“Cherry Pie Wrapped in Barb Wire” – Understanding Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

What kind of fantastic trees have you got growing around here?

Are they epileptic trees?

Hello!  MAJOR MAJOR spoilers ahead for all of Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, plus a little bit of The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer. But you probably didn’t follow the link along if you weren’t a Twin Peaks nut, anyways… right? If you haven’t seen ALL of it, this won’t make any sense because I assume in this post that you are intimately familiar with the show and the movie, and I reference the film’s shooting script occasionally.

And if you haven’t seen any of it, then please go watch it! Season 1 is among the greatest TV ever, and the first half of Season 2 is damn fine as well. The second of half of Season 2 increasingly sucks up until the finale, but is necessary to understand the prequel film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. That film inspires critical opinion ranging from “terrible” to “meh” to “it’s an uneven mess of good and bad” to, as I argue here, “brilliant and powerful.” So… yeah.

In this brief speech David Lynch describes Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me as a “cherry pie present to the fans of the show – however one that’s wrapped in barbed wire.” I have a theory here that partly explains some of the mysteries of the show and movie (only partly though – as Lynch himself says in that interview, he hates when all the mysteries of something get explained, and doesn’t know the answers himself). My theory also may explain exactly what Lynch meant by “a cherry pie wrapped in barb wire.” Keep in mind that he talks about “the power of subconsciousness” in that same speech.

So. Here’s my theory:

The Origin of the People of the Lodge

The Black Lodge and White Lodge folk are formerly imaginary people.

Suppose that certain individuals in the real world, those with especially fervent imaginations – like the Log Lady, Phillip Gerard, an old waiter at the Great Northern, and the entire Palmer family – are able to manifest, to a degree, imaginary people into being who then inhabit the Lodges.

The shooting script implies that the Lodge people were once beings of “pure air,” and that they long for, or are curious about, or feed upon, connections to the real world – be it the sensual experience of touching and seeing a formica table or human pain and suffering. Perhaps the more the beings are able to experience real things – and perhaps the ‘garmonbozia’ of pain and suffering is the realest of all (at least for MIKE and BOB, considering Mrs. Tremond seems to reject it at one point) – the more real they are, and, like Pinocchio, all they want to be is real. Being “of pure air,” they naturally have strange and signficant powers, existing outside of time, able to use the ethereal substances of electricity and fire (and fire’s best fuels, oil and wood) to communicate and travel, and so forth.

It’s hard to say when BOB would have been invented. Clearly, Laura imagined him over top of her father in order to escape the horror of his raping her; but Leland states, before his death, that he let BOB in when he was a child. But perhaps BOB was not able to truly manifest himself in Leland until Laura saw him there and gave him form. Perhaps later, BOB saw in Laura the potential for a new host, given her natural imaginative power and charisma; perhaps, as the shooting script implies, BOB felt he could eventually become completely real and flesh (as he later was able to do by sending his Dale Cooper doppelgänger into the real world) through Laura – but she escaped by getting Leland/BOB to kill her. (More on all that in a moment.)

In this sense, Laura both did create BOB as psychological cover for what she was going through with Leland, and did not; she had to imagine her father as an evil stranger, so she did, and it was natural for BOB, already being ‘around,’ to present himself as the form her evil stranger would take. In other words, Laura’s 12-year-old mind needed a monster, and BOB came out of hiding and took the job.

(My theory here, to restate, is that all the Lodge people, even if they already exist, require this sort of imagination or invocation to manifest.)

As for the other Lodge people, we don’t know enough about any of them or their theoretical creators to
suppose what forces led to their creation, except perhaps that the Log Lady, being fervent of imagination and missing her dead husband, managed to concoct a version of him into existence in the Lodge (whom, as some people
theorize, she communicated with through her wooden log). Perhaps the dotty waiter hides a similarly fervent imagination, and concocted a gentle giant as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for his poor, shriveled self – or allowed the preexisting Giant to manifest in him. Perhaps the first, human Chalfants in the trailer conceived (and made flesh?!) the Lodge-person Chalfants/Tremonds. Perhaps BOB and MIKE originated long, long ago as spirits of evil, and popped up whenever a fervent imagination gave them the window to.

