Thursday, June 7, 2018

Body Talk:Conversations on Transgender Cinema with Caden Gardner: Part Six

Ginger Snaps (2000)
Body Talk is an ongoing series of transcribed conversations on Transgender Cinema as we prepare to write a book on the subject. This part is on the horror subgenre of "body horror". 

WILLOW MACLAY: Alyssa Heflin tweeted not too long ago upon the occasion of the release of Lukas Dhon'ts cis wet dream "Girl" that as it existed Cinematic language couldn't tell or interpret transgender stories in a suitable way. I've been thinking about that a lot lately, especially as it pertains to our general thesis of "What is transgender cinema?" and I've come to the conclusion that I think she's right. Transgender Cinema as it is understood by cisgender filmmakers is exterior forces and changes, but we understand transness as an internal, textural, abstract energy. Especially in the case of dysphoria. What cisgender filmmakers typically do not understand is that for us, the internal becomes external, not the other way around. Dysphoria manifests itself in real exterior ways, but it originates from an internal place. In order to accomplish something resembling a real transgender cinema cisgender filmmakers (and transgender ones too) need to work from the inside out and they shouldn't be afraid to obscure or unsettle the image, because as trans people our experience of being alive is something that is never going to be 100% right. Of course you have to write the character with the full intentions of giving them scope and life, but transness touches everything for us, and we perceive the world in that way. This is why I think body horror is the closest thing mainstream cinema has to transgender cinema in terms of cinematic language. In body horror you get characters who are often unfairly stricken with something they had no control over until it begins to eat at them completely until they become at one with their own sickness and come to grips with their own monstrous qualities or fall by the hand of society or their own hand. The genre is rich in transgender stories, because it's a mode of storytelling which fundamentally concerns itself with bodies, and as trans people we can never remove ourselves from the knowledge that we're inside of our own skin. It's always present and in body horror it's present too, even if it is often about nightmarish monstrosities like flies, werewolves or the undead. 


CADEN GARDNER:  The transgender allegory found in the body horror sub-genre is connected to our own trans experiences in dysphoria, something that is not exactly predicated on time or controlled like some common pain like a headache or a head cold. It is chaotic. Cis people don’t really pick up on it, but sometimes in the most extreme cases, side effects of dysphoria are visible, be it self-harm or certain eye-catching images based on anxiety and stress. I will put myself out there and say that for years I developed a compulsion to scratch my arms in dysphoric episodes. It was not self-harm but there was a sense of helplessness from my unconscious signals about my issues- that for years I never had the courage to say out loud- were there in plain sight, until I realized I had to conceal my arms. I was embarrassed because this thing I could barely internalize any longer was starting to show itself. That trans experience is not uncommon. Have I seen that trans experience on-screen? No. I can’t say I have. Generally speaking, interiority can be difficult to convey in cinematic language but it often feels like cisgender filmmakers just see the exterior changes as a crutch and a fulcrum for the entire existence of these stories without delving deeper. There’s nothing layered in how their trans subject relate to the world, their place, and what and how their gender dysphoria manifests itself as. In that regard, Lukas Dhont stating he wanted to make a universal experience about a trans character is immediately off. He is hardly alone in wanting to connect trans characters to some universal ideal, as that type of art seems encouraged by liberals as an antidote to reactionary conservatism. But it misses the point. Trans people have had decades of misunderstanding by cisgender filmmakers and to now go off into thinking we are all one is an incredibly insincere pivot. To course correct from decades of filmmaking that misunderstood trans people, we need to start with why we are different while grappling with no longer being an other. What does it mean to have a transgender body? We are not served that on film, so we go look to where trans people are usually conditioned to find their most common representation: the villain, the outsider, and the other.

Science fiction and horror were built from the foundation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The monster was created from a scientist playing God and a text about a body that had no control over their reanimation. Once undead, he becomes aware of the world around him and the society that is afraid of his very existence- he hides and seeks a partner, as he is alone. Issues of identity and control of the mind and body are all there in Frankenstein and continued forward. Over time, those genres of sci-fi and horror grew and expanded into more stories and perspectives. Horrors of transforming, mutating, and deteriorating due to various forces, some of which came from within or something elusive. There was no antidote or cure in some cases, but an existential question never to be solved. The body as a vessel for chaos and the horror of that lack of control is a trans story. Not the only story, of course, but an essential text that makes up part of our narrative 

Frankenstein (1931)
 
WM: This conversation is going to lean so heavily on dysphoria that I feel like it's important we talk about how it manifested itself in each of us. One thing that Lukas Dhont immediately got wrong out of the gate was trying to make his film a universal experience like you said, because transness is very specific and something like dysphoria can vary from person to person in severity. For me, dysphoria was something that I immediately felt in my life. I didn't know the word for it, but I felt ashamed of my own body because it wasn't like other little girls and then I grew up and things got exponentially worse until I couldn't handle it anymore. From an outsider's eye my dysphoria probably looked like depression. I shut myself off entirely and stayed hidden in my bedroom because going out meant other people would see my body and I couldn't deal with that, but internally it felt like my brain was poisoned. I'd punch certain parts of my body as hard as I could to the point where I'd bruise myself because I hated myself. And I'd avoid mirrors like the plague. My dysphoria has lessened tremendously over the past few years through transitioning but I still find myself hating my body and calling myself terrible names and hurting myself every now and then even today. Dysphoria lingers, even if it lessens over time. We never fully disengage ourselves from the root point of why we needed to transition in the first place. It’s something that’s just in the air of our reality.

To pull this back to cinema though, it's going to vary from filmmaker to filmmaker in how something like body horror is expressed. We talked in the Under the Skin entry about how science fiction and synthetic bodies grappled with questions of transness incidentally, and that's the case here too. To my knowledge there aren't any direct representations of transness as body horror in cinema where it's literally about dysphoria, but there are films where girls go through puberty and turn into werewolves and hate every fucking second of it, to name one example. Something like that is close enough in my understanding of dysphoria that I can point the screen and say I recognize what that character is going through. Dysphoria is so individual and unique from person to person you'd likely get a different example from every single person you ask when you bring up the question, "what does dysphoria look like in movies?" For me, it's that puberty is hell, but the puberty you never asked for is deadly. 


