might be called a theory, seem startlingly obvious and were more most likely put forward elsewhere – I give them here anyway. Among those articles which I looked at which I found helpful were “‘Twin Peaks’ Finale Recap: A Mystifying, Entrancing Ending” by Sonia Saraiya; “The ‘Twin Peaks’ Crime Scene” by Adam Nayman; “David Lynch’s Haunted Finale of “Twin Peaks: The Return”” by Richard Brody; “Our 8 Biggest Questions About the Twin Peaks Finale” by Devon Ivie; “The Best Post-Finale Theories About Twin Peaks: The Return“; Twin Peaks: The Return Defied Nostalgia” by Jen Chaney; “In Twin Peaks: The Return, You Can’t Go Home Again” by Matt Zoller Seitz. I found David Auerbach’s “Twin Peaks Finale: A Theory of Cooper, Laura, Diane, and Judy” intriguing, but too unmoored from what I consider the crucial themes of the past episodes to be persuasive.)

So, let us cut to the chase: the Audrey Horne scenes are crucial for understanding the final episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return. There has been some speculation that the abrupt finish of her plotline means that she is in some kind of an asylum, a coma, or a White Lodge, and that this is a hanging thread in the series – neither point, I think, is true. The ending is very deliberate, and of crucial importance to the final episode, and she does not end up in any specific geography, whether on earth or the strange mystic universe of the series.

This plot, which goes through episodes #12, #13, #15, and #16, where it ends at the Roadhouse bar, takes place, as many have noted, somewhere seemingly apart from any place in Twin Peaks. Almost all of the other scenes in the series have an establishing exterior shot – the Audrey Horne storyline has none. Though the other major characters all have a last name, Audrey’s husband is listed as “Charlie” and nothing else. When you take a close look at Charlie’s desk, you repeat Dale Cooper’s last line of dialogue: “What year is this?” His desk is cluttered with paper, a sand clock within reach, but no computer, no laptop or even a bulky desktop, anywhere in sight. When he calls Tina, he uses a rotary phone – a device that most contemporary phone switching systems don’t even support, a phone that would be useless for most calls. Time has apparently slowed down to a crawl in this room, with this entire plotline taking place on a single night, while we see several days of action in the other plotlines, and several nights of acts in the Roadhouse.

Twin Peaks The Return - Charlie at his desk

Twin Peaks The Return - Charlie on the phone

Charlie and Audrey are seemingly trapped in amber, in some distant time, and yet their dialogue makes no reference to anything in Audrey Horne’s famous past – to Dale Cooper, to Laura Palmer, to her father, her son, anything. Their dialogue is fixed on the present, on characters that have nothing to do with anything we see on the show. Audrey is very worried about her lover, Billy, about whom she has had a dream – of him badly bleeding. A woman that Audrey hates, Tina, is the last person who may have seen Billy, and the person who has told her this is another man named Charlie, whose truck Billy may have stolen. The other Charlie, Audrey’s husband, calls Tina to find out what has taken place, but we never hear her end of the phone call, and Charlie never relays the details. All these details feel like a tiresome mess – what does this have to do with Cooper in the Black Lodge, how does all this relate to Audrey’s past?

The Audrey Horne plot is an expression of all the tensions of David Lynch, Mark Frost, and the cast of returning to Twin Peaks. They are not incidental to this storyline – the storyline, including its strange finale, is designed to convey them. Lynch, Frost, and the cast have been burdened with continuing the Twin Peaks story, yet also reprising it so that it delivers all the familiar rituals for audience relief. There is a demand for the show to be both alive and yet also in stasis, a variation on a past melody, as most sequels are. Twin Peaks: The Return brings back Dale Cooper, but makes him a void of a man, Dougie Jones, someone who eats pie and drinks coffee, the audience waiting expectantly for him to say his catch phrases – and he says nothing. Audrey Horne returns, but she seems so disconnected from events, both current and past, that we start to doubt whether this is even the same Audrey Horne – and she doubts her identity as well. From Episode #13:

AUDREY
I feel like I’m somewhere else. Have you ever had that feeling, Charlie?

CHARLIE
No.

AUDREY
Like I’m somewhere else, and–and like I’m somebody else. Have you ever felt that?

CHARLIE
No. I always feel like myself. And it may not always be the best feeling.

AUDREY
Well, I’m not sure who I am, but I’m not me.

CHARLIE
This is Existentialism one oh one.

AUDREY
Oh, fuck you!

Twin Peaks The Return Audrey subtitle one

Twin Peaks The Return Audrey subtitle two

Twin Peaks The Return Audrey subtitle three

It is after this that Charlie makes clear he is as powerful as The Fireman or any of the creatures in the Lodge – he can end Audrey’s story, any time he likes, just as he ended someone else’s story – whose story? Audrey says almost the same line that the Arm has in the last episode, in reference to the story of Laura Palmer: “Is this the story of the girl who lived down the lane? Is it?” Yes: Charlie can end Audrey’s story as easily as he can Laura Palmer’s.

AUDREY
Who am I supposed to trust except myself? And I don’t even know who I am! So what the fuck am I supposed to do?

CHARLIE
You’re supposed to go to the Roadhouse and see if Billy is there.

AUDREY
I guess. Is it far?

CHARLIE
Come on, Audrey. You know where it is. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were on drugs.

AUDREY
Just where is it!

CHARLIE
I’m going to take you there. Now, are you gonna stop playing games, or do I have to end your story, too?

AUDREY
What story is that, Charlie? Is that the story of the little girl who lived down the lane? Is it?

Twin Peaks The Return - Charlie stop playing games

Twin Peaks The Return - end your story too

Twin Peaks The Return - Audrey what story is that

Twin Peaks The Return - Audrey story of the girl

Twin Peaks The Return - who lived down the lane

Twin Peaks The Return - who lived down the lane

You can also note that Charlie gives something like guidance, as a director might give to actors. “You’re supposed to go to the Roadhouse and see if Billy is there,” says Charlie, as if Audrey had lost her sense of what she needed to do in this scene. Episode #13 ends with Horne as divided about going to the Roadhouse as Lynch, Frost, or the actors might have felt about returning to the series.

CHARLIE
You’re the one that wanted to go. Now you’re looking like you want to stay.

AUDREY
I want to stay and I want to go. I want to do both. Which will it be, Charlie? Hmmm? Which would you be?

What is also so alienating in these scenes is that Audrey and Charlie do not seem to have any romantic compatability at all. Charlie is being openly cheated on, yet he seems to be the dominant figure in the relationship, and undisturbed by his wife’s open affair. Physically, they seem entirely unlike, lacking any of the visual symmetry we expect of a couple. There is somebody who I think Charlie is very much supposed to resemble, and that’s Max Von Mayerling in Sunset Boulevard, played by legendary director Erich Von Stroheim.

Von Stroheim in Sunset Boulevard

Von Stroheim in Sunset Boulevard close-up

Twin Peaks The Return - Charlie

Sunset centers around Norma Desmond, a silent film actress who lives in a decaying mansion where time has seemingly stopped, just like at Miss Havisham’s. When screenwriter Joe Gillis stumbles onto her place while fleeing creditors, Desmond lets him to stay with the expectation he’ll be able to help her stage a comeback playing Salomé – a notion that Gillis is barely able to keep from ridiculing. The connection to Twin Peaks is obvious – this older woman expects to play the part of a teenage girl, a part whose inherent quality is one of sensual impulsive youth, and whose centerpiece is an erotic dance which beguiles Herod. Von Mayerling is Desmond’s butler, but also her ex-husband and (in a barely veiled reference to Von Stroheim’s own career) a once great director. He encourages Desmond’s illusions, even writing almost all the fan mail she now gets. Charlie has the dictatorial qualities of Von Maylerling and Von Stroheim, but does not encourage any of Audrey’s illusions – she has none, seemingly having no sense of self, no memories of the earlier existence we know so well.

Billy Wilder directed Sunset, Charles Brackett produced it, Wilder and Brackett wrote the script; the two men who center in the off-screen storyline of Audrey are Billy and Charlie. What prompts Cooper to revive himself by sticking a fork in an outlet is while watching Sunset and hearing a reference to “Gordon Cole”, the assistant to Cecil B. DeMille, the director Desmond wants for her Salomé film. The movie’s obsession with a distant past, burrowing into the past as the world hurtles on, haunts this series for obvious reasons.

Twin Peaks The Return - Gordon Cole in Sunset Boulevard

Twin Peaks The Return - Dale reacts to Sunset Boulevard

Who, eactly, is Charlie, that he has such extraordinary powers over the universe, that he can shut off a story like one snaps off a light? “Who is the dreamer?” Gordon Cole asks, and the answer is, Charlie is the dreamer. He is a rough substitute for the creators of this series, a man both creating this world and inside it. This is why he speaks to Audrey like a director, and why they are seemingly both of the world of Twin Peaks, and somehow in a place completely outside of it. He is in something like the position which the audience imagines Frost and Lynch to be, someone privy to all secrets and off-stage conversations, as he listens to a long phone call…and then reveals nothing of it to Audrey or the viewer. There are only two other rotary phones in this series, and they’re the ones Mr C. uses in the convenience store scene – the one on the abandonned desk, which subsequently teleports him to the ancient phone booth outside. The rotary phone here signifies worlds outside of time, a fiction of a device which covers the transcendent power of the convenience store or Charlie; they have something like the magic of quanta, able to reach whatever part of this universe they wish, any point, any time.

Twin Peaks The Return - rotary phone on desk

Twin Peaks The Return - rotary phone on desk

After much delay, Audrey and Charlie finally arrive at the Roadhouse. We are given certainty that Audrey Horne has remained in the same world by this familiar location, and we are certain (whatever her doubts) that she is Audrey Horne by her direct reprise of her old dance. This must have been the nightmare Lynch, Frost, and the actors envisioned of a series return, the very same moves, again, circus animals brought out to perform their old tricks. The ritual repeated, verbatim. What gave the original dance some of its power was its spontaneity, the character falling into it naturally, a felicitous graceful expression of restless youth. Now, it’s presented as a museum piece, a sacred relic of the past – even introduced by the announcer as “Audrey Horne’s Dance”, though this has significance only to the audience outside the show, and is one more element that renders it unreal, the intro making this something apart and isolated from all story or character, a dance that is like a song played because of fan request. Audrey loses herself in the dance, and yet there is nothing grotesque as there might be for Norma Desmond’s Salomé; this is not an older woman playing at being a much younger woman, but an older woman as herself. The contorted circumstances which might have been necessary to make Audrey dance again, and which would have rendered it grotesque in the realm of the real – are entirely absent. The scene takes place entirely due to forces outside the universe of the show – the introduction making specific reference to the dance, even the dance itself, with it now given emphasis by a haze of enrapturing purple, rather than a casual expression amongst the indifferent sunlight.

Twin Peaks The Return - Audrey dance

Audrey loses herself to the dance, and may lose herself to the past – but the present swoops in with a fight among two characters we don’t know, about a third, someone’s wife Monique, who also shows up nowhere else. Audrey is overwhelmed by the sudden tumult of these new, strange figures, and she rushes to Charlie, grabs his shoulders, and then – this, I think, is key – the camera switches for the first time to Charlie’s perspective, so Audrey is seemingly speaking directly to the audience. She says in desperation, “Get me out of here!” And with that, Charlie ends her story. Audrey is suddenly removed even further from Twin Peaks than before, her costume gone, a white void where time and space have disappeared.

Twin Peaks The Return - Audrey Horne get me out of here

Twin Peaks The Return - Audrey Horne in the void

The Audrey Horne plotline is crucial for understanding the last episode of Twin Peaks: The Return, because it’s a variation on what will happen to Cooper – for most of her time we are not certain she is the character we once knew, then she clearly reprises who she was for a brief time, and then her identity is annihilated. The entire series is a build-up to the return of Agent Cooper, and when he does come back, it’s as if nothing has taken place in the interim. Dale Cooper has the distinct qualities of E.M. Forster’s flat characters – and the adjective is crucial, and very different from flat writing or bad writing or writing without nuance. Almost all distinct TV characters, certainly of the era in which the original series was made, are flat types – they carry certain traits and they do not deviate from them. Cooper is decent, noble, brilliant. His moral alignment is so specific and unyielding that any deviation would make us suspect we were not seeing the real man – and a doppelganger is an easy conception, a criminal genius of unfathomable evil. The best flat types effectively convey their character visually – Cooper is almost always in a formal suit, slicked down hair, the visual equivalent of a federal agent’s clipped, precise sentences, but still with the best aspects of a small boy, an overwhelming curiosity of the wider world, a belief of the best in women and men, a man whose handsomeness is infected by an endearing strangeness. And Mr. C., his doppelganger, carries a similar, though opposite, shorthand. Though incredibly rich, he wears a simple dark outfit, a shabby leather coat, his hair seemingly always unwashed, his eyes cold worlds of calculation, his face closed tight around the cruelest certainties.

The flat type is incredibly effective in TV as the character is able to pass through years of action while always remaining compelling, yet also seemingly immutable and unchanged, whatever turmoil and tragedies befall him or her, or those around them. This immutability is there when Cooper returns from his exile – the Black Lodge, Dougie Jones, a brief coma – and resumes his character as if nothing has happened. The show then reckons with both the need for stasis, for Cooper to return as if a quarter century of life has not been lost, and the impossibility of such stasis. How could a sane man of conscience not feel overwhelming sadness at the twenty five years that have just fallen away, at the possible dreadful fates of Annie Blackburn, Audrey Horne, and the countless victims of his doppelganger? The show is blunt about this duality, with a scene featuring much of the cast lined up in the sheriff’s station as if for a kind of a happy reunion, while Cooper’s despairing face overlays them, an overlay where you keep waiting for it to disappear, for it to stop killing the party, but which stays, and stays, and stays – until finally it disappears when he kisses Diane. After they kiss, we see the clock nearly frozen in place, the minute hand unable to move forward – they are in stasis again, and Cooper’s despairing face returns, overlaying the scene until Cooper reaches the boiler room door. The plot moves Cooper back into action, to return to the Red Room. Just as Audrey is moved to dance in a way that seems external to character, this next mission seems to derive from the need for momentum itself – no character asks Cooper about his time in exile, he takes no time to rest, he is simply on the move again, just as the adventures of most heroes are seemingly without pause, reflection, or respite.

Twin Peaks The Return - the cast lined up

We are never given any explicit explanation of this new adventure. Cooper is given a point in a circle eight, a Möbius strip, to which he is to return, a crucial moment in the story of Laura Palmer. He goes back to the night she was murdered and pulls her from her fate, but there is a sense of something gone wrong – as he walks along with her through the forest, hand in hand, she suddenly leaves his grasp and vanishes. We are then in the Red Room again, with a few quick pieces of business; a tulpa of Dougie Jones is created and goes back to his family, and we briefly see the fate of Mr. C., held fast in a chair, to be scorched by fire for eternity. The Arm asks Cooper nearly the same question that Audrey asked: “Is this the story of the little girl who lived down the lane? Is it?” And this question is crucial, because if this story is the story of Twin Peaks, the story of the death and investigation of Laura Palmer, then this is the story Cooper has always inhabited, and by saving Laura from her murder, he has destroyed the heart of his existence.

Twin Peaks The Return - The Arm Is

Twin Peaks The Return - The Arm It

Twin Peaks The Return - The Arm the story

Twin Peaks The Return - The Arm Of the

Twin Peaks The Return - The Arm Little

Twin Peaks The Return - The Arm Girl

Twin Peaks The Return - The Arm Who lived

Twin Peaks The Return - The Arm Down the lane

Twin Peaks The Return - The Arm Is It

Twin Peaks The Return - Audrey story of the girl

Twin Peaks The Return - who lived down the lane

Twin Peaks The Return - who lived down the lane

In the opening of The Return, the only time we see Cooper with the Giant, he tells him that “It all cannot be…said aloud now”, the importance of the number 430, and the names Richard and Linda. “Two birds with one stone,” says the Giant. This refers, I think, to Cooper breaking the story, as if by a stone, and two birds, like the slang term for women, will be freed, Laura and Diane, with Laura Palmer returned to life and Diane to be with Cooper. Diane meets him in the woods outside of the fading portal of the Red Room, but we are never explicitly told why they have decided to meet or their next set of actions. Our only clues are his question, freighted with meaning, after they kiss at the sheriff’s station: “Do you remember everything?” and her answer, equally heavy with implication, “Yes.” Before he goes through the door, Cooper tells Diane, “See you at the curtain call.” And this is not just a reference to the red drapes that mark the portals of the Lodge, but to the ending of the story, the story of the little girl who lived down the lane. Cooper and Diane have planned to re-unite after he destroys the story, and escape together. They drive in a car until they have exactly four hundred and thirty miles on it, outside of some buzzing electricity silos. What they do next will be a tumultuous step, one that will transform them, and they kiss before they drive on, and something abruptly happens – before they were on the road at day, and now it is night. And here is what I think happens, a fateful and ultimately doomed decision, and which the scenes with Audrey Horne foreshadow – they have decided to live outside the plot of Twin Peaks entirely. And this is a mistake, because their existence as characters is intertwined with that of the story of Peaks, and absent the story, they continue to live, but they cease to exist. They become like Audrey Horne in her isolated space, with no certainty anymore of who she is, and we in the audience unsure whether she is even still Audrey Horne.

Twin Peaks The Return - The Giant cannot be said

Twin Peaks The Return - The Giant aloud now

Twin Peaks The Return - Dale is it really you

Twin Peaks The Return - Dale is it really you

Twin Peaks The Return - Dale is it really you

Though we have a very strong sense of Dale Cooper’s character, what we know of Diane is more indirect, more through inference. Throughout The Return, we have seen her as a forged note, a tulpa of the actual, and we are left to guess what is true and real. While we associate Cooper with black and white suits, Diane’s outfit is always full of color, her bracelets and individually colored fingernails perhaps sending out a subterranean signal only close intimates can interpret. In the original series, she is the woman closest to Cooper, the one he trusts most fully, who knows all his secrets, and though their relationship must be keenly felt, it is platonic, with Diane always a ghost inside his cassette box. We assume they complement each other, that they are equals, that she might tease his uprightness, but that she is as strong willed and able to match his deductive genius. She is less markedly affected by what follows because her character has been less defined by the story of Twin Peaks, and though she also becomes something of a blank, she does not lose the sharply defined character that Cooper has.