Anyways – I like this general interpretation because it preserves the sense of psychological realism as far as Laura’s vision of BOB goes. If BOB is just some demon entity that Laura just happened to observe as he possessed her father, then Laura was simply a victim of supernatural torment and Leland was simply a victim as well (contradicting everything in Fire Walk With Me that rather clearly tells us Leland was conscious of his actions, particularly the milk-drugging scene, the breakfast scene and his flashbacks to Teresa Banks, unless you want to believe that Leland was practically never in control of his body). But if Laura had a hand in the creation of BOB by trying to cope with the horrors of Leland’s very intentional incest? That’s such a deeply sad and somehow real interpretation, because it implies that Laura, in trying to escape Leland, was in fact partly responsible for putting a demon into him – as little as a twelve-year old can be ‘responsible’ for such a thing under such awful circumstances.  Crucially, this implies in turn that Leland was ultimately responsible, via the raping his daughter, for her imagining him as a demon, and thus he’s responsible for literally demonizing/possessing himself.  It’s his own fault for feeding his demon all her pain and suffering.

Leland was tormented as a child by either someone possessed by an evil spirit or someone who may as well have been; he grew up and tormented his daughter, and because of that the evil spirit that had tormented him was able to possess him – because Laura needed that evil spirit to cope with and avoid the more painful truth that her rapist was her father. (A demon is preferable to her father – that tells us just how frightening the incest is.)

Then, later, Leland tried, or the evil spirit (BOB) tried, to move on to and possess Laura. But she managed to escape that fate, by forcing her own murder – which she did by putting on the ring.

So what the hell is the ring?

The Mirror and the Ring

Note that in the shooting script, the ring has nothing to do with Laura’s murder directly, because it doesn’t turn up at the train car. In that version, it’s just Teresa Banks’ ring; somehow MIKE gets a hold of it and uses it to convince Laura that her father and BOB are one, if not quite the same. (Why does MIKE care to do this?  Because BOB is keeping all the garmonbozia to himself. It’s notable in the film that the garmonbozia which BOB passes on to MIKE’s arm/the Man From Another Place at the end is Leland’s garmonbozia, it seems, not Laura’s; or at least it was being kept inside Leland.)

In the script, Laura simply demands verbally that Leland kill her because she won’t let BOB possess her, and it’s specifically stated earlier on that Leland had realized he would have to get rid of her, for the same reason he had to kill Teresa: to avoid getting caught, plain and simple. The only “out” he offers in the script is to let BOB take her, and maybe that’s just BOB controlling Leland. Or maybe that’s because if BOB takes over Laura, her murder will not be necessary: BOB’s evil will make her compliant. Leland does, after all, in the most sick and false way possible, love his daughter, and would prefer not to have to kill her; putting an evil spirit in her seems to be an alternate solution.

But in the film, not the shooting script, it’s the ring that does it. Leland has no moment in the film prior to the ring’s appearance where he seems to realize he has to kill Laura. It seems he takes her to the train car solely with the intent of confronting her with the truth – since it’s become obvious he can no longer hide it from her, or possibly from the world, for much longer – with no specific plan for how to deal with the situation other than to put the mirror in front of her.

But then Gerard comes, and he has the ring. Laura takes it, her facial expression suggesting that she knows what she’d doing by putting it on… and for some reason, Leland kills her.

Why? Because the ring demonstrates, literally and symbolically, that Laura KNOWS about Leland’s murder of Teresa Banks, and she intends to hold onto that evidence and USE it against him.  And/or to BOB, it demonstrates that MIKE and company are onto him.

Leland doesn’t make any direct reference to either the ring or Gerard’s presence; it’s not the ring itself, but what it represents, that matters. Remember that Laura found out from Jacques that Teresa asked about her father? The ring itself isn’t necessary as evidence – all she has to do is connect the dots for authorities between herself, Teresa and her father. That would mean giving herself up for her prostitution and drug use, too, yes; but that’s why her act of wearing the ring is so strong, both as a symbol and for her character.

Perhaps it wasn’t Leland’s plan to “put” BOB into Laura at all; perhaps he simply meant to confront her with the possibility of turning into BOB, or with the fact that BOB, as a spirit (manifested partly by her), was never the one who was raping her. Why? Because he learned she was lying to herself about the sex that was happening, and attributing it to BOB – Leland thought she knew it was him, and so their encounters were not what he thought they were. He had held the belief that she accepted and even enjoyed the rape (witness the pleasurable reaction she has in the rape scene in the film, most likely borne out of a combination of a kind of sexual Stockholm Syndrome and her taking drugs to cope). Now that he realizes she thought it was BOB, he wants to get back to the place where, as he thought, they ‘knew’ it was each other and ‘mutually enjoyed it.’

By showing her that BOB is in her mirror, too, Leland is trying to get Laura to ACCEPT HIS VERSION OF THEIR LOVE, consciously and as a human. “Look, daughter, the person who you thought was raping you? No, that’s just an evil spirit who’s along for the ride. He comes from you, from your imagination; he’s your version of me, as much a part of you as he is of me. Do you see? The actual lovemaking wasn’t BOB, it was your beloved father,” Leland is saying.

But Laura takes the ring. She’s not (of course FUCKING not!) going to consciously acquiesce to, let alone enjoy, that kind of “love” with her father now that she’s escaped the blanket of her coping delusion. She knows about Teresa Banks. She’s going to turn him in. His only way out is to kill her.

Note that Agent Cooper’s warning not to take the ring occurs in the shooting script even though in the script the ring doesn’t appear at the train car. In the film, his warning jibes with either the sense of “don’t take the ring out of the dream” or “don’t take the ring in the train car.” Waking up with the ring is equivalent to her realizing the connection between Leland and Teresa, which is what allows her to confront Leland in the train car later and get herself killed. The first taking of the ring prefaces the second taking, so both lead to her death. Thus Cooper’s warning could refer to either case; clearly he wants to save her life for better or for worse.

Of course, the ring has other properties as well – it leads to Chet Desmond’s disappearance, it has the Owl Cave symbol on it, and it moves around between disconnected places and planes. But these otherworldly and inexplicable attributes don’t matter as far as Laura is concerned. (But, alright, fine – one wildly speculative interpretation of the ring’s history is this: the ring is a simple object that BOB or the Lodge inhabitants use to mark their future victims or to draw garmonbozia out of them [notice how it seems connected to Teresa’s arm going numb at one point, in a possible connection to Gerard removing his arm]; BOB/Leland or MIKE/Gerard at some point gave it to Teresa; after her death, the Lodge inhabitants took it and put it under the Chalfants’ trailer; when Chet showed up, either he happened by exactly when the trailer and ring were sucked up into Lodge-land and unluckily went with them, or the Lodge people took him away then to save the ring, or we actually cut away right before MIKE or BOB or the Chalfants/Tremonds literally snuck up on and murdered Chet before skedaddling with the ring and the trailer; the Lodge people/Gerard used the ring to reach out to Laura and wake her to the truth, in order to either save her [that’s what the good fellow Gerard’s motivation would be] or to get at BOB [that’s what MIKE and the Lodge people’s motivation would be]; MIKE/Gerard tossed the ring into the train car so that Laura could confront Leland/BOB with her knowledge of Teresa Banks, thus winning the day for MIKE when BOB is forced to kill her and suck the garmonbozia out because of the ring/losing the day for Gerard when this action leads to Laura’s murder instead of Leland’s surrendering as he had hoped. Got that? All right, now forget it, because it still has nothing really to do with Laura’s perspective on the whole thing.)

In the end, I am interested in an explanation that preserves the show and the movie’s emotional content and doesn’t contradict the clearly literal existence of the Lodge people. Thinking of the Lodge people as manifestations that take on a life of their own but are subject to the emotional wills of people like Laura preserves her, and Leland’s, psychological agency. I find it no wonder that Sheryl Lee reports being thanked by incest victims for her brave portrayal and told that the movie meant a lot to them; Fire Walk With Me suggests that in committing incest, the abuser and victim literally, in their illicit and one-way-forcible encounter, allow a demon in. I assume, given the thanks Lee got, that the film’s vision must be, in some way, what it feels like for the victim, a kind of catharsis for them.

Because for Laura, the victim, to continue on once she realizes her abuser is not the demon but rather her own father, she would have to intentionally comply and accept the demon into herself; thus, to acquiesce knowingly to incest makes the victim feel like a literal, possessed demon. (And it’s hard not to ‘acquiesce’ when you’re FUCKING TWELVE YEARS OLD.) No wonder death – an escape to a kind of heaven – is a better option; even if Laura could somehow physically escape Leland in the train car through force or false promises, she would still have to live forever after as a demon (or so she feels). She seizes upon the evidence that was delivered to her from third parties (who either pitied her or had a claim on the demon she had created) – evidence that Leland had killed Teresa Banks, evidence that BOB was abandoning his Lodge duties – to force her own murder and thus achieve the moral victory of barring the demon from her living body.

(In the shooting script, the closer Laura comes to realizing the truth about Leland, the more BOB, in dreams and appearances, tells her that he wants to possess her. Dawning knowledge equals dawning demonhood.)

In the published supplement The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, this is explored further – it’s clear that BOB justifies his torture of Laura by telling her she’s inherently bad and deserves it, implicating her in her own horrible experience.  Throughout the diary, Laura wavers between accepting this and acting out because of it (drugs, brutal sex) and fighting against it by trying to be good (Meals on Wheels, tutoring poor Johnny Horne).  There’s more going on the diary I won’t get into because I’m mainly talking about the film here, but it’s particularly notable that Laura writes in her diary in BOB’s voice.  It seems to me that Laura spends most of her life fighting against the notion that the demon is a real, irremovable part of her – and the revelation that her father, her own father, is involved is the final straw that breaks her ability to distance herself from her tortures.  How can she blame a demon for what’s happened to her when it was her dad all along?

To sum up: from Laura’s point of view – separate demon as the rapist = someone besides herself to blame.  Her father as the rapist = no one but herself to blame.  What child – or even teenager – can blame her own father, who appeared as a monument of goodness and comfort from her childhood?  Laura learned the truth, and chose death to escape self-demonization.

The real, psychological thrust of Fire Walk With Me is so powerful because of this metaphor of the possessing demon, at once distancing and clarifying. Remember the “power of the subconscious?” The whole plot would be unpalatable, and incomprehensible, if totally literal and devoid of the supernatural, because Laura’s plight is inherently contradictory, and her interaction with her abuser makes more sense when understood through the lens of otherworldly possessing spirits. For a victim of incest, the film seems to say, if the original psychological defense was to create a demon in place of the abuser, then when this fiction collapses, the demon remains – the specter of self-blame. (Self-blame, to wit: if BOB wasn’t a real independent thing, then Laura’s mind can only conclude that she was raping herself with BOB’s image, when she feels she should have seen, and rejected, her father.) There are only two possible endings after the demon is “let out” like that: either the victim fully takes the demon into herself, or death.

Cherry Pie in Barbed Wire

The Twin Peaks show, by the end, had revealed everything about the murder it was going to reveal – who BOB was; how Leland was responsible; and, obliquely through Laura’s diary entries, clues from the various murders, Sarah’s visions, and his interaction with Maddie, that Leland had been abusing Laura. But it still had something significant missing. Laura’s story was still untold; she still, as of the end of the show, remained, as far as the audience could have known, a passive victim of either an abusive father or a dark spirit (or both). Lynch realized this and realized that the fans of Twin Peaks deserved a gift – the story of Laura. But not just her story – the story of how she chose and had agency in her death.

Of course this story would come wrapped in barbed wire, because, holy fuck, it involves looking deep into an abyss that echoes with rape, Leland’s systematic silencing of Sarah and Sarah’s battered but complicit response, Laura’s acting out through drugs and sex, and, most disturbing of all, the knowledge that Laura didn’t know and had to find out that it was her father all along, which Lynch makes us watch happen in real time. Not to mention the concept that otherworldly spirits are involved in all this, and that they may just be feeding on all the pain and suffering.