CG: You indirectly brought up Ginger Snaps and the moment that stuck out for me in that film was when Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) reveals to her sister Bridgette (Emily Perkins) her scars from the wounds she received from the werewolf. It’s not just on her chest, but the scars are growing hairs. ‘I don’t want a hairy chest!’. Ginger confides to Bridgette with absolute disgust. It is so striking. Ginger Snaps consciously builds its puberty metaphor, within the text, as menstruation is explicitly mentioned for sisters Bridgette and Ginger. I remember going through puberty and while I knew nobody would understand why, and I did not have the words, I would say this out loud, just moments of exasperation in the realm of, ‘I don’t want this!’ I can recall a parent, or a family member telling me, ‘All girls go through it’, but if you never saw yourself as a girl, well, tough luck. Pretty much every trans guy in my position can understand why that would be difficult. It just feels like such a disturbance to your body that reoccurs over and over as though to remind you of your differences, undercutting any sense of worth you might have for yourself. Ginger had a disturbance too, but in the form of a creature who attacked and bit her, but she does her best to negotiate her now fractured self (one who is now a sexually active young woman and the other who is a werewolf) but it ultimately does weigh her down. She’s been infected with something that she cannot undo and it is helpless. I can understand that and so can you. 

Ginger Snaps (2000)
 WM: That's exactly it! It's something happening to your body that you so completely reject. I'm fortunate in some sense because I'm intersex, and because of that puberty was never this thing that felt completely irreversible. I feel for anyone who is in that boat, as there are many. I didn't have loads of body hair but what I did have felt like the end of the world. Another big moment in Ginger Snaps for me is when Ginger is trying to hide the fact that she's grown a tail over night, and her immediate reaction is to cut it off. That scene could so easily be placed alongside a trans girl tucking, doing everything in power to get rid of this thing that's between her legs which basically ruins her mindset 24/7. It's the same vibe. Puberty was a fucking nightmare for me as soon as I was told about the birds and the bees and how my body would be developing. I'd become a man (editor’s note: she did not), and nothing seemed worse to me than that fate. I spiralled and everything got so much worse for me, and if we link that back to Ginger Snaps we have Ginger who is 16 and hasn't had her period yet and after she is attacked by a werewolf she starts menstruating and turning into a lycanthrope, and once her change begins there’s no undoing the side effects. The filmmaking really taps into the bodily dysphoria and the interiority too. The hiding away in the bedrooms, the panic, the fact that the film isn't afraid to show bodies going through change or gore. It's all metaphorically the destruction of a body at the onset of puberty in addition to being an allegory for being a teenage girl and growing into an adult. It's a dense movie. One I've always liked and one I've come back to again and again since figuring out why I'm attached to it in the first place.

CG: A major one for me was Brian DePalma’s Carrie. That gym shower scene, where Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) gets her period, is horrifying, grotesque and the way the other girls treat her is unbelievable. DePalma plays on how subjective that sense of shame is versus reality, putting into question how much of Carrie’s insecurities are mental versus the actual severity of the bullying she faces. Sometimes he plays too heavily into his usual artifice, but that sense of shame in feeling like a freak, however, is incredibly relatable thanks to Stephen King’s text. Everyone is laughing at her as she’s going through this change and it feels like she is being punished for something she never asked for. That was me- to the degree that my first period happened in school and well, I guess I should be happy it wasn’t in the gym showers. It might as well have been as my embarrassment from the incident painted this target on my back in much the same way. To return to the film, Carrie is othered despite her ethereal exteriority. She seems blank to the other kids, unable to really shape her own identity due to her domestic circumstances. That makes her vulnerable and innocent, but it also makes her perfect prey to attack. In the wake of her menstruation Carrie feels like the telekinesis she develops as a result is an affliction and her mother hovers over her, threatening her with eternal damnation for wanting to try to pass off as a normal girl. It goes badly. Carrie gets her revenge but has to be taken down too, because her type of story ending that way is the logical conclusion. I mean, thank God I never went to prom. 

WM: I never went to prom either. Does any trans person ever truly go to prom? Realistically I think we should hold an adults prom for us only. That would be more than swell. But yeah, Carrie is this really intensely tactile film, and I can 100% understand relating to her horror at getting her first period. In that scene De Palma shoots all these other women as if it's like this garden of nymphs, and here's Carrie White, fundamentally different from the rest in her own mind and in theirs. It's incidentally De Palma's only film of consequence in terms of transness, because we both know he's a blithering idiot on the subject. I love that one though and a lot of it has to do with the way Spacek plays the part and the way we're foregrounded in her point of view pretty frequently. We're asked to empathize with her, and as a trans person I think we can, because typically we are bullied, and in addition to that we're dealing with the horrors of our own bodies in similar fashion. 

Carrie (1976)
 CG: Thankfully there’s a generation after ours that’s coming out and transitioning at a younger age who perhaps get to experience prom (I am sure there exists that story that makes allies happy about one school having a trans homecoming king or queen that gets passed around and shared on Facebook), although who knows if they’re in the safest, most comfortable environment in their high school. Schools have changed from my health class where transness never came up but that doesn’t correct every misunderstanding and ignorant thought about our community whether they are coming from students, teachers, or parents.

I would say before puberty I was much more gregarious and I had a very diverse friend group. Some of whom would later come out, but after puberty most of my male friends stopped talking to me. It got more polarized and gendered. I could not identify with a lot of the girls at my school and they seemed to have an idea that I was different on some level. I honestly never heard the term ‘tranny’ or any trans slur at any point in school (that may be the only benefit of the trans erasure), but they knew how to get under my skin. I was bullied and harassed, it’s not very unusual, but that doesn’t mean it somehow made the harassment and bullying feel normal or something I could escape. I had to go to school. I carried so much anxiety and pain for the fact that I knew I was different. and I could not express myself or attain any idea of who I was in my teenage years. The words eluded me and the images I could connect with were unavailable beyond internet searches that I could only get after school. Often during school I disassociated, to the point where there are no memories beyond what I have only spoken about. I was that good at disassociating. It made me become invisible and frankly, I’d rather have that than catch hell all the time.

As a result, my middle school and high school experiences were extremely interior and isolated. Some of that converged with me literally going into a room where I could be by myself. I could hide from the world. What could I do? I mean, I would watch movies but sometimes the disassociating would be so severe that I’d lock myself in spaces. Coming out of those spells was beyond difficult. I felt threatened by the outside world but what was there for me to show any sort of growth when I didn’t feel like I could express my problems? I did not watch the film until college but the Todd Haynes film [SAFE] may be the only film to convey that sense of isolation and disconnect of my body and mind, and the side effects of that. It is a body horror movie, and one that is unsettling in the sense that confronting the problem by the main character Carol White (Julianne Moore) eludes her, she can only play a part to barely survive and it is literally eating away at her. 

[SAFE] (1995)
 
WM: I think you know my high school story, and if you don't I'll very briefly give you the gracenotes of an otherwise blank period in my life. When I was younger I still felt dysphoria, though I didn't have a word for it, but not to the point where I couldn't live my life. I could go to school, make good grades and hang out with other girls, and boys. It wasn't a millstone tied around my neck at that point, but after puberty I started to make myself throw up before school started so I wouldn't have to go, because I was that terrified of being seen, and it was around the time when I completely checked out. I was homeschooled after that and no one knew what was wrong with me, including myself. I didn't know the words "transgender" or "gender dysphoria" but if I would have I could have pinpointed what was wrong with me. 

During all of this time, I also isolated myself and shut the world out. The internet became my home, along with my bedroom, and our local cinema. The cinema was the only place I felt comfortable going because I was going to be shrouded in darkness. No one would see me.

When I came across the films of Chantal Akerman, and to a lesser extent Sofia Coppola, I immediately made a connection, because she's this very interior director. She's patient. She’ll let a shot sit for an absurd lengths so that we can feel the time, but for me, stasis felt like home. In The Meetings of Anna she frequently shoots her lead character Anna (Aurore Clement) staring out windows watching the world instead of being in it herself, and almost all of her films have moments like that among other things I’d gravitate towards. I think of Je, Tu, Il, Elle and the opening passage where Chantal sits in a room with no furniture for upwards of 40 minutes writing in a diary and eating sugar. It felt like cinema that fundamentally understood me and SAFE is an extension of that. Haynes, and much of the new queer cinema group of the early 90s, conisdering they were disciples of Chantal Akerman in a stylistic and thematic sense. 

Je, Tu, Il, Elle (1974)
 
CG: When I was a teenager, I had some idea about the New Queer Cinema movement. There was Gregg Araki, who had just put out Mysterious Skin and I was interested in watching more Todd Haynes after coming across Far From Heaven, I’m Not There., and Velvet Goldmine. However, it was Haynes’ Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story that made me think he was a filmmaker who I wanted to follow for the rest of my life. Haynes had an understanding of what it is to be a person who was a prisoner of an identity. In the case of Karen Carpenter (recast as a Barbie doll) it was an exterior, that was effected by her internalization of the absurdly high beauty standards expected of a pop star like herself. Most notably stemming from the widely circulated, notorious comment, that the eating disorder that took her life was based from somebody calling her fat. Haynes understands his characters are on the margins of society. Some of the harshest conditions that can take control of a human body come from an exterior place, that then influence their interior selves but also reveals and informs that interior side that has long been there, unsatisfied. That is [SAFE] and for me, it hits on a trans-allegorical level even if it is something people would not immediately be drawn into perceiving.

I like that you bring up Akerman, as her film Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels is a clear influence on [SAFE]. Jeanne Dielman (Delphine Seyrig) goes through a series of routines that she must do over and over as a housewife and mother to an ungrateful son (Jan Decorte). She is framed dead-center as audiences watch her prepare meat loaf and peel potatoes in real time. Her routines wear her down and she reaches a breaking point while internalizing her feelings of unfulfilment. It ends badly with the cataclysmic breaking of routine. We feel tha due to Akerman’s patience and insistence that we watch this woman and perceive her thought process. We begin to see ennui become more visible and she’s worn down from playing by these rules that she so closely followed. [SAFE]’s Carol White never has a handle or any real ownership of herself in the same way Jeanne Dielman does, but we watch her in a similar way with a focus on her failed attempts to fall into a routine to gain some sense of self worth. But the problem with Carol White, and why I connect with her on such a deep level, is that she has no identity or really anything to claim as her own. Her home is her husband’s money, she cannot nurture her stepson because she did not give birth to him, and the domestic roles to keep the home nice are done by others because Carol’s husband has money. Her attempts at doing simple jobs like ordering a couch or just her attempting to look ultra-feminine backfire. The moment where Carol gets a perm is her cataclysmic event. Those events expose her to chemicals that reveal she is a sufferer of environmental illness, a real life illness, that is tied to her trying to assert her femininity and identity. Julianne Moore as Carol gives a full bodied performance that I still cannot shake. Her performance is criticised sometimes as being merely a cipher, but listen to her airy, high register voice that feels like it wants to leave her body. Aside from her performance there’s also intricate detail in the costuming. Look at the gauche 80s clothing that she wears, and how her wardrobe becomes washed out and blank as she gets sicker. She’s a blank slate and still unable to connect to something that can unlock her illness. She’s goes to Wrenwood, a New Age community that is all about positive affirmations but a community that avoids confronting their problems. These issues stem from their place in society. The world doesn’t know what to do with them, let alone the medical community. There isn’t a word for what they’re experiencing and their place in the world is fractured because there isn’t a language to discuss their problems. Sound familiar? 

[SAFE] was made after the height of the AIDS/HIV crisis and serves as a conscious allegory of it by a queer filmmaker that correctly presented how society did treat people with AIDS/HIV at the time. If you did not die from the disease, that did not mean society understood or willing to help you. You may seek out communities but getting actual help in confronting your illness beyond positive affirmation was a serious issue. It’s something that films people want to retroactively assign an AIDS/HIV allegory miss. What could you do if you had AIDS/HIV, environmental illness, or gender dysphoria when there were no words or a dialogue happening about it? Carol White sought out empty spaces, be it an empty room, or an empty car garage. I sought an empty room in some of my dysphoric episodes too. I still do that sometimes, but I also need to have help and people to talk to rather than sink into my shell.

[SAFE]
WM: I think one of the most brilliant aspects of [SAFE] is Julianne Moore's performance and it absolutely wouldn't work without her full understanding of who this character is, and her place in the frame. She mentions on the Criterion Collection interview with director Todd Haynes that upon reading the script she was dying to play the character, because she immediately understood that this character didn't want to take up space anywhere. She wanted to minimize her presence and make herself as small as possible. This ties into your comment about her voice. Notice that she's not speaking with the full depth of her vocal chords, but merely letting words flutter out. Like she's speaking at the top of her throat and not from her body, because there's a disconnect between her brain and her self. Todd Haynes amplifies this by framing her in ways that reduce her physicality to the point of a small dot in the larger scope of a room or space. And we do that as trans people. We blend in, but even more than that we make ourselves invisible, especially when dysphoric. Is it a life when you flee from everything that makes life worth living? That's a question I pretty frequently asked myself when I was a teenager, and I realize now that it wasn't necessarily my fault for retreating in the same way Carol does in this film. I had an illness that couldn't be treated, and damn sure wasn't understood considering this was pre-mainstream trans presence age. I felt like if I actually spoke up about what was wrong with me I wouldn't be believed, and I wasn't when I eventually did talk about what was wrong with me. Carol wasn't believed either. She was second guessed and at absolute worst even gaslighted about what she was going through in this movie. Haynes positions all of this as an AIDS allegory of sorts, but it works on multiple levels like you said, and it's an easily identifiable film in something resembling a transgender canon even though it doesn't directly represent transness or talk about it at all.

I think as trans people when we talk about transness we have to widen the scope of what is transgender cinema, because the literal texts so often miss the point. It's also why queer cinema has to move beyond just what pertains to sexuality. Sexuality is important and so are stories that are literally about transgender people, but as an art form cinema can handle topics of a wider scale in different ways than direct representation. It’s intellectually dishonest to pretend otherwise. 

[SAFE]
 CG: Precisely. As a physical being Carol White is at the margins of her own story, the very frames of the film. She is so uncomfortable in her own skin and no matter how much she wants to assure people in her life that she is getting better, her body tells you otherwise. It is such a tough movie to watch. You’re seeing somebody never getting better because the chaos and unknown elude her. The choices she makes in trying to accept a level of culpability in being in her situation in the guise of self-help to be ‘safe’ are heartbreaking. There is a tip-off by Haynes early on that one of the few things that Carol connects to and feels like she has some level of interest in is gardening and walking around in her garden at night. She connects to nature, but a nature that contains the same chemicals that she has been advised are attacking her body. That dichotomy represents the general chaos of existing and having a body in the world. It’s quite devastating that she retreats. 

To talk about queer cinema as far as dealing with bodies, the AIDS crisis did provide an interesting link in presenting a sense of dysphoria on-screen. Characters no longer had control of their bodies. To have had AIDS in the 80s was for a disturbingly long time, an unknown and widely misunderstood condition that was alienating and isolating, and society at large didn’t care. They were more ready to place blame on those with the disease for their lifestyle choices than to actually look at ways in which to help these people. That it’s still hard to this day to present AIDS in cinema as something gripping, real and a distinct period that completely reshaped the world due to conscience negligence is damning. It feels like they’ve swept it under the rug and don’t want to recognize it and stare it point blank right in the eyes. To get into other body horror films is to approach some of the films made during the time period. I mentioned how I am a bit guarded about being so insistent on assigning some of these movies as AIDS allegories, as some of them do make the host of the disease and condition that riddle through these films a complete monster, inhuman, de-personalized, and making society the victims, when that is not the AIDS story at all. But there was one that stood out for me and it is perhaps because the filmmaker had an understanding of the frailty of the human body and daringly empathized as much as one could with a person who took on such a debilitating condition. I am talking about David Cronenberg’s The Fly. In its own way and throughout his career, Cronenberg really seemed to get how much of a personal terror it is to not feel like you’re present in your own body, with your skin morphing and deteriorating in such gross, disturbing ways. Dysphoria was not as gross as a Cronenberg film to me, but boy it can feel that way. 

The Fly (1986)
 WM: A friend of mine once said that "Long Live the New Flesh" (the final, iconic line from Videodrome) works as both a monument to Cronenberg as a director and to his place as a filmmaker who unintentionally made a half dozen or so films that could easily be placed alongside words like "body dysphoria”, and I think that just about perfectly sums him up. I think your insistence that The Fly is his best is spot-on, even if I love quite a few of his films. Cronenberg always had a tendency towards playing in his own goop, but it's that very essence that I think aligns him to a cinema we can understand. It's a cinema of bodies in disarray first and foremost, almost in a state of decay from the onset with characters fighting against that feeling. It's a kind of Canadian disposition of surviving winter and living with the cold of death hovering around everywhere, but I think it's something we can understand fundamentally too because in a sense we have to kill our past self to bring a newer version of us into existence. We are our own ghosts and Cronenberg's characters are of a similar disposition. But I want to hear more from you about The Fly. It's one of my favourites and I'll get to it in a second, but I'd like to hear you elaborate first. 

CG: What I like about Cronenberg is that there are, as you said, bodies in complete disarray and characters grappling with various levels of control with their bodies. Some of these characters know and have a certain level of agency over how they are treating themselves that is mostly out of step with society’s norms. There’s a sense of reckless abandonment, like Videodrome, in being so disconnected and seeking out something more experiential than what society is giving you, but I don’t sense a moralist streak in Cronenberg. It’s quite queer, and Crash is the best example of that sense of bucking society’s norms on a sexual and identity level played in hypertext. But to hit on The Fly, Cronenberg’s more mainstream and major studio works showed more of a relationship to normative society existing around these characters. The earlier works, Shivers, Rabid, Scanners, and Videodrome are still playing within a level of their own logic that the audience is dropped into and needs to be acclimated to rather than our common, normative world setting the rules. Cronenberg’s remake of the Kurt Neumann’s The Fly from the 1950s has its entry point be Geena Davis’ Veronica ‘Ronnie’ Quaife following and then engaging in a relationship with Jeff Goldblum’s Seth Brundle. Brundle is cast immediately as an eccentric and somebody who wants to please Veronica by having his work impress her. He’s insecure and it clouds his judgment, his experiment on teleportation becomes tainted, that then leads him to take on the characteristics of a fly. It is a deterioration that is quite devastating but initially Seth’s results show that he becomes an ideal partner to Veronica on a physical level, and he credits his teleportation. But his changes become more negative, violent, and averse, he transforms into a monster, but even before he goes full-blown monster, he ceases to be the man that Veronica once knew, and was in love with. He is dehumanized and has his humanity removed. That does not mean Veronica completely recoils and rejects him despite gaining her own trauma due to the fact that she gets impregnated by him and has nightmares of giving birth to a creature (probably the biggest connection to the AIDS allegory is the fear and anxiety of having a condition transmitted sexually). She wants to care for him and save Seth but does not know how, but does grants Seth his wish of being shot with a gun to kill him and end his misery. The deteriorating body that isolates and alienates, a monstrous sight at a man who wanted to play God and self-improve in order to be somebody more than an eccentric nerd. That’s how I see The Fly. The idea of trying and it turns into a self-inflicted wound, a cause for more disarray, chaos, and dysphoria in the body. You look like shit and you cannot really seek help for that. 

Crash (1996)

Rabid (1977)
 
WM: I think the idea of playing god is also present in our general makeup which also makes The Fly more resonant. What could possibly be more like playing god than changing your entire body and some pre-supposed destiny into something entirely different? Brundle dies for this, but what essentially separates itself from other tragic martyr tropes is that the film is never played for it's melodramatic reveal. It never unlatches itself from its own DNA in horror and because the film is ambivalent in a moral sense I don't think Cronenberg asks us to weep for Brundle even if we may. In a narrative context his failed science experiment is not inherently different from the people who died transitioning when surgeries were brand new and doctors didn't know what they could and couldn't do. It’s an Icarus syndrome and it’s inherent in us.

Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis do a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of getting across the internal scars of what's happening between them. Geena is the onlooker not understanding what's happening to this person she had initially fallen for while Goldblum has to grapple with his body becoming inhuman. Goldblum spends a lot of time in mirrors staring at his rotting flesh while the work of brilliant special effects artist Chris Walas, does its job in getting across how horrific he views his external self while his soul is still clamouring for the life he once had. He doesn't immediately shut down and decide to die, but it's a slow, agonizing process where there's nothing left. He accepts his death, because he lets who he is drift off to sea, never to be seen again. You can't be a human if you're so different from everyone else that no one else can understand, and that's lateral to our issues as transgender people.

Even beyond The Fly I think Cronenberg has a rich visual catalogue of images that feel blatantly transsexual, even if they don't have further context. I think of James Woods, shirtless, appearing to be a man in all ways, except for the cleft that resembles a vulva on his chest in Videodrome. He panicks, reaches in and finds a gun. Is that a suicide image? His own latent anxiety at what's happening and his mind summoning a gun? One could argue. There's also the image of Roy Scheider in Naked Lunch revealing himself to be living underneath the skin of a very normal looking cis woman only to be a bare chested, hairy son of a gun with a cigar in his mouth. That one's more punk rock. But I think of these images, often, and there's certainly more than those two.

Naked Lunch (1991)
Videodrome (1983)
CG: That image in Naked Lunch is incredible. I recall Cronenberg saying that he
believes everyone has control, with varying degrees of complete grip, over
their identities. This makes sense to me. He is not really casting a judgmental eye but showing people going through self-discovery that it can sometimes be trial and error, wear and tear, and can doom them, but that is more Cronenberg presenting human fallibility than damnation. And his stories make sense as far as seeing these bodies in disarray and these choices being made because Cronenberg’s worlds make sense. The images are surreal, subversive, but the characters are very real, sometimes even operating in very traditional film archetypes. But of course there is a level of transgressiveness in his work that makes his films challenging for people. He knows his characters are not normal based on the rules and understanding of modern society but there is no dictating of norms and rules within his work. That makes his films extremely easy and freeing to watch as a trans person. Even his most classically made work, A Dangerous Method, a play adaptation that’s based on the real life psychoanalysts in Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, and Sabina Spielrein, offers something for me as a trans person through Keira Knightley’s deeply rich, and extremely misunderstood, performance of Spielrein. It’s a full bodied performance, incredibly physical, unhinged jaws and body contortions that make her feel diametrically opposed to Julianne Moore’s Carol White. But Spielrein goes from a patient, considered emotionally unstable, to somebody who confronts her trauma of her past life and is able to finds words of what has eaten away at her. She improves and takes an interest in psychology, becoming a student and then ultimately, one of the first female psychoanalysts. It’s so simple and may be shrugged off as spotlighting a simple feminist strain of a major figure in her field, but I find that Cronenberg shows amid the disarray of his characters and their bodies, there can be a confrontation with the problem and that can be tied to an identity, a trauma, something that had been elusive and hard to explain and that can lead to finding peace. Spielrein in A Dangerous Method is a body horror story, that includes a confrontation in the form of BDSM in her sessions with Jung, that can have a happy ending (well, happy to the extent of Spielrein’s success as her real-life had its own unfortunate end due to being a Jew, her religious identity used against her, in World War II). 

WM:  The most interesting thing to me in A Dangerous Method is Keira's performance. It's full body acting and unleashes a kind of torrent inside of her in terms of the physical horrors she’s manifesting through acting. It's a great performance and everything that Cronenberg does with Body Horror, but on a theoretical level instead of one reliant upon special effects. All the terror is completely inside of Knightly’s own process. 

A Dangerous Method (2011)
WM CONT: You mention the word "trauma" above and I want to get into that a little too, specifically the works of a handful of actors and directors. This isn't necessarily connected to transgender cinema literally either, but in the ways these things can intersect. Rob Zombie's films really hammer things home for me in this regard, and I've written about them extensively. In The Lords of Salem Sherri Moon Zombie plays a woman who is essentially cursed, a daughter of Salem unfairly brought into a centuries old blood pact which leads her to spiral into a mess of trauma, relapsed drug use and hallucinations. Hallucinations in particular are what I want to gravitate towards, because they take the real world and make it strange, and I think that's how we perceive things, even if it isn't as loudly stated as bugs ripping into your flesh or vomiting black sludge. The main point is that something is amiss and dysphoria can tangle the world into a poisonous vine of self destruction. This abstracted imagery due to trauma is also strongly present in movies like Jack Garfein's "Something Wild", the filmography of David Lynch and in the work of Hideaki Anno’s epochal, Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Neon Genesis Evangelion
 CG: Part of being trans and then telling people about it is how seriously they take you. A lot of that can result in years of internalization for fear of being misunderstood and not taken seriously at all. Telling someone you’re trans shifts their image of you, and that can take its own toll on us, because we have no idea how someone is going to react. If you have no trans health providers or health insurance or find yourself isolated, what can you do? Even with those privileges that I have had, in my period of not being able to tell anyone, I disassociated which has me operating with just periods of my life that are blank for myself despite people recalling me in an image that I was disconnected from in those timeframes. That disassociation came as a reaction to trauma and torment in addition to dysphoria that festered into just more inner-turmoil. When I got older, I was self-medicating my problem, even as I was becoming increasingly aware that I was trans, by drinking alcohol. I am a recovering alcoholic. I am upfront about it because at this point I feel like I have nothing to hide. And I feel like, unfortunately, based on the numbers and studies of trans employment, suicide rates, uninsured, and other surveys done, that we are not really alone in having traumas in addition to our gender dysphoria. I can see a film about an alcoholic or even somebody feeling like their memory has been manipulated in a way where I see a film on trauma and disassociation and connect with those works. I echo your sentiments on the films of David Lynch, Garfein’s Something Wild and would include Lynne Ramsay’s recent You Were Never Really Here as well as Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight as far as achieving trauma, disassociation, and feeling off-centered. That feels right at home for me.

Films gravitating toward body horror that understand the frailties and fallibility of the human body, feel like the closest depiction to our issues I can imagine on-screen even if it isn’t direct text, just shrouded in allegory. Cronenberg did to a trans film called M. Butterfly but that is Cronenberg’s worst film because it betrays a lot of what makes him great. The trans character of Song Liling (based on the real-life opera singer turned spy Shi Pei Pu that “fooled” a French diplomat in identifying as a woman when was just a male performer posing as a woman) just feels at such a distance and enigma who is never interrogated and has that eye-roller of a scene where John Lone strips naked of his character’s ‘true self’ as revelation. That film is perhaps more of a failure of the pre-existing text of the widely known David Henry Hwang play, but it is quite ironic that Cronenberg’s allegories that you can connect to transness feel easier to connect with as a viewer than his film about an actual trans person. That was somehow between Naked Lunch and Crash. I felt like I had a better idea and grasp of the characters turned on by being in car crashes than a trans character ‘pretending’. 

WM: I feel you in a major way. It’s true that telling people you're trans automatically alters that image of you. It's like a small death, and it's on us, perhaps unfairly, to reaffirm to that person that this other thing is the real version of ourselves. It all comes back to images doesn't it? How we view ourselves. How we're perceived by others. No wonder we're so obsessed with cinema considering the image is everything. What is so stirring about body horror is that through it's broad abstracted images on the human body in a state of disarray it somehow comes close to touching on something resembling cinematic language that is actually functional with transness. Melding body horror into realistic human drama is perhaps how to achieve a true transgender cinema. Something that I don't think I've ever seen in fiction filmmaking. We'll chase that and keep creating until it exists, and we'll keep talking about it. Talking about transenss and getting it out in the open is why we, as a community, have made strides so far in the past five or six years, and that's no small feat in and of itself. Maybe a transgender cinema can exist. 

Inland Empire (2006)
 

Monday, May 21, 2018

Northern Star: On Twin Peaks, Sheryl Lee, and Laura Palmer

[TW: Detailed account of sexual abuse] 
[Spoilers: Twin Peaks, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, and Twin Peaks: The Return]

My angel does heroin,
It could be called a home,
Her father never read her bed time stories,
She doesn't know happily ever after
Only a window

My angel was raped
Her best sunday dressed
burned in effigy

My angel doesn't have a saviour
Only a heavenly father
Daddy's little girl

My angel is crimson
Too unclean to ever be a lamb
 Only ever a second thought

My angel waits
her gaze lingering 
an image of a bedroom door

Turning,
a light shining through
Leaning, Leaning
On the Everlasting Arms

My angel screams
and I listen 
-An excerpt from my journal. Written the morning after Twin Peaks ended

I sit in the darkness of my bedroom staring at the posters I have on the back of my bedroom door wondering if I'd get to sleep that night. Sometimes I'd get peace, but on occasion the door would crack open and monsters would come inside. That's how I internalized it at a young age, but when I grew up I had the knowledge to put it into words: incest. My father knew that I was feminine. He knew before anyone else. In an attempt to curb my own fascination with things like dresses and makeup he would come into my room, abuse me and mutter things like "this is what happens to women. Do you want this?". Mourning the death of his son, and destroying his daughter. It was an attempt to control my body. It was power and dominance. That's all rape is, but in addition to taking my body he took my family and my home. There was no sanctuary. A wounded animal returns to its home when it knows its about to die, but I had no such place, because my own predator stalked in my own bedroom. Laura Palmer is the single most important character in all of film or television for me, because she knew this too. 



I. The Prom Queen and the Angel

A mother (Grace Zabriskie) caught in the reverberations of a traumatic whirlpool wallows drunkenly into frame taking a picture of the prom queen who was her daughter (Sheryl Lee) by hand and smashing it into the floor. Twenty five years earlier, a father (Ray Wise) cradles that same picture and dances with the photo, her face always present in his outstretched arms. The mother grips a piece of shattered glass in hand and plunges it into her daughters face repeatedly, wailing, screaming and echoing the primal upheaval that has reshaped her entire life into a cesspool of damnation by way of grief. The camera idles closely to her, slowly zooming until we see the fractured image of a high school girl torn to shreds. Twenty Five years earlier, that same father rapes his daughter, and she is murdered by his hand. The image of Laura Palmer and by extension Sheryl Lee in the work of David Lynch is one of dissonance, the perfect good girl (as described by Jennifer Lynch in The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer) and the tormented martyr who chose to die. In Fire Walk With Me she was laid to rest, finally, peacefully, given an angel. Saved by her decision to succumb to death with the introduction of a supernatural ring she slipped on her finger and thus trapping herself in a heavenly space. She was away from BOB, her father and David Lynch. But it is happening again.


The image and body of Laura Palmer has lingered throughout the career of David Lynch ever since her body was found wrapped in plastic on a cold shore in the sleepy town of Twin Peaks. She has haunted the filmmaker much in the same way she has Dale Cooper. Cooper, himself, being a manifestation of David Lynch's axis as filmmaker in consistently returning to Twin Peaks in an attempt to save the girl who began as a corpse and slowly evolved into a messianic image of grace. 


Lynch has a warehouse of actors he loves to work with who each have their own contextual relevance within his work, but Sheryl Lee holds a special place. She is the martyr in which David Lynch funnels his greatest streaks of empathy for humanity's unfairly damned. Nearly every woman in the work of David Lynch since Twin Peaks has been a manifestation of Laura Palmer in some way. In Mulholland Drive Betty (Naomi Watts) is a goodhearted person attempting to help another woman in need while also trying to make it big in Hollywood, but is poisoned by the toxicity that rests within the system. Nikki (Laura Dern) is also an actress, but her reality is unfairly ripped apart by a cursed film script which she dared to act out for audiences in Inland Empire. Both of these women are pummeled by gendered violence: a trope that lingers in the blood of all of his motion pictures, and they are all in a sorority with Laura Palmer: the girl he couldn't save.


Even in the beginning of Laura Palmer's imagery in the work of America's greatest surrealist filmmaker Lynch showed a grief in the destruction of this poor girl. In the pilot of Twin Peaks the melodramtic reveal of Laura's dead body is later proceeded by near constant images of family and friends sobbing hysterically over this girl they loved. Everyone was in grief over her death, whether they realized it or not. They were mourning their own town, and with Laura's death so went the soul of small town America, but what Lynch wants us to know is that there was no soul to begin with, and there was always horror behind closed doors. It was the case in Blue Velvet when doe-eyed boyscout Jefferey Beaumont (Kyle McLachlan) peaked behind the curtain of a nightmare with perverse interest, and it was the same here. There's always horror behind the closed door of the American subconscious, but we hardly ever want to fully reckon with these things. Twin Peaks is honest in pointing out the rot at the centre and the show is still dealing with the ramifications of that knowledge. "How could this happen? Did you even want to know?" To paraphrase a statement between Albert (Miguel Ferrer) and Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle McLachlan) at the close of the Laura Palmer investigation back in season two. One of the first images of Twin Peaks: The Return recontextualizes the moment from the Pilot of Donna (Lara Flyn Boyle) noticing an unnamed faceless high school girl running in the park area of the school's front lawn screaming, but now it is a slow motion image (later again in Black and White) with a deafening howl that would foreshadow a show gripped with the pain of Laura Palmer's lingering trauma and the death that changed Twin Peaks forever.
 




In the work of David Lynch the image of Sheryl Lee/Laura Palmer outside of Twin Peaks also rings with angelic grace. There is a reason why she is the image inside the golden orb. In Wild at Heart, Sailor (Nicolas Cage) and Lula (Laura Dern) are starstruck lovers pulled apart by circumstances completely out of their control, but throughout it all their love persists. It's perhaps Lynch's most simplistic film in terms of plot, following a linear, if jagged, path from sweeping romantic love, to heartbreak and back again, bathed in the romanticism of 1950s culture fused onto a distinctly 90s backdrop and flavour. Near the end of the film, after Sailor has gotten out of prison, he meets up with Lula once more only to break her heart, and tell her they can't be together, but an angel intervenes in the way of David Lynch's own Glenda the Good Witch played by none other than Sheryl Lee. David Lynch is obsessed with The Wizard of Oz going as far as to call it a “life-changing film” in Lynch on Lynch. Sheryl, as Glenda, convinces Sailor to go back to Lula, thus being a guardian angel for two potentially brokenhearted souls. In Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, all Laura ever wanted was an angel.


The image of Sheryl Lee as a pure force and catalyst for good in Wild at Heart is not unlike the image of Sheryl in episode 8 of Twin Peaks: The Return where the image of prom queen Laura Palmer is surrounded in an orb of effervescent golden light. In the context of the nuclear horrors and origin story of BOB earlier in the episode it creates a fulcrum where Laura is the one sacred image in the world of Twin Peaks, and by extension in the work of David Lynch. She is a Joan the Maiden figure for Lynch; a crystallization of Lynch's key interest of redemption through violence, and the unfairly maligned purity of a girl who does not deserve her fate, but nevertheless falls in the wake of such horror. 




II. There's Fire Where You're Going

David Lynch is but a single artist, and the sheer power of Laura Palmer's mere presence would not shake with contextual totemic magnitude if not for the unparalleled work of Sheryl Lee within the Twin Peaks narrative. Since her face was revealed in the opening moments of the pilot for Twin Peaks she has haunted the series. Her mere appearance enough to shake the foundations and preconceptions of what audiences in the early 90s considered fun, kitchy, americana. The series was never about its eccentricities. They existed on the surface, as a way to lull viewers into a false sense of security that within the centre of Twin Peaks there too would be goodness, but at its heart Twin Peaks is a series about trauma, and the lingering, generational effects it can have on a personal and more widespread community. Nothing within Twin Peaks exists only within itself, when we know that hidden beneath the plaid skirts, mugs of damn good coffee and cherry pie there was a dead girl, and her name was Laura Palmer. Sheryl Lee would be the only catalyst in which she could come to life and give this series meaning. Ironically, when she was given a chance to finally speak in prequel film, Fire Walk With Me, her truth was ignored by audiences and critics alike. No one saw Laura Palmer. Not in Twin Peaks. Not in the film community. Not on planet earth. Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook) screamed that “she was in trouble, and no one bothered to help her. We all killed her”. These words were gospel, and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me was at the time considered the biggest failure of David Lynch's career.

What lives inside Fire Walk With Me is the unbridled, brutal honesty of a girl suffering at the hands of incest. When we're first introduced to Laura Palmer in Fire Walk with Me it is through a tracking shot. It's jolting and startling to see the image of the girl who washed up on the shore given life. No longer an object. She's living, breathing, and going to school just like everyone else, but there's something subtly off about the way she carries herself as if her body is functioning on auto-pilot while her mind races away somewhere else. She trudges more than walks and her awkward, if sweet, interactions with a fresh faced Donna Hayward (Moira Kelly) create an immediate dissonance between the two characters. There is no way for viewers to see Laura Palmer without the context of the image of the dead girl, and Sheryl Lee understands that central idea in her body language. As if, she too, understands her place in the world is one of temporary residence. No one lives, but usually we do not resign ourselves to death in the way that Laura Palmer has done after years of sexual abuse. She carries the grief, disgust, self-hatred, and exhaustion of someone whose body is out of their very control. There isn't a way to understand what a body is if you've never been given the opportunity to live within your own skin without someone taking everything from you. Since the onset of puberty Laura has been violated, and with the ongoing changes in her body she has seen a world that views her through the same lens her abuser does. The eye of David Lynch lingers letting Sheryl Lee's performance do the talking leaning inward when necessary to create the illusion that there isn't space between the audience and Laura Palmer. It is up to us to feel empathy for her and listen to her cries. She cannot be ignored like Bobby said she was at her looming funeral. We have to see her. 



The true depth of Sheryl Lee's performance is the entire reason Fire Walk With Me resonates. In this film she casts a shadow in which every other actor in the work of David Lynch must stand. "The Girl in Trouble" being Lynch's favourite narrative pathway, means that all the women who live within his cinematic world are torchbearers of Laura's poor soul. Sheryl's performance is mostly realized within her facial reactions and physicality within any given scene. Extreme close-ups are occasionally employed to amplify the sorrowful look within her eyes or the gulp that slides down her throat before saying “There wouldn't be any angels to save you” when talking to Donna. Sheryl Lee plays the role with an agonizing closeness, her fragile body imbued with the realization that what's happening to her will never stop. She's too far down the rabbit hole and there's no waking up for Alice. Death becomes a constant fixture within her thought process. In The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer Laura thinks about death as a release from her day to day violence, both self-inflicted and by others. Sheryl Lee took the textbook written by Jennifer Lynch and wrangled the soul of Twin Peaks away from David Lynch, Kyle McLachlan or Dale Cooper and fixated it firmly within this girl, who all too similarly rings true to the reality of many girls going through incest, and gave her dexterity, life and dreams beyond the corpse she would become.

Laura chose to die. It is the only way she can grasp at any sort of agency within her own life beyond numbing herself out on drugs and alcohol. When she eventually meets BOB//Leland in the abandoned train car her arms are tied behind her back, further stripping her of any sort of defensive maneuvering. She wrote frequently in her diary that she knew the day she'd die was coming as BOB's attacks grew more violent and enraged, and within the text of the actual book some 15 pages or so have been ripped from existence. The missing pages are BOB's admittance of defeat. He's afraid, tortured of a girl growing more aware, and stronger through her realization that to give herself and her body up meant BOB could no longer have his twisted idea of fun. Laura's decision to die grants her the ability to have a body for what could be the first time in her life. This is co-signed through visual imagery both within Fire Walk With Me and the pilot for Twin Peaks. In Fire Walk With Me it's her cathartic realization that she's in a heavenly space when an angel hovers over her. The angel, being a protective symbol for Laura, due to her fondness for a painting of a similar angel that hung in her bedroom. In the pilot, it's the reveal of her body, a complicated image due to her lifelessness, but upon Laura's face is an expression that isn't trapped in fear or wracked with tears, but one of rest. A close-up of her grey, decaying face summons the rapturous crescendo of Angelo Badalamenti's score further cementing the idea that this is a moment of peace. A smile, because it's over, but it wasn't. 

 

III. The Three Deaths of Laura Palmer

 And I wait, staring at the Northern Star
I'm afraid it won't lead me anywhere
He's so cold he will ruin the world tonight
All the angels kneel into the Northern Lights
Kneel into the frozen lights

And they paid, I cry and cry for you
Ghosts that haunt you with their sorrow
I cried 'cause you were doomed
Praying to the wound that swallows
All that's cold and cruel
Can you see the trees, charity and gratitude
They run to the pines
It's black in here blot out the sun
And run to the pines
Our misery runs wild and free
And I knew, the fire and the ashes of his grace...
-Courtney Love, Northern Star, 1998


On October 3rd, 2014, David Lynch and Mark Frost simultaneously tweeted “That Gum you like is going to come back in style. #damngoodcoffee” This joint message sent film fanatics and die hard Twin Peaks fans into a frenzy. Was the show coming back? Was there going to be a movie? Could all of this be real? We all desperately wanted David Lynch to return to the cult phenomenon, but we never asked ourselves what the price of that would be in a narrative context. We were full speed ahead, no matter the costs. The coffee, Audrey's dancing, Special Agent Dale Cooper, all of it would be not only nostalgia for the weird, but a new passion project from one of Cinema's finest directors. We didn't know what we were getting ourselves into, and that was exciting. What happened was something we could have never expected, which was unsurprising in some regards, but the connotations of what David Lynch and Mark Frost had actually cooked up had deeper ramifications of the universe they created together in the late 80s, and on the image and body of Laura Palmer within Twin Peaks.

In tenth episode of Twin Peaks: The Return there is a long scene where The Log Lady (Catherine Coulson) not so cryptically tells Deputy Hawk (Michael Horse) about Laura. She tells him that “Laura is the one” and to remember that information. It is a mission statement if anything on the true nature of Twin Peaks and the work of David Lynch as a whole. Everything traces back to her and runs through her narrative and image. She is the image over the credits. She started it all. Any connotations of Cooper's narrative or how he would get back into his body after BOB invaded in the series finale of the original run are smokescreens for the actual mystery of Twin Peaks. Lynch is on record as saying he would have never solved the mystery of Who Killed Laura Palmer? If it had been in his hands. Showtime gave him that opportunity and with it recontextualized the very nature of many previous images in the lexicon of Twin Peaks. The most notable of which being Laura's happy ending in Fire Walk With Me, which is now whisked away into a temporary place of satisfaction rather than a permanence of tranquility. Dale Cooper, in his over-eagerness throughout the entire run of Twin Peaks, to save Laura Palmer, misunderstood the entire basis for her messages to him. Laura didn't need saving. She needed justice. Dale didn't remember that Laura told him her killer. He didn't listen

 

This continues into the heart of the most recent incarnation of David Lynch's masterwork, where Cooper, being personified through Lynch's willingness to keep the aura of Laura alive, undoes the very thing she achieved in her final moments. In episode seventeen of the revival, through the shows mythology on electricity and alternate dimensions, Dale Cooper finds himself hiding in the bushes moments before Laura walks to the haunted train car where she would die. He steps out of the shadows and guides her by hand. Dale says that he wants to take Laura “home”, but for an incest victim there is no home. Home is the point of trauma. Home is the point of total loss. If your family DNA is the connective tissue which gives you life then that is burnt by fire and turned to ash when the very person who helped bring you into the world fractures your very existence. Dale Cooper does not understand this and after a momentary walk through the Douglas Firs Laura vanishes, the only thing left an echo of a scream. Her destiny is altered and thus her image. Her body never washes up on shore. Pete Martell (Jack Nance) goes fishing, Josie Packard (Joan Chen) applies makeup, Laura never dies. This is not a moment of reconciliation and joy for anyone. It is a failure, a stripping of her agency and a true death.

The image of Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer is further complicated by the following, final hour of Lynch's magnum opus when Cooper tries once more to bring Laura Palmer home in an alternate version of the world he used to reside within. When he comes into contact with Laura, now Carrie Page, he insists that he's an FBI agent and he needs to bring her to Twin Peaks, Washington. She's unsure of this man, but either through a familiar recollection of Cooper's face or the fact that she needs to get out of dodge anyway she follows. And they travel down the darkened road of America with only headlights to guide them through the tar. Something immediately feels off in this silence, this Cooper and this reality. The sense of dread can be felt in the abandoned buildings they drive past. This is a dead world. When they cross the bridge into Twin Peaks there's something immediately wrong. Carrie doesn't recognize any of it, and as they get closer to her alternate reality childhood home there is still nothing to remark upon. This doesn't change when they ring the doorbell, talk to the owners or step away from the house. It is a failure on Cooper's part to bring her here and while Carrie tries to console him, Cooper finally says something that unlocks the repressed memory of Carrie Page and Laura Palmer. “What year is this?”. The camera sits firmly on Laura's face as she beings to crack. There's a cut back to the house where Sarah Palmer can be heard saying “Laura?!” and then everything falls. She screams, her face stricken with complete horror and the lights go out on the world, and Laura Palmer dies again. 


 

The essence of this final sequence is one of a lingering trauma within the heart of Twin Peaks. Dale, never considered that this may be the most horrific place to bring a victim of sexual abuse. It was never a nuanced idea for him to think beyond his "by the book, goody-two-shoes, idealism". He never considered the girl, and neither did the Twin Peaks audience. Fire Walk With Me was famously rejected by audiences and critics alike, Laura's dead body has been made into toys, Killer BOB was made into a cute popfunko figurine, and Entertainment Weekly never even bothered to cover Fire Walk With Me in their magazines celebrating the Twin Peaks revival. Laura Palmer was never taken seriously, and by extension it feels like my own past trauma wasn't either. The image of her screaming face hangs over me, reminding me everyday that there is no scrubbing the past out of existence, and the place of my own personal hell still exists. The posters I stared at with anxious terror are still up. The tv which sometimes lit the room in a flickering haze when I heard the door creak is still hung on the wall, and my father still walks this earth. The only thing keeping my own peace of mind is miles and distance, but that is not permanence. It is not reassurance. It is not sanctuary. 

The final image of Twin Peaks is Laura whispering into Dale's ear as the credits roll. It is a recreation of the first image in the black lodge all the way back when Laura whispered to Dale the first time, but it is different now. Dale is frozen in horror this time, and Laura's face is obscured. She is not whispering "My father killed me", but something different. Words we never hear, but can infer. "You Killed Me", and in such Lynch damns himself, Cooper and the audience who never weighed the cost of what Twin Peaks coming back meant. Laura spoke, and this time she was heard.



"My mind and my life had been completely occupied by you. You came to me morning, noon, and night—especially night. That was your time, the darkness of midnight. You continually wove your spirit into my dream world, revealing bits and pieces of yourself, myself, and our fears and struggles. The thing I remember most about you, though, Laura, is your loneliness. That loneliness haunted me. Walking back into my empty hotel room by myself each day, left to deal with the fragmented pieces of my own life, your loneliness would still fill my room. My prayer is that you are now someplace where you are truly loved and at peaceful rest."

Much love and gratitude,


Sheryl Lee
Diary entry taken from Welcome to Twin Peaks. Com. 1992