Twin Peaks The Return - Diane colorful outfit one

Twin Peaks The Return - Diane colorful outfit one

Twin Peaks The Return - Diane colorful outfit one

What brings them to the motel is the simplest of passions, with these characters who had to have a platonic relationship on the series, due to character and physical circumstance, now able to sleep with each other. Cooper’s nobility, his gallantry, necessary qualities in the Twin Peaks story have disappeared, and he is able to sleep with Diane without compunction. They have gradually ceased to be the characters they were before, no longer Cooper and Diane, they are now Richard and Linda. “My Prayer” played after the apocalypse in Episode #8, and it plays again in a kind of apocalypse here. For Diane, this intimacy, which she may have wanted for so long, is nightmarish. She is not having sex with the man closest to her in the world, but a stranger. She covers Cooper’s face, trying to block out the divide between the man she knows and the stranger inside her, but this is of no use. She has already left the next morning. In her note, Diane writes, “When you read this I will be gone. Do not try to find me. I don’t recognize you anymore. Whatever it was we had together is over.” Diane speaks of herself as Linda and Cooper as Richard, but the names are alien to him – he is losing his character without realizing it, still thinking of himself as Dale Cooper.

On the very good podcast devoted to the show, “The Lodgers” and this last episode, “Enjoy Yourself, It’s Later Than You Think”, the unsettling alienation in this scene, the distance of the viewer from the two in bed, the coldness of Cooper to Diane, and Diane’s pushing the image of Cooper away from her, is discussed in the context of Diane having been raped by Cooper’s doppelganger, and this is her reliving the horrific experience. If I cannot agree with this, it’s because Diane’s reaction to Cooper from the very start of being re-united with this man, after the Naido mask falls off, should be that of revulsion; this is the face of the man who raped me. We are given the opposite, with Diane warmly embracing him with a long, deep kiss. Before they make the jump to this new universe, it is Diane who wants to kiss him before they might cease to exist, before they might be irrevocably changed. She loves this man, cherishes every aspect of this man – and this man is lost to her in the next world. Twin Peaks: The Return is about the falseness of trying to hold onto and sustain the evanescent and keep the past in amber, with our return continually foiled, a river where we are unable to step into again in the same place, and both of these characters play on this. Cooper is not Cooper for most of the series, and when he finally returns, the suffering and loss he must feel is seemingly unfelt – such suffering would affect him so much he could no longer be his reprised character. Diane became a mythic figure in the original series, and this off-stage figure is now brought on-stage, yet we are left with the question of what Diane’s essential qualities even are. Was the hair of the real Diane, the Diane before all of this – red, gray, or something else? What should be a defining element in her life, what makes someone hate their attacker for being able to affect them, to define them, is absent. Either it was the tulpa Diane who was raped, the tulpa Diane lied about being raped, or this Diane now has no memory of it ever taking place. “Do you remember everything?” asks Cooper, and when Diane replies with absolute certainty, “Yes,” we’re not sure at all of the degree of truth or falseness.

Twin Peaks The Return - Diane with hands on Cooper's face

Twin Peaks The Return - Diane in agony

Twin Peaks The Return - note Diane left

After Cooper has taken Laura away, but before she slips from his grasp, we are given a scene of Sarah Palmer grabbing the high school portrait of Laura and violently smashing at the glass. This feels like a true moment, a mother who loves her daughter, but also hates her for the unending anguish she has suffered over her death – yet it’s also a prelude to what takes place after Diane leaves the story. This is the homecoming queen picture of Laura Palmer that appeared at the end of nearly every episode of the original Twin Peaks, and briefly flashes on at the opening of each episode of The Return. The iconic power of the photo lies in its youthful beauty ending in death, beauty in the stasis of youth, trapped forever under glass. It is not simply a photo of a beautiful young woman, but also a photo of a woman who will never grow old – death is an inextricable part of it, just as death is part of the alchemy which gives photos of Marilyn Monroe their power. When Sarah Palmer smashes this portrait, she foreshadows what is to come, as she is literally breaking the frame. First, Cooper and Diane escape the strictures of their characters, and then Coop finds a resurrected Laura Palmer, not a silent image of beauty on which we might impose our riddles, but an older woman, living a squalid, mundane life in Odessa, Texas.

Twin Peaks The Return - Sarah Palmer breaking the frame

Laura Palmer overwhelmed the plots of Twin Peaks, so that every story ended up being refracted through her, or intertwined with her tragedy, her death becoming a kind of Ice-9 which held fast all life. The returning characters of the original do not ricochet off of each other as do the characters of all soap operas, but rather, almost all remain isolated atoms, engaged in a kind of fuzzy wobbling, a compromise between a reprise of these characters as they were, which requires a stasis, and something more dynamic, which would go against their having remained exactly as they were for so long. The momentum of these characters is the momentum of the past, and that momentum is connected with the great tragedy of Laura Palmer. This is through the lens of the expected viewer, not the town itself, which appears to have entirely forgotten the murder of the beauty queen and the mysterious disappearance of the investigating FBI agent. Our focus remains on the same points where time stopped a quarter century ago, and this is not subjective, but exactly how the new episodes are structured.

We are given at the end of several episodes scenes in the Roadhouse featuring characters that might well have been part of the original series, or whose dramas might have dominated this one, if they had any link to the original constellation of people surrounding the death of Laura Palmer. There are the two girls in Episode #9, Ella and Chloe, who talk about “The Zebra” now being out of jail, a figure named “The Penguin” being around, while Ella scratches at a mysterious rash. There are the two girls in Episode #12, Abbie and Natalie, gossiping about Angela, who might be with Clark, who is also definitely hooking up with Mary. Episode #14 has Megan telling Sophie about the very event which Audrey dreamed about, Billy in her kitchen bleeding profusely, seemingly seized by a spell, and that Sophie’s mother is Tina, Audrey’s rival for Billy. Sophie warns Megan about getting high in the “nuthouse”, another slang for trap house, one assumes.

Twin Peaks The Return - Roadhouse Ella

Twin Peaks The Return - Roadhouse Chloe

Ella and Chloe.

Twin Peaks The Return - Abbie

Twin Peaks The Return - Abbie pt2

Twin Peaks The Return - Natalie

Abbie and Natalie.

Twin Peaks The Return - Megan

Twin Peaks The Return - Sophie

Megan and Sophie.

Twin Peaks The Return - James Hurley on stage

Twin Peaks The Return - James Hurley on stage

James Hurley and Renee.

None of these characters ever return, and the stories they tell simply drift off, plotlines that might have become dominant if they had taken place in the first Twin Peaks series, or moved to the forefront if they were intertwined with the mysteries of Laura Palmer and Dale Cooper. Ella’s rash arouses interest if it’s a manifestation of the Black Lodge creeping into life again – when it’s simply a troubled girl with a rash, it’s of no interest at all. When James Hurley plays “You and I”, the song carries the weight of the past, the song he played alongside Maddie Palmer and Donna Hayward, rivals for his love. The past, and these bygone characters, are more in focus than Renee, the much younger girlfriend of James, this woman of the present playing a marginal, almost anonymous role. The show is obsessed with the past, the viewers are obsessed with the past, Cooper is obsessed with the past – and Laura Palmer embodies this past. When Cooper seeks out Carrie Page, he does so for one reason, having nothing to do with the inherent qualities of Carrie, but because she embodies this past as well – somehow, she is the resurrection of Laura Palmer.

Cooper reaches her via a diner named Judy’s, and an electric pole marked with a “6”, like the one in Fire Walk With Me by the Fat Trout trailer park. Lynch has the extraordinary ability of investing the American mundane with magic, the most commonplace of items and mass market franchises suddenly buzzing with sinister omen or beautiful possibility. However, these signs are imbued with power only because of their association with the now extinct story of Laura Palmer, like words in a dead language now spoken only by Cooper. No music or sounds of crackling electricity start up when Cooper sees these signs, despite their obvious importance – that world of magic is now dead. He is confronted by three cowboys in Judy’s and his skills remain lightning fast and deadly – yet those skills were also still there when he was Dougie Jones. We already notice that something vital is missing – that some human warmth or empathy is gone. He drinks his coffee, and the identifier that we eagerly expect, and that we waited for while he was Dougie Jones – “Damn fine coffee!” – is gone, along with all markers of the personality he once had.

Twin Peaks The Return - Judy's

Twin Peaks The Return - Cooper sees six on the pole

Twin Peaks The Return - number six on the pole

When Cooper reaches Carrie Page, she is in the midst of what is either a tragedy or a crime, a man shot dead in her living room. Cooper is as indifferent to these extraordinary events as we are to Ellen’s rash or Billy’s hemorrhaging. His obsession remains only with Laura Palmer, and his focus on Carrie Page is only because of her link to this dead woman. The smallest sign of such a link, like a white horse figurine on a mantel, is invested with greater importance than a dead man in the living room. Cooper has broken the Laura Palmer story and now he plans to return it to a repaired state, with this Laura Palmer re-united with her mother. He takes Carrie Page with him on a long drive during which he is almost entirely silent. He is neither cruel nor sleazy, there is no hint that this is Mr. C – he is simply cold to the rest of the world. “I tried to keep a clean house, keep everything organized,” Carrie says, wanting to start a conversation, wanting to speak about her problems to someone, anyone, even this stranger. “In those days I was too young to know any better.” But Cooper says nothing. Laura Palmer has ceased to exist as an icon, and yet remains an icon inside Cooper. The real woman next to him is incidental. He has both escaped from the story of Twin Peaks and not escaped at all. The entire landscape is now alien to him, as it was to Audrey Horne, and the only thing still alive is the world of the past, trapped in his head.

Twin Peaks The Return - Laura Palmer as Carrie Page answers the door

Twin Peaks The Return - Dale observes the scene

Twin Peaks The Return - wreckage at Carrie's house

Twin Peaks The Return - white horse

A car passes them, then follows them, and though some might read something sinister in this, I do not. I think this may be the second Diane who we briefly see outside the motel – and I find it hard to read anything sinister in that figure either. Again, I consider Diane to be Cooper’s equal in many things, including his deductive powers and knowledge of the mystic aspects of the universe, and it may be that Diane has somehow re-entered this world without her personality disappearing. Perhaps this second Diane is a tulpa she created for emergency purposes, or some other mystical technique that did not show up in our excursions with Cooper. What is important is that I don’t think Diane sees Cooper’s mission here as anything other than his private doom. She may wish to avert it, to save someone she loves, but she cannot conceive how to do so without making things worse. She lets him go on with his foolish quest, and stops following him.

But: here is another possibility, one more attractive to me. That the supernatural life we associate with Twin Peaks is now entirely gone from this world. That the strange moment at the motel is simply a woman, Linda, suddenly seeing herself in her car, before she sleeps with this man at this motel. That she is briefly both inside and outside herself before this precipitous moment, and we are given this visually. She pictures herself, outside, looking at herself in this car, at this motel, about to sleep with this man – the kind of moment that we might well find in the short stories of John Cheever or Alice Munro about some furtive tryst. And Linda reacts in a way consistent to this, that the woman outside is not some transgressor, some intruder, some disturbing vision, but a trick of her mind. And the car behind is equally unconnected to any larger system. It’s like a story about Angela and Clark, or Ella’s rash; a small, unusual occurrence and nothing else, the kind that is a dull commonplace. “Something weird happened on the way to Jane’s…this car followed us for a full minute or so.” “And then what happened?” “Nothing. It just followed us…and then it passed us.” “That’s it?” “That’s all. Then we made it to Jane’s.” “That’s…an exciting story.”

Twin Peaks The Return - Diane sees her double

Twin Peaks The Return - Diane's double

Twin Peaks The Return - followed

The landscape Carrie and Dale drive through is unsettling, but not due to any malign force, but for the overwhelming sense of isolation and loneliness. You can suddenly become very aware of the coldness of the world when driving through America at night, the only warmth being that which you bring with you, and of which these two desperate souls in this car possess none. They reach the Palmers’ house, and Cooper discovers that in breaking the “story of the little girl who lived down the lane”, they have annihilated something far greater. There is now no record of the Palmers ever having lived in the house. The house is now owned by Alice Tremond, who bought it from the Chalfonts. The Tremonds, mother and son, appear in the original Twin Peaks and re-appear in Fire Walk With Me as the Chalfonts, denizens of the Black Lodge, who rented the trailer where Chet Desmond found the ring which caused him to disappear.

Twin Peaks The Return - Dale and Laura at the Tremond house

Twin Peaks The Return - Alice Tremond

There is the possibility that in taking Laura away from her story, Cooper has allowed the evil of the Black Lodge to take over the town, but I do not see this. The Chalfonts are disturbing figures, but they also deliberately help Laura as best they can. To speak of them as malign in the ways that BOB or others are malevolent is a lousy fit. There is no sense of Alice Tremond being anything other than what she appears to be, a woman without sinister or disturbing undertones, lacking in subterfuge or guile, only someone who is a little impatient and mildly upset at being disturbed late at night by strangers. The landscape Cooper has returned to is one with which he now has no familiarity. It has become a world absent everything he knew, even its magic. This Alice Tremond isn’t part of a sinister family, or the Black Lodge, but is just a bland, ordinary homeowner. Here, the Chalfonts are just the Chalfonts, the Tremonds are just the Tremonds, a car in the night is just a car in the night, a vision at a motel is just the brief pang of doubt before sleeping with someone. Cooper’s only home has been a story that has now disappeared. He has become lost in the most familiar place, his compass broken, his memories those of a now imaginary world. He has ended up in the isolated space of Audrey Horne, her character gone, and having lost all sense of time. “What year is this?” asks Cooper. Whatever pain causes Carrie Page to now scream out in terror is either from a past Cooper is entirely indifferent to, or connected to a place that now exists only as an absence, a vanished landscape that he is uncertain ever existed, far far away from where he has now been stranded, trapped in a world without grace or magic.

The paragraph on who Charlie is was added on September 13, 2017. On September 17, 2017, the paragraph on Diane and “The Lodgers” podcast was added.

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David Lynch’s Lost Highway: Who is Dick Laurent?

(Obviously, there are spoilers – but the post is so focused on certain details of the movie that it will be incomprehensible to those who have not seen the film. Since I assume anyone who has interest in what follows has seen Lost Highway, I give no summary of its plot, but simply plunge into a few of its intriguing aspects. As usual, for convenience sake, the post title omits the name of one of the writers: his name is Barry Gifford, and though I have not had the fortune to read many of his works, I have read his memoir, Phantom Father, and it is excellent. For quotes, I rely on the original draft script, as well as a transcript of the film – the movie differs often from its draft screenplay. The blog A Few Years in the Absolute Elsewhere was kind enough to mention this post in their insightful essay on Lost Highway, “Funny How Secrets Travel: Revisiting David Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997)”, and I make a small attempt to return the favor.)

Possibly David Lynch’s darkest movie, it is from beginning to end the world of a sociopath: the color palette is greys, browns, yellows that are sickly, greens that are hospitally, a few reds that are always ominous. There is something essential missing in this man, Fred Madison, and there is something essential missing in the colors of the movie. A question I’ve had for a while about Highway is in the post title: why does the movie take the time to establish that the same character, played by Robert Loggia, doing a great job as usual, has two separate and distinct names, Mr. Eddy and Dick Laurent? This man is a brazen, intimidating figure with armed guards; he has no need for the discrete cover of a secret identity, and the movie gives us no hint that one identity is a cover for the other, does not give us any explanation at all – he simply appears to be known by two names without connection to any other. The answer provided on the film’s wikipedia page, is, surprisingly, completely wrong: “Arriving at a cabin in the desert, Alice reveals to Pete that Mr. Eddy is actually a porn producer named Dick Laurent and he forced her to do the films.”1 There is a flashback (at a much earlier hotel rendezvous, not at the cabin) where she first meets Eddy and she is forced at gunpoint to take off her clothes – but no mention is made of his name. Additionally, there’s no evidence that she’s coerced into making these movies, and this complicity is a crucial point.

I think Lost Highway is a simpler movie than some believe it to be (though that doesn’t detract from its quality), and I think the reason behind the names used for this character is simple as well. Highway, as most concede, is about a man who, after killing his wife, enters a fantasy world where he is now a younger, more virile character, who gets to have sex with a woman who is a double of the wife he could not perform with. It is world of denial and forgetting, where a man is able to deny his responsibility for his wife’s murder by blocking all memories of it, where everyone else is the villain, and he is the victim. If it is enjoyed less than some of Lynch’s other work, it is because there is only one character, Fred Madison, and his double Pete Dayton; his wife is a distant enigma to him, and the characters of the fantasy world are variations on those of his past life, his projections, the people he wants them to be. This, I think, is the reason for the two names, Dick Laurent and Mr. Eddy, of this character. Fred Madison, a few days before killing his wife, killed the man he suspected was her lover, and this man is Dick Laurent. Just as Alice Wakefield is a fantasy variation of Renee, Mr. Eddy is such a variation on Laurent.

Before I go into this important point, I’d first just like to clarify what’s a confusing, and deliberately mysterious element of the film: the layout of the Madison house.

FRED AND RENEE’S: A MAP

The Madison house is a great background for the first part of the movie, because it seems labyrinthine, a place whose mysterious corners the characters can get lost in, though its layout is simple, consistent (no tricks which add or remove rooms), and mapped without difficulty, allowing us to easily place the action at its various points.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

Two polar points on the house seem to be presented as the domains of Fred and Renee, respectively, the rehearsal space and the bathroom. We only ever see Fred in the rehearsal room, and when Fred enters the bathroom while Renee removes her make-up, she gives him a hard stare in the mirror until he leaves.

I go through various parts of the first part of the film and give physical context for some action, where such context is ambiguous or where such context might offer additional insight.

The movie opens with Fred in the dark, on his side of the bed, smoking. The curtains, which are operated by an automatic mechanism to open at a specific time in the morning, open, and we now see Fred reflected in the mirror.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

He gets up to answer the intercom, then goes down the corridor, so effectively used in this movie, to the living room, to peek out at whoever left the message. He moves from window to window, before reaching the window of the rehearsal space.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

A small note: some have speculated that this intercom message, and this whole scene happens the morning of Renee’s murder. I don’t believe this is the case, but I don’t know whether there’s any direct evidence that I could cite to refute this. I should mention, however, that the last time we see Fred and Renee before they enter their house the night of the murder, the car is parked in the street. When Fred looks out this morning, there’s no sign of his own car in the street.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

Fred gets his equipment ready for his gig in the rehearsal room, Renee comes out of the hall, Fred walks from the music room to Renee, the living room fireplace in the background:

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

When he calls the house that night, we see the phones in the living room,

David Lynch's Lost Highway

the rehearsal space,

David Lynch's Lost Highway

Renee’s side of the bed,

David Lynch's Lost Highway

When he comes home from the gig, we see him ascend the stairs, then turn down the corridor to the bedroom. He sees his wife asleep on her side of the bed.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

Fred’s dream involves him emerging from the corridor, then turning about in slow motion from the perspective of the fireplace to the stairs – yet I’m never sure if he’s at all times in the same place, or if he is moving through the twists of the corridor, back to the bedroom.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

He sees the fireplace burning with a speeded up fire.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

He may then turn around to the other side of the room to see smoke ascend from the staircase. This smoke might be thought of as an intruder into the house – always the evil without, never within. Then, we have a further ambiguity, because the camera then travels down the hall, as if it were taking the perspecive of this smoke moving through the corridor, yet we cut back to Fred, turning, either still in the living room, or navigating the twists of this hallway. We then reach the bedroom, and Renee raises her hands in fear.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway - the strange ominous dream

The morning that the second videotape arrives, Renee goes out to get it. Fred, however, is up already, entering the living room from the direction of his music room.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

The second videotape carries an unexpected detail: we would assume that the cameraholder would move from the area of the staircase to the Madisons’ bedroom, but the motion instead is from the rehearsal space, Fred’s domain, across the living room to the corridor. Right before the Madisons sit down to watch the videotape, Fred will walk the very path that the camera appears to take, moving from where he emerges out of the living room to the corridor leading to the bedroom.

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Lost Highway: crossing the living room.

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On the night of the muder, Fred goes inside the house to make sure it’s safe. The phone is ringing. We see Fred move through the corridor.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

Then, the camera moves from the phone out into the hall, as if following a spirit that’s been trasmitted from the device into the house. This spirit seemingly meets Fred, who is very scared of it, and a look crosses his face as if he’s been given an order he doesn’t want to follow but is afraid to refuse.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

Fred re-enters the house with Renee, Renee takes her makeup off, and gives Fred the already mentioned cold look. Fred moves down the dark corridor.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

We have now one of the more ambiguous and, for me at least, most disturbing, moments of the film – Fred appears to be at the end of the corridor which opens into the living room. We do not expect a mirror to be here, yet Fred now encounters his reflection. Perhaps the viewer has misplaced where Fred is in the house, or perhaps this is not a reflection at all: this is Fred meeting his double. This double comes, expectedly, from the direction of Fred’s space, the music room.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

This moment is echoed when Pete walks into an engulfing darkness, seemingly apart from any space in the house, and touches the head abrasion that he suffered when he was transported into this life.

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Lost Highway: reflections.

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Alice calls for her husband, just as she did in Fred’s dream, from the bedroom’s edge of the corridor.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

This, however, is not quite a re-play of the dream. There, the fireplace was lit with an accelerated fire. Now, the fireplace is vacant. Fred may have met his double in the earlier sequence; now we see a pair of shadows move across the living room walls, again, from the position of Fred’s space, the music room, towards the corridor.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway - shadows move across the room

We now see Fred emerge from the hall, into the bedroom.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

The camera pulls back from a bordered darkness – but this is not the hall. It’s the next morning, and this is the Madisons’ television.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS

It is helpful to look at the way Alice Wakefield2 is portrayed before getting to Dick Laurent. Alice belongs to a fantasy world that Fred constructs for himself, one where he hopes to find a happiness that eludes him in his present state. Before reaching this fantasy world, we see Fred often looking upward, as if for some kind of deliverance.

This begins after the cops arrive, Fred looking up while following some mysterious noise, only to see one of the cops near a skylight.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

He makes the same gesture on the morning that the last tape is delivered, before he starts watching it.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

When in prison, he looks up, but his way is, literally, barred: any salvation is blocked.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

Fred looks up from his bed in his prison cell and sees only the light of a lightbulb, a dim fraction of the salving light he looks for. The bulb itself is behind a grill:

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

He is forced to look up in the prison hospital, in order to take a sedative – a kind of release, a kind of escape, but a brief and shallow one.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

Back in his cell, he looks again up at the light, then turns to the prison wall, which unfolds like a curtain upon a cabin which returns to its form after its destruction. The same process will take place with Fred: he is now in prison, his life destroyed, yet somehow, impossibly, he will return to life. Out of the cabin appears the Mystery Man; Fred’s deliverance will come, not from god, but this force of malevolence.

Fred is in his prison cell, and there is a great noise, and a light, much like some divine visitation. Again, Fred looks upward, and this time he is delivered. Fred is given a vision, of Pete Dayton outside his house, entranced by something, as his parents and girlfriend call out to him, as if he were trapped in another world. Fred shakes with a massive convulsion, as if a new existence were being birthed out of his head, and we might repeat that phrase with an addendum: as if a new existence were being birthed out of his head, literally.

David Lynch's Lost Highway - Pete Dayton is in a trance

David Lynch's Lost Highway

Fred is re-born as Pete into this new world, but it is not a fully constructed one. His focus is on sating his lust for the wife who is not quite his wife, Alice, the double of Renee, and other parts are left awry, a telling clue that this is all fantasy.

This shows up most clearly with his parents, who seem sketched in, an afterthought, not quite animated by actual credible life, and sometimes disappearing altogether3.

They sit on a couch, watching a banal, ancient documentary on berry picking:

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

Later, speaking to Pete about the mysterious circumstances of his disappearance, they sit in their living room, without any light on.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

Pete leaves his room to go out, looks around the house to say goodbye, but his parents are gone.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

He speaks to Eddy on the phone, his parents standing right there in front of him, and then, suddenly, they disappear.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

In this fantasy world, Alice is Renee with all the virtues and vices Fred wants. She is beautiful, and sexually hungry, but, of course, in this world, he is able to satisfy her. She is also deceptive, malicious, wanton, mendacious – he wants these qualities in her as well, as they vindicate Fred’s view of this woman and her murder. The creation of this very fantasy, the very thing he wants, a sexually ravenous lover who will betray him, is the very thing that will destroy the fantasy. He wants this woman to lead him into murder, because it cannot possibly be his fault that he killed anyone, and she must be deceptive, so that even if he did kill her, she had it coming. These very elements lead to the movie’s nightmarish end, where the qualities Fred wants in this woman bring about a murder where he ends up chased by the police. Long before things fall apart, Fred may have a sense that whatever world he dreams up, it will disappoint him. He arrives in his new life, and we see him relaxed in the backyard of his parents’ home, the only scene of bright, rich color in all of Highway. He should be blissfully happy, and yet he gets up, looks over the fence at the neighboring house, and ponders the life next door.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

Just as Fred looks for deliverance in his cell and sees only the false light of the bulb, Fred creates another image of false light in Alice, an incandescent creature with glowing blonde hair. In their second meeting, she is a bright beacon, dressed all in white. We might look at her shoes here as part of this fantasy design as well; we might refer to these heels as ultrahigh, vertiginous, insane, or, doubtlessly how Fred sees them, slutty.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

He is drawn to this light, like a moth, and it will end him. We are given this very image in Pete’s room, as the face of Alice twists around the room, and then we cut to the room’s bulb:

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Lost Highway: like a moth drawn to a flame.

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Throughout the Pete Dayton sequence, we see images of Renee played again, but skewed, so as to give them a different cast, always of a sinister, malevolent femme fatale.

A close-up of Renee’s lips when she’s on the phone to the cops:

David Lynch's Lost Highway

A close-up of her eyes when watching the tape:

David Lynch's Lost Highway

In both images, we see a deeply frightened woman. When the images recur as Alice, they are of a woman rabid with lust, betraying her husband, Mr. Eddy.

The mouth:

David Lynch's Lost Highway

The eyes:

David Lynch's Lost Highway

We might take this specific contrast even further, by giving the full context of some of these images: a pan over Renee’s face when she’s on the phone to the cops that is mirrored in Alice’s phone call to Pete; one moves from Renee’s mouth to her eyes, the other from Alice’s eyes to her mouth.

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Lost Highway: those eyes, that mouth.

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We see a shot of Renee, overhead, unsatisfied, after Fred’s failed attempt at sex.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

There is a very similar overhead, later, Alice’s face lying in bed, only now she’s asking Pete to help rob her friend:

David Lynch's Lost Highway

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Lost Highway: "I'll ask Andy to fix me a drink."

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ALICE
I’ll set it up for tomorrow night. You’ll meet me at his place at eleven o’clock… Don’t drive there… Take a bus … Make sure no one follows you…His address is easy to remember… It’s 2224 Deep Dell Place… It’s a white stucco job on the south side of the street… I’ll be upstairs with Andy…The back door will be open… That leads into the kitchen – go through the kitchen to the living room – there’s a bar there… At eleven fifteen, I’ll ask Andy to fix me a drink… When he does, you can crack him in the head… Okay?

Of course, there is the contrast of Fred and Renee trying to make love, their lips never touching, and the passionate embrace of Pete and Alice near the end:

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Lost Highway: song for the siren.

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Renee is friends with Andy, a skeevy type who Fred does not like at all. On the ride home, Fred asks his wife how they know each other. It involved work at a place called Moke’s:

FRED
How’d you meet that asshole, Andy, anyway?

Renee stares out the front window – thinks back.

RENEE
It was a long time ago…I met him at this place called Moke’s…We…became friends…He told me about a job…

FRED
What job?

RENEE
I don’t remember…Anyway, Andy’s okay…

FRED
He’s got some fucked up friends.

Pete asks Alice how she got mixed up with her unsavory ring of friends, and the story touches on the same points as Renee’s, but here they fill in the details of what she did at Moke’s, exactly according to Fred’s fantasy of this woman: she is a whore. The job at Moke’s his wife never talked about involved her making pornography, and Alice liked making it.

PETE
How’d you get in with these fuckin’ people?

ALICE
Pete… Don’t…

PETE
How’d it happen, Alice?

ALICE
It was a long time ago…I met someone at this place called Moke’s…we became friends. He told me about a job…

PETE
In pornos?

ALICE
No… A job…I didn’t know what. He set up an appointment for me to see a man.

(we have the lengthy scene where she’s forced to strip at gunpoint, we then cut back to Alice and Pete)

Alice’s hand reaches up and strokes Pete’s cheek.

PETE
Why didn’t you just leave?

Alice doesn’t say anything. She drops her hand – looks down.

PETE (CON’T)
You liked it.

ALICE
If you want me to go away, I’ll go away.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

Alice not only liked making these pornos, she married the man who forced her to take off her clothes with a gun to her head. She’s a woman who respects force, who likes it rough.

Since Fred sees her as a lying, malicious bitch, it should be expected that this woman is happy to set him up for the murder:

David Lynch's Lost Highway

PETE
We killed him.

ALICE
You killed him.

They travel to the cabin in Andy’s car, which, for some reason, looks very similar to that of Fred’s.

This is Fred’s:

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

This is Andy’s:

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

This car ride involves a series of shots that’s almost an exact mirror of the scene of Fred and Renee driving from the party – both in the shot, close-up of Alice, close-up of Pete; the original ride has both in the shot, close-up of Renee, close-up of Fred, two-shot again. In the original car conversation, Fred assails his wife with a series of suspicious questions about Andy, about Moke’s, questions that exhaust her. The second conversation shows us how Fred sees himself, as Pete, the perpetual victim of this treacherous woman, dragged further and further into this criminal enterprise – he’s very scared, she’s coldly confident.

I quote again the conversation, about Moke’s, in the first car ride.

FRED
How’d you meet that asshole, Andy, anyway?

Renee stares out the front window – thinks back.

RENEE
It was a long time ago…I met him at this place called Moke’s…We…became friends…He told me about a job…

FRED
What job?

RENEE
I don’t remember…Anyway, Andy’s okay…

FRED
He’s got some fucked up friends.

The conversation in the second car ride:

PETE
Where the fuck are we going, Alice? Where the fuck are we going?

ALICE
We have to go to the desert, baby. The fence I told you about…He’s at his cabin.

Here is a sequence of the images from both car rides, a pairing of almost exact symmetry – the first car ride ends with the two characters in the shot, the second car ride does not:

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

DICK LAURENT IS DEAD

Only one set of characters refers to Eddy as Dick Laurent, and those are the cops surveilling Pete. The first time takes place when Eddy goes to the garage:

David Lynch's Lost Highway

AL
Lou, you recognize that guy?

LOU
Yeah…Laurent.

The identification is made only one other time, at Andy’s murder scene:

David Lynch's Lost Highway

AL
Ed… Take a look at this!

ED
Yeah. That’s her all right. That’s Fred Madison’s wife with Dick Laurent.

This, of course, raises the question – how does Fred know that Eddy is also called Dick Laurent, famously saying at the film’s end, “Dick Laurent is dead” when he never hears such information?

Just as the unfaithful wife he cannot satisfy is turned into a vicious femme fatale, Fred turns Renee’s lover into someone else to justify his killing; Dick Laurent becomes the homicidal lunatic Mr. Eddy. We are, however, so engulfed in Fred’s own fantasy world, that we’re unable to even see the distinction between the actual man and created character. Unable to see that when Fred assaults and kidnaps Laurent, then cuts his throat, this man has perhaps no connection to the crime world whatsoever, but whose only transgression is having an affair with Renee.

Following the scene in the Mystery Man’s cabin, we suddenly jump to the “Lost Highway Hotel”, with no explanation as to why Fred has gone there. His wife and Dick Laurent are in room #26, and he takes room #25.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

He carries with him the gun Alice gave him, because of course he is never a violent man, only an instrument of others. His wife leaves, and he storms into the room with the gun, knocking Laurent unconscious, then taking him to the desert.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

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Lost Highway: "You're coming with me!"

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After Fred cuts the man’s throat, he stands over him with his double and helper, the Mystery Man. As Laurent waits for some explanation for why this has happened to him, the Mystery Man hands him a console showing him video playback. Earlier in the film, we had this crucial and well-known exchange between Fred, Renee and the detectives:

AL (to Renee)
Do you own a video camera?

RENEE
No. Fred hates them.

The Detectives both look at Fred.

FRED
I like to remember things my own way.

AL
What do you mean by that?

FRED
How I remember them. Not necessarily the way they happened.

The Mystery Man now shows Dick Laurent Fred’s own memories, of how he wanted things to happen, of the man he wants Laurent to be: Mr. Eddy, a sexual pervert, a mobster, a monstrosity.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

He kills Dick Laurent, and leaves the body in the desert.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

Because Laurent’s body is lost in the desert, Andy has no idea that Laurent is dead. We might also note that during this conversation, the moment after Andy brings up Laurent’s name (“He’s a friend of Dick Laurent, I think”), and Fred repeats it (“Dick Laurent?”), we cut to Renee; what connection does she have with Laurent that we cut to her now? When she joins the conversation, for reasons either deliberate or accidental, Laurent’s name goes unmentioned – as if either Andy or Fred know that she’s having an affair with this man, and don’t want to provoke a reaction by speaking of him as dead.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

FRED
Andy, who’s the guy on the stairs? Guy in black?

ANDY
I don’t know his name. He’s a friend of Dick Laurent, I think.

FRED (troubled)
Dick Laurent?

ANDY
Yeah. I believe so.

FRED
But Dick Laurent is dead, isn’t he?

ANDY
He is? I didn’t think you knew Dick. How do you know he’s dead?

FRED
I don’t. I don’t know him.

ANDY
Dick can’t be dead. Who told you he was dead?

RENEE
Who, honey? Who’s dead?

FRED
Let’s go home.

The killing of Laurent also gives significance to the images of the desert that recur throughout the movie, seemingly for no reason at all – Fred has suppressed his memory of the killing, just as he has managed to forget his killing Renee, yet both rise to the surface. He has visions of Renee’s dead body when he is Pete, in Pete’s room, and the memory of the surrounding desert returns again and again, beginning when Alice comes back to the garage, then again when they have a rendezvous at a hotel.

David Lynch's Lost Highway - Pete dissolve to the desert - URL if gif doesn't load: http://gfycat.com/SolidBrilliantCrab

David Lynch's Lost Highway - Desert dissolves to Alice - URL if gif doesn't load: http://gfycat.com/SlightSecondAmericanlobster

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Lost Highway: sunrise, sunset.

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The two glimpses of the desert, and the shot of the mountains after we move up from Laurent’s body.

We also see this memory surface explicitly at another moment: Pete sees the photo of both Renee and Alice together at Andy’s house, and his nose starts to bleed. He rushes to the upstairs bathroom, and he’s suddenly in the hall of the hotel. There’s room #25 where he lay in wait, and there’s room #26, the very room where we see Renee and Laurent in bed. When he opens that door, he sees his wife, a nasty, sarcastic vixen, having sex, betraying him.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

During the killing of Laurent, though we see Fred as Fred, I think he still thinks of himself as Pete: the man who does these murderous deeds is always someone else, not him, not Fred, who’s somehow gotten blamed for these killings. We note the almost magical quality of Pete’s clothes: though Fred and Pete are men of very different height and bulk, somehow Pete’s clothes fit Fred without difficulty. We note also what the Mystery Man yells at Fred, that Alice is Renee, as if this name would be unfamiliar to him. The Mystery Man demands of this man his name. Though we see him as Fred, this is a man still playing a part.

FRED / PETE
Where’s Alice?

MYSTERY MAN
Alice who? Her name is Renee. If she told you her name is Alice, she’s lying. And your name? What the fuck is your name?!

There is now a cut back to the detectives at Andy’s mansion, who discover Pete Dayton’s prints all round the murder scene. Conveniently, they connect this killing to that of Renee: Fred isn’t guilty of that murder, it was always Pete Dayton who was the guilty one.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

ED
Hey, Al, look at this.

(a shot of the framed picture of Laurent, Andy, and Renee together)

AL
It’s her, all right. Fred Madison’s wife … with Dick Laurent and Mr. Dent-head over there.

AL
We’ve got Pete Dayton’s prints all over this place.

ED
You know what I think?

AL
What’s that, Ed?

ED
There’s no such thing as a bad coincidence.

So, we have Pete who somehow is the villain all along, and Fred is blameless. Pete is the one who killed Renee, Andy, and Laurent. Fred kills Laurent, leaves him in the desert, yet he imagines himself as Pete doing this, Pete delivering the message to Fred that Laurent is dead. Pete is a stranger, Fred does not know this man, yet somehow he is also his servant, doing his bidding, killing this man he wanted dead, and then delivering the news.

The cryptic opening shot of Fred at the beginning, smoking in the dark, is him in the dawn after he has actually killed Laurent. He has entirely blocked out what he has done, and yet he somehow feels what he has done. The knowledge of his wife’s betrayal and his part in the death cast a shadow on him, and his expression is grim. In this movie of doubles and reflections, where we find it difficult to distinguish between what is Fred’s life and his fantasy world, this opening shot of Fred staring into the camera is actually a shot of his reflection in the bedroom mirror.

David Lynch's Lost Highway

David Lynch's Lost Highway

The bedroom mirror is clearly seen in this shot:

David Lynch's Lost Highway

I will raise one last possibility, of which there is little evidence, but I find tantalizing nonetheless. Though we never see this, I think Fred somehow knew someone like Pete in passing, and decided to try to set him up for the murder of his wife and Laurent, just as Pete ends up fingered as the actual killer by the detectives, at Andy’s mansion. I think Fred paid a hoodlum like Pete some money, then gave him access to his house, either by leaving a door unlocked or providing him some keys, so that he could come in at night and film the outside and inside, then send the videotapes to his address. A mysterious request: but Fred will be pay this man a lot of money for this task, no questions asked. All in order to put the suspicion on this young man for the murder of Renee. Whether Pete stumbled onto the murder as it took place when shooting the last videotape, or whether Fred imagines this last videotape, I have no answer. Again, I have no evidence of this, except one moment, which might give indirect support.

This is a movie with various intricate visual connections, the shots of Renee linked to the shots of Alice. After the killing of Laurent, the Mystery Man whispers something in the ear of Fred, which might be instructions on what to do next. We then move to a close-up of Fred’s eyes. There is, I think, only one other moment where we have a close-up of Fred’s eyes, and that is when they receive the first videotape. I detect in him a different feeling here than in Renee, as if he has been expecting the videotapes to arrive. We have a possible veiled reference to this in the draft script, after they watch the second videotape. My bolds:

Fred and Renee stare at the snowy TV picture. After a few moments of silence, Renee gets up and switches off the set. She is visibly shaken, trembling. She stares fearfully at Fred who seems less disturbed.

Again, as I said, we only have one other close-up of Fred’s eyes, and that’s while they watch the tape. Here are the close-ups of Fred after the Mystery Man whispers to him, and then when he watches the tape with his wife:

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Lost Highway: "You're coming with me!"

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Renee’s eyes show fear. Perhaps Fred’s show something else: a sense of a plan slowly going into effect, a plan both known and unknown, the memory there and the memory suppressed, of his criminal acts, and the blood he’s shed.

ADDENDUM: THE KILLERS INSIDE ME

Within this movie are two men, one a suspected killer, the other a man who killed many. The Mystery Man was played by Robert Blake, an actor who appeared to have had a blessed start in life as a child actor in Treasure of the Sierra Madre and as a regular on “The Little Rascals”. This blessed life was nothing of the kind. As related in “To Die For”, by the always excellent David Grann, he was beaten and resented by a father who would later kill himself. His “Rascals” co-stars would die in barfights, commit suicide, or become addicted to drugs. Blake would exile himself from his family and become a heroin addict, selling drugs to keep his habit going. He would get three comebacks, once as a young killer in the movie In Cold Blood, once as the star of Baretta, and a final one as the malevolent riddle in Highway. His comebacks would always end in bitterness, and his last would be finished with his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, shot to death in a restaurant. Bakley was a troubled woman who hadn’t been allowed to wash as a child because her grandmother feared running water. She grew up obsessed with the ideal of fame and wanting to marry someone famous, first setting her sights on Jerry Lee Lewis, then on Blake. After her death, a quickie biography was rushed out, a Hollywood scandal tour bus would stop at the place of her last meal, and Hustler published some old nude photographs. This is what she always wanted, her sister would say; “This is what she died for.” Blake would be indicted, found not guilty of the murder, though believed by many to be the killer. His role in Highway is haunting and brilliant work, and at the time of this writing, his last.

In Slavoj Zizek’s “Art of the Ridiculous Sublime: On David Lynch’s Lost Highway”, an analysis of great repute which I find flawed and over-complicated, Zizek identifies the Mr. Eddy figure as a paradoxical law-making jouisseur, a paternal authority who also looks on the world as a carnal feast, there for his unrestrained enjoyment. I disagree: Mr. Eddy is entirely an agent of chaos, and his passion for proper driving etiquette is not evidence of lawgiver authority, but a tic whose aberrance throws the rest of him into absurd contrast, the agent of chaos who doesn’t see himself as such. A similar example might be Joe Cabot in Reservoir Dogs, who insists on proper tipping before heading out to rob a bank.

That I don’t think this label applies to Mr. Eddy, however, does not mean I think the type doesn’t exist. I believe it does apply to someone in Lost Highway, though not to any character, but to one of the cast members: Louis Eppolito, who played Ed, one of the two detectives who visit Fred and Renee.

Lost Highway

Louis Eppolito’s grandfather was Diamond Louie, a man who stole diamonds, fenced goods, and ran prostitutes. He was friends with Lucky Luciano, and three of his sons would join organized crime. The debonair Freddy the Sheik would become a Gambino underboss, Jimmy the Clam became a hitman, and Ralph, Fat the Gangster, was a mafia soldier. Fat the Gangster, a man who hated rats and cops, was Louis’s father. He killed a nightclub owner, he beat his son, and, when a priest slapped his son for causing a disturbance, he sucker punched the priest. When Louis Eppolito went to school, FBI agents investigating his father’s heroin trade would tail him. Joe Profaci, a distinguished mafia eminence, told the son to be like his dad: “You got to grow up and have a lot of honor like your father.” Follow his footsteps, counseled Profaci. “If you want to grow up right, grow up like your daddy.” Louis Eppolito became a cop. In one class, a diagram of the Gambino crime family was used as a teaching aid. Look, said a fellow student to Eppolito, this guy’s got the same name as you, and the fellow student pointed to the diagram node that was Louis Eppolito’s father.

The cops of Lost Highway are Mutt and Jeff pairings, and Eppolito was half of a Mutt and Jeff pairing as well. He was boisterous and physical, a doo wop lover, a former Mr. Universe before his bulk turned to fat. His first partner was Steve Caracappa, a thin, quiet man who wore tailored black suits, pearl tie tacks, and a gold nugget pinkie ring with the NYPD logo. He would go on to be considered one of the best detectives in the department and an expert in organized crime. His cold, always watchful eyes gave him his name: the Prince of Darkness. When Eppolito and Caracappa arrested a member of a gang that was robbing dance clubs, Eppolito dunked the man’s head in a bucket filled with a mixture of hot water and ammonia. When one husband beat his wife, Eppolito didn’t arrest the husband but instead came back to the scene wearing a ski mask and beat the man with a lead pipe. Abused women, according to Eppolito, were an easy source of sex: “Every time we went on a call where a husband smacked his wife, I went back that night and smacked it to her, too. Battered wives were the most vulnerable.” After nearly choking one man to death, he had an affair with the man’s wife, a woman with a gorgeous body who fell a little too hard for the detective: “She was a cop’s dream — until she’d cry and tell me how much she loved me. I knew deep down there was no way in the world I’d consider throwing a ring on this one’s finger.”

Eppolito would describe all these events in his book, Mafia Cop: The Story of an Honest Cop, a memoir which related many fascinating stories from his career, while leaving a few out. Though it was an intriguing story, he did not mention the time jewelry went missing from the scene of a homicide that Eppolito and Caracappa were investigating. When a man was arrested in his office by Caracappa, the arrestee would allege that money and office property were gone; another man would be arrested and handcuffed, then find the three hundred he had on him vanished. A DEA informant told the government that Eppolito dealt drugs. Another informant would allege that Caracappa and a second detective unknown to the informant had offered to show her a copy of a homicide report in return for ten thousand dollars. All these stories went untold, and received no disciplinary actions or censure. All cops, especially busy cops, received complaints – but these complaints seemed out of proportion with the amount of arrests Eppolito and Caracappa were making, and without the usual motivations. You could understand the self-interest of an arrestee lodging a complaint, but why would two separate confidential informants allege that cops they didn’t know were dealing drugs and selling confidential reports?

Mafia Cop closed with the incident that brought Eppolito’s career as a detective to a close. In 1984, after mob boss Carlos Gambino’s nephew was arrested in a drug deal, his house was searched and a confidential NYPD file related to the investigation of Gambino’s nephew was found on the premises. In order to obtain fingerprints from the document, it was placed in a bell jar, and photographed after it was fumed with a corrosive chemical – the chemical would destroy the document shortly after the photographs were taken. The fingerprints were obtained, and they matched Louis Eppolito’s. This was the last, most explosive accusation leveled yet against Eppolito while he was still a cop. The detective was suspended, then transferred to another unit, before retiring in 1990. As said, this was the last, most explosive accusation made towards Eppolito while he was still a cop.

Four years after Eppolito’s retirement, a Luchese underboss named Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso became a federal informant. He confirmed what another mob turncoat, Pete Chiodo, had already revealed: the mob had a source inside the NYPD which gave them access to any and all intelligence they wanted – federal, state, local, anything. They called this source “the crystal ball”. Chiodo was not close enough to this source to reveal who they were, but Casso could. The crystal ball was not one man, but two, and their names were Steve Caracappa and Louis Eppolito.

Lost Highway

Casso was a frightening and deadly man. He had helped many people to their death, and these two detectives had sometimes helped out as well. When Jimmy Bishop, a Luchese associate and head of a painters union, a man who knew enough to do a lot of damage to the Lucheses, became a confidential informant, it was a secret known only to the police department’s Organized Crime Investigation Division. After he began his co-operation with the police, Bishop was shot several times outside his mistress’s house. James Heidel, truck hijacker, Luchese associate, and member of an ace robbery crew known as the Bypass Gang (they could bypass just about any alarm), was another confidential informant. Among many other things, Heidel revealed to his police contact that Luchese underboss Anthony Casso had a source inside the police who shared crucial information, but he didn’t know the name of the detective. A few months later, Heidel had just finished a game of handball and was gong to his car when a man walked up and pulled out a gun. Heidel turned and ran into some on-coming traffic when this man and others started to shoot. Shot several times, Heidel managed to jump onto a passing motorcycle, before being shot again multiple times and then falling off, dead. The Times, the next day: “Another Man Slain in Mob-Style Killing.” It was the eighties, and such daylight murders were happening all the time. A few days later, the crystal ball passed on to Casso a recording that Heidel had made while wearing a wire, proof of his betrayal.

When Casso associate Burton Kapan was involved in a scheme to steal treasury bills and sell them overseas, one person involved in the scheme pocketed money that he should have handed over. This person, Israel Greenwald, had no connections with organized crime and no knowledge that the bills were stolen. The FBI, having caught on to the scheme, convinced him to co-operate and wear a wire. Shortly after, on his way to work, he was pulled over by two police officers who told him he was a suspect in a hit-and-run investigation and needed to appear in a line-up. He was never seen alive again, and more than a decade later his bones were found in the dirt under a parking garage. When an attempt was made on Anthony Casso’s life, he was given the confidential NYPD report on his own attempted murder. The report identified the chief suspect as Jimmy Hydell, head of a mafia crew. Kaplan would later explain that the detectives accepted no payment for handing over this report:

Q: What did Casso ask you?
A: What do I owe them for this? I told him the story that they wouldn’t take no money because someone tried to hurt him, and he shook his head, he said, Boy, that’s really nice of them. They must be pretty good guys.

Jimmy Hydell would be arrested, handcuffed, and disarmed by two cops, who dropped him off in front of a Toys ‘R’ Us, where the detectives taped up Hydell’s legs and stuck a handkerchief in his mouth, before putting him in the trunk of the car of Frank Santora, another Casso associate. Hydell was taken to the basement of a house in Bergen Beach, where he was tortured by Casso and others for several hours. Hydell knew he would die, and pleaded with Casso that his body be left somewhere it could be found, so his mother could collect the life insurance. Casso assured the man he would do so, then shot him multiple times. To this day, Hydell’s body has never been found.

When Casso made these revelations, Eppolito and Caracappa were retired cops living opposite each other in Las Vegas. Eppolito made some money as a bodyguard, and some acting in films such as Goodfellas, State of Grace, Predator 2, and as “Al the Guard” in Switch. He would write the screenplay for Turn of Faith, a movie about a hero cop who is best friends with a mob killer and a priest. The world it depicts is one that is unremittingly cutthroat and profane. The cop beats a man in an alley and gives the mob killer tips on upcoming investigations; the priest says things like, “Get your fucking hands off me, fuckface.” He was hired to write a comedy about a homeless bag lady; he entered talks with LaToya Jackson’s ex-husband, Jack Gordon, about writing Jack Gordon’s autobiography. After Sandy Murphy and Rick Tabish were convicted of killing casino magnate Ted Binion, Eppolito formed a one-man committee, “Citizens to Ensure Justice Is Done”, which bought a full-page ad in a Vegas paper declaring Murphy’s innocence, all in the hopes of getting a screenplay deal out of the woman, which would, of course, tell her side of the story.

This was Eppolito’s post-detective career: acting on the fringes of movies by great directors such as Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, and David Lynch, while writing scripts that were never bought or produced. Jayne McCormick, a former call girl, mortgaged her house to pay him to write a screenplay based on her unpublished autobiography. McCormick saw Reese Witherspoon as a good choice to play the lead, but Eppolito preferred Angelina Jolie. When Eppolito sent over the finished script to McCormick, she was appalled. It was filled with misspellings, typos, and grammatical errors. Eppolito shushed her: a good screenplay didn’t need proper spelling. I Never Met a Stranger: The Jane McCormick Story traced the life of an escort from her difficult beginnings to her time as a rat pack consort. The movie opened with a thuggish man trying to convince his girlfriend to become a prostitute. “It’s gonna be a piece of cake,” the boyfriend said to someone played by either Reese Witherspoon or Angelina Jolie, “Besides, with a body like you have, he’ll cum in two minutes and it will be all over.” Eppolito told McCormick he always wrote a cameo for himself in his scripts, just like Alfred Hitchcock. That’s why Stranger had a scene where a fat man took a prostitute to his hotel room, but passed out before he could have sex. McCormick would end up going bankrupt paying Eppolito for his work. When she called the ex-cop to cuss him out, he would get angry back. “Don’t call me when you’ve been drinking,” he would reply, “You don’t know who you’re dealing with.”

The other movie he was trying to get made was Murder in Youngstown, a crime film set in the notorious Ohio city4, and Eppolito was having more success with this project. He had come across an eager and well-connected investor in Steve Corso, a mob connected accountant. Corso wanted to get into the movie business, and he was also looking to score drugs and girls for some friends coming to Vegas for the weekend. Eppolito assured Corso that he could provide him some great movie investment opportunities, and that he and his son, a local dealer, could help him out with the other stuff. Corso had led an interesting life. He had come out of working-class Hackensack, gone to school at New York University, then Cornell, then joined a white shoe accounting firm that had offices all the way from Los Angeles to Switzerland. He lived in the wealthy neighbourhood of Greenwich, Connecticut, and he took frequent trips to Vegas. But his life was even more interesting than that. He gambled often in Vegas, and he often lost. He owed over half a million to various casinos. This was in addition to past debts, for which he’d stolen over five million from the white shoe accountants to pay. These thefts had caused the FBI to raid his firm. Corso went on the lam, then cut a deal. He would be a confidential agent for the bureau, and act the part of a mob accountant. That was why he was wearing a wire at the meeting with Louis Eppolito. And when Eppolito entered the restaurant where a follow-up meet was scheduled, that was why four agents pushed the ex-cop against a wall, handcuffed him, and announced he was under arrest.

William Oldham had been working towards this moment for years. He had quested after the crystal ball since he was with the Major Case squad, the very place Steve Caracappa had worked, when the series of confidential informants were killed with almost unearthly prescience. Caracappa worked across from Oldham, in the Organized Crime Homicide Unit (OCHU), where he had literally written the book on mafia death in New York City – an index of every mob killing in the city; if a homicide detective wanted to see how a victim fit into the larger structure of the mob, they would consult Caracappa’s book. Caracappa had fought for the creation of the OCHU, it was disbanded after he left, and Oldham had always been haunted by a horrible thought: that Caracappa had wanted to establish the OCHU to make his intelligence work for the mafia easier. The arrest of Caracappa and Eppolito was one important moment; the other was the co-operation of Burton Kaplan.

Kaplan had been a Navy codebreaker during World War II, a man so good at breaking japanese codes that he was offered a job at the newborn National Security Agency. He went back to Brooklyn instead, and became an appliance salesman. A gambling habit he’d had since he was thirteen meant he needed more money than a legitimate job could give him, and he soon became a top notch fence in stolen goods, a successful marijuana dealer, and an associate of Anthony Casso. In his seventies and near blind, he was convicted on drug charges that meant he would probably die in prison. Oldham would meet him there, with the offer of a deal: there are two guys we are interested in, and you know which two guys. Kaplan chose his words carefully: “With all due respect, and I do respect you guys because my father-in-law was a cop, I got nothing to say.” Kaplan didn’t need to explain why he wouldn’t co-operate, but he did: “I took an oath.” Oldham lost it. “They took a fucking oath,” said Oldham. “I was a cop for twenty-five years. I was in Major Case with one of those guys. I know what a fucking oath is about. If every cop in New York City was like these two, no one could walk the streets.” Kaplan got up to leave. Oldham had one more thing to say, his voice now without anger. “Burt, you’re giving up your grandson.” Oldham, again: “You’re going to die in jail without ever touching him. You’re choosing the fat guy and the skinny guy over your only grandson’s chance to know his grandfather.” Some shadow of hate fell over Kaplan’s face. He avoided looking at Oldham for the few seconds left in the meeting. But he wrote down the name of his lawyer on a legal pad, and passed it to the detective.

Caracappa and Eppolito were indicted on eight counts of murder, as well as kidnapping conspiracy, witness tampering, bribery, money laundering, and drug trafficking. Kaplan’s testimony would be crucial in their eventual conviction. The following was given on his first day of this testimony, and said without any emotion at all:

Q: Did you have a business relationship with Mr. Eppolito and Mr. Caracappa?
A: Yes.
Q: Can you please tell the jury what the nature of that business relationship was?
A: They were detectives on the New York Police Department who brought me information about wiretaps, phone taps, informants, ongoing investigations, and imminent arrests and murders. They did murders and kidnapping for us.
Q: What did you do for them in exchange for this?
A: I paid them.

When the crystal ball was at the height of its powers, John Gotti had demonstrated his invulnerability in beating yet another murder conviction. By the time of the Caracappa-Eppolito trial, his Ravenite social club was a shoe store. Tony Café, the head of the Bonanno family, once one of the five powerful mafia families in the city, had five hundred dollars lifted from his pocket by a woman. Café was upset about that. He was upset about a lot of things. He had two broken toes from diabetes, he’d been hit with a bookmaking charge, and if he was convicted, he’d lose his social security and veterans’ benefits. His co-defendants had four bypass surgeries among them, and they all needed afternoon naps. When they were arraigned, a federal agent was worried that one of the defendants would escape by running out the back door. Run out?, asked the incredulous judge, this man can hardly walk. What’s the worst thing that happened to the mafia, Café was asked. “Gotti”, he says.

Caracappa and Eppolito would be found guilty on all counts. Eppolito would take off his jacket, his belt, his tie, and his gold chain after the verdict. He was a cop, and he knew the procedure: you hand over valuables, and anything that can be used to hang yourself. A few days later, during the hearing where the cops were sentenced to prison for life, there was a ruckus. In 1988, Eppolito had walked off his beat into a Brooklyn deli, took a soda from the refrigerator, drank it, and was about to leave when a counter worker gave him a hard stare. “You got a problem with me?” asked Eppolito. “You didn’t pay for the soda.” said the counter worker. Eppolito threw some money down. Two days later, he came back and arrested the counter worker, Barry Gibbs, for the murder of a prostitute. Gibbs would be convicted, and serve close to twenty years, before the key eyewitness would reveal that Eppolito had threatened to arrest the eyewitness’s mother for drug possession, drugs that Eppolito would plant on her, unless he named Gibbs as the killer.

“Remember me?” Gibbs would yell from the gallery. “Remember, Mr. Eppolito?” The attention of the court, Eppolito, everyone, fixed briefly on this man. “Do you remember what you did to me? Barry Gibbs! Do you remember? I had a family, too. You remember what you did to my family? You don’t remember what you did to my family and to me? Remember what you did to me? Me! Do you remember?” The judge ordered that Gibbs be removed from the court for causing a disturbance.

The preceding, however fantastic, is real. It is taken, with mild re-arrangements, from The Brotherhoods by Guy Lawson and William Oldham; the Kaplan transcripts, the paragraph on Tony Café, and Eppolito’s conduct after the verdict are taken from The Good Rat by Jimmy Breslin. Both books present different facets of the Caracappa-Eppolito case, and both are excellent.

On April 17, 2005, this post underwent a copy edit. On April 28 and 29, gifs were added to supplement explanations of certain ideas. On May 10, 2015, the split screen gif of the car rides was addded.

FOOTNOTES

1 Thankfully, this was corrected, on April 7 2013: “Lost Highway (film) (revision edit 21:36, 7 April 2013)”. I am grateful to the wiki user for their efforts. Those wishing to look at the wiki page as I saw it when this was first written can look at “Lost Highway (film) (revision edit 00:16, 19 December 2012)”. This footnote was added on December 14, 2013.

2 In the original script, Alice’s last name is Wyatt; though it may be a coincidence, the context of the surrounding plot makes me immediately think of the Nathaniel Hawthorne story that shares Alice’s last name.

There, a man has the mad urge to leave his house and happy marriage in order to observe his wife over a period of two decades, a nearby neighbour in heavy disguise. It is a story of analysis of the mind of this man, rather than events, and nothing that takes place in Highway is borrowed from this story. The only thing they share is this obsession of a husband observing his wife when he is absent, though of course in Highway a husband does not simply observe his wife, but re-creates her as he wants her to be.

In describing Wakefield’s condition, his in-between state after he retreats to this role of voyeur, we may have an apt description of Fred’s state of mind in creating his fantasty life:

The singularity of his situation must have so moulded him to himself, that, considered in regard to his fellow-creatures and the business of life, he could not be said to possess his right mind. He had contrived, or rather he had happened, to dissever himself from the world–to vanish–to give up his place and privileges with living men, without being admitted among the dead. The life of a hermit is nowise parallel to his. He was in the bustle of the city, as of old; but the crowd swept by and saw him not; he was, we may figuratively say, always beside his wife and at his hearth, yet must never feel the warmth of the one nor the affection of the other. It was Wakefield’s unprecedented fate to retain his original share of human sympathies, and to be still involved in human interests, while he had lost his reciprocal influence on them.

This section, the penultimate moment before Wakefield returns to the wife he abandoned decades earlier, is perhaps apt as well:

He ascends the steps–heavily!–for twenty years have stiffened his legs since he came down–but he knows it not. Stay, Wakefield! Would you go to the sole home that is left you? Then step into your grave!

As is this, the story’s end:

He has left us much food for thought, a portion of which shall lend its wisdom to a moral, and be shaped into a figure. Amid the seeming confusion of our mysterious world, individuals are so nicely adjusted to a system, and systems to one another and to a whole, that, by stepping aside for a moment, a man exposes himself to a fearful risk of losing his place forever. Like Wakefield, he may become, as it were, the Outcast of the Universe.

3 This idea is taken ever further in the original screenplay. The parents are not simply phantom characters, but malevolent spirits who are party to the illusion that Fred has created for himself, but also laugh at his foolishness: this illusion will eventually destroy him. The characters they are most similar to are the elderly couple at the beginning of Mulholland Drive who cackle with glee at the nightmare that this actress has created for herself.

A relevant excerpt of the same scene in the film where Pete walks about the house and finds his parents strangely gone:

Pete is sitting perched unsteadily on the very edge of his bed. He HEARS a succession of highly-amplified SOUNDS at intervals with eerie stretches of silence: CRICKETS in fractured cadence a distant TELEVISION – a FLY buzzing slowly in the room a MOTH’S wings beating against light bulbs in the ceiling fixture – the washing of DISHES.

Pete’s reaction to these sounds is one of petrified confusion. Underlying these sounds is a kind of unearthly, steady DRONE.

Pete gets up off the bed, unsteadily. He moves toward his bedroom door. As he moves the amplified SOUNDS shift.

He can hear laughter. The laughter seems to be LOUD, but at the same time coming from people who are trying to contain the laughter – to hide it.

Pete opens his door and peers out.

Pete’s POV down the hall toward the living room – his mother and father have stopped laughing and are turned with guilty smiles in his direction. They are smoking a joint, passing it back and forth. They are not looking directly at him. They seem to be looking, but not seeing.

Pete’s parents POV down the hall toward Pete’s room. There is no one there – just an empty hallway.

Pete’s parents continue to stare, but then turn away toward each other – they start to laugh quietly again.

Pete’s Pov – the hallway and the living room – there is no one in the living room. It’s empty.

CUT TO:

INT. DAYTON HOUSE – PETE’S BEDROOM – NIGHT

Pete turns from the hallway and comes back in his room – unsettled and confused.

He can hear laughter coming from the living room.

4 The subject of another excellent story by David Grann, “Crimetown USA”, about Youngstown and James Trafficant. It can also be found in the excellent collection of his reporting, The Devil and Sherlock Holmes.

(All images copyright October Films, CiBy 2000, Asymmetrical Productions, and associated producers.)

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David Lynch’s Inland Empire: An Attempt At A Roadmap

What follows is an attempt to give some explanation of what takes place in the David Lynch movie Inland Empire. This is not an effort at getting at what the movie “means”, and I try to root as much of the summary in the picture’s material details, rather than through any theory: say, the man and the woman in this scene are married because he refers to seeing her at home, rather than this movie is about the various ways women are pitted against each other, therefore what takes place at such and such a point is this, etc. Analogously, this would not be an attempt to explain what a painting “means”, only to helpfully discern details in the painting that indicate its subject is a teacup or a nude woman. Others may well have a different perspective, and my opinion should not be taken as an emphatic one. I emphasize the word “attempt”.

Those looking for different explanations and in-depth interpretations might find Out 1 Film Journal: Inland Empire Discussion, Half-Born: An Inland Empire Analysis, Daivd Lynch’s Inland Empire: hypotheses and spoilers, Patrick Meaney’s Thoughts On Stuff: Inland Empire (Part One) (Part Two), and Metaphilm’s Reading Inland Empire: A Mental Toolbox for Interpreting a Lynch Film by Adam C. Walter helpful.

I try as much as possible to use credited names. The actor Peter J. Lucas plays both Piotrek Krol and Smitty, but as his credit is for Piotrek Krol, and no one ever refers to him as Smitty, I refer to the characters he plays always as Piotrek. I am unsure if the Phantom’s wife is given a credited name, so I refer to her, in a bold move, as “the Phantom’s wife”.

Those who have not seen this movie will find what comes next utterly incomprehensible. Those who have seen the movie may find it incomprehensible as well.

I start with what might be a summary of the plot, then go through the movie as the scenes take place in their actual chronological order, rather than the out of sequence form of the movie, including relevant deleted scenes which might supplement this interpretation of the structure. Where it may warrant, I include a full transcript of the scene.

What takes place in this film should not be unfamiliar to those who have seen David Lynch’s show Twin Peaks or its companion film, Fire Walk With Me. There is a group of mysterious figures, having powers making them like gods to us, who infiltrate human life. One of those gods, the Phantom, has gone rogue, just like Bob in Twin Peaks, using his powers for selfish pleasure, thriving off human suffering. The Phantom can place any human subject under a hypnotic spell so that they follow his orders, and he may also be able to take the human form of whoever he wishes. In one human form, the Phantom is part of a love quadrangle in Poland. His ex-wife has fallen on hard times, working as a prostitute, carrying on an affair with Piotrek Krol, whose wife discovers this affair and resolves that this woman shall never take her husband away from her. Through hypnotism, the Phantom compels the jealous wife to kill her husband, then kill herself. The Phantom beats his own ex-wife to death. The jealous wife enters purgatory for what she has done.

The other gods, angry over what has taken place, resolve to destroy the Phantom. They will not kill him, however: the vengeance instead will be given to his past victims. The Phantom will be led into a trap, like a horse to the well, with reincarnations of all the past actors, in a “re-make” of the past tragedy, but one with a different outcome this time.

In this reiteration, the lost girl who committed suicide will be re-born, though only halvely; she finds herself as an actress in a bountiful world that is promised her if she completes the task of killing the Phantom. She is Nikki Grace, married again to Piotrek Krol, except this time he takes the role of the control freak husband of the first plot. She, in turn, will play the part of the other woman, the one she was so jealous of in the first plot. She will carry on an affair with a man, Billy Side, whose wife will attempt to kill them both after she discovers their infidelity and is hypnotized by the Phantom. We move back and forth between the life of Nikki Grace promised her by the gods, and her actual, impoverished existence as Sue Blue, where she works occasionally as a prostitute, just as the other woman did in the first iteration. Her rival in this life, Doris Side, moves back and forth as well, between her actual life and the vision given her by the Phantom. Two mysterious visitors remind Sue of the task that must be performed.

Sue’s husband travels to Poland as part of a circus. There, he attends a séance where he sees his dead wife from the last plot, and he is given the mission to kill the Phantom. For whatever reason, perhaps because the Phantom is too close to himself, he does not do so, and the evil god leaves before they catch him, to go to the Inland Empire. He, in fact, ends up next door to Sue, perhaps attracted by the reiteration of the quadrangle, and so he can exert his power over Sue’s husband. Her husband returns, and beats Sue very badly, just as the other woman was beaten in the first iteration, her husband perhaps under the influence of the Phantom. As we move back and forth between the two worlds of the protagonist, Sue in the impoverished one, Nikki the actress in the mansion, we might note that they are two halves, with Nikki good, prim, decent, while Sue is violent, crude, carnal. The contrast is in full display in the penultimate act of the re-make, when Sue gives a lengthy confession to one of the gods. She is then stabbed by her rival, who then stabs herself, but something is different this time: Sue doesn’t die, but instead emerges whole, the two selves together. She takes the pistol given her husband, and kills the Phantom. The lost girl is liberated, and is restored to the husband of the first iteration, now in happy union. Sue is brought back to the mansion, her controlling husband gone, her tomorrow undecided.

AN ATTEMPT AT A SEQUENTIAL ORDER OF THE MOVIE

The Phantom’s wife is on the street as a prostitute. The sequence of yesterday and tomorrow are often confused. “Tell me if you’ve known me before”, she says to the two prostitutes she will see again and again after this. One of them makes the sign of the Phantom: these women, who guide Sue through the visions of the past, know who her husband is, and what his powers are. Another possibility is that they make a simple spiral sign signifying an endless loop: the story seen is an ancient Polish gypsy folk-tale and it is the longest running radio show of the Baltic region. Though we see two iterations of the story, it has been run through many, many times with these parts. These laughing women are gods in human form, and they have seen it re-told again and again, and to be told twice more.

PHANTOM’S WIFE
Hey, look at me…and tell me if you’ve known me before.

The Lost Girl, Piotrek’s wife, has fallen under the spell of the Phantom, and is compelled to kill her husband for his infidelity. She tries to fight it, but it’s a losing battle.

Lost Girl prays

LOST GIRL
Cast out this wicked dream that has seized my heart.

Parenthetically, this is a direct quote of the unfinished Queen Kelly, the exact excerpt which appears in one of Lynch’s favorite films, Sunset Boulevard:

Queen Kelly in Sunset Bouelvard Cast Out This Wicked Dream

Queen Kelly in Sunset Bouelvard Cast Out This Wicked Dream Title Card

At a later point, Piotrek’s wife begs her husband not to leave the house. He is going to see the other woman. She is not who he thinks she is: she is under the influence of the Phantom.

LOST GIRL
I can’t give you children. I know that…Are you listening to me?

PIOTREK
I’m going out now.

LOST GIRL
I’m not who you think I am! I’ll never let you have her! Never…

Piotrek leaves. It is after this that the Lost Girl kills Piotrek, then herself.

The Phantom, who is either in the form of the other woman’s husband, or her actual husband, runs into her on the street. They used to be husband and wife: “I’m used to seeing you in our home”. She works as a prostitute, she is “out in the street, at night”. That the Phantom might only be in the form of her husband is there in the line “I think you don’t recognize me…my manner…”; his outward appearance is the same, but his behaviour is very different. The killings have already taken place, one of the dead being Piotrek, the man she was having an affair with: “I’ve seen the two of you together.”

THE PHANTOM
I almost didn’t recognize you.

THE PHANTOM’S WIFE
You startled me.

THE PHANTOM
Strange…to find you on the street.

THE PHANTOM’S WIFE
You seem upset…Are you?

THE PHANTOM
Should I be?

THE PHANTOM’S WIFE
No, but…

THE PHANTOM
So I shouldn’t be?

THE PHANTOM’S WIFE
No…but still you seem so…

THE PHANTOM
I think you don’t recognize me…my manner…

THE PHANTOM’S WIFE
That’s true. You seem different.

THE PHANTOM
You too. I’m used to seeing you in our home…not on the street…at night.

THE PHANTOM’S WIFE
Me too.

THE PHANTOM
There was a murder…

THE PHANTOM’S WIFE
How awful. Where?

THE PHANTOM
Just down the way. I think…you knew the person.

THE PHANTOM’S WIFE
Who was it?

THE PHANTOM
Don’t know the name…but I have seen you with this person.

THE PHANTOM’S WIFE
You have?

THE PHANTOM
I have. I think…I’ve seen the two of you together.

THE PHANTOM’S WIFE
That’s awful.

The Phantom is now in a room with the other woman. Their argument escalates.

Inland Empire

THE PHANTOM’S WIFE
I didn’t mean anything by that. I just asked a question.

THE PHANTOM
Why did you ask if it means nothing? Whatever you want is that it?

THE PHANTOM’S WIFE
No. Whatever you want?

THE PHANTOM
Oh…now it’s me.

THE PHANTOM’S WIFE
Always you.

THE PHANTOM
You can lie to me, but don’t lie to yourself. So sly…

He pushes her.

THE PHANTOM’S WIFE
Don’t push me.

THE PHANTOM
I’ll push you to hell.

THE PHANTOM’S WIFE
Stop it!

A key moment in the film. A stranger asks Piotrek what time it is, he replies that it is 9:45. Piotrek is already dead. His sense of time has stopped. He appears on the screen, a transparent figure: he is a ghost.

Inland Empire

PIOTREK looks at watch. Stranger comes by.

STRANGER
Excuse me, do you know the time?

PIOTREK
9:45 pm.

STRANGER
Thank you.

The gods often take the form of a trio of rabbits, occasionally miming the actions of mortals. Here, the trio mime what has just taken place, the female rabbit summoning the male rabbit as a transparent vision, as if a dead man at a séance, just like the faint image of Piotrek. Suzie Rabbit uses a pair of candles as a summoning device, and when the old men call up the ghost of the Phantom’s wife, they sit at a table decked with candles, the same instrument for this magic – and the old men, of course, are actually the rabbits.

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Inland Empire: candles.

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The Phantom beats his wife to death.

David Lynch's Inland Empire - Phantom beats his wife to death

David Lynch's Inland Empire - Phantom beats his wife to death

What makes the Polish scenes confusing is that Karolina Gruszka plays the part of the Phantom’s wife and her rival. The former wears her hair pulled back tight, while the other wears it loosely. We can see the contrast between the two roles when, in a deleted scene, the Phantom comes across Gruszka with her hair down, which reminds him of his wife of the past, with her hair tight up. The woman with her back to the camera who pleads with Piotrek not to go to this other woman, is seen again with her hair down in the sénce.

A clip of the Phantom meeting the woman with the uncanny resemblance to his past wife and an overview of appearances of Gruszka as Piotrek’s lover and the Phantom’s wife:

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Inland Empire: same woman, different lives.

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The Lost Girl is escorted into her purgatory by the Phantom. She is in-between two roles, the woman she once was, and the woman she’ll be in the next part, where she will be a prostitute, where she’ll be Sue.

David Lynch's Inland Empire - 'Do you want to fuck me?'

David Lynch's Inland Empire - the Lost Girl watches TV

WOMAN
The stairway is dark…I don’t recognize this hallway. Where are we?

MAN
At our room now.

WOMAN
I don’t have the key…

MAN
No, you gave it to me. I have it.

WOMAN
What’s wrong with me?

WOMAN
This is the room? I don’t recognize it…

MAN
Take off your clothes.

WOMAN
Sure…

MAN
You know what whores do?

WOMAN
Yes. They fuck.

WOMAN
Do you want to fuck me?

MAN
Just take off your clothes. I’ll tell you what I want.

WOMAN
Fine. Where am I? I’m afraid. I’m afraid…

The lamp we see easily through the ghostly substance of Piotrek on TV is the same lamp of this hotel room. Piotrek has ended up in a similar purgatory. When the Lost Girl sees Piotrek’s transparent form and the lamp, she realizes what’s happened: that Piotrek is dead, and also stuck in a waystation between death and the afterlife.

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Inland Empire: between two worlds.

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The gods again as a group of rabbits that perform on a stage for an audience of their fellow gods. Later, they will hold a séance in order to show Piotrek his past wife. Here, they serve as mediums for thoughts of the past plot: “I’m going to find out one day”: one day Piotrek’s wife will discover who he is having an affair with. “I have a secret”: Piotrek’s affair. “When will you tell him?”: perhaps a thought of the second woman, that she was pregnant with Piotrek’s child. “Who could have known?”: how did Piotrek’s wife find out about the affair?

There are also two lines which provoke laughter, which may be jokes among the gods. “What time is it?” Either: silly mortals, unable to know when they are dead, or: it is past midnight, time for the end of the Phantom. “There have been no calls today”: they will receive a phone call from the other world when things are nearly in place for the Phantom to be destroyed. “I hear something”, and one of the female rabbits laughs at this; they will hear Sue approaching right before she enters their domain, after she’s killed the Phantom. “I do not think it will be much longer now”: the plan to trap the Phantom is about to start. That they laugh so easily at humanity should underline the fact that these beings do not look on us with anything like compassion. They wish to see the Phantom destroyed because he has violated their own code, not out of any sympathy with those hurt. This, I think, is easily seen in their treatment of Sue, who they use as indifferently as any child with a dull toy.

David Lynch's Inland Empire - the rabbits at home

JANE RABBIT
I’m going to find out one day.

SUZIE RABBIT
When will you tell him?

JACK RABBIT
Who could have known?

SUZIE RABBIT
What time is it? (laughter)

JACK RABBIT
I have a secret.

JANE RABBIT
There have been no calls today. (laughter)

JACK RABBIT
I hear something. (SUZIE RABBIT laughs)

JANE RABBIT
I do not think it will be much longer now.

The male rabbit leaves the domain, fades out, and re-forms as Janek. The Phantom is given permission to enter the world again, so the gods may trap him.

David Lynch's Inland Empire - Janek and the Phantom

JANEK
You are looking for something?

THE PHANTOM
Yes…

JANEK
You are looking to go in?

THE PHANTOM
Yes.

JANEK
An opening?

THE PHANTOM
I look for an opening. Do you understand?

JANEK
Yes, I understand.

THE PHANTOM
Do you understand I look for an opening?

JANEK
Yes. I understand completely.

THE PHANTOM
Good. Good that you understand. That’s good! You understand!

Nikki meets with a mysterious visitor. The visitor gives a strong hint to her mission.

David Lynch's Inland Empire - Nikki's visitor

VISITOR#1
A little boy went out to play. When he opened his door, he saw the world. As he passed through the doorway, he caused a reflection. Evil was born. Evil was born, and would follow the boy.

NIKKI
I’m sorry, what is that?

VISITOR#1
An old tale. Another variation. A little girl went out to play. Lost in the marketplace. As if half-born. Then: not through the market-place, you see that, don’t you? But through the alley, behind the marketplace…_this_ is the way to the palace. But. It isn’t something you remember. Forgetfulness. It happens to us all. And me? I’m the worst one. Oh! Where was I? Yes…is there a murder in your film?

NIKKI
No, it’s not part of the story.

VISITOR#1
No? I think you’re wrong about that.

NIKKI
No.

VISITOR#1
BRUTAL FUCKING MURDER!

NIKKI
I don’t like this kind of talk. Things you’ve been saying. I think you should go now.

VISITOR#1
Yeeees…me I can’t seem to remember if it’s today, two days from now, or yesterday. I suppose if it was _9:45_…I’d think it was after midnight. For instance, if today was tomorrow…you wouldn’t even remember that you owed on an unpaid bill. Actions do have consequences. And yet…there is…the magic! If it was tomorrow, you would be sitting over there.

A man has an evil reflection, which follows him, and may overtake him. This takes place in the first iteration of the story, when the Phantom overtakes one man, as well as the second telling of the story, when it overtakes Piotrek. “…and would follow the boy”: The Phantom literally follows Piotrek. He ends up living right next door to Piotrek and Sue.

There are two marketplaces, one is Hollywood, the other is prostitution. Nikki is lost in the first, Sue is lost in the second. Both are half-born, needing the other half. It is not through either marketplace they will find redemption, but through the alley, behind the studio or the street, that they will perform their mission of killing the Phantom, and it is by that route they will reach the palace, the mansion at the end. Nikki owes an unpaid bill, the killing of her husband for which she must repent by this mission. Though Piotrek, still thinking he’s alive, thinks it’s 9:45, the gods (like this visitor) know it’s actually after midnight: Piotrek and the others are dead, now reincarnated in another life, and it is overdue that they act against the Phantom.

This movie is a re-make of an old Polish tale and an unfinished Polish movie, it’s an attempt by these gods to make it end properly this time, with the destruction of the Phantom. Nikki is the Lost Girl re-incarnated, and during one brief scene, an older couple inquires as to whether Nikki speaks Polish, eyeing her suspiciously. “Half of it,” says the old man mysteriously to Piotrek. An understanding husband might say of his wife, “I think she understands more than she knows,” to imply that she understates her talents, but the dominating, suspicious Piotrek says, “I think she understands more than she lets on.” Sue replies, “But I don’t speak it,” and this echoes a line from a deleted scene out of Inland Empire; the Phantom is in a church and he encounters a woman bearing a striking resemblance to the wife of his past existence, played by the same actress, Karolina Gruszka. The Phantom speaks to her in Polish, then asks her if she’s Polish. “I don’t speak it,” says this woman.

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Inland Empire: not speaking Polish.

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Nikki and Devon are cast in the lead roles. They grow closer and begin an affair. The move from this visionary world of a wealthy actress to the reality of her more squalid existence is not discreet: the two bleed together slowly.

For instance, in this scene where Piotrek threatens Devon:

David Lynch's Inland Empire - Piotrek and Billy

NIKKI
Piotrek? Where did everyone go?

HEAD MANSERVANT
I’m sorry, he’s taken Mr. Berk upstairs.

NIKKI (scared)
Alright.

DEVON
Well, I’m not exactly sure at what you’re getting at.

PIOTREK
I’m going to put my arm around you and hold you close. You don’t mind, do you?

DEVON
What do you mean?

PIOTREK
Now, sometimes people don’t say exactly what they mean. And you have been guilty of this all evening. Now, I’ll tell you something. And I will mean everything I say. My wife is not a free agent. I don’t allow her that. The bonds of marriage are real bonds. The vows we take, we honour, and enforce them. For ourselves, by ourselves, and if necessary, they’re enforced for us. Either way, she is bound. Do you understand this? There are consequences to one’s actions. And there would, be certain, consequences for wrong actions. Dark, they would be. And inescapable. Why instigate a need to suffer?

Reasonably alert listeners will notice that even though we appear to be off the movie set, Devon and Nikki, who, outside the movie have Yankee northern accents, start to retain the southern accents of their roles.

Later, in this scene where Nikki and Devon begin their affair, with lines clearly referencing that they are off-camera, getting ready for the start of the shoot, all their dialogue is in the southern accents of their on-screen roles.

David Lynch's Inland Empire - Nikki and Devon

DEVON gives NIKKI some coffee.

NIKKI
Thanks, Devon.

DEVON
Pleasure.

NIKKI
This is exactly what we need.

DEVON
After shooting, do you want to get something to eat with me?

NIKKI
I bet you know a cute little Italian restaurant. Tucked away. Private. Great food.

DEVON
I do. How did you know that? Doesn’t that sound nice?

P.A.
They’re ready for you.

NIKKI
I’ll be just a minute.

A long look at DEVON.

NIKKI
See ya after the shoot.

In this disturbing moment where Nikki can no longer figure out what is real, they speak in southern accents, then, when Nikki breaks character, she keeps her accent.

NIKKI
I don’t know.

DEVON
Tell me.

DEVON
What?

NIKKI
Something’s happened. I think my husband knows about you. About us. He’ll kill you. And me. He’ll…

NIKKI
DAMN! This sounds like dialogue from our script.

In a deleted scene, Sue is visited by a friend, who describes meeting Billy Side, the man Sue is having an affair with. This isn’t the later Sue who’s trapped in the Smitty house, but upscale Sue, the one who lives in a mansion. We are given only tight shots back and forth of Sue and the nameless guest, but we can see from a few things – some of the details of the background, Sue’s manner, the reference to the Radisson – that this isn’t the impoverished Sue of the later movie. Here, all the elements of the story blend together; we never cut away to indicate that we’re in the movie, with the only hint that the unknown woman talks about meeting someone named Billy, Devon’s character in the film. The story the woman tells is the experience of the Lost Girl before she enters the purgatorial hotel room, accompanied by the Phantom, and this suggests that Billy, the character of the movie, has become possessed by the malevolent figure. The story that this lady, a character without a name or an identity, tells Sue of meeting Billy could well be Sue’s own. She cannot escape her past or the demon haunting her world, even in the fantasyland of a film she appears in. After this sequence, we see Jack Rabbit move in slow motion in the hall of the hotel and then the stone stairway which is the common backstage structure of so many places in the film – where Sue walks up to meet the interrogator, the place behind the door of the twisting green corridor of the Smitty house, where the Lost Girl climbs before killing Piotrek. I bold the two key sections.

David Lynch's Inland Empire - friend tells Sue about Phantom Billy

David Lynch's Inland Empire - Sue reacts to Phantom Billy story

SUE
Where you been?

THE LADY
I had the most incredible experience. It all started at Al’s. I was sitting in the back, you know, where the bathrooms are. There was this guy…he turned around and looked at me and…I just lit up inside. You know. He asked me if I wanted a beer, and I said: I said, yeah, okay, thank you. And then I noticed he had a ring. He was married, but…I didn’t care. And then, he said he was just passing through. And, uh, he asked me my name, and I told him. He said his name was Billy. And, he said: nice to meet you. And I said, nice to meet you, Billy. Pete was in the back, serving up a beer to Sandra. And, uh, I don’t know, he suddenly, like, I met you before. And I’m like, I’m not falling for that line. But now I said, I think I’ve met you before. And I thought I’d met him before, but I don’t even remember where. And then suddenly he said, like…I wanted him so bad, and I felt he felt the same thing, you know? And then he said: I want you. And I said: where do you want to go? And he said he was staying at the hotel, and I said, at the Radisson? He said yeah. We just left. And Pete was looking at me, like…and Sandra was eyeballing this man I was leaving with. And then we got to the hotel. And I was…kinda hanging back…in the dark while he was getting his key. Everything was different. We went through the hallway…I didn’t know where I was. They must have changed the decor or something. Everything was different, I didn’t recognize…any of it. I didn’t know where I was. It was like I was dreaming.

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Inland Empire: "It was like I was dreaming."

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When Nikki and Devon sleep together, we further see the overlap. They sleep together in the bedroom of Smitty’s house, yet they are spied on by Piotrek as Nikki’s wealthy, nattily dressed husband, not the poor man Sue is married to. Nikki, who is always very prim and restrained, slowly bleeds into her other self, talking explicitly about sex and the two of them coming together. Laura Dern, an excellent actress who has no difficulty keeping a southern accent, loses and gains it here, as she slips in and out of her next identity. They talk about events of the film set, yet Devon calls her Sue, and she suddenly becomes very frightened that he doesn’t recognize her as Nikki, but only as this other woman.

David Lynch's Inland Empire - Nikki and Devon in bed

David Lynch's Inland Empire - Piotrek voyeur

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Inland Empire: the bedroom film set.

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NIKKI
You feel that?

DEVON
Yeah.

NIKKI
Ohhh…

DEVON
You move like that again and I’ll come.

NIKKI
Okay. Wait. Stop, baby. Oh, god. Oh, yeah. Just do it one more time–oh, god. Yeah. Okay. Our first time. Fucking this good.

DEVON
You’re talking through the whole thing.

NIKKI
Oh, please.

DEVON
You talk too fucking much. Are you gonna talk through this whole thing?

NIKKI
Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…

NIKKI
Remember that night when I said that thing about it being — Oh, you feel that?

DEVON
Yeah.

NIKKI
Oh, remember — remember I told you about this thing that happened? It’s a story that happened yesterday, but I know it’s tomorrow.

DEVON
That doesn’t make sense.

NIKKI
It was that scene that we did yesterday, when I’m getting groceries for you with your car. And it was in that alley, and I parked the car. There’s always parking there. So there I am.

DEVON
What?

DEVON
Sue, damn.

NIKKI
It’s a scene we did yesterday. You weren’t in it. That one when I’m in the alley. I’m going to get groceries for you with your car, and I park there ’cause there’s always parking. You know the one. I see this writing on metal. And I start remembering something. I’m remembering…and…ohh…this whole thing starts flooding in, this whole memory. I start to remember. And I-I don’t know. I don’t know what it is.

NIKKI
It’s me. Devon, it’s me. Nikki!

DEVON
That don’ make any sense. What is this, Sue?

NIKKI
IT’S ME. DEVON. IT’S ME. NIKKI! LOOK AT ME, YOU FUCKER!

NIKKI
Look at me…please…

Note that she describes the event of going behind the alley which will take place next, as having happened yesterday. She becomes the mysterious visitor that was spotted on-set, yet this is an event that occurred long ago, on one of the first days of production. On that same day of the intruder, Devon noted that the set for Smitty’s house hadn’t been completed yet, but when Nikki runs to the house for refuge, it is fully built.

Another small detail: during the first scene of the set intruder, Nikki remains in her chair when Devon goes to chase the visitor. When it takes place again, Nikki is gone.

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Inland Empire: Nikki is gone.

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David Lynch's Inland Empire - split screen of the two intruders - URL if gif doesn't load: http://gfycat.com/DelightfulHairyCarpenterant

A brief split screen contrast of the two occurrences of the mysterious intruder onto the movie set, in which Nikki is the intruder in the second sequence.

Now, Sue ends up in Smitty’s house. This, I think, is a slightly distorted vision of Sue’s own difficult life, its true squalor only heard, never seen, in Sue’s monologues at the end. This touches on the difficulty of watching and discussing this movie – Sue has an actual, concrete existence, and yet we only see that life at a slant, indirectly, selected scenes that recapture this life and her monologues which describe it. Sue’s life is both something distinct, and one that is already something of the past, a re-living of the past life of a Polish prostitute. This tilted perspective comes close to a truer telling of someone in Sue’s life, the difficult details she doesn’t want to remember or concentrate on, the vivid fantasy of being a movie star, and the disorienting intersection of the two; this, of course, is a variation on what we see in Mulholland Drive. The story told by the homeless woman at the end encapsulates the contradicting qualities of such a life, a heavy drug user on the decline who once looked like a movie star in her blonde wig, and of course, in Mulholland after Rita puts on a blonde wig, Betty’s dream life is shattered, and she’s returned to her ordinary life of an addict on the skids.

My friend Nico, who lives in Pomona…has a blonde wig. She wears it at Paris. But she’s on hard drugs and turning tricks now. She looks very good in her blonde wig…just like a movie star. Even girls fall in love with her. When she’s looking so good…In her blonde star wig.

We may see several levels of a truer and truer account of Sue’s life and who she is, from the mansion, to what we see in the movie On High In Blue Tomorrows, Smitty’s house, and finally the monologues. We do not see Sue work as a prostitute at Smitty’s house. We see her miscarry there, while in the monologues, the reference to the child by gender (“after my son died”) suggests a death outside the womb.

Perhaps the best way of looking at the movie is that we see Sue’s story told in several ways, like variations on a song, one of which is the Polish tale that precedes and anticipates her own, for which her own life is a “re-make” of the same story: the high flown romance of Blue Tomorrows, the events on the stage set of the Smitty house that parallels the stage set on which the rabbits convey human thoughts to an audience of gods, and the disturbing monologues she tells the clerk.

Though some of what takes place at Smitty’s house fits no sequence, some points might be placed before others.

Sue shops for food that night.

She tells her husband that she’s pregnant.

Inland Empire

She miscarries in the kitchen.

David Lynch's Inland Empire - Sue miscarries in the kitchen

She is visited by the group of women, prostitute co-workers from the past life of the other woman, and of her own. Again, we never see this most difficult part of Sue’s life, where she earned money for sex work. It is hinted at in the Hollywood Boulevard section, and only mentioned explicitly in the monologues.

LANNI
Hey. Look at us and tell us if you’ve known us before.

SANDI
In the future…

DORI:
…you will be dreaming…

LORI:
…in a kind of sleep…

TERRI:
…when you open your eyes…

LANNI:
…someone familiar will be there.

This, I think, can only be a reference to what will take place at the end of the movie, after a sort of long dream has ended, and Sue will come across the hotel room with the Lost Girl, the woman she was in a past life. The line, “Look at us and tell us if you’ve known us before,” is one that recurs in variations throughout the movie. It’s said here by one of the two girls who accompany Sue and the Lost Girl throughout their travels. Sue and the Lost Girl ask these same two women, “Look at me, and tell me if you’ve known me before,” in English and Polish.

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Inland Empire: "Yes, we will do that."

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Another deleted scene has Sue traveling through the various worlds, finally arriving at a hotel room of Nikki, the actress. The Phantom, through his magic, speaks to Nikki during a phonecall she has with Devon, the conversation between the Phantom and Sue making explicit mention of her previous life where she killed her husband in Poland. Note that even though this is clearly Nikki, she starts speaking with the southern accent of Sue, then gradually loses it until her final exclamation, when it is entirely gone. Devon’s accent is Yankee. The gods, worried that their plan will fail, interrupt the phone conversation; there is an intense burst of static, then Suzie Rabbit’s loud exclamation: “THERE IS SOMETHING HERE.” I bold the most important lines.

David Lynch's Inland Empire - Nikki looks on

David Lynch's Inland Empire - Nikki on the floor

SUE looks down at NIKKI on the floor.

THE PHANTOM
You don’t remember?

DEVON
Nikki. Nikki. I can hardly hear you. Better question is: where are you?

THE PHANTOM
You don’t remember? Do you understand?

DEVON
Speak into the phone.

NIKKI
Nah, cause I didn’t kill anybody.

DEVON
What?

NIKKI
I didn’t kill anybody.

THE PHANTOM
But are you sure?

DEVON
Are you crazy? What are you talking about?

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Inland Empire: "No, because I didn't kill anybody."

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THE PHANTOM
Tell me everything.

NIKKI
‘Cuz I’ve never been there. I don’t know where that is.

THE PHANTOM
Isn’t it so, right?

NIKKI
I don’t even know where that is.

DEVON
NIKKI.

Static overwhelms line, and we cut to the RABBITS.

SUZIE RABBIT
THERE IS SOMETHING HERE.

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Inland Empire: "THERE IS SOMETHING HERE."

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NIKKI
Listen.

THE PHANTOM
Do you hear?

DEVON
I gotta go now.

NIKKI
There is something here. Hear that?

THE PHANTOM
It glows within me. Like gold.

NIKKI
Something here.

DEVON
I don’t hear anything.

NIKKI
Something here.

DEVON
Go to bed, Nikki.

NIKKI
Last night…

DEVON
What about it?

THE PHANTOM
It could have destroyed a dream, right?

NIKKI
Your voice is frightening me.

NIKKI
I want you to come round. Why don’t you come round? I can’t sleep anymore. I can’t even sleep. I can’t even go to sleep. I just want to go to sleep.

THE PHANTOM
It wasn’t me. Maybe I fucked you a few times…

DEVON
Nikki, are you still there?

NIKKI
Tell me the truth.

DEVON
What do you…what do you mean? What do you mean, Nikki?

CUT TO where SUE was standing before, observing – it’s the exact same space, but SUE is now gone. POV of a shaky camera, running to a locked door. JUMP CUT to SUE in formal dress looking on, suddenly breaking out in a deranged laugh.

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Inland Empire: crazed laughter.

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Back to NIKKI on the floor.

NIKKI
WILL YOU STOP FUCKING WITH ME? STOP IT!

Sue travels to Billy’s house where she confronts her rival, Doris, Billy’s wife. This is defintely Billy’s mansion, not Nikki’s, and the room in which this takes place is the same one where she was first offered a drink, and the servant who served the drink is now the one who offers to call the police.

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Inland Empire: "I've had just enough of you."

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The Sue of this episode is a much less demure, less controlled woman than that of the initial Blue Tomorrows scenes. She also uses the side entrance, rather than the main one, perhaps a demotion in class from earlier in the movie, a melding of her real identity and that of her role on Blue Tomorrows. Yet she is not a stranger to these characters: they recognize her and know her by name. I read Billy’s expression as that of a man who is most definitely having an affair with this woman.

David Lynch's Inland Empire - Billy looks on when Sue returns

David Lynch's Inland Empire - Sue can't believe Billy won't acknowledge her

DORIS
Susan? What are you doing here?

SUE
What? I thought you were gone.

BILLY enters.

SUE
Billy? Something’s wrong. Bad wrong. Do you feel it?

BILLY
Sue.

SUE
Billy. Do you love me?

DORIS
What?

SUE
Billy.

BILLY
Sue.

SUE
Don’t you remember anything? How it was?

BILLY
I don’t understand what you’re talking about.

SUE
Are you listening?

BILLY
No. Now, you go on, Sue. You go on, now.

BUTLER
Would you like me to call the police?

DORIS
No. We can handle this.

SUE
Billy. Something’s wrong. I love you, Billy.

DORIS
I’ve had just about enough of you.

DORIS slaps SUE.

SUE
I love you.

Slapped again.

BILLY
Go away, Susie.

SUE
I love you.

BILLY
SUE!

SUE
I don’t care! It’s something more. I don’t care. It’s something more.

The circus drops by for the barbecue.

David Lynch's Inland Empire - the circus is in town

Piotrek spills ketchup on himself, and it’s a reminder of the fatal wound inflicted on him in the past life.

David Lynch's Inland Empire - Piotrek's massive ketchup stain

The Piotrek of this plot is as controlling a husband as the Phantom of the Polish one. He is good with animals, and I read in his long hard stare that his wife is one of those animals. “It was said I have a way with animals,” and this line is echoed in the monkey story of the homeless Japanese woman as Sue dies beside her: “This monkey can scream. It screams like it in a horror movie. But there are those who are good with animals. Who have a way with animals.”

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Inland Empire: "A way with animals."

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PIOTREK
They are a group that performs in traveling shows…in the Baltic region.

SUE
What’s that got to do with you?

PIOTREK
I will take care for the animals. It was said that I have a way with animals.

While the circus is on tour, Piotrek is taken by Janek to the house where a séance calls up the spirit of his past wife. They give him a gun, or perhaps a magical weapon with only the external appearance of a gun, to kill the Phantom.

David Lynch's Inland Empire - the ghost of the Phantom's wife

David Lynch's Inland Empire - Piotrek and Janek

David Lynch's Inland Empire - the weapon that can kill the Phantom

LOST GIRL
There’s someone there…I have to tell you…There’s someone…

MAREK
Do you recognize her?

PIOTREK
I don’t see her…

MAREK
You understand she sent for you?

LOST GIRL
I don’t know where I am…

MAREK
I hear her now…

JANEK
Do you see her?

PIOTREK
No.

DAREK
It was…red…

MAREK
You work for someone?

PIOTREK
Yes.

MAREK
This is the one who she spoke of.

PIOTREK
The one I work for.

MAREK
So…you understand.

FFRANCISZEK
The horse was taken…to the well…

DAREK
Take the pistol…

JANEK
Let’s go!

FFRANCISZEK
Right away! It’s after midnight!

The man Piotrek works for is the Phantom. “This is the one who she spoke of”: the man he works for, the Phantom, is the one who placed her under the spell to kill her husband. “The horse was taken…to the well…”: they are luring the Phantom into the trap. “It was…red…”: the Phantom has some affinity with red objects and red light.

The séance is held next door to where the murder took place. A comparison of the the first vision of the past which the two mystery girls show Sue, where she’s told “it all took place”, and the establishing exterior shot of where the sénce takes place:

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Inland Empire: where it all took place.

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The old men transform into the rabbits.

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JANE RABBIT
I’m going to find out one day.

SUZIE RABBIT
It was red.

JACK RABBIT
Where was I?

JANE RABBIT
This isn’t the way it was. (laughter)

JACK RABBIT
It was the man in the green coat. (distorted)

SUZIE RABBIT
It had something to do with the telling of time. (distorted)

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Inland Empire: "It was the man in the green coat."

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“I’m going to find out one day”: Doris, Sue’s rival, will find out about the affair one day. “Where was I?”, Piotrek has no idea if he is alive or dead. “This isn’t the way it was”: the re-telling of the story is going to go differently this time, which provokes laughter. Yes, this time things won’t go according to the Phantom’s plans, and he’ll be destroyed. “It was the man in the green coat”: this is Piotrek when Nikki runs into Smitty’s house. It’s Piotrek when he’s under the hypnotic influence of the Phantom, or the Phantom taking the form of Piotrek. “It had something to do with the telling of time”: how the Lost Girl knew that Piotrek was dead, and that she had killed him. “It was red”: the color associated with the Phantom. This may also connect with Sue’s lamp, mentioned as an heirloom in one of Sue’s deleted monologues, the device itself carrying the spirit of the Phantom, and the curse which forces these characters to re-live an existence where they are continually tortured and then destroyed by the Phantom. We move from a shot of Suzie Rabbit with a sinister red gleam coming through the window, and then a close-up of the window itself, with the red light piercing through. This might be an accompanying image to the first scene of Sue in the Smitty house, where the image of the man in the green coat, who carries such a fearful dominance on the stage, penetrates the scrim of the dirty window.

A picture of the sinister lamp before Sue is visited by the prostitutes at her house:

David Lynch's Inland Empire - the red lamp

Piotrek travels with Janek to find the Phantom, but it’s too late – their quarry has already left for the Inland Empire. This near miss may be by intentional design of the gods: it is not Piotrek who must kill the Phantom, but Sue. A red vessel is tossed out containing dark liquid; maybe some raw essence the Phantom feeds on, like the creamed corn that the supernatural beings of Twin Peaks live off of.

David Lynch's Inland Empire - red cup

David Lynch's Inland Empire - Gordy

David Lynch's Inland Empire - Piotrek has missed the Phantom

PIOTREK
Gordy!

GORDY
What do you want?

PIOTREK
Where is he?

GORDY
What’s the point? Are you blind? He’s gone!

PIOTREK
Everybody?

GORDY
Why should I answer your stupid questions? You’re nothing! You’ve done nothing!

PIOTREK
Where did he go?

GORDY
No idea. He talked…mumbled something about Inland Empire.

While Piotrek is gone, Sue receives a second visitor who reminds her of the unpaid bill, the deed from the past life which she must make right.

David Lynch's Inland Empire - second visitor

VISITOR#2
I came about an unpaid bill that need paying.

SUE
Alright.

VISITOR#2
Do you know…the man who lives here? (softly) Do you know him?

SUE
Yes.

VISITOR#2
It is an unpaid bill that needs paying.

SUE
You already said that.

VISITOR#2
Do you know the man who lives next door? “Krimp” is the name.

Sue goes over to the house next door, and takes the screwdriver. She briefly spots the Phantom, who then disappears.

David Lynch's Inland Empire - Phantom with lightbulb in mouth

Though we could put the next sequence in many places, it seems a good fit at this point. Sue picks up the phone to try and reach Billy.

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Inland Empire: "BILLY?!"

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SUE listens while the phone rings. There is a change in tone, the line crackling, as if the call was re-routed. JACK RABBIT picks up the phone.

SUE (v.o.)
Billy?

The audience with the RABBITS laughs hard.

In this sequence, Sue wears the same night dress we see when she is beaten. A possible assumption is that Piotrek overhears her make this call, and realizes her infidelity. This is the phone call the rabbits were waiting for in their first scene in the movie, when Jane Rabbit spoke of there being “no calls today”. This is the harbinger that the plot is nearing its end. It is this discovery of the affair which prompts the fight. Sue is beaten very badly by her husband, an echo of the beating the other woman got in the Polish plot.

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Inland Empire: nightmares.

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PIOTREK
I’m not who you think I am. Are you listening to me? I know it for a fact. I can’t father children.

These lines, “I’m not who you think I am”, and “I can’t father children”, echo those of the Polish Lost Girl. Both have become possessed by The Phantom.

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Inland Empire: "I'm not who you think I am."

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After this night, her wounds from this beating still very visible, Sue travels into the city.

The Phantom places Doris, Sue’s rival, under a hypnotic spell. In deleted scenes, we see Doris travel towards Sue in order to kill her.

From the opening of this sequence, Sue is much closer to the cruel, crude woman of the interrogation. When she says “I’m a whore”, it’s with a tone of defeated recognition: yes, this is how rough her life was all along. The rest of her opening lines on Hollywood Boulevard are a nasty, teasing echo of her own self entering the purgatorial room.

MAN
Just take off your clothes. I’ll tell you what I want.

WOMAN
Fine. Where am I? I’m afraid. I’m afraid…

Inland Empire

SUE
I’m a whore. (mock whining) Wheeeeeeeere am I? I’m afraaaaaaid!

That she says one of the first lines in such a cruel, mocking way is because maybe this figure is Sue with only her base, malicious qualities, all the traits the Phantom exploits in others to do his nasty work, whether it be Sue’s malevolence, the murderous envy of Doris, or the controlling rage of Piotrek. This is a movie of one set of doubles already, prim Nikki and vulgar Sue, now with a new doppelganger brought in, a Sue that is not simply used to a coarse, difficult life, but one that is a dangerous lunatic. This is the Sue who embodies the unhinged murderousness of the Polish Lost Girl when she killed her husband and then killed herself.

We are shown this Sue with the prostitutes, then given the original Sue walking down the other side of the street, before she sees her disturbed mirror image, and does, forgive me, a double take. This is an echo of an earlier moment, when Sue has a vision of this murderous double, and also jumps back in fear.

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Inland Empire: doubles.

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A small, digressionary note: for a handsome man such as Willem Dafoe to make himself into a monster in, say, Wild at Heart, is a matter of no issue. When a beautiful woman such as Laura Dern turns herself into a grotesque for this movie, it takes some bravery, for there are no shortage of those who will use any moment of ugliness in a woman, however brief, even if by design, as an avenue for hurt. In a better world, it is a bravery that should be unnecessary, but in this one, in ours now, I note it.

Sue flees Doris, and ends up at a room at the top of a long flight of stairs where she speaks of her life to Mr. K, the Jack Rabbit of the rabbit trio, in human form. We’re given the starkest vision of Sue’s life so far. Though these monologues are interspersed throughout the film, I place them all here, after the assault by her husband, since the wounds from that are visible in every monologue. As said before, the Sue who speaks here is a far cruder, tougher woman than we’re given at any point in the film. Her accent is far more country than the Sue of Blue Tomorrows or of the Smitty house.

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Inland Empire: the rabbit is the clerk.

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David Lynch's Inland Empire - Sue's monologue

MONOLOGUE #1

SUE
I don’t really understand what I’m doing here. That’s one hell of a fucking climb getting up here. So I was told you can help me. I guess I’ll just tell you the thing. I’m just gonna catch my breath. There was this man…I once knew. His name was…it doesn’t matter what his name was. A lot of guys change. They don’t change, but they reveal. In time, they reveal what they really are. You know what I mean? It’s an old story. Well, this guy…he revealed something. Looking back on it…all along it was being revealed. He was planning something. Planning something with me in mind. When I get mad, I really get mad. I gouged a man’s out when I was fifteen once. He was trying to rape me. I mean, the fucker had it out. He was pushing my legs apart. I got a finger in his eye socket. Pretty quick, rape was a long way off his mind. He was crying and screaming like a baby. “What a fucking man you are,” I said. There was goo. But he could still see me with the one eye…see me coming at him…grabbing his nuts and tearing at ’em. He seen that, all right, and felt it, too. He was screamin’ and wailin’ like a little baby, sittin’ in the corner and crying…moaning and hugging his nuts till the ambulance come. The ambulance guys…they say, “What the fuck happened here?” I say, “He come to a reaping what he been sowing, that’s what.” They say, “Fucker been sowing some kind of heavy shit.”

MONOLOGUE #2

SUE
Seen a guy come at me with a crowbar once. Guess he figured I was two-timing him. I was coming home, we were shacked up at the time. He was waiting for me in the half-light. Waiting for me to come home. Guess he had worked himself into some kind of frenzy. I open the fucking door…and I see this fucking shape burst out of the chair…and a crowbar going up. I scream, and turn. Fucking crowbar comes down, smashing in that fucking door, cheap piece of shit. It just splinters into a thousand pieces, like it was glass, shit flying everywhere. I don’t take this kind of behavior. I see what this fucker was up to. BAM! I kick him in the nuts so hard he go crawling up inside his brain for a refuge. He goes down like a two dollar whore. Crying and shit, telling me he’s done nothing but love me and bullshit.

INTERROGATOR
Were you in fact seeing another man?

SUE
I screwed a couple guys for drinks, no big deal. This one guy was kinda cute. Fucker had a dick like a rhinoceros. He’d fuck the shit out of you, I tell you what. He’d buy me a couple of drinks after. We’d talk, he’d tell me about the town he grew up in. All the little girls he fucked. There was a chemical factory in this town, and he’d tell me it was putting so much shit in the air you couldn’t think straight. It got to a lot of the people. There was a lot of crazy shit going on there. People having weird dreams, seeing things that wasn’t there. This one time, this one little girl. She was staring off at something one time. Starts screaming. The people hanging round come to her and ask what’s wrong, and uh, she says she sees the end of the world. All fire and smoke and blood running. You know, like they say, the wailing and the gnashing of the teeth.

MONOLOGUE#3

SUE
Fucker went to some Eastern European shithole. With the fucking circus. Can you fucking believe that? That circus. Talk about carnies. Carnies, gypsies, con men, you name it. A real fucking ball of shit. There was this guy they had working there. He’d start talking. You know, real regular. Talking up the crowd. They’d start listening. Pushing in closer. He did some sort of thing on people. They all called him “the Phantom”. He got into a barroom fight one night. All the bar was arrested. A lot of them fucking circus clowns. So when they take them all down to the station? Guess what? The Phantom’s done gone and disappeared. This is the kind of shit I’m talking about. He was a marine from North Carolina. He had a sister with one leg. She had a sorta car stick for the other one. She killed three kids in the first grade. This is the kind of shit…Fucking funny. People. They all got their own peculiarities. Their own way of living.

The Phantom, who may be able to change his outward form, has taken on the appearance of a North Carolina marine.

MONOLOGUE#4

SUE
It was a funny name…they was called “Krimp”.

A DELETED MONOLOGUE FRAGMENT ON THE LAMP

I got a lamp. I keep it by my bed. It’s my sister’s bed, but the lamp is mine. Same damn lamp’s always been with me. It’s my sister’s bed, but my lamp. I won’t go anywhere without that lamp. It’s a lamp from my family. On my momma’s side. She was the one who changed it to the red shade it’s got now. It was a floral pattern one before. I seen a picture of it. It had that floral pattern shade. Picture was black and white, so I couldn’t see the actual color of it. Picture was really weird. It had a…man’s hairy arm on the edge of the picture. It was sorta coming in on the side. I asked my momma…if that was my daddy’s arm in the picture. She said, no, dear, that ain’t your daddy there. I asked, who is it then? She said, it’s none of your business. Why wouldn’t she just tell me it was my daddy? I would have forgotten all about it. This way, I keep wondering who the fuck it was hanging around our house. It could have been anybody. Sorta makes you wonder.

This is the lamp that was already mentioned in reference to the mysterious Rabbit dialogue that contains the line “It was red”, and this heirloom occasionally flashes with sinister red light.

In one brief scene, we glimpse Piotrek in his green suit walking out of the bedroom at night and ducking into the door inside the twisty green hallway which connects with the living room. We are never told where he goes, and are left to assume that he is possessed by the Phantom and is going to his mistress, just as Piotrek would leave behind the Lost Girl in order to visit the Phantom’s wife. Two deleted scenes show Piotrek leaving the house in the middle of the night. “Where are you going?” asks Sue in one. “It’s 11:30.” A deleted monologue gives us another reason for why he goes out at night. Sue tells the interrogator that he searches in the bureau for something before leaving, and it’s in the bureau that Sue finds the weapon given to Piotrek in Poland. Piotrek may sometimes be going out to see his mistress, but he also goes out to track down the Phantom.

A DELETED MONOLOGUE ABOUT PIOTREK’S STRANGE TRIPS AT NIGHT

I’m telling you it was a night like any other night. He was getting something from the bureau drawer. It was hidden. Looking back on it, I could see he was hiding it, whatever it was he got out of that drawer. He gets in bed. He sortof looks at me…and switches off the light right by the bed. I got this funny feeling…I said…I don’t know why I said it, but I said: “Is something wrong?” There’s no answer. I sortof freeze, you know. I strain to hear something…and I can’t hear nothing but nothing. I say…I say his name. There’s no answer. I say “What is it? What the hell’s going on?” I can’t hear nothing.

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Inland Empire: "Where are you going? It's 11:30."

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Another deleted scene begins with the power suddenly going out, Sue loudly saying “THERE’S SOMETHING HERE!” just like Jane Rabbit during Nikki’s phone conversation in which the Phantom speaks to her as well. Sue senses that the Phantom is in her house. She goes out with a candle, just as Jane Rabbit held a pair of candles and summoned the spirit of Jack Rabbit. Sue looks at Piotrek and is deeply disturbed by what she sees in his face; there is only one line of dialogue between them before he leaves the house again, for who knows where. “I’m going now,” he says.

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Inland Empire: blackouts.

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MONOLOGUE#5

SUE
There was this man I once knew. I’m trying to tell you so you’ll understand how it went. The thing is, I don’t know what was before or after. I don’t know what happened first. And it’s kinda laid a mind-fuck on me. My husband…he’s fucking hiding something. He was acting all fucking weird one night before he left…he was talking this foreign talk…and telling loud fucking stories…

(intercut with her being beaten by her husband)

SUE
Like this, his face all red. His eyes bugging out. I figured one day I’d wake up and figure out just what yesterday was all about. I’m not too keen about thinking about tomorrow. Today’s slipping by. I guess after my son died…I went into a bad time…when I was watching everything go round me while I was standing in the middle. Watching it…like in a dark theater, before they bring the lights up. I’m sitting there…wondering, how can this be?

INTERROGATOR
Hello? Yeah? She’s still here. I don’t think it will be too much longer. Yeah. The horse to the well. Yeah. Huh? Yeah. He’s around here someplace. That’s for sure. Czerwone time.

What does Mr. K, aka Jack Rabbit, aka “the interrogator”, refer to here? Obviously, that the gods won’t have to wait much longer till the final confrontation with the Phantom. “The horse to the well”: the trap the gods have set. “He’s around here someplace”: the Phantom is nearby. “Czerwone” is Polish for red. Red time might be Phantom time or blood time.

After this, Sue flees to the street where she meets again the prostitutes who’ve been haunting her in the Smitty house. Perhaps my favorite moment of that sequence:

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Inland Empire: here comes the night time.

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Sue is stabbed by Doris.

Inland Empire

She gives out a scream, which is the exact same scream we hear outside the building after the Lost Girl kills Piotrek and then stabs herself to death.

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Inland Empire: two screams.

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Perhaps my second favorite moment from this sequence, the blurring lights of Hollywood as Sue wanders about after being stabbed.

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Inland Empire: flashing lights.

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From a deleted scene, Doris goes on to kill Billy, just as Piotrek was killed in the first plot.

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Inland Empire: two deaths.

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Doris is trying to resist these impulses just as the Lost Girl did, so she turns herself in to the police, but it’s already too late. Doris is under the Phantom’s spell to kill Sue, kill Billy, and lastly, to kill herself – and she’s already done the job, sticking the screwdriver deep into her torso, another re-play of the past, this time of the Lost Girl’s wound when she committed suicide, after killing her husband.

David Lynch's Inland Empire - Doris with the police

David Lynch's Inland Empire - police officer squinting

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Inland Empire: screwdrivers and their misuses.

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DETECTIVE HUTCHINSON
Take a seat. What’s this all about?

DORIS
I’ve been hypnotized or something.

HUTCHINSON
Hypnotized?

DORIS
I’ve got a…I’m gonna kill someone.

HUTCHINSON
Oh yeah? Who ya gonna kill?

DORIS
I don’t know.

HUTCHINSON
Who hypnotized you?

DORIS
I saw him looking at me once…when I looked around the bar. He then moved his hands and he said I would know who it was.

HUTCHINSON
How are you gonna kill this person?

DORIS
With a screwdriver.

I will make a brief digression here, and offer the possibility of an entirely different take on Inland Empire: this is a movie of layers upon layers of illusion, and it is perhaps one layer of illusion that we see Sue always in the lead, when the contemporary story, of squalor, prostitution, and beating, is actually that of Doris, with Sue playing her part. We have some hint of this in the story of the homeless woman: “My friend Nico, who lives in Pomona…has a blonde wig. She wears it at Paris. But she’s on hard drugs and turning tricks now. She looks very good in her blonde wig…just like a movie star. Even girls fall in love with her. When she’s looking so good…In her blonde star wig.” Doris is the real self, and the blonde woman is her imagined ideal self, with the apotheosis of that ideal Nikki, the celebrity. When Sue intrudes in the mansion, she says “What? I thought you were gone,” to Doris, and this is the imagined self taking over the last vestiges of the real. It’s after the moment of the first intrusion on the set, a mysterious figure suddenly in the background, that we have the scene of Nikki being inspected by her husband’s friends about whether she speaks Polish, and then we jarringly shift to Doris at the police station. The story we see is a reprise of the Polish story, and yet it’s also an imagining, an imagining by Doris, and these three consecutive scenes are linked: the intruder is Nikki looking on, but also Doris looking on her created world.

Doris hates her squalor, so she imagines an entirely different existence, and she also hates herself. Her violence is her being possessed by the Phantom, and it’s also self-hatred. When she slaps Sue, it’s violence against her own face, her own body. The image of Sue being stabbed by Doris is Doris stabbing herself. This possibile interpretation, which seems stronger and stronger the more I give it thought, resolves a practical hole: how is it that Doris stabs Billy with a screwdriver, stabs herelf with a screwdriver, when the screwdriver has been left behind, stuck in Sue and then falling to the concrete after Doris has run away? Here is the simple answer: Doris (as Sue) first stabs Billy to death, then stabs herself, after which the two plots diverge, her dying in the police station and her imagined arc in this movie. We are also given an explanation for why the image of malevolent Sue across the street, which Sue finds so frightening, disappears and has its place taken by Doris. We are also given some context for what precedes the stabbing; the whores snap their fingers, then move out as if something ominous is about to take place, after which Sue lifts the screwdriver as if to move it to stab herself, only to have Doris rush in and grab the tool from her hand and stick it in herself. Doris stabs Sue, but Sue is just a proxy playing out Doris’s life, and this is Doris just stabbing her own body, the tool stuck in her insides when she gets to the police station.

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Inland Empire: My body, my self.

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Sue wakes from the movie set, with, I believe, her two selves joined. The point is left ambiguous: it is her accent which lets us know whether she’s Nikki, Sue, or what might be the identity closest to Sue’s actual existence, the unapologetically vulgar woman of the interrogation, and she never speaks again after this point. The deaths of Billy and Doris may be as impermanent as Sue’s, part of the ruse to lure in the Phantom, something like when an elaborate con game in a movie is played on a mark, the mark calling some police at the end, a shoot-out taking place, the mark fleeing in panic, and then there is the big reveal: the police are con accomplices in disguise and the would-be victims rise from the mess of exploded squibs.

She gets the gun given to Piotrek.

David Lynch's Inland Empire - Sue finds the gun

David Lynch's Inland Empire - Sue's hand on the gun

She kills the Phantom. She sees in him a brief reflection of herself, distorted by lunatic hate, the very same poisonous feeling that caused her to kill her husband and herself in a previous life. The Phantom bleeds the dark bile that was in the red cup thrown to the ground in Poland.

David Lynch's Inland Empire - Sue fires gun

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Inland Empire: crazy inside.

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Inland Empire: the poison.

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That Sue is killing not just something that controlled her husband but controlled herself, in the past life and this one, is, I think, the heart of the movie. We first see malevolent crazed Sue walking along a landscape with a thin overlay of a clown, from Piotrek’s circus. When the Phantom dies, his face becomes dripping bile, trapped in a bag. It’s this very imagery that Lynch employs in his book, Catching the Big Fish in the chapter “Suffocating Rubber Clown Suit”, about his own anger:

When I started meditating, I was filled with anxieties and fears. I felt a sense of depression and anger.

I often took out this anger on my first wife. After I had been meditating for about two weeks, she came to me and said, “What’s going on?” I was quiet for a moment. But finally I said, “What do you mean?” And she said, “This anger, where did it go?” And I hadn’t even realized that it had lifted.

I call that depression and anger the Suffocating Rubber Clown Suit of Negativity. It’s suffocating, and that rubber stinks. But once you start meditating and diving within, the clown suit starts to dissolve. You finally realize how putrid was the stink when it starts to go. Then, when it dissolves, you have freedom.

David Lynch's Inland Empire - the clown mask and scary Sue

We might see Sue’s journey as part of buddhist tradition, or an interpretation of such traditions, where she resolve the burdens of past lives, and finally free herself of toxic anger, fear, and anxiety.

She goes to the haven of the gods and opens the door. She frees her earlier self from purgatory. This former self, the Lost Girl, is brought together again with her dead husband and Sue’s child, the child the Lost Girl could not have. The gods applaud Sue for her work. She is back at the mansion of the beginning, but now she’s someone different. Her appearance suggests a union of two identities, the refined Nikki of the early section, and the coarse tough Sue of the interrogation, in what she looks like here: the demure pose of Nikki with the hair style of the later Sue, not the hair worn long or pony-tailed by the actress. She has taken the path to the palace.

David Lynch's Inland Empire - the rabbits have a visitor

David Lynch's Inland Empire - Sue and the Lost Girl

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Inland Empire: happy endings.

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David Lynch's Inland Empire - Sue at the palace

(All images and script excerpts copyright Absurda productions.)

On April 17, 2015, as part of an on-going process to make this very intricate explanation more readable, several edits were made – though some phrasings were tweaked, none of the essential content was changed. On April 26, 2015, further attempts were made to render this post more readable. On April 27, 2015, the gif of lunatic Sue in the hotel room was added. The week of June 8, 2015, various vines were added to this post, and on the day of June 8, the paragraph beginning “Perhaps the best way of looking at the movie…” was added. On June 16, 2015, the vine and monologue about Piotrek’s night trips was added. The notes on Sue, buddhism, and Catching the Big Fish were added on the same day. Originally, I thought the meeting between “The Lady” and Sue took place in the Smitty house narrative, but I now think it happens in Blue Tomorrows, and on June 17, 2015, that text was moved to the appropriate location and given a few edits. On that same day, the vine and accompanying text about the deleted scene featuring the sudden blackout and Piotrek’s mysterious night trip was added. The paragraphs suggesting the possibility that the movie is actually about Doris’s life, “I will make a brief digression here, and offer the possibility…” and “Doris hates her squalor…”, were added on June 28, 2015. On June 29, 2015, the paragraph “This movie is a re-make of an old Polish…” was added. The vines of the prostitutes snapping their fingers and the blurring L.A. lights seen from Sue’s perspective were added that day as well. On June 30th, 2015, a few more details were added to the paragraphs about the possibility that we are actually seeing Doris’s story, with Sue playing her part. On September 12, 2017, the mention of the references to Queen Kelly and Sunset Boulevard was added.

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Notes About One Of The Last Scenes In Blue Velvet (SPOILERS)

This post was cited by the site 366 Weird Movies in their insightful piece on the movie, “201. Blue Velvet”, published May 6, 2015. We are so very grateful for the mention.

The following contains very violent imagery.

Quick notes about one of the last scenes in the David Lynch movie, when Jeffrey enters Dorothy’s room for the last time, and finds the Yellowman and Dorothy’s husband, Don Vallens, both dead. It might be one of the most exotic, most memorable images I’ve ever seen, but when I try to put together the circumstances which lead to this event, in contrast, they’re banal.

Frank Booth has just been hit with a number of major raids across the city, his operation compromised.

David Lynch's Blue Velvet - the raid on Frank Booth - URL if gif doesn't load: http://gfycat.com/SimilarGaseousCrayfish

Though he knows Jeffrey is in a relationship with Dorothy, he does not know that he is also seeing Sandy, Detective Williams’ daughter. Nor does he know that Jeffrey surveilled him and knows about the various locations he operates. Williams learns of Frank’s business through Jeffrey’s research; however, Frank does not know this. The Yellowman has seen Jeffrey at Williams, and he’s seen him at Dorothy’s but in his bugman disguise; he doesn’t connect they’re the same man. So, when Frank is raided at various precise locations he assumes someone talked, not thinking that Jeffrey is the suspect. He believes it’s either Dorothy, or that the Yellowman double crossed him.

The Yellowman still has his gun holstered; he was among trusted associates and did not expect to be shot. Frank was there when it happened, because when he arrives at Dorothy’s apartment, he’s not surprised by the scene at all. The Yellowman was shot very close, if not at the exact position where he’s standing, since there’s no blood trail in the carpet. He’s shot on the left side, the exit wound on the right, with the gore hitting the wall on his right.

Blue Velvet Yellowman last scene

He’s moved slightly since then, so we see the exit wound. We can perhaps imagine the scene. The Yellowman, Raymond and Paul are pressing Dorothy on whether she talked to anyone. They threaten her directly, but also by threatening her husband in front of her. Raymond, say, shoots the TV for intimidation effect – I think the angle of the shot is from someone standing near where Dorothy’s husband is.

Blue Velvet Yellowman last scene

David Lynch's Blue Velvet - Yellowman is shot, TV is shot out - URL if gif doesn't load: http://gfycat.com/BasicImpressiveIslandcanary

Raymond, say, gets a call from Frank to keep the Yellowman there – when he arrives, he may give a signal, some keyword said, and on that, shoot him. Frank arrives. They all turn to see him, including the Yellowman, who now faces the door, his right side facing the wall where the gore splatters. The Yellowman asks what’s happening out there. Frank gives an answer that contains the keyword. The Yellowman has no sense that he’s in danger, and Raymond shoots him. Dorothy flees. Dorothy’s husband, of no use to them now, is shot and killed.

I think of this as a possibility that fits the visual details in the scene. They’re the banal context of the gang betrayed, the traitor killed, that we’ve seen, or imagined we’ve seen, in many movies and TV shows. I stress the banality, because I think Blue Velvet is one of my favorite movies, if not my favorite, and to make clear, if only to myself, that the power of the movie does not lie with the plot, which again, is not that unconventional. To focus on the plot, or even worse, some “political” aspect of the story, is like investigating in-depth movie theaters or night cafes to get at the power of the paintings of Edward Hopper.

The most crucial part of what I’ve mentioned is that it’s entirely hidden and left to speculation. The aftereffect of the image, the puzzling sui generis composition is important, the before is not, can only be a bunch of several seen details. Blue Velvet‘s power lies in keeping many things under a veil. The nature of Frank’s operation. The relationships between Frank and Dorothy, as well as Frank and Ben. Whether Dorothy’s husband worked for Frank and what he did that got him into trouble. I will borrow a word from Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, “nyktomorph”. I disagree greatly with Booker’s book, but I think the word and his definition extraordinarily useful for talking about this movie. He links the phenomenon to the primal process of threat identification:

Because, in the darkness, the brain cannot get enough information to see the bush clearly, it is teased into exaggerating the significance of what it sees, building it up in imagination as a threatening monster. This is the phenomenon we may call a ‘nyktomorph’, a ‘night shape’: an image which, because the brain cannot resolve it, becomes invested with far greater power than if it could be clearly seen and understood. And to understand how fantasy works, one must appreciate that it is precisely because it feeds on these nyktomorphic images which cannot reach resolution that it comes to exercise such an obsessive hold over the human mind.

Booker considers nyktomorphs part of ego based fantasies, which he considers a kind of storytelling gone wrong. Booker does not approve of nyktomorphs; but I do.

That the true details of the plot remain submerged is part of the movie’s power. Many of its images are nyktomorphic too. For large parts of the movie, the viewer feels as if they see everything in the shot. Yet other vital scenes, most prominently Dorothy’s apartment and Ben’s place, feel so rich in detail that it’s impossible to absorb it all, with details always going missing. We are forever given too brief a view. When Jeffrey enters Dorothy’s apartment and sees the dead bodies, we are allowed only the briefest wide shot.

Blue Velvet Yellowman last scene

Then, another, later, but with Jeffrey blocking part of our view.

Blue Velvet Yellowman last scene

David Lynch's Blue Velvet - Yellowman knocks the lamp down - URL if gif doesn't load: http://gfycat.com/MajesticCraftyIrukandjijellyfish

Afterwards, we will only get close-ups of parts of the scene, the Yellowman, the TV set, Dorothy’s husband; and then part of the scene at an angle when Frank enters the scene.

Blue Velvet Yellowman last scene

A far longer amount of time is given over to Jeffrey’s reaction to the mayhem. He gets a long look, we do not.

Blue Velvet Yellowman last scene

“Restriction is the mother of invention” is another phrase, very useful here. This was Lynch’s own project, which required many sacrifices and burdens for him to make; but he had the constraints of reality reaching the heightened quality of fantasy, but only reaching always within the restrictions of reality (the world of Blue Velvet is entirely our own, the world of Twin Peaks is not), all drawn within the lines of an A-B-C thriller plot. This would be the last time one of his movies would have this exact set of constraints. Twin Peaks and Fire Walk With Me had a thriller plot with a metaphysical fantasy world superimposed, most of its most astonishing moments coming from the pagan forces that attempted to manipulate the earthbound characters. Wild At Heart had an open ended road movie structure. Lost Highway was either a fantasy world formed by lunacy or another, different pagan force. The Straight Story was straight ahead realism, with none of the heightening of danger, eroticism, or both that is in Velvet. With Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire, we are again at the intersection of madness and metaphysical beings.

I note this distinction only to indicate why Blue Velvet may have such a different look and feel from David Lynch’s later work. His photon tapestries have given me crescendos of sensation that make the offerings of others so many empty plates. A great circus master neither needs nor wants advice from the stands.

All images copyright De Laurentiis Entertainment Group.

On May 9, 2015, the supplementary gifs were added to this post. On that same day, it underwent a session of copy editing.

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