But it’s a cherry pie because, deep down within that abyss, there’s a message: whereas, without the movie, Laura was a pitiable victim, after seeing Fire Walk With Me it’s clear that she was strong, stronger than the demon BOB, stronger than her terrible father. Yes, we want to know who killed Laura Palmer, and yes, BOB goes on to kill again and is never stopped, but in some core sense all that doesn’t matter. Because the film puts the sweetest of sweet forgivenesses in the background of the entire sad, cynical Twin Peaks saga: Laura won. She saved her soul.

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13 comments

  1. […]  That post has also, predictably, drawn the most consistent stream of comments. The other is “Cherry Pie Wrapped in Barb Wire” – Understanding Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, which gets people searching for “twin peaks fire walk with me theories” and the like. […]

  2. Great information. Lucky me I found your website by accident (stumbleupon).

    I have book marked it for later!

  3. Well, since I came out of the theater in 1992, I’ve entertained a lot of theories. Then, with the advent of discussion forums on the Internet, I’ve read a lot of theories. This is by far the most convincing and articulate theory I’ve come across. Congratulations, and thank you.

  4. JohnEbin · · Reply

    Didn’t the one armed man have medicine for schizophrenia? When he stopped taking it the spirit started talking through him.

  5. Anonymous · · Reply

    If it was her dad all along then that kinda makes Cooper’s response to Truman not believing the whole bob thing was real saying “is it really any easier to believe a man could rape and murder his own daughter” kinda pointless. And i thought that this was a big quote from the show

    1. I agree and disagree. I agree it is a big quote, but for the opposite reason of what I think you’re suggesting.

      “Harry, is it easier to believe a man would rape and murder his own daughter? Any more comforting?” says Cooper.

      We must not confuse *Cooper* believing this to be true for the *thematic* truth of that statement. That’s Cooper’s – and the citizens of Twin Peaks’ – justification for absolving Leland of his terrible crime (after his funeral, Cooper says he believes Leland died at peace). Why does he say that? Because it is, in fact, *much more comforting* – key word COMFORTING – to believe a man was possessed and thus not responsible for raping and murdering his daughter than it is to believe that the man did it willfully.

      Comfort and truth do not often go hand-in-hand.

      Fire Walk With Me exposes the lie behind that comforting statement, by taking us through Laura’s journey of peeling it back and discovering the truth. The film reveals that the real evils of the Leland Palmers of this world far outstrip that of an imaginary evil spirit. Leland’s is an evil so great that in order to even begin to comprehend and confront it, we have to imagine that evil spirit – BOB – just like Laura, Cooper, and everyone else did.

  6. It’s very clear from the show and the movie that Leland does not know what he is doing when BOB takes over. There are incredibly powerful, subtle cues in the music, lighting, and Ray Wise’s facial expressions that indicate when BOB is present. Also, did you forget about the entire scene where BOB kills Leland, and Leland slowly realizes (for the first time) everything he has done to his own daughter?

    I agree that Laura imagining a demon over her father is a powerful image, but it doesn’t fit, and it’s not what the show is about. Leland himself is not evil himself, BOB is evil. Now it very well may be a comment on rape/incest in general, but it’s not exactly what happens in the show.

    1. I respectfully disagree! There are a few instances in the show – such as when Leland is driving around with Maddy’s body in the trunk – that do not align with the presentation of BOB either cinemetographically or personality-wise (BOB being animalistic and violent and unharnessed). It’s possible to read Leland’s death scene as him coming to regret what he’s done finally and realizing how horrible he was, but not necessarily learning that information for the first time.

      The film, however, is completely unambiguous as far as I’m concerned. If Leland doing terrible things is him-as-BOB, then he’s BOB for the whole film. He is calm and (largely) cool and very un-BOB-like throughout. He’s clearly abusive and frightening in the breakfast scene; he certainly appears to be in control the first time he sees Teresa Banks; he very methodically drugs his wife and turns on the fan in order to set up his entry into Laura’s bedroom. Most damningly, at the end, when he shows the diary pages to Laura, he says, “I thought you knew it was me!” This is not BOB talking – if you read the Diary of Laura Palmer supplemental book, you know that from the beginning Laura knew her abuser was BOB, but it wasn’t until the events of the film that she connected BOB with Leland.

      It’s also a much less interesting story if Leland is completely non-culpable – it’s reduced to a tale of evil spirits vs poor, ignorant, yet good humans. This is me reading outside of the text, but I don’t believe Lynch to have such a simplistic view – and the rest of the Twin Peaks series and characters certainly don’t reflect such a black-and-white morality.

  7. Chris Hodges · · Reply

    I watched Fire Walk with Me last night and found your excellent interpretation. What caught my attention was one of your comments regarding Agent Cooper choosing the more comforting view of the “truth”. I found it strange that he would pursue his love interest with Annie at the end of season 2 of the series, because as sharp minded as he is, he must have known that he would put her in danger (he also ignores the warning of the Giant silently). He knew what happened to Earle’s wife and that it was, in part at least, his fault. I think the only reason he could have been replaced by the Doppelgänger at the end is due to this corruption of integrity, this egosism.

    As of constructing an alternative reality to avoid confrontation of the massive trauma of Laura, this is perfectly reasonable. Pan’s Labyrinth comes into mind as another example of dissociation due to horror and trauma.

    Thanks for the good read!

  8. Great article! Really helpful. I want to write my BA thesis about the representation of evil in Twin Peaks. But it is so much confusing… there is certain mythology connected with the Black Lodge and Waiting Room. And it seems logical that Bob is a psychological construct, the dark side of our psyche, ‘the evil men do” On the other hand, it could be also some metaphysical, aboriginal power which influences us in the way that it frees/switches on our inner evil…

    It is really hard to make a clear-cut thesis. Maybe I should write about the ambiguity of evil in TP.

    Do You have some opinion? How do You interpret the Whole Black Lodge (with midget, dopplegangers etc) if it was only about psychology? I would be really thankful for Your help!!!

    1. Thank you! I am flattered that it helps.

      I think the ambiguity might be a good thesis. Lynch rarely provides a single, definitive interpretation. BOB and the Black Lodge can easily be read as a psychological construct (as I largely did above), an extraplanar or alien entity, a manifestation of evil like you said… You can talk a lot about how the ambiguity is, in itself, a message, how it suggests varying degrees of responsibility for the evil around us.

      You could interpret the Black Lodge, psychologically, as a sort of Jungian space, the collective unconsciousness of all of humanity, a common well we access that is the source of our evil, or the place where we can have conversations with evil. It might be a stretch to make this fit with every image of the Black Lodge we see, but you could certainly discover a lot simply by exploring the Jungian connections. Anything that suggests that the real-life characters do not communicate with each other through the Black Lodge – anything that suggests that Dale, Roy, Laura, etc are only having private interactions with the Lodge, which happen to share the same symbols as each other’s – would support a collective-unconscious interpretation, I think.

      It’s also worth noting that the Black Lodge seems less evil than amoral, or, in the phrasing of TV Tropes, to be devoted to a Blue-and-Orange Morality. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BlueAndOrangeMorality They don’t seem to base their ideas of right and wrong on what we do: harm and care, life and death. They seem to be mostly interested in experiences (the formica table), impulse, territory, and their food is literally pain. But does that mean BOB isn’t evil? Or is he an evil rogue from the Black Lodge’s morality?

      Hope that helps. Particularly with a dense and ambiguous work like this, if you just start with a general idea and start exploring the connections, you’ll find a rabbit hole to go down as deep as you want.

  9. Thank You so much. It helps even more. Now Im wondering if I should write about two possible interpretations of the Black Lodge(metaphictional vs psychological) or focus directly on the psychological one… (since I want to write about the ambiguity)… I must draw some conclusions after all. Also, Im thinking about the title. Is ” ‘ who killed Laura Palmer?’ – the manifestation of evil in Twin Peaks” good enoug?. Or should I rather name it as the ambigous manifestation of evil?

  10. Ive also came across the theory that Bob is what psychoa alysis calls the phallus. In the sense that he incarnates a limitless expression of male sexuality and aggressiveness. That is too interesting…

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