“I’m Not Me”: Cooper’s Plan and the Illusion of Identity in Twin Peaks, Season Three

Analysis by David Johnson

I want to elaborate again on what I understand to be Cooper’s plan to confront Judy in the season finale of Twin Peaks. But I also want discuss what I believe to be one of the central themes of the Season Three. It’s an aspect of the show I haven’t seen discussed much. Namely, the issue of identity. In a season which deals with dopplegangers, spirit orbs, tulpas, dopplegangers posessed by spirit orbs, zombified characters who take the place of tulpas, whatever Nadio is, and characters who have turned into electric trees and smoke-spouting machines, the question of identity looms large. So I want to take the opportunity to discuss it. Coupling it with a detailed look at Cooper’s plan to confront Judy might seem like a strange fit, but I believe there are strong links between the two.

I’ll start with Cooper’s plan:

Near the end of Part 17, Cooper travels back in time, to the decisive point where Laura and James arrive at the stoplight at Sparkwood and 21. We’ve already seen this moment in the film Fire Walk With Me. Before leaving, Jeffries told Cooper that he would find Judy there. A Sparkewood and 21, Laura jumps off of James’ bike, and we know that she will soon run off into the woods to meet her fate.

Cooper intercepts Laura though, before she gets to Jacques, Leo, and Ronette. A man in a business suit in the woods, in the middle of the night, is a strange sight. But Laura recognizes Cooper from a dream. He offers his hand, and she instinctively takes it. Laura asks where they are going, and Cooper replies, “We’re going home.”

Cooper leads Laura through the woods, towards the portal near Jackrabbit’s Palace. I believe this is the entrance to the White Lodge. In Part 8, we saw how The Fireman created the Laura orb at that place and sent it to Earth.

After walking for a bit, we hear the sound The Fireman played for Cooper at the start of the season. We also hear the same sound of curtains fluttering and the same scream as we heard in Part 2, when Laura was pulled out of the Black Lodge. Cooper looks in Laura’s direction and she is gone.

It’s notable that when Laura is pulled away, there are two Lauras, and two Coopers –one each in the woods, and one each in the Black Lodge. We see the same act of Laura getting ripped away from both perspectives. I believe this confirms the theory that characters exist on two different planes–a material plane, and a spiritual plane.

We jump to a new timeline, at the point where Cooper is about to emerge from the Black Lodge, having spent 25 years there. Cooper talks with Mike, just as we saw him do in Part 2. In this new timeline though, Laura wasn’t murdered–she disappeared.

This time there is no visit from Laura in the Black Lodge. Cooper notices the empty chair where Laura sat in Part 2.

Cooper and Mike go to see The Arm. This time The Arm asks if this is “the story of the little girl who lived down the lane.” Coop then remembers Laura getting ripped away in Part 2, from his Black Lodge perspective. (Notably, Audrey asks this very same question of her Black Lodge tormenter Charlie earlier in the season.)

Cooper then sees Leland in the Black Lodge, who tells him to find Laura.

Also absent in the new timeline is any mention of  Cooper’s doppleganger. In Part 2, it was clear that the doppleganger needs to return to the Black Lodge before Cooper can leave. If the doppleganger had gotten out in this new timeline, it seems logical that the same rule would apply here. But he is not mentioned this time. I think we can conclude that the doppleganger didn’t get out in this timeline. Perhaps he is gone for good, having been sent to the Black Lodge in Part 17, and shown burning there in Part 18.

Cooper shakes his hand in a strange way, causing the curtains in the Black Lodge to rustle. This allows him to exit the Black Lodge. In Part 2, the dopplegangers blocked Cooper from exiting. But Cooper now seems to have a power that was unavailable to him in Part 2. I’d speculate that he’s now integrated the power of his doppleganger, his shadow self, and is now using it in his mission to stop Judy.

Cooper emerges from the Black Lodge in the woods. Hawk had looked for Cooper in this spot in Part 2, but of course Cooper wasn’t able to exit. This time Cooper exits and, instead of Hawk, Diane is waiting for him.

Since Cooper’s doppleganger didn’t get out in this timeline, and may not even exist anymore, the Diane in this timeline was therefore not raped by him. Yet, despite the fact that it occurred in a different timeline, this Diane still seems to carry the experiences of the “unofficial version”-timeline within her. This includes the pain of the rape that occurred in that timeline. I think director David Lynch indicates this by having Diane’s fingernails and hair color reflect the color scheme of the Black Lodge. Later we will see her intensely painful reaction to sex with Cooper, the “good” version of her rapist. It is unclear though just how consciously she is aware of these experiences.

The idea that pain and sorrow transcends space and time is strongly hinted at in Twin Peaks. Earlier in Season 3, Gordon sees and feels a flash of Laura’s pain when he opens the door to his Buckhorn hotel room, despite the fact that Laura died years earlier, and in a different part of the country. We also know that the Black Lodge creatures exist outside of space and time, and feed off of pain and sorrow. The fact that these creatures seek garmonbozia, pain and sorrow, is well established in the film Fire Walk With Me, both in the convenience store scene and the end, when a voice in the Black Lodge (Judy?) demands their garmombozia from Bob. It makes sense then that pain and sorrow would exist outside of space and time as well.

Following The Fireman’s instructions, Cooper and Diane drive 430 miles and “cross over” to what seems to be another dimension. Their demeanor changes completely once they’ve crossed, and they silently drive on into the night.

They arrive at a small motel and Cooper gets out to check in. At this point Diane briefly sees another version of herself standing near the entrance to the motel. I think this implies that she is somehow aware of the other version of herself, from the timeline where she was raped. The fact that she seems unfazed by this sight is interesting, and might imply that she is consciously aware of the events which took place there.

I believe The Fireman’s plan is to have Cooper and Diane cross over into another realm. Cooper will have sex with Diane there, triggering the pain of her rape at the hands of Cooper’s doppleganger. Since we know these creatures feed upon garmonbozia, Diane’s pain will be the bait that draws Judy there.

After sex with Diane, and the release of her pain, we cut to a shot of Cooper asleep in the motel bed. We will find out that the world Cooper occupies has changed over night. The motel is different, Cooper’s car is different, and Cooper himself seems different. His demeanor seems “harder,” a stage direction Lynch gave to actor Kyle MacLachlan to guide his performance in these scenes.¹

As a viewer, I get a strong sense that Cooper has entered a new illusion, a new dream, at this point.

“We live inside a dream,” several characters tell us during the course of the series. “We are like the dreamer who dreams and lives inside the dream,” characters from Gordon’s dream tell him. But what does this mean? I think it means that the consensual reality we experience is an illusion of some kind.

“Watch and listen to the dream of time and space,” The Log Lady tells Hawk, and us, with emphasis on “the dream.” I think she’s implying that there is more to our reality than we currently understand. I think Twin Peaks makes the case that the material world as we know it is an illusion, and there is another world. For this reason, I believe Twin Peaks is fundamentally a spiritual show.

Likewise, character identities are illusions in Twin Peaks as well. The notion of identity is rooted in time and space. If time and space can be manipulated, then so can the stories we tell ourselves about who we are. “I’m not me,” both Audrey and Diane say at points during the series, and we know they’re right. We find out that Laura is not herself either. She is not Carrie Page, but neither is she the Homecoming Queen who was either murdered by her father or who disappeared in the woods. We see her true origin in the White Lodge, as a spiritual being, with her other identities illusions, rooted in timelines that are subject to change.

Laura may’ve died in one timeline, but her essence lives on: “I am dead,” Laura’s spirit tells us in Part 2, “yet I live.” Just as there are two Lauras, there are two Coopers, as described above. In Twin Peaks, characters have a material self and a truer spiritual self. Buddhism is mentioned several times in Twin Peaks’ original run. But while the notion that identities are illusions might seem to have much in common with the Buddhist concept of No Self, I think Twin Peaks’ mythology is closer to Hinduism and the concept of Atman, or True Self .²  This tracks with Lynch’s belief in Vedic philosophy and his unyielding support of Transcendental Meditation.³

In the “Fire Walk With Me” poem recited by Mike throughout the series, those who seek access to the spiritual realm are referred to as magicians. And what is a magician but one who can manipulate an illusion? In Season Three we see Red, a character who distributes the Black Lodge-linked drug Sparkle, and who is strongly implied to be a Black Lodge creature himself. He likes magic and manipulates Richard’s perception of the coin he flips in the air. He may also be the same character as little boy in Season Two who does magic tricks with creamed corn. Creamed corn is, of course, a symbol for garmonbozia.

I think the Black Lodge creatures have learned to control the story; to manipulate the illusion of the material world, and the illusion of our identities within it, in order to cause suffering and extract garmonbozia from us. I think by using Black Fire, which Hawk describes to Truman with his map, these creatures have more power to manipulate reality. The Log Lady continues: “It all comes out now, flowing like a river–that which is, and is not.”

Despite the fact that time and space are illusions, we still see characters hold on to their identities tightly, as the only way to make sense of the world they are living in. “Do you want me to end your story, too?” Charlie asks Audrey menacingly at one point. “What story is that, Charlie?” Audrey asks, “Is it the story of the little girl who lived down the lane?” Audrey wants to leave her illusory cage, yet she clings to her story like it’s a lifeline. She continues, “I want to stay, and I want to go. What will it be, Charlie? Which one would you be?” She is genuinely frightened at the thought of someone taking her story away, even though she knows it might be a terrible one.

In Season Three the dark creatures manipulate the reality we perceive not only with illusions like the ones Audrey, Laura, and Cooper experience, but with Sparkle, and with strange creatures like the zombie child in lady’s car, Billy, and The Drunk–all of whom bleed from the face in some way. Hence the warning Gordon receives in his dream–“But who is the dreamer?” The question is, what evil creatures are manipulating the dream we live in? Who is distorting our understanding of our true selves, and for what purpose?

When Cooper wakes up, Diane is gone. Cooper finds a bedside note from a woman named Linda, which is addressed to Richard. It says not to look for her, that what they had is over, and that she doesn’t recognize him anymore. The mention of “Richard” and “Linda” refers us back to The Fireman’s cryptic instructions at the beginning of the season: “Remember 430. Richard and Linda. Two birds with one stone.”

What The Fireman means by “two birds with one stone” remains unclear for now, but we can take an educated guess at what it means to Cooper. Gordon, quoting Cooper, tells us at the beginning of Part 17: “‘If I disappear, like the others, do everything you can to find me. I’m trying to kill two birds with one stone.'” I thinks this means that Cooper is trying to kill the two Black Lodge demons, Bob and Judy, with one weapon, Laura.

I think Cooper’s plan in Part 18 is to get Laura to confront Judy. Judy has taken possession of Sarah’s body and is living in the Palmer residence (“It is in our house now,” The Fireman ominously warns). Earlier we saw the pure white light which lies beneath Laura’s face, and the darkness lurking beneath Sarah’s. At various points during the season, each of them removed the masks of their material identity to reveal their true natures. I think Cooper believes the light of Laura’s spiritual identity will destroy the darkness of Judy’s.

Cooper’s flaw, I believe, is his belief that darkness can be destroyed. Darkness can never be destroyed. Anger, aggression, and other dark impulses must be integrated, and harnessed for good. But they cannot be wiped out. To think that one can do so will only make these forces stronger. You either use them, or they use you.

Cooper sets off to find Laura, following Leland’s instructions. He enters the town of Odessa, Texas. While driving he sees a sign for a coffee shop that reads “Eat at Judy’s,” complete with a white horse out front. Cooper stops. He knows that Judy has taken Laura, so any sign of Judy should mean that Laura is nearby as well.

After ordering coffee, three cowboys begin harassing the waitress working there. Cooper intervenes, and has a surreal, out-of-character encounter with these cowboys. He kicks one in the crotch, shoots another, and holds his gun on the third. Eventually he disarms them, dropping their guns into the deep fryer. But Cooper finds out that Laura works there as well, and that she’s been gone for three days. He gets her address from the waitress and leaves.

Cooper drives to Laura’s home. A nearby utility pole draws dark electricity. The markings on this utility pole are identical to the markings on the poles in the Fat Trout Trailer Park, where Agent Desmond disappeared, and the pole near the intersection where Richard killed the little boy in the street.

Laura answers the door, but now goes by the name Carrie Page.

Carrie initially resists Cooper’s suggestion that she is Laura Palmer, and that she should come with him to Twin Peaks. But when Cooper mentions Sarah, something resonates within her, and she agrees to go. Leaving with him will also help her out of her bad story–something hinted at by the gun and dead body in her living room.

On Carrie’s mantlepiece there is a small globe that looks like the planet Earth. Nearby there is a large round plate, which looks like a larger planet. A white horse figurine stands in front of it. Since Judy is strongly associated with the white horse, and since we now seem to be in Judy’s illusion, I think these objects indicate that we are somewhere away from the Earth. They may be a key  to understanding The Fireman’s larger plan. Perhaps The Fireman, knowing that Judy cannot be destroyed, simply wants to draw her away from our world. Perhaps sacrificing Cooper and Laura to her will achieve this goal. Two birds with one stone.

They take a long car ride to Twin Peaks, with a Sopranos finale-like build up to an anticipated conflict. The tension increases when they seem to be followed by someone. During the ride there are indications that Carrie still has Laura Palmer’s identity buried somewhere deep inside of her (Carrie Page=carrying a page from Laura’s diary, i.e., Laura’s story).

Cooper and Carrie arrive in Twin Peaks, but there are hints that the town is different from the one we’ve seen all season–Norma’s diner no longer displays the prominent “RR2Go!” sign.

Cooper leads Carrie to the Palmer house, but the house is different as well. The yard is neat and tidy, where it had been overgrown and neglected all season long. Cooper and Carrie knock on the door and find that Sarah is not there, and that the people living there have no knowledge of her. The person who answers the door identifies herself as Alice Tremond. She says she bought the house from someone named Chalfont. The names Tremond and Chalfont have been used in Twin Peaks before, to indicate that a dark entity once lived at that location, but has moved on. Cooper and Carrie, having reached a dead end, return to the street.

Cooper had tried to orchestrate a conflict between the forces of good and evil, but Judy was smarter. By leading Carrie to the Palmer house, Cooper began the process of triggering the pain buried deep within Carrie. Once they return to the street, Carrie get the final spark. As they stare at the Palmer house, Carrie hears Sarah call Laura’s name. Her former identity comes rushing back in full force. All the horror we saw in the film Fire Walks With Me floods in: the high school Homecoming Queen who was sexually abused by her father for years, who lived a double life, who resorted to drugs and prostitution to mask her pain, and who fought a battle for her soul with a demon from the Black Lodge. Carrie screams in anguish.

Cooper is left wondering where in time they are, much like Jeffries did in Fire Walk With Me. And just before this illusion ends, Judy gets what she ultimately wants. She gets what was denied her in Part 17, when Cooper saved Laura from death and changed the timeline. She finally gets Laura’s garmonbozia.

For a detailed analysis of some other themes in Season Three, read my longer essay, A Cry for Compassion: Twin Peaks, Season Three.


¹ For a discussion of Cooper being “harder” in the Odessa scenes, see Sonia Saraiya’s interview with actor Kyle MacLachlan in the September 17th, 2017 Variety article, “‘Twin Peaks’ Star Kyle MacLachlan Doesn’t Know What Happened In That Last Scene Either.”

² For a discussion of the difference between Hindu and Buddhist views of identity, see Jack Kornfield’s article in Tricycle magazine, “Identity and Selflessness in Buddhism: No Self or True Self?”

³ There are many, many examples which illustrate David Lynch’s understanding of and support for Vedic philosophy. It is often expressed while discussing the benefits of Transcendental Meditation. Many examples are found in his book, Catching the Big Fish (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2006). But here is another interesting one, from the May 14th, 2019 episode of Russell Brand’s podcast Under The Skin, which demonstrates the depth of Lynch’s Vedic knowledge: Deep Vedic Philosophy with Genius David Lynch.


A Cry for Compassion: Twin Peaks, Season Three

Analysis by David Johnson

The Good Dale is in the Lodge, and He Can’t Leave

In 2006, near Washington, D.C., I went to a reading and discussion David Lynch was giving around his first book, “Catching the Big Fish.” The reading itself was extremely, comically short—just one or two brief sentences. But the Q and A session was lengthy, and Lynch was generous with answers.

Even though Twin Peaks was–in Lynch’s own words–“dead as a doornail” at the time, I had one question burning in my mind. It was a question that had stayed with me ever since the Season Two finale aired in June of ’91, and the series ended with one of the most shocking television cliffhangers of all time. It lingered through the feature film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and haunted me for years:

“Does Coop ever make it out of the Black Lodge?”

It was a question I wisely decided not to ask. Even if I had, I’m certain that Lynch would not have answered it. He does not like to give direct answers about his work. But, in 2014, with the surprise announcement of Season Three, I thought I’d soon have an answer.

“It is Happening Again”

Once a week during the spring and summer of 2017, we were treated an hourly dose of the new season of Twin Peaks. Fans were, by turns, confused, intrigued, disappointed, and delighted. For me, it seemed to rewire my brain in a profound way. I thought about it constantly, to the point where it invaded my dreams at night. I’ve never been so consumed by a work of art.

When it was over, fans and critics seemed more bewildered than ever. Season Three ended with the enigmatic and impenetrable Part 18. As I write this, a year since it aired, there is still little critical consensus about what actually happened in Part 18, much less what it could mean.

For me though, after a year of thinking about and rewatching Season Three, it has become much more coherent and meaningful. Season Three was written as a single piece, and directed as a giant 18-hour movie. The ability to watch all 18 parts in rapid succession has allowed me to see the shape of a larger narrative, and digest the season as a whole.

In my view, Season Three has elevated Twin Peaks to the top-tier of Lynch and Frost’s work. It is novel-like in its breadth of character and story. It is funny, absurd, abstract, triumphant, heartbreaking, and profound.

But still, it continues to confound. Part 18 in particular has not been cracked, and I feel this confusion has prevented Season Three from being appreciated as a true masterpiece.

While I will discuss Season Three as a whole in this essay, I will also focus closely on Part 18. I’ll provide my analysis of what I think happens and why, and how it relates to the overall themes of Season Three. To my knowledge, this interpretation has not appeared anywhere else.

I believe that Lynch and Frost want us to be detectives and grapple with the mystery in their work. It is only through mystery that we continue to ask questions and engage with their ideas throughout the years. They will not connect the dots for us. But I do believe they want us to put the clues together. With that comes the underlying assumption that they’ve provided enough clues to form a coherent interpretation. As artists, I think it would be irresponsible for them not to do so. But I believe they have with Season Three, with supreme artistic efficiency.

In studying Season Three closely, I have found that my initial question has been reframed in a profound way. Much to my surprise, Season Three makes the question–“Does Coop ever make it out of the Black Lodge?”–much more important than the final answer. For it is a question we can ask not only of Coop, but of ourselves.

“Behind All Things are Reasons”

When Twin Peaks re-aired in syndication, David Lynch shot introductions for each episode. These introductions featured Catherine Coulson, in character as the Log Lady, talking directly to the camera in her strange and poetic way. Many of these introductions touched on the themes of Twin Peaks. As these introductions were written by David Lynch as well, they can be seen as providing valuable insight into the show.

In the introduction to the first episode, the Log Lady:

I carry a log, yes. Is it funny to you? It is not to me. Behind all things are reasons. Reasons can even explain the absurd.

Do we have time to learn the reasons behind human beings’ varied behavior? I think not. Some take the time. Are they called detectives? Watch, and see what life teaches.

There is a reason behind things, which can explain even the absurd. I think this is a fundamental technique in Lynch’s works—he presents the absurd and invites us to act as detectives and understand the reasons why.

We see this over and over again in Season Three. Characters act in bizarre, almost comically frantic ways. But then we see what could be the reasons why:

  • In Parts 5 and 6 we see Frank Truman’s wife’s over-the-top rants about a leaky faucet and a car in need of repair, only realize that her behavior is driven by her son’s suicide.
  • We repeatedly see an FBI supervisor in Las Vegas scream hysterically and hilariously at his subordinate, only to realize that it he might be mimicking Gordon Cole, perhaps thinking that’s the way things are supposed to be done.

David Lynch invites us to look at the bizarre, ask why, and understand “what life teaches.” This is important because understanding can lead to empathy and compassion. If you scratch the surface on David Lynch’s films–even beyond the striking examples of The Elephant Man, Fire Walk with Me, and The Straight Story–you will see that there is a rich vein of compassion running through them. For more on this, see the essay “Fix Your Hearts or Die: The Startling Empathy of David Lynch,” linked below.

Looking at what seems enigmatic and bizarre, and asking why, is a key to understanding Season Three.

“A Dark, Dark Age”

A major cause of absurd, bizarre behavior in Twin Peaks is the darkness that has enveloped the area and is spreading to other locations.

The final episodes of Season Two strongly hint at this oncoming dark age. Several characters—Cooper, Annie, a patron at the Double R– find their hands shaking uncontrollably, with the strong sense that something ominous is coming. Near the end of Season Two the Mayor Twin Peaks states, “This is not right, there’s something wrong here,” over a montage of disturbing images from the town. The montage culminates in the Black Lodge opening and Bob stepping out into the physical world.

Season Three implies that the dark age is here. There is a general feeling of stress and tension underlying the action. In Part 1 we get a comically absurd sense of the criminal plots just beneath the surface in Buckhorn as Hank Fillmore schemes with Harvey and Barney’s brother Chip. In Part 13 we see Las Vegas detectives who have become so numb that they no longer take note of the violence taking place in the other room as a suspect is being processed. As one of the Mitchum Brothers states in Part 16, after a shootout in a housing development in Las Vegas, “People are under a lot of stress, Bradley.”

Janey-E, an on-edge wife and mother trying to keep her family together while married to the gambling, unfaithful tulpa of Mr. C, states repeatedly how much stress she’s been under. In Part 6, while confronting criminals trying to get money from her, she says:

What kind of world are we living in, where people can behave like this? Treat other people this way without any compassion or feeling for their suffering? We are living in a dark, dark age, and you are part of the problem.

In Mark Frost’s book The Final Dossier, the Log Lady repeatedly refers to the dark age we are currently experiencing. And In Part 10, she states:

Hawk, electricity is humming. You hear it in the mountains and rivers. You see it dance among the seas and stars, and glowing around the moon. But in these days, the glow is dying. What will be in the darkness that remains?

There is a reoccurring visual motif in Season Three of the moon being completely covered by clouds and darkness–a striking symbol of the dark age. We see it:

  • Twice in Part 8, after the Bob orb emerges from Mr C., and again when the frog-moth emerges from it’s shell
  • In Part 10 after the Log Lady’s speech about darkness above, right before before Rebekah Del Rio’s song “No Stars”
  • In Part 12 after Hutch and Chantel assassinate Warden Murphy
  • In Part 15 after the Log Lady dies

“That Which is, and is Not”

Jeffries and Cooper, both of whom have travelled to the interdimensional spiritual world in Twin Peaks, repeat the phrase, “We live inside a dream.” Darkness is the time for dreams, and there is a strong indication that in this dark age the spirits who live in the spirit world are leaking into the physical world.

As The Log Lady continues in Part 10:

Watch and listen to the dream of time and space. It all comes out now, flowing like a river—that which is, and is not.

In Season Three, those who live inside a dream and those who live in the physical world become intertwined and confused. It is difficult to tell which characters are real, and which are dream or spirit entities in disguise. We see the Experiment, Bob, the Woodsmen, Cooper’s doppelganger, tulpas, Naido, and many others characters from the spiritual dream world loose in the physical world.

This confusion often occurs in the Roadhouse. We see scenes there that seem to take place completely in physical reality, others that hint at the presence of spirits, and still others that seem to take place completely in a dream dimension (more on this later). The Road House seems to be a nexus where the two—that which is, and is not–intertwine.

This is not unique to Season Three though. In Episode 14 of Season Two we’re told that there are owls at the Roadhouse. Previously, in Episode 8, we were told that the owls are not what they seem. We consequently see The Fireman there several times, assisting Cooper. In Episode 14 he warns Cooper that “It is happening again, ” as Leland/Bob murders Maddie. In Episode 16 the Fireman gives Cooper back his gold ring back, helping him remember the dream where Laura revealed her killer. And in Episode 27 he warns Cooper about involving Annie Blackburn in the Miss Twin Peaks pageant. Julee Cruise’s performances in the Roadhouse have a decidedly angelic quality. In Fire Walk With Me she seems to be speaking directly to Laura, with her song “Questions in a World of Blue.” It is not difficult to imagine that she is from the spirit world as well.

The confusion about what is real and what is not has spread to the entire town. In Part 14 disgraced deputy Chad Broxford finds himself in a Twin Peaks jail cell next to a character identified as “Drunk.” He has a large, strange wound on his cheek and appears to be bleeding from his nose and mouth. The only language he produces is to mimic the last words of those around him, not unlike Dougie/Cooper. The character is decidedly otherworldly.

While it is possible that the Drunk was sent by benign spirits to keep an eye on Chad, and alert Andy and the others of an escape attempt, it equally possible that the drunk is there to torment Chad. The Drunk’s repeated phrases seem to drive Chad crazy, causing mental anguish. And the fact that the Drunk seems to be bleeding from his nose and mouth is telling, as we will see below. For more often than not, what we see in Season Three are dark, Black Lodge-type entities who torment others and feed upon their suffering.

This appears to be what’s going on with the frantic woman in the car in Part 11. While being stopped due to an accidental shooting near the Double R, she screams to Bobby Briggs about a sick child, being late, being worried about seeing an uncle, and having “miles to go.” As Bobby tries to calm her, a bizarre, zombie-like child rises up in the seat next to her, spewing some type of horrible liquid from her mouth.

While the zombie-like child is beyond strange, the reference to an “uncle” is curious. It might link this episode to another figure who seems to be central in the torment of several other Twin Peaks residents: Billy.

In Part 7, a character named Bing runs into the Double R like a man possessed, asking if anyone has seen Billy. After a moment he runs out again, continuing his frantic search.

Later in Part 14, in the Roadhouse a character named Megan relates a story about Billy jumping a six-foot fence and running into her kitchen while bleeding from the nose and mouth. Curiously, she twice mentions that she can’t remember if her uncle was there at the time.

Megan identifies her mother as Tina. That fact, along with the anecdote about Billy, links Megan’s story with Audrey Horne’s. In Part 12, Audrey states that she hates Tina, and that she going to the Roadhouse to search for Billy. She argues with her husband Charlie for several scenes before going to the Roadhouse. In Part 16 we will come to realize that Charlie is some type of dark entity and that Audrey has been experiencing some form of Black Lodge dreamworld.

In Fire Walk With Me, it is established that the Black Lodge entities feast upon garmonbozia, which is defined as “pain and sorrow.” Those who have experienced extreme amounts of pain in their lives are particularly vulnerable to these entities, as they are great sources of garmonbozia.

Considering Audrey’s particularly painful past, she makes an extremely tempting target. Audrey has a dysfunctional family life, with a neglectful, criminal father. She has a schoolmate who was murdered. She was kidnapped and held hostage by gangsters. She had someone murdered right in front of her, and was almost killed herself by a lethal dose of drugs. She was later blown up in a bank explosion, and then raped in ICU by an the doppelganger of the man she adored. Finally, she was left to raise Richard, this evil entity’s child, alone. Judging from Richard’s behavior, we can only imagine the violence he wrought upon her.

In Part 12, Charlie finds exquisite ways of torturing Audrey—claiming to be too busy and too sleepy to help her find Billy, relaying confusing stories, finally calling her nemesis Tina to talk about Billy, and refusing to tell Audrey the shocking thing that Tina said to him. In later scenes Charlie doubts her when she questions the nature of her reality and Charlie’s identity. He keeps her in an almost constant state of agitation.

Audrey seems intuitively aware of her situation. She knows she’s not herself, and that she belongs somewhere else. But she’s been so damaged by the violence in her life, that she almost willfully retreats into the security of this fantasy with Charlie, as a way to protect herself from further violence. “Do you want me to end your story, too?” Charlie asks her, when she begins to push on the boundaries of her dreamworld. “What story is that, Charlie? Is it the story of the little girl who lived down the lane? Is it?”, she replies. In retrospect, I think “the story of the little girl who lived down the lane” can be interpreted as a scenario where a woman in a dreamworld is slowly antagonized to the point where she releases garmonbozia for a Black Lodge entity. We will see this story mentioned again, and play out again, with Carrie Page in Part 18. More on that later.

It is only when the random violence of daily life intrudes upon her dreamworld as well that she asks Charlie to get her out of there. The illusion breaks. With electricity humming around her, Audrey finds herself in an institutional-looking white room, with white clothes and no make up,. She stares into a mirror, full of terror, and presumable releasing garmonbozia for the Lodge entities to feast upon.

“I Love How You Love Me”

In Part 14 Megan mentions that although she was avoiding the “nuthouse” (interestingly Chad also refers to a “nuthouse,” while in prison with the Drunk), she was “getting high in my room–flying in my own room.” This reference points to another extreme danger from the Black Lodge, especially to the youth of Twin Peaks.

In Season Three the dark entities appear to torture the inhabitants of the Twin Peaks through the spread of the drug “Sparkle”–Chinese designer drugs, as Sheriff Frank Truman calls them in Part 4. Bobby implies that it is strange that he cannot find the source of these drugs and cannot figure out how they are getting into town. He has every trail covered with video surveillance. “Every known trail,” Sheriff Truman reminds him. I speculate that there is a supernatural, Black Lodge source for these drugs.

The Roadhouse, a nexus where the natural and supernatural intersect, also seems to be the center of drug dealing in Twin Peaks. The drug dealer Red is seen in there, working with Roadhouse bartender and leader of the local prostitution ring Jean-Michel Renault. We also see Red’s drug runner Richard Horne pay off Deputy Chad Broxford at the Roadhouse.

In Part 6 there is a bizarre drug meeting between Red and Richard. During the meeting Red performs a strange magic trick, altering reality or perception to make a coin seem to freeze in the air, then appear in Richard’s mouth, and finally return to Richard’s hand. In Episode 9 of Season Two, when Donna brings food to the elderly Mrs. Tremond (more on that name later), we meet her red-haired grandson, who studies magic. He makes creamed corn disappear from Donna’s plate and magically, supernaturally, appear in Mrs. Tremond’s hands. In Fire Walk With Me, Mrs. Tremond and grandson are firmly established to be supernatural entities who attempt to draw Laura Palmer into the Black Lodge. Considering the use of supernatural magic, the red hair, and the age of the two characters, I think a strong case can be made that Red is Mrs. Tremond’s grandson, and that the Sparkle he spreads has a Black Lodge origin.

We can also infer that Cooper’s doppelganger Mr. C is spreading these drugs as well, and that perhaps they were a key to building his criminal empire. We can deduce that Mr. C got his safety pin-scratched playing card, with the symbol of Judy on it, from the drug-addicted “1-1-9” women living across the street from Dougie in Las Vegas. She has the same type of playing cards and a safety pin on the table in her room. It is not a stretch to imagine that Mr. C traded drugs for further information about Judy. The symbol on Mr. C’s card is very similar to the symbol we later see on Hawk’s map and on Briggs’ slip of paper.

The fact that she speaks backwards after her drug use—calling out “1-1-9” instead of “9-1-1” during an emergency–indicates that there is most likely a Black Lodge origin for these drugs. As Mark Frost states in a recent Salon interview, those with one foot in the other world tend to speak backwards. Perhaps that is how she learned about Judy.

In Season Three, we see that drug use is starting to have a devastating effect in Twin Peaks, especially to the youth.

In Part 4 we hear about the overdose of high schooler Denny Craig during a wrestling match, because of these drugs.

At the end of Part 9 there is a brief scene in the Roadhouse with two young people, Ella and Chloe. Ella has a severe rash, and talks about getting fired from her job for getting high. Most strikingly though, Ella mentions that “zebra’s out again,” and later asks, “Have you seen that penguin?” Both zebras and penguins are black and white, a color scheme strongly associated with the Black Lodge. Ella’s constant scratching implies that she is in bad shape, and headed down a dark path.

We see the most devastating effects though in Becky and Steven Burnett. In Part 5, in a striking shot while sitting in a car with red upholstery (another color strongly associated with the Black Lodge), we sense the profound euphoria that Shelley Briggs’ daughter Becky experiences while high. We get a strong indication of the love she feels while on these drugs. But shortly afterwards we also see the consequences of drug use. Becky begs Shelly for money, only for Steven to blow it all on drugs. We see Steven try to apply for a job while high, only to fail. In Part 10 we see the fear and abuse of their life in the trailer park, as a result of drug addiction. In Part 11 we see Becky’s violent reaction when she realizes that Steven has been unfaithful to her with another drug user, Gersten Hayword. Becky grabs a gun and steals Shelly’s car. She puts her mother in danger, as Shelly hangs on for dear life while Becky tries to drive away. Becky then risks killing someone as she fires blindly into Gersten’s apartment.

The final sequence in the woods with Steven and Gersten, in Part 15, truly demonstrates the depth of pain and sorrow that drug use causes in Twin Peaks. In a scene of profound despair, Steven, while high and sitting under an enormous tree with Gersten, prepares to commit suicide. He rambles on about turquoise, lightning in the bottle, and the rhinoceros. He becomes incoherent as Gersten, who appears high as well, tries to talk him out of it. Steven, while loading his gun, asks if Gersten will join him. She declines. When they are interrupted by Cyril Pons though, played by none other than Mark Frost, Gersten runs around the tree. We hear a gun shot, and it is strongly implied that Steven has killed himself. The camera focusses on Gersten, and we see her intense anguish. The enormous, ominous trees surrounding Gersten seem to soak up the garmonbozia.

“Black Fire?”

What happens when the dark entities create suffering, particular among the youth in Twin Peaks? I believe Hawk provides the answer when he explains his map in Part 11:

(pointing to the fire symbol)
Looks like a campfire, what is this?


It’s not a campfire, it’s a fire symbol.


What’s that mean?


It’s a type of fire, more like modern-day electricity.




It depends. It depends on the intention behind the fire.

And later–

(pointing to a symbol of blackened corn)
What is this?


It’s corn, it’s fertility, but it’s black, diseased or unnatural. Death.
If you put these two symbols together, you get this.


Black fire?



Fire, or electricity, seems to give these entities power in our world. The more electricity they have, the more they can impact our world. It can be good or bad, depending upon the intention behind it.

Suffering youth are represented in Hawk’s map as diseased corn–corn that has been affected by something unnatural. When it comes in contact with electricity, it creates black fire. Tortured and suffering youth, addicted to unnatural drugs from the Black Lodge, will create a lot of black fire, and provide a lot of power for these dark entities. The more suffering they can create, the more black fire they will have, the more ability they will have to impact our world, and create further suffering. It’s a vicious cycle.

Because there is a lot of black fire, these dark creatures are running rampant in Twin Peaks, and reality is beginning to blur. It is truly a dark age.

But there is one entity in particular, an “extreme negative force,” who is the greatest threat of all.

“It is in Our House Now”

Season Three begins with a scene between the Fireman and Agent Cooper. I think one can make a strong case that the scene takes place in the White Lodge. As we know from Season Two, the forces of goodness reside in the White Lodge. In Season Three the Fireman appears to live there:

Agent Cooper. Listen to the sounds.


We hear scratching sounds from a phonograph [Note: these are the exact same sounds we hear when Laura is pulled away from Agent Cooper in Parts 17 and 18].


It is in our house now.


(very concerned)
It is?

I think this scene indicates that the true big bad of Twin Peaks, Judy, has entered our world and has taken up residence in the Palmer house. It is of grave concern to both the Fireman and Agent Cooper.

In Part 17, Gordon Cole gives us information about Judy, and reveals that he’s known about her for twenty-five years:

Before he disappeared, Major Briggs shared with me and Cooper his discovery of an entity—an extreme negative force, called in olden times,“Jowday.” Over time, it’s become, “Judy.”

After Briggs revealed the existence of Judy twenty-five years ago, Gordon, Cooper and Briggs formulated a plan that could lead to Judy. This is clearly a retcon of Season Two, since Judy was probably not conceived of at the time, but I think it’s a good one. It easily could’ve happened during Episode 19, when Gordon has returned to Twin Peaks. Briggs has become disillusioned with his superiors at the Air Force, and suspicious of their motives. He has also gone to the White Lodge himself, and received a download of information that he was slowly beginning to understand. He also has data he’s been collecting at Listening Post Alpha. So he would’ve had the knowledge and the opportunity during this episode to relay information about Judy to Gordon and Cooper. During this episode Briggs also wholeheartedly agrees to help Cooper with his investigation.

The plan that could lead to Judy is not explained. I believe that Lynch and Frost want us to reflect upon the path to evil, and infer a plan ourselves. At its heart, I believe that Twin Peaks is about the battle between good and evil. As we do in our daily lives, as viewers we must contend with those two elemental forces and find our own way.

“You Don’t Ever Want to Know About That”

We know that Mr. C is after Judy. He reveals as much to Daria before he kills her in Part 2. Mr. C knows what Cooper knew at the point he entered the Black Lodge at the end of Season Two. So, from the discussion twenty-five years ago mentioned above, Mr. C knows that Garland Briggs has information about Judy. I think we can infer that that information includes coordinates to a portal that could lead to Judy.

When Mr. C emerged from the Black Lodge, he met with Garland and presumably asked about Judy and those coordinates. During that meeting though Garland sensed something was terribly wrong. He hid the coordinates in a secure military database, and in a chair in his home, in a manner that only his son Bobby could figure out. He gathered information for the dossier revealed in “The Secret History of Twin Peaks.” He then destroyed Listening Post Alpha and the data it collected, faked his death, and went into hiding for twenty-five years.

Mr. C doggedly continued his search for those coordinates for twenty-five years. He also constructed a glass box around a portal in New York, in an attempt to capture what comes through. There is a lot of unexplained equipment and wiring around the box, perhaps to immobilize whatever comes through. I believe Judy does indeed come through, on Cooper’s trail and looking for Mr. C. She destroys the box, causing great fear in the young people watching it. She murders them. She then takes up residence in what I believe is her former host and carrier, Sarah Palmer, and waits for Mr. C to come to her.

“I Will Be With Bob Again”

Why does Judy want Mr. C? I believe she wants Mr C because he is carrying Bob. She wants Bob back because Bob has collected garmonbozia for twenty-five years with Mr. C, and she is determined to get it.

If we accept the premise that Judy is the true big bad of Twin Peaks—and I think the evidence for this is very strong—then I think we can infer that she is also pulling the strings in the Black Lodge. I think we see this play out near the end of Fire Walk With Me.

After killing Laura, wrapping her body in plastic, and setting it adrift, Leland, with Bob, returns to the Black Lodge. In the Lodge Leland is separated from Bob.  Mike reconnects with the Arm and says, “Bob, I want all my garmonbozia.” Bob sucks blood out of Leland’s stomach area, and seems to reluctantly through it on the floor of the Black Lodge. It is absorbed, and appears in the form of creamed corn. That creamed corn, which has been established to be garmonbozia, is ingested by an entity of some kind. We see a monkey speak Judy’s name immediately after the corn is consumed.  I think we can conclude that Judy spoke through Mike and the Arm once they were reconnected, demanding the garmonbozia that Bob had collected, and that she was the one who ate it. Therefore, I believe that Bob is a collector of garmonbozia, and that his job is to give it to Judy in the Black Lodge.

Bob is expected to return the garmonbozia he’s collected, but he appears to have tried to take it for himself before. At one point in Fire Walk With Me, the spirit Mike accuses Bob of stealing garmonbozia: ”You stole the corn! I had it canned, above the store!”

So Judy wants Bob so she can get her garmonbozia. As Ray Monroe states in Part 8, after seeing the Bob orb emerge from the injured Mr. C, “It could be the key to what this is all about.”

Following the natural order of the Black Lodge, Mr. C and Bob are expected to return after a twenty-five year excursion to collect garmonbozia.

As we learn in Part 4, Mr. C has been impersonating Cooper during this time. He either tricks Jeffries into asking Albert for information about the FBI presence in Columbia, or impersonates Jeffries to get the information. Mr. C then uses it to kill the FBI man there and build his criminal empire.

There are strong hints that Mr. C, carrying Bob, enjoys the garmonbozia he’s collecting. In Part 16 Diane states that he liked the fear she exhibited before he raped her. In Part 13 Mr. C seems to get pleasure out of toying with the gang leader in Montana during their arm wrestling match, before killing him. Likewise, he also seems to enjoy the intense fear he creates in Daria before killing her in Part 2.

After Daria is dead, Mr C contacts who he believes isJeffries from his motel room. It is not Jeffries on the line, though. I strongly believe that it is Judy on the other end of the connection.

During the call, Judy says, “I missed you in New York.” I think this is referring to her appearance in the glass box in New York in Part 1, where she escaped and killed the two kids who were watching it.

She then mentions that he met with Garland Briggs, acknowledging that she knows that Briggs told Cooper (and by extension, Mr. C) about her existence. She then says she just called to say goodbye, noting that he is due to be pulled back into the Black Lodge and that she will be with Bob again.

But Mr. C though, apparently working with the other doppelgangers in the Black Lodge, creates a plan to prevent his return to the Lodge. He creates a tulpa, Dougie. The Black Lodge seems to use vomited garmonbozia to locate those it wants to pull back into the Lodge. When the Black Lodge comes calling, Mr. C holds his garmonbozia in, refusing to vomit it. Meanwhile, the Dougie tulpa spews his out. The Dougie tulpa is then pulled into the Black Lodge, instead of Mr. C and Bob.

At some point Judy seems to realize that Mr. C is after her as well, and decides to wait for him. As mentioned above, she takes up residence in the one who I believe carried her from New Mexico to Twin Peaks, her previous host Sarah Palmer.

“Woe to the Ones Who Behold the Pale Horse”

Sarah Palmer, like Audrey described above, is a very good generator of garmonbozia: her daughter was raped and murdered by her husband, who later died by suicide. In Episode 10 of Season Two, after being told that Bob is gone, she replies, “so is everything I loved.”

Sarah also shows herself to be a conduit or medium of sorts, with a connection the Black Lodge and its entities. In Season One she has visions of Bob. In the finale of Season Two she channels Windom Earle, who speaks from the other world: “I’m in the Black Lodge with Dale Cooper.”

In Episode 8 of Season Two, we see the pale horse for the first time. As Sarah Palmer crawls downstairs, before losing consciousness and just before Leland/Bob kills Maddie, Sarah has a vision of a pale horse.

In the introduction to that episode, the Log Lady states: “Woe to the ones who behold the pale horse.”

It’s been documented that David Lynch often turns to the Bible for inspiration, as he did while shooting both Eraserhead and Inland Empire. In Chapter 6, Verse 8 of Revelation from the King James Bible, there is a sentence which may shed light upon the symbol of the pale horse:

And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him (216).

I believe that the pale horse is another indicator of Judy’s presence. The pale horse appears during times of intense suffering in the Palmer residence—when Laura is raped in Fire Walk With Me, and when Maddie is killed in Season Two. In Part 8 of Season Three we see the event which summons these dark entities to our world–a nuclear explosion. It is like a Pandora’s Box has been opened. At the end of Part 8 we hear horse sounds, after it is strongly implied that Judy has entered our world as the frog-moth. Having crawled into Sarah Palmer’s mouth, she will be carried to Twin Peaks.

Go to Twin Peaks… and There You Will Find Your Destiny

Judy’s plan to wait for Mr. C and Bob at the Palmer house is thwarted by the Fireman when, as described in Part 14, he contacts Freddie, tells him where to get the supernaturally powerful green glove, and instructs him to go to Twin Peaks and find his destiny.

Mr. C, with the correct coordinates in hand, gets to the portal that will take him to Judy. The Fireman then intervenes, sending Mr. C to the Twin Peaks sheriff’s station instead, where Lucy with her gun and Freddie with his green glove are waiting for him. Mr. C is shot, and Bob is destroyed during an interdimensional fist fight. Cooper sends Mr. C’s remains back to the Black Lodge with the green ring.

Once Bob is destroyed, Cooper immediately moves on to his primary assignment, the one given to him in Part 1 by the Fireman–stopping Judy. Cooper asks Sheriff Truman for the key to his old room in the Great Northern, which is the one thing that had been sent through with him when he when he re-emerged in the physical world in Part 3. It is a key to his past, and a key to finding Laura before she is murdered. But he also has another key with him, and it is one that will lead him to Judy. That key is Diane.

“Do You Remember Everything?”

In Part 17, Cooper sees Naido in the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s station. The Sheriff’s Department had found the eyeless, speechless, supernatural Naido at the portal near Jack Rabbit’s Palace, following clues left by Garland Briggs. Andy has brought her upstairs from a cell below, presumably following instructions the Fireman gave him during his visit to what I believe is the White Lodge.

Immediately after Cooper sees Naido, we see a large, superimposed image of Cooper head, his face frozen with a look of something like awe, shame, and remorse. This image remains on screen for most of the time leading up to his arrival at the Great Northern boiler room.

I think this image indicates that there are two Coopers–one in the “unofficial version” timeline, and one that is in the spirit world, outside of time. I think this image indicates that the Cooper in the spirit world, outside of time, can access to the power of the Black Lodge. It also shows his remorse at how that power has been and will be used.

We’ve already seen that once a person enters a place in spirit world, like the Black Lodge, that that person can communicate with the physical world at any point in the timeline. That’s why Annie can send Laura a message in Fire Walk With Me, and Cooper can appear in her dreams.

In Part 17 Cooper is ready to use the power of the Black Lodge. But he has also seen what the pure distillation of his dark side is capable of—violence of every kind. Once free, and without hesitation, Mr. C had acted upon Cooper’s repressed desire for both Audrey and Diane, sexually assaulting them. Seeing Naido, he is reminded of what his dark side can do—hence the look of profound shame on the superimposed image of Cooper and in the look Cooper gives Naido when he first sees her in the Sheriff’s station.

While he is fully aware of the power of the Black Lodge, his task now is to use it. In Jungian terms, he has confronted his shadow. He must now integrate his darkness and use it in his quest for good—to stop Judy.

He touches Naido’s hand. I believe the next sequence of images implies that the Cooper in the spirit world uses his control over the Black Lodge to reveal Diane’s true spirit, hidden beneath the mask of Naido. Presumable Mr C created Naido as a way to contain the real Diane. After raping her and taking her to the Convenience Store, Mr C hid her away in Naido’s eyeless, voiceless body. He then replaced Diane in the physical world with a tulpa he created, who could work for his interests. At some point, Naido made her way to the White Lodge, where she assisted Cooper in Part 3 and fell into space, ending up at the portal near Jack Rabbit’s palace. I also believe that Naido is somehow able to hack into the tulpa Diane, sending Mr C coordinates and telling Gordon, “I’m not me” and that she’s in the Sheriff’s station.

Naido’s face is burned away and Diane’s true face appears. Her hair and nails reflect the color scheme of the Black Lodge, a constant reminder of her association with that place. Cooper in the physical world smiles when he sees her. The Black Lodge, with Cooper’s superimposed image over it, hums with power.

Cooper asks Diane if she remembers everything. She says she does, which is critical—her memories of the rape are a vital part of the plan to get to Judy.

“We Live Inside a Dream”

Before the timeline Cooper leaves the Sheriff’s station with Gordon and Diane, we hear Cooper’s superimposed image say, “We live inside a dream.”

Phillip Jeffries had said this phrase when he visited FBI headquarters in 1989, before disappearing into the other world. And the spirit from Gordon’s dream, in the form of Monica Bellucci, said something similar: “We are like the dreamer who dreams, and then lives inside the dream.” It’s notable that Gordon mentions that Cooper was there, indicating that Cooper dwells in the spirit world as well.

I believe in the metaphysical realm, spirits can create their own worlds, and then occupy them. These dreamworlds can intrude upon and impact our physical reality. This is something we’ve seen throughout the season, and discussed above. But the fact that it’s a dark age indicates that it is a dark dreamer impacting our world.

When Monica asks, “But who is the dreamer?”, Gordon gets an uneasy feeling. He remembers Phillip Jeffries’ visit to FBI headquarters, where Judy was first mentioned.

Our dreams create our reality. Some are capable of creating powerful dreams that have great influence over all of us.

I think there is a strong implication that we’ve been living a world influenced by Judy’s dreaming. The dark age and the bizarre things it has brought are due to Judy’s influence. The black fire she and her entities have created, through suffering, has only given them more power to implement her dream. And she must be stopped.

But there are other dreamers, including the Fireman.

When Cooper’s superimposed image states, “We live inside a dream,” I think it implies that he, like Jeffries, lives in the spirit world now. In the spirit world he not only has great power,  but he can also impact the timeline at any point. Hence, he can free Diane from her prison in the Black Lodge. He can also transport his timeline self, along with Diane and Gordon, to the boiler room in the Great Northern Hotel. The superimposed image of Cooper looks very much like the superimposed image of Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz, when she makes snow fall on the poppy field, waking Dorothy and the others. [It is one of several nods to The Wizard of Oz in Season Three, including golden orbs, the use of black and white, and references to “going home.”]

The timeline Cooper says his goodbyes to the others at the Sheriff’s department, and disappears along with Diane and Gordon. Once in the boiler room, the timeline Cooper prepares to enter the spirit world and take the battle to Judy.

“Fire Walk With Me”

After saying goodbye to Gordon and Diane, Cooper pointedly says to her, “I’ll see you at the curtain call.” This indicates that he is aware that Laura will be taken away, and that a new timeline will be created. He had already seen Laura getting pulled away in Part 2, from the out-of-time perspective of the Black Lodge. “There are some things that will change,” he told Hawk before leaving the Sheriff’s station, “The past dictates the future.” He knows that he will meet Diane again in the new timeline–after his experience in the Black Lodge, at the point he was originally supposed to leave, before Mr C, the doppelgangers, and the tulpa intervened.

Cooper opens the door to the boiler room, a mythological place of transformation, and prepares to enter the spirit world. Why is a door to the spirit world located in the Great Northern? We know that the building is made from haunted wood from the nearby Ghostwood forest. And we know that spirits can inhabit the wood. In Season Two, Bob seems to have trapped Josie’s spirit in that wood, in the form of a drawer pull. The spirit of the Log Lady’s husband seems to reside in the wood she carries, as inferred from Episode 6 of Season One and “The Secret History of Twin Peaks.”

Mike is waiting for Cooper on the other side of the door, most likely responsible for the tone emanating from it. In fact, Mike and the Black Lodge have aided Cooper all season long:

  • In Part 3 Cooper’s receives Black Lodge visions showing him which slot machines to play to win jackpots.
  • In Part 6 Mike sends Cooper visions telling him not to die and to wake up.
  • In Part 7 the Arm advises Cooper to “squeeze his hand off!” during the attack by the hitman Ike Stradtler.
  • In Part 11 Mike directed Cooper to buy the cherry pie that saves his life from the Mitchum brothers. Bradley Mitchum had learned about that pie in a dream.

Cooper receives a lot of supernatural help in Season Three. Interestingly, much of the less-overt help is associated the the letter “Z”–perhaps referring to dreaming. It’s unclear if all this help comes from Mike and the Arm only, or if there is another source at work as well. Maybe the spirit world Cooper assisted the timeline Cooper at the following points:

  • Tracey, the girl who brings coffee in Part 1, has cups with a “Z” prominently displayed. She distracts the man watching the glass box long enough for Cooper to be pulled from box before Judy can arrive.
  • A light is shown on insurance salesman Anthony Sinclair during their staff meeting, indicating that he was lying.
  • Lights are shown on the insurance documents Cooper takes home, indicating a criminal conspiracy.
  • The shop where Cooper buys the cherry pie that saves his life is “Szymons.”
  • In Part 16 the Polish Accountant, who takes out the hitmen sent to kill Cooper, works for “Zawaski, Accounting, Inc.,” which is prominently displayed on the side of his car.

After incanting the Fire Walk With Me poem, Mike uses electricity to transport both of them into the spirit world.

Mike leads Cooper into another dimension, a dimension with a close connection to the woods around Twin Peaks. They walks down an interdimensional hallway which leads to a staircase. It is the same staircase we saw through the Buckhorn portal and which Mr. C accessed through the Convenience Store. After Cooper and Mike gone up the stairs, we see the figure of the Jumping Man frantically come down the stairs. Presumably it indicates that Judy is alerted to what Cooper and Mike are doing. We’d seen the Jumping Man before in Season Three, when Mr. C went up those same stairs. Screen grabs show that it is Sarah Palmer’s face behind the Jumping Man’s mask. We’d also seen the Jumping Man before, in Fire Walk With Me, around Leland. I believe he is an indication that a Lodge entity has taken control of someone, using that person as a mask. In Fire Walk With Me Bob was hiding inside Leland, but in Season Three is Judy hiding inside Sarah Palmer.

In the spirit world, Cooper and Mike go to the Dutchman’s to see Jefferies. Cooper states that he wants to go to February 23rd, 1989, the night Laura Palmer died. Jeffries finds the right point in time, telling him he will find Judy there. We see in Jeffries’ smoke the Owl symbol, a symbol associated with the Black Lodge. The Owl symbol then turns into an infinity sign, representing time. This shows that the timeline where Judy exists has been going on forever, and will likely continue forever. Evil is infinite.

“There might be someone,” Jeffries says. The use of the word “someone” in this manner is very specific language, and seems to indicate Laura’s spirit. In Part 1 Mike says, “Someone is here,” referring to Laura’s spirit.

After finding the proper point in time, Jeffries pointedly says, “You can go in now”–more specific language, in this case used to describe entering the Black Lodge. When the timeline changes, we will find Cooper back in the Black Lodge again. Jeffries tells Cooper to remember. He is most likely referring to the Fireman’s instructions from Part 1: “4-3-0. Richard and Linda. Two birds with one stone.” The Fireman had told him to remember this as well. Mike transports Cooper back in time, again using electricity. Cooper appears in the woods in Twin Peaks, where James and Laura have stopped the bike on the night of her death, just before she runs off into the woods.

“We’re Going Home”

Why did Cooper choose the night of Laura’s death to intervene? He could’ve gone back years earlier and prevented her suffering. He could’ve exposed Bob before he did so much damage.

Laura is full of garmonbozia at the point when Cooper arrives. She has been raped by Leland/Bob for years, and she has just realized that Bob had been masking the identity of her father all along. She has been numbing herself with sex and drugs. She questions the goodness of her own nature. She realizes that Bob wants to possess her, and she would rather die than let that happen. She indicates to Bobby at one point late in the film that she is going home, presumably referring to death rather than the Palmer residence. She is at the height of her “loneliness, guilt, shame, confusion and devastation of the victim of incest,” as David Lynch describes it in Lynch on Lynch (185).

If Cooper takes her back to the White Lodge at this point, it will deny Judy the maximum amount of Laura’s garmonbozia. All the work that Leland/Bob did will be for nothing.

The reason Cooper intervenes when he does is because Laura is filled to the brim with garmonbozia, and is therefore extremely valuable to Judy.

“We’re going home,” Cooper says ambiguously when he meets Laura. He is most likely referring to the White Lodge. We know from Part 8 that Laura’s pure, incorruptible spirit came from the White Lodge. Cooper leads her towards the portal near Jack Rabbit’s Palace, a portal that has been shown to be an entrance to the White Lodge. I think he knows that Laura won’t end up there, though. He’s already seen her get pulled away, from his Black Lodge perspective in Part 2. And that is part of the plan.

Ultimately, I think Cooper sees Laura as a weapon in his fight against Judy.  In the Black Lodge Laura’s spirit revealed the blinding white light beneath the mask of her face. Light destroys darkness. And we’ve also seen the intense darkness that lurks behind the mask of Sarah Palmer’s face. I think Cooper believes that Laura’s light can destroy Judy’s darkness. Therefore, I do not believe that Cooper intends to send Laura back to the White Lodge and take her out of the fight against Judy.

The Fireman is also aware that Laura will not make it to the White Lodge. In Part 14 the Fireman shows Andy an image of the telephone pole outside Carrie Page’s home in Odessa, revealing that he’s aware that Laura will end up there.

Cooper prevents Laura’s death by stopping her from going off with Leo, Jaques and Ronette. Doing so changes the timeline, and prevents the release of garmonbozia we saw in Fire Walk With Me when Laura was killed. The death which began the series is erased.

Judy is enraged by this. In the Palmer residence, she lashes out at Laura’s picture. But Laura’s spirit is indestructible–the picture refused to break. Evil may be infinite, but so is good.

Judy then moves to take Laura away. As Cooper leads Laura though the woods, we hear the sounds that the Fireman played for Cooper at the start of Season 3. We hear curtains rustling, Laura screams and then is pulled away before they can reach the portal near Jack Rabbit’s Palace.

As mentioned above, Cooper had already seen this event from the out-of-time Black Lodge perspective. In Part 2, after Laura’s spirit whispers to Cooper in the Black Lodge, we see the curtains rustle violently. We hear the exact same scream as Laura is ripped away and hidden beyond the curtains, deep in the darkness of the Black Lodge dimension. As Cooper moves into that dimension he sees a pale horse, indicating Judy’s location. When he “crosses” with Diane in Part 18 he will look for a pale horse.

When Laura is ripped away the timeline changes. She becomes a missing person, rather than a murder victim.

Mark Frost has stated that he was inspired by Greek drama when writing Season Three. The Greek playwright Agathon is quoted by Aristotle as stating: “This only is denied to God–the power to undo the past.” Cooper changes the past with his actions, and, as Mark Frost points out, it has unforeseen and unintended consequences.

“Is it Future, or is it Past?”

There is a 25-year time jump, and we see Cooper in the Lodge again with Mike, as we first saw him in Part 2. The events of the “unofficial version” –most of Season Three–have been changed in the new timeline.

As confirmed in The Final Dossier, Cooper still came to Twin Peaks, this time to investigate the missing person case involving Laura Palmer. And he still disappeared into the Black Lodge at some point.

As in Part 2, Mike asks Cooper if it is future or past. Cooper notices that Laura is not there, staring at the empty chair she occupied in Part 2.

Mike leads Cooper to the Arm, who asks, “Is it the story of the little girl who lived down the lane? Is it?” This is exactly the same thing that Audrey asked Charlie, as she was questioning the nature of her reality. This implies that Laura is in a similar situation to Audrey’s; that is, she is being tormented in a dreamworld for garmonbozia, which turns out to be the case.

Cooper remembers that Laura’s spirit was taken away after she whispered something to him. Cooper then walks into a room with Leland’s spirit, who tells him to “Find Laura.”

“A Place of Almost Unimaginable Power”

Cooper demeanor changes as he moves into a hallway in the Black Lodge. Cooper walks very mechanically, almost robot-like, with a menacing look on his face. He moves one hand back and forth and opens the curtains, at the same spot where he was denied exit in Part 2.

His movements and the result suggest that he has incorporated his shadow and mastered the dark side. It has given him the power to open the curtains of the Black Lodge. Cooper now appears to be a master of the two worlds.

Cooper learned to use the power of the Black Lodge in the “unofficial version,” freeing Diane from Naido. He now uses it to exit the Lodge, where Diane is waiting for him.

“Richard and Linda”

It is not explicitly stated how much Diane remembers from the “unofficial version” in this new timeline. Perhaps she knew to be at the entrance to the Black Lodge at that particular time because she remembered, or perhaps she’s there because Hawk told her to be there. Hawk was there at the same time in Part 2, when Cooper ‘s exit was stopped by Lodge doppelgangers. Regardless, Diane is waiting for Cooper in this new timeline as he emerges from the Black Lodge after twenty-five years.

We then see Cooper and Diane following the Fireman’s instructions at the beginning of the season (“430. Richard and Linda. Two birds with one stone”), going 430 miles from Twin Peaks. I think the vintage car they drive reflects a state of innocence–David Lynch often uses a 1950’s setting to imply innocence, regardless of what darkness lurks beneath the surface.

Diane begins to doubt their mission, asking Cooper if he’s sure about what he’s doing. We can sense her unease. Cooper, confident in his mission, asks to kiss her. After the kiss Diane agrees to continue. Perhaps she gets some reassurance about his nature when she kisses him. The same thing happened in Part 17 after she emerged from Naido. And her kiss with Mr. C caused Diane to know he’s evil. At the very least the kiss shows a long-standing desire between the two.

They “cross,” going through a portal which leads them to a desolate night landscape, filled with tension. The dynamic between Diane and Cooper changes, as if they are influenced by the dark world they have entered. I believe they have entered Judy’s dimension. We saw an indication of where this could be in Part 2, when Laura’s spirit was taken away and Cooper stared at the darkness beyond the curtains of the Black Lodge.

They reach a small, one-story motel and Cooper goes to the office to check in. While Diane stares in his direction, she briefly sees a double of herself, staring back.

This might indicate that she is somehow aware of the “unofficial version,” and her rape in that timeline. The fact that she still has red hair and black and white nails indicates that somewhere she retains her experiences in the “unofficial version,” despite the fact that it occurred in another timeline and is most likely buried deeplt within her psyche. Unconsciously, she also may be beginning to split from the painful thing she is about to do–disassociating from the trauma she senses is coming. Perhaps she senses the path that will lead to her to identify herself as “Linda,” and to see Cooper as “Richard.”

“Come Over Here to Me”

Cooper and Diane enter hotel room number 7. Of course, 4-3-0 adds up to 7. It is David Lynch’s lucky number, and, in numerology, the number of the spiritual quest. “Turn off the light,” Cooper says to Diane. “Now it’s dark…” as the demonic Frank Booth would say in Blue Velvet, a David Lynch film starring both Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern. Diane asks, “What do we do now?” and Cooper replies, “You come over here to me.”

Cooper and Diane have arrived in Judy’s dimension, but now they need to call her to their location.

Diane and Cooper begin to have sex, in a very unsettling and disturbing scene. As we know, Cooper’s doppelganger raped Diane, and Diane appears to relive the trauma while having sex with Cooper. She cries and is extremely emotional and disturbed during this scene.

Considering Diane’s red hair and black and white nails, the scene also become a powerful representation of Cooper’s embrace of the Black Lodge. Cooper of course sees this as a necessary action for the greater good–the garmonbozia that results from it will begin sequence of events that will lead him to Judy.

In Part 8 we see the Woodsmen, Bob, and Judy enter our world, called by a nuclear bomb explosion. In Part 18 Judy is called by something much more intimate—our best man Agent Cooper intentionally inflicting profound suffering upon Diane, a character he cares about deeply.

The Platters song “My Prayer” accompanies both scenes in Part 8 and Part 18, and is an absolutely perfect choice. It draws strong parallels between the two sequences. There is a sense of innocence to the song, yet it can also be read as describing evil’s corrupting influence: “When the twilight has gone you come into my heart, And here in my heart you will stay….” In both scenes innocence is lost, and evil is on its way.

Cooper seems to consciously switch off his empathy for Diane in this scene, in order to complete his mission. He is cold and passionless. He allows Diane to cover his eyes during sex—an indication that Cooper is beginning to lose his vision and, in some ways, himself.

“This is Where You’ll Find Judy”

David Lynch’s works often deal with the nature of evil. In the beginning of INLAND EMPIRE, a character played by Grace Zabriski—the same actress who plays Sarah Palmer—tells Laura Dern’s character a parable:

“A boy went went out to play. When he opened his door, he saw the world. As he passed through the doorway, he caused a reflection. Evil was born. Evil was born, and followed the boy.”

The desire to participate in the world inevitably brings with it evil impulses. Lynch seems to be saying that evil is an inescapable part of human nature and human experience. Clinical psychologist Jordan B Peterson, quoting Russian writer Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, states “the line between good and evil runs down every human’s heart.”

In Part 8, a Woodsman, while holding the fracturing skull of a terrified disc jockey, sends a strange message to the other dark entities who feast upon garmonbozia: “This is the water, and this is the well,” he says. That is, humans are full of suffering, but humans are also the source of suffering—the water and the well. He continues: “The horse is the white of the eyes, and dark within.” In a manner of speaking, Judy, the extreme negative force associated with the pale horse, lies within all of us. She resides within our hearts, in a sense. It is no coincidence that we see the “extreme negative force” enter a child at the end of Part 8. Evil is born of the mere fact of participation in the world.

“A Plan that Could Lead Us to Judy”

While evil resides within the human heart, there are ways to get closer to it, to bring it out and manifest it in the world. One of the ways we see dramatized in Season Three is to decrease our empathy for our fellow human beings. By not caring for others, we take steps towards evil and towards Judy. The less we care, the closer we get to evil. A nuclear bomb might be considered the ultimate expression of a lack of empathy, and in Twin Peaks we see that the detonation of the first atomic bomb calls forth the evil entities which haunt the town and the world.

In his book Nuremberg Diary, G.M. Gilbert, a US Army psychologist responsible for Nazi prisoners during the Nuremberg Trials, wrote:

In my work with the defendants I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel for their fellow men.

Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.

In his book The Science of Evil, Simon Baron-Cohen calls this “empathy erosion.” Empathy erosion begins when people start to treat others as if they were objects. Baron-Cohen links this trait not only to the horrors of the Nazis, but to atrocities all across the globe.

In Part 18, we see Cooper begin to treat Diane and Laura as if they were objects–as pawns or weapons in his battle against Judy. Consequently, there is a loss of empathy in Cooper. He becomes harder.

“I Don’t Recognize You Anymore”

In his work Beyond Good and Evil, Friedrich Nietzsche has a warning for those who battle evil:

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.

Spending so much time in the presence of evil—Cooper was in the Black Lodge for two twenty-five year stints—and going down an evil path changes you, even if your ultimate goal is to fight evil. We see that in Cooper in Part 18. Cooper starts down a dark path and it changes him. His demeanor is harder. His voice becomes more Mr. C-like. Despite having great feeling for both Diane and Laura, he begins to act as if they were both objects. And in doing so, he takes steps towards Judy.

“I’m Not Me”

The question of identity has been a central concern in David Lynch works, especially Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, and INLAND EMPIRE. That concern is equally present in Season Three of Twin Peaks. The season deals with doppelgangers, tulpas, and possession by evil entities. At different times during Season Three both Diane and Audrey, realizing something is wrong with who they are and their realities, cry, “I’m not me!”

Season Three explores how the darkness of our environment affects us, impacting our actions, our mental states, and our identities. Some of the central questions of Season Three are: Who are we? And, in this dark age, what have we become?

After his sex scene with Diane in Part 18, the question is: what has Cooper become in his quest to stop Judy?

“Cooper, Cooper, Cooper”

Cooper’s journey shows us the path to Judy—the less we care about others, the closer we get to evil.

But has Cooper himself become evil? I’d say no.

First of all, it is important to remember that Diane, at least in the “unofficial version,” seems to be a conscious and willing participant in the plan that will lead to her suffering, in another timeline and in another dimension.

Secondly, Cooper’s actions were part of a plan to stop a greater evil, a malevolent force which is wreaking havoc upon Twin Peaks and the world. Peterson defines evil as “the conscious effort to produce suffering when suffering is not necessary.” While Cooper intentionally causes suffering, it is both allowed by Diane–in at least one dimension and timeline–and necessary for the greater good.

By embracing the darkness within himself and decreasing his empathy, Cooper becomes a third persona–no longer the Cooper we know from Seasons One and Two, but not Mr. C either. He becomes a third version of himself.

“What the Fuck Just Happened?”

The sex between Cooper and Diane was an intentional ploy to attract Judy with a massive release of garmonbozia. It is an explosion of pain and sorrow that will draw the dark entity to it. And even though Diane was raped in another timeline, the pain and damage it caused transcends time and space. We see this in Part 12 as well, when Albert knocks on Gordon’s hotel room door. Before seeing Albert, Gordon has a vision of Laura’s pain. That pain is real and is out there, in the ether, beyond the boundaries of time and space. Diane still has the memories of her pain deep within her being, and she cannot help but release them when she has sex with a person who resembles the man who raped her.

Cooper wakes up and the world had changed. “We are like the dreamer who dreams and lives inside the dream.” The dreamer has come and created a new dream now, a new world.

Diane assumes the identity of Linda, presumably repressing the memory of Diane. We saw similar character arcs in Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive and INLAND EMPIRE–in each of those films lead characters assume separate identities in an effort to escape their actions and their situations. Linda now sees Cooper as Richard. She breaks it off him, telling him not to find her and that she doesn’t recognize him anymore.

Cooper goes outside and notices that the motel is different, and his surroundings are different. His vintage car is gone, reflecting a loss of innocence, replaced by the same model car that Mr. C drove.

He takes the car into the town of Odessa, Texas, where he notices the “Eat at Judy’s” coffee shop, with a small white horse for kids out front. He goes inside looking for Laura. The waitress there, Kristi, tells Cooper that Laura isn’t there. She tells him it is Laura’s third day off—a definite Christ reference.

Three cowboys in another booth begin harassing Kristi. The dreamworlds created by these dark creatures are not happy places. Cooper intervenes though, coming to her rescue. It is a definite sign he’s not Mr. C, but rather something that has integrated both the light and dark aspects of his personality.

After shooting and disarming the cowboys—it seems that everyone in Judy’s world is armed and violent—Cooper puts their guns in the deep fryer. He warns those in the restaurant that the hot oil might ignite the bullets, threatening everyone inside. He gets Laura’s address and continues his quest to find her.

“The Little Girl Who Lived Down the Lane”

Cooper drives to Laura’s address. Outside of her house he sees a telephone pole with the same markings–the distinctive number 6—as a pole that was in the Fat Trout Trailer Park in Deer Meadow, where Agent Chester Desmond disappeared after finding a green Black Lodge ring underneath the Chalfont trailer. A pole with identical markings was near the accident where the little boy was killed by Richard in Part 6. In Fire Walk With Me, we heard the Arm’s whooping sounds coming from this pole. Andy sees the pole in Odessa in a vision when he visits the Fireman. Cooper hears black fire electricity coming from it when he arrives at Laura’s house. It seems clear that the pole is a conduit transferring black fire back to the Black Lodge.

Cooper knocks on her door. Laura answers, but she is not Laura—she identifies as “Carrie Page.” Just as Diane became Linda, Laura has assumed a new identity in this dreamworld. And Judy has a definite reason for this.

Judy seems to have tortured Carrie all these years in this dreamworld. When Cooper identifies himself as an FBI agent, Carrie ask excitedly, “Did you find him?” It is never made clear who was missing, or why she wants the authorities to find him. But she needs to “get out of Dodge” for some reason. Strangely, there is a dead body in Carrie Page’s house, along with guns, indicating some type of criminal activity. Perhaps this refers to the man Bobby shot in Fire Walk With Me, while Laura was with him, in a drug deal gone bad.

She seems to have made a meager living as a waitress and a caretaker, judging from the equipment by her door. She tells Cooper that she has no food in her house. And of course she works at Judy’s diner, and wears a necklace with an upside down horseshoe, indicating bad luck.

Carrie doesn’t recognize Cooper. Neither does she recognize the names “Laura” or “Leland.” But she does recognize something when Sarah’s name is mentioned. She knows something is not right. And because she needs to leaves town, she agrees to go with Cooper to Twin Peaks.

Before leaving Cooper notices something odd on Laura’s mantle. There is a large blue plate with a white horse in front of it. To the right of it there is a smaller globe, which looks like Earth.

I think this detail is critical–it indicates that Judy, Cooper, and Laura are somewhere beyond Earth.

Carrie and Cooper leave for Twin Peaks. Cooper believes he’s taking Laura there to confront Judy. He thinks that the light in Laura will destroy the darkness in Sarah Palmer. But Judy is smarter than that, and has other plans.

“Is Someone Following Us?”

Carrie and Cooper make the long trip to Twin Peaks. The dread builds as we anticipate a final confrontation between light and dark, good and evil. As I mentioned, Twin Peaks has always been about the struggle between these two forces, and we seem to be building to a climax.

Carrie’s dread increases as she believes they’re being pursued, perhaps by Judy. A car turns around to follow them and for a long while we see the headlights of the other car behind them. Eventually the car passes and Carrie relaxes a bit.

As Carrie drifts off to sleep, we get hints that Laura’s identity is beginning to break through. Perhaps referring to her time in Twin Peaks, she says: “In those days, I was too young to know any better.”

The dread builds further as they approach Twin Peaks and we anticipate the confrontation with Judy. As they drive through town we see the Double R, but notably it lacks the “RR to Go” tag line we’ve seen in Season Three. They approach the Palmer house, but it too is slightly different than what we’ve seen in Season Three–the yard is well maintained, where Sarah Palmer’s yard was overgrown, showing signs of neglect.

Carrie doesn’t recognize anything she sees. Nevertheless, Cooper takes her by the hand, as he did in Part 17, and leads her towards the Palmer house. He is attempting to complete what he started when he first took her hand in Part 17. The dread becomes almost unbearable as they knock on the door.

A woman we haven’t seen before answers the door. Cooper seems surprised and confused that it’s not Sarah Palmer/Judy. The woman doesn’t recognize Sarah Palmer’s name and says that Sarah is not in the house. The woman gives her name as Alice Tremond, and says that the home used to owned by someone name Chalfont. Both the names Tremond and Chalfront are associated with places where Black Lodge entities have lived—in Episode 8 of Season Two and in Fire Walk With Me, respectively. Those names indicate that an evil entity was once there, but is no longer. “Alice” of course might also refer to Alice in Wonderland.

Cooper apologizes for disturbing her. We hear the wind blow as they return to the street. Wind in Twin Peaks, I believe, is a sign of Judy.

Cooper then begins to slowly realize that something is gravely wrong. He stares at the ground, walking very oddly walk in the street. Something about his movements seems similar to the way entities move in the Black Lodge. “What year is this?” he says, echoing Jeffries’ confusion when he appeared in the FBI office in Fire Walk With Me. He seems to realize that he is unstuck from time and lost, just as Jeffries got unstuck from time and lost in Fire Walk With Me, after following Judy.

Laura stares at the house, and we sense that her memories are awakening. We see the terror grow exponentially on her face.

Judy provides the spark that is needed to start the explosion of garmonbozia, by calling out “Laura!” We heard Sarah make the same call in the pilot episode.

The entire horror of her life as a victim of incest comes rushing back and Laura’s terrified screams echo into the night. Cooper spins around in shock, perhaps realizing that they’ve been manipulated by Judy. With Laura’s cry, we, as viewers, are taken back to Laura’s pain, and to the start of the series.

With the release of garmobozia, the dream ends. The purpose of the dream was to get Laura to relive her trauma, and release the overwhelming pain and sorrow she feels as she remembers what happened to her. By finding Laura in Odessa and making the long trip to Twin Peaks, Cooper enabled this. He led her to the place where her trauma began, helping her slowly build her garmonbozia to the point where it could explode in a final terrifying scream.

Cooper unknowingly helped Judy get the garmonbozia she was denied when Cooper interfered with the timeline and prevented Laura’s death. But I believe Judy was not the only one manipulating Cooper in these final scenes.

“Two Birds With One Stone”

As discussed above, at the start of Season Three the Fireman gave Cooper a vague set of instructions, which he seems to comprehend:

Remember 4-3-0.
Richard and Linda.
Two birds with one stone.


I understand.

In Part 17, when Gordon Cole reveals his knowledge of Judy to Albert and Tammy, he indicates how Cooper understands the final phrase:

Now, the last thing Cooper told me was, “If I disappear, like the others, do everything you can to find me. I’m trying to kill two birds with one stone.”

Since Bob and Judy are the two evil entities that we are aware of, it’s likely that Cooper means he’s trying to destroy both of them, and that perhaps his plan is his “one stone.”

When the Fireman gives his first two instructions, Cooper probably thinks they are part of his larger plan to destroy these two entities. Going 430 miles from Twin Peaks and becoming Richard and Linda are necessary steps in his overall goal of killing two birds.

“I understand,” Cooper says, after hearing the three instructions. But for all of Cooper’s assurance, he may have misunderstood what the Fireman was saying to him. “You are far away,” the Fireman says to Cooper. Perhaps he was far away from understanding as well. Perhaps it’s Cooper’s hubris that led him there, believing that he can destroy these two powerful entities himself. While we see Cooper do god-like things with the power of the Black Lodge, it is hubris to think that he can operate at the level of Judy and the Fireman.  Or that he can destroy evil once and for all. Evil, our myths tell us, can never fully be destroyed. Without evil there is no good. Without darkness there is no light. Hubris was a great sin in Greek drama, and, as stated above, Mark Frost was inspired by Greek drama when writing Season Three. It seems likely that Cooper is guilty of hubris.

The Fireman is very likely aware of what is going to happen, and of Cooper’s ignorance, and yet sends him 430 miles anyways. Why? What could this accomplish?

We’ve already seen that Laura—the representation of good–cannot be destroyed. Likewise, as stated above, I think that Judy—the representation of evil—cannot be destroyed either. While Bob was obliterated, he is something that was vomited up from a source that looks a lot like Judy. Perhaps Judy, in all the forms she takes, is the ultimate source, and therefore indestructible.

While it may not be possible to destroy evil, it is possible to lead it away from us.

The Fireman obviously has a plan to counter Judy, and I speculate that that plan is to draw her away from “our house,” away from Twin Peaks, where it is doing so much damage. When Cooper and Diane crossed, I believe they travelled to another place, away from Earth. The white horse in front of the large, planet-like plate on Carrie Page’s mantlepiece indicates that Judy is there, and not at the smaller Earth-like globe. The pale horse, a sign of Judy, has gone to the other, larger globe. Judy has been pulled away from Earth by the promise of Laura’s garmonbozia, and Cooper is needed to help release that garmonbozia.

By “two birds with one stone,” the Fireman might’ve meant that his plan, his “one stone,” was to pull Judy away from “our house” and nullify the damage she was doing on Earth by sacrificing “two birds”—Laura and Cooper.


I believe the Fireman intended to satisfy Judy’s insatiable need for garmonbozia with the suffering of his pure and indestructible creation, the Laura orb.

In Part 8, when the Fireman is first alerted to the fact that Bob and Judy are headed to Earth, he goes into a dream-like state, generating the Laura orb from his mind. The Fireman’s female counterpart, Senorita Dido, then kisses the orb with great love before sending it to Earth. The kiss is an act of compassion, but it also might give her the strength she needs to endure the suffering she is destined to face.

While in the Black Lodge in Part 2, Cooper asks Laura’s spirit when he can go. Laura’s spirit kisses Cooper compassionately, as Senorita Dido had done with her. She is perhaps giving Cooper the strength he needs to endure his own trials against dark forces. She whispers something in Cooper’s ear, to which he says, with sadness and resignation, “Huh.” Laura’s spirit is then pulled away into the darkness beyond the curtains of the Black Lodge.

We see the shot of Laura’s spirit whispering to Cooper again at the very end of Part 18. It is the final image of Season Three, which highlights its importance. We can only speculate about what she said to Cooper when he asked, “When can I go?” I speculate that she said “Never.” That their destiny will be to forever battle against this darkness. That while they may never win, they will hold it at bay by fighting it for an eternity. Just as Hell is bottomless, Judy’s need for garmonbozia is endless. But Laura’s supernatural origin gives her an unlimited capacity for suffering, and the unlimited strength she needs to take it and endure. The more she recognizes her essential goodness, as she did at the end of Fire Walk With Me, the better she will be. Cooper’s desire to do what is right is also endless, and he will never give up that fight. Perhaps the Fireman realized that, in theory, Judy could be occupied with these two forever. That for an eternity she could create scenarios with the forces good, evil, and a human (or humans–Diane is there, maybe Chet Desmond is there as well) trying to navigate the two. That while Laura’s suffering and the Judy’s need for suffering would never end, neither would Cooper’s attempts to alleviate suffering. That it’s a potentially endless battle, just as the clash between good and evil–the struggle at the very heart of Twin Peaks–is also endless.

“Laura is the One”

Twin Peaks shows that even the best of us, which Cooper represents, can take steps on the path towards darkness. But it also shows us how to turn away from that path.

While Cooper becomes harder in his quest to find Judy, Laura’s cry in the final moments alerts him to the fact that he’s been helping to feed Judy all along. Laura’s scream reminds him, and us, of her pain and suffering. The final image of Season Three implies that we should listen.

In Episode 4, Bobby Briggs delivers an impromptu speech at Laura Palmer’s funeral:

You damn hypocrites, make me sick! Everybody knew she was in trouble. But we didn’t do anything. All you good people. You want to know who killed Laura? You did. We all did.

In a famous quote attributed to Edmund Burke, he states, “All that’s needed for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing.” Empathy can lead to compassion, and inspire good people like Cooper to take action against evil. But not having empathy and compassion allows evil to grow.

In the end, Laura’s scream is a cry for compassion. Her great value to the world–and possibly the reason she was sent to Earth–is that through her suffering she will open our hearts to compassion. It is through compassion that evil will ultimately be defeated. In that sense, Laura is clearly a Christ-like figure.

In the Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell states of Christ that “the Son of God came down into this world to be crucified to awaken our hearts to compassion…” (143).

In Twin Peaks, there are many inescapable references that point to Laura’s Christ-like nature:

  • The Fireman creates Laura as a being of pure light and sends her Earth, in response to dark forces invading Earth. Laura reveals her nature to Cooper when she removes the mask of her face and the pure white light of her being shines forth. Christ is also referred to as the light.
  • In the final scene in Fire Walk With Me, Laura has a vision of an angel as she’s stuck in the Black Lodge. She realizes the goodness of her nature, after doubting it the entire movie. When The Fireman shows Andy images in Part 14, we see Laura in the Black Lodge framed by two angels. Christ too had an essentially good, divine nature.
  • Laura’s spirit tells Cooper twice that “Sometimes my arms bend back.” This refers both to being tied up but also to a pose resembling Christ on the cross. Albert mimics this pose when he describes how Laura was tied up.
  • In Odessa, Kristi the waitress says that Carrie, aka Laura, has gone for three days. Christ was gone for three days after his crucifixion.
  • In the end Laura body and spirit are resurrected. First Cooper goes back in time and saves her from death. Judy takes her away to Odessa and masks her spirit with the Carrie Page persona. Cooper helps resurrect Laura’s spirit by returning her to the Palmer residence, where her memories come flooding back.

Laura was sent to Earth in response to our greatest sin–the use of atomic weapons, which attracts forces of unspeakable darkness. She dies combatting these forces, before being brought back to life. In this sense, like Christ, she dies for our sins before being resurrected.

Just as Christ suffered in order to open mankind’s hearts to compassion, so Laura suffers. When Laura screams at the end of Part 18, we are reminded of the point of Twin Peaks in the first place—to understand, empathize with, and have compassion for the hidden suffering of Laura Palmer.

And compassion for one can lead to compassion for many. As the Log Lady states in the introduction for the pilot episode of Twin Peaks: “The one leading to the many is Laura Palmer. Laura is the One.”

“The Good Ones”

While Twin Peaks starts with an exploration of Laura Palmer’s life, it quickly expands to explore the lives of others in the town. And while Laura’s journey is designed show a way out of darkness by awakening compassion, Season Three provides many examples of ways we can pull ourselves out of the darkness:

  • Perhaps one of the funniest ways that Season Three illustrates this is through Cooper’s Dougie arc in Las Vegas. When Cooper comes back to the world in Part 3, he returns in a low-functioning, zombie-like state. One of the few things he can do is to parrot the last word that was spoken to him. He has to be led around by others, with little self-drive. In this state Cooper allows others the space to speak for themselves and deal with their own problems. He appears to be listening, even though externally he is simply repeating the last thing they said. His parroting behavior is not unlike psychologists who allow their patients to reveal their own issues, and discover their own solutions, simply by repeating their questions back to them. In this way the zombie-like Cooper becomes a better partner for Janey-E, and a better father for Sonny Jim. His behavior allows the Lucky Seven insurance salesman Sinclair to come to terms with his own corruption and repent.
  • Dr. Jacoby, through his hilarious and bizarre YouTube persona Dr. Amp, encourages others to “shovel yourself out of the shit.” He sells golden shovels as symbols of this effort. He encourages his listeners to take responsibility for their own problems and find their own solutions. Nadine takes this to heart, ending years of suffering for her husband Ed, and setting him free to pursue the love of his life, Norma.
  • After Laura’s death, and before his disappearance, Garland Briggs shared with his son Bobby a vision for his future. Bobby responded to this positive vision and encouragement by turning his life around. He turned away from drugs and crime. In Season Three, we learn he has become a respected and trusted member of the Twin Peaks police force and a valued community member.
  • Bobby and his ex-wife Shelley give their daughter Becky the support she needs to turn away from the dark path her husband Steven is on, a path that will eventually lead to his suicide.
  • Sheriff Frank Truman demonstrates a tremendous amount of patience and steadiness when dealing with his wife, who is severely destabilized by the suicide of their son. His patience is tested only by a tribute from Lucy and Andy’s son, Wally Brando.
  • Lucy and Andy, with their choice of a chair, demonstrate that sacrificing and making the ones you care about happy is more important than getting what you want in the short term. They seem to have found the secret to a happy life together.
  • Even the previously villainous Ben Horne is attempting to pull himself out of the darkness. We see him taking care of his brother Jerry when he becomes lost in the woods after tripping out on his own drug-infused bread. We see him pay for medical expenses incurred from the violence of his grandson, Richard. We sense his remorse at his own failings as a parent, as he tells a story about his father giving him a bike. And finally he rebuffs his subordinate Beverly when she attempts to initiate an adulterous affair with him–although he appears to give in after a conflict over money with his ex-wife Sylvia. Some things never truly change.
  • The real master of empathy and compassion in Twin Peaks though is Carl Rodd, the owner of the “New” Fat Trout Trailer Park. In Fire Walk With Me he says he’s “already been places”–implying interactions with Black Lodge entities. In Season Three we see him follow a definite path away from darkness. We see his comforting a mother after her child is run down in the street by Richard. We see him spring into action to help Shelley after her daughter Becky runs off with her car and a gun, calling Bobby Briggs to intervene. And we see him refuse to take rent from a trailer park resident who has been helping around the property and selling his plasma for food.

In many ways, Season Three is a virtual empathy machine. In most cases, the passage of time has made these characters wiser, more responsible, and more compassionate. As demonstrated in Twin Peaks, time can be a great teacher. It makes us who we are.

“But Who is the Dreamer?”

In the real world beyond Twin Peaks, we too are living in a dark age, contending with time and the forces of good and evil. Increasingly we live in a world of tribalism, lacking empathy and compassion for those outside our own tribes. This is a path that will lead us to Judy and to darkness.

Who is the dreamer? In reality, we are all dreamers. We dream our lives and live inside those dreams. But what type of dreams will they be, dreams of evil or dreams of compassion? Will Judy or the Fireman inspire our dreams?

We are living in a dark age, but we can choose a different path.

At the end of Season Three, I’m back to the question I had when the season began. But now the question is more important than the answer, because it is a question which applies to all of us.

Does Coop ever make it out of the Black Lodge?

But more importantly, will we?

Works Cited

Film and Television Projects:

Blue Velvet (1986)


Lynch (2007)

Mulholland Drive (2001)

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)

Twin Peaks, Season One, Two and Three (1990-91, 2017)


Baron-Cohen, Simon. The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origin of Cruelty. New York: Basic Books. 2011.

Campbell, Joseph. The Power of Myth. New York: Anchor Books, Doubleday. 1988.

Frost, Mark. The Secret History of Twin Peaks. New York: Flatiron Books. 2016.

Frost, Mark. The Final Dossier. New York: Flatiron Books. 2017.

Gilbert, G.M. Nuremberg Diary. New York: Farrar, Straus and Company. 1947.

Lynch, David. Lynch on Lynch. Ed. Ed Rodley. London: Faber and Faber. 1997.

Lynch, David. Catching the Big Fish. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin. 2006.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil. New York: Pinnacle Press. 2017.

The Holy Bible, King James Version. New York: Meridian. November 1974.

Online Resources and Articles:

Log Lady introductions. Twin Peaks Wiki.

Agathon. The Quotations Page.

Vasquez, Zach. Fix Your Hearts or Die: The Startling Empathy of David Lynch. Bright Wall/Dark Room. August 25, 2017.

Reed, Ryan. The Last Word on “Twin Peaks” by David Lynch’s Co-Creator Mark Frost. Salon. November 7, 2017.

Peterson, Jordan B. My Message to Millennials: How to Change the World—Properly. Jordan B Peterson YouTube Channel. November 8, 2016.

Burke, Edmond. The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is That Good Men Do Nothing. Quote Investigator. December 4, 2010.

Turning the Nightmare into a Dream: Eraserhead Revisited

Analysis and Annotated Script Transcription by David Johnson

“A dream of dark and troubling things.”
–David Lynch’s synopsis of Eraserhead

“My dream is a code waiting to be broken.”
–Special Agent Dale Cooper, Episode 3, Twin Peaks

Why Now?

The recent release of Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery, and the stunning announcement that the series will return in 2016, has sent me back to the film catalogue of one of my all-time favorite directors, David Lynch. It also made me realize that I had a huge hole (more about holes later) in my own collection—I did not own a copy of Eraserhead. How could I claim to be a true David Lynch fan and not own a copy of Eraserhead? It’s not only the film that launched his career, but also the source of the term “Lynchian.” Eraserhead is, in my view, the most Lynchian of Lynch films. Created over a five-year period, Lynch seems to have complete control over every element in every frame of the film. And it is his most baffling–unlike Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, and INLAND EMPIRE, later films which also rely heavily upon dream logic, Eraserhead does not include a framing device set in the “real” world to give us clues to the meaning of the “dream” sequences. In Eraserhead, we are in the “dream“ the entire time. Additionally, ideas and images from Eraserhead appear again and again in later Lynch films. Clearly, it is one of his most important works. I needed it in my collection.

So I quickly ordered a DVD copy on Amazon.

The arrival of the DVD began an obsessive quest for meaning that has let not only to this essay, but, shockingly, a transcription of the entire film in script format. You will find my transcribed script, with annotations in bold, attached to the end of this essay. My comments attempt to decode the mysterious symbols and bizarre sequences within the film and connect them to larger themes. They constitute the “evidence” for my interpretation of Eraserhead.

I did not intend to write a critical essay about Eraserhead. And I certainly did not intend to transcribe the entire film in script format. I simply wanted to understand what was going on. But, like Henry, I was naive and driven by unconscious forces towards a goal I didn’t understand. And also like Henry, I followed my intuition and tried to turn the nightmare into a dream.

Eraserhead and Me

I first saw Eraserhead in the late 80’s. I had recently discovered the incredible world of independent cinema, thanks to films such as Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Reservoir Dogs, and Roger and Me. I was hooked. And I was intrigued by the weirdness of the granddaddy of all independent films, Eraserhead. I viewed my rented VHS copy several times. But I didn’t know enough yet, and hadn’t lived enough, to make sense of the film. I didn’t have the critical tools or the life experience needed to take apart such a strange and personal film. I became a Lynch disciple with the release of Twin Peaks and recognized echoes of Eraserhead’s iconic imagery in Lynch’s later films. I collected these films, especially the ones I considered to be opaque and difficult (INLAND EMPIRE yes, The Straight Story no). But, for some strange reason, I never returned to the challenging world of Eraserhead. Until now.

Cinematic Detective

There is scene very early on in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me where FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole, played by David Lynch himself, presents the character Lil to Special Agents Chet Desmond and Sam Stanley. Lil wears a red wig, and a tailored red dress with a blue rose pinned to it. She spins around, squeezes one hand into a fist continually and dances in place. Her sole purpose in the film is to send the agents messages about the case, in code, with her appearance and behavior. Presumably, this visual and enigmatic form of communication not only saves Cole a lot of explaining, but also keeps his agents’ detective skills sharp. It forces them to make observations and connections. The scene takes on a self-referential quality though when viewed a metaphor for the way Lynch presents his films to his audience. Just like Cole, Lynch presents visual enigmas for his audience to decode. In this sequence Lynch seems to suggest that we go along for the ride with him and accept his bizarre codes. Of Lil’s dress, Agent Desmond points out matter-of-factly (while driving a car!) that “Tailored dresses are code for drugs.” “Oh” replies Special Agent Stanley, quickly accepting this as perfectly reasonable. Later in the film we are told explicitly, through subtitles, that creamed corn, or “garmonbozia,” represents pain and sorrow. Like the exploding television in the opening shot of Fire Walk With Me, Lynch give us clues about how to approach and decode his films.

In the years since that first viewing of Eraserhead I had became something of a “cinematic detective” myself. Like Agents Cooper or Desmond, or the many other detectives in Lynch films, I love nothing more than solving the mystery. Few things excite me more than taking apart a difficult film, such as Synecdoche, New York or The Master. I love to discover how they work and I love to extract meaning from them.

But, for some reason, Eraserhead lay dormant in my critical consciousness. It was something I would get back to “some day.” Unconsciously, I may have recognized that Eraserhead was the Mt. Everest of enigmatic films. Perhaps, like Henry, I feared it a bit and walled it off in my mind. But as the film itself demonstrates, repressed things don’t stay repressed. The film had lodged itself in my subconscious, and deep down it was an irritant—the great unresolved cinematic mystery. So after watching a few minutes of my new Eraserhead DVD, my cinematic detective instincts took over and I vowed to make my peace with the film.

Let’s rock.

Why I Did What I Did

There is a danger in offering an interpretation for a film as enigmatic as Eraserhead—it could derail the train of thought and feeling the film is clearly designed to inspire. This is likely why Lynch has refused to offer an interpretation himself, in all the years since its release in 1977. As he states in an interview:

“It kind of wiggles around in there, and it’s how it strikes each person. It definitely means something to me, but I don’t want to talk about that. It means other things to other people, and that’s great.” (Saban and Longacre)

By providing analysis, others may no longer feel the need to do the uncomfortable (but rewarding!) work of wrestling with the film and coming up with their own interpretation. And for me, there is no greater cinematic challenge than Eraserhead. The film is created to engage the audience’s mind and intuition, and a clear analysis could ruin a great cinematic pleasure for a great many people. So, for those who prefer the joy of arriving at an their own interpretation, stop reading now.

But if ever there were a film which cried out for close, careful scrutiny, it’s Eraserhead. A film like this, which encourages such deep thought and provokes such a visceral reaction, is also a film which demands a response. Besides the intellectual challenge of trying to unpack the film’s strange symbols, Eraserhead engages the audience with sequences that challenge our moral compass. Eraserhead’s most audacious challenge is it’s most horrific—the apparent murder of the Baby by the film’s central character, Henry Spencer. This action demands that we understand it enough to reconcile it with our own sense of morality. Either that or turn away in horror and, like Henry, repress what we’ve seen.

Furthermore, aside from the challenges within the film, we as cinematic detectives have been challenged by the film’s creator to come up with an interpretation which reflects his original intention. In a recent interview with Vulture.com, David Lynch states:

“I like to have people be able to form their own opinion as to what it means and have their own ideas about things. But at the same time, no one, to my knowledge, has ever seen the film the way I see it. The interpretation of what it’s all about has never been my interpretation.” (Ebiri)

Lynch has repeated some form of this statement many times since Eraserhead‘s release. For a cinematic detective, such a challenge is almost impossible to resist. It practically dares us to divine an interpretation which might reflect his personal vision of the film. Challenge accepted.

And finally, of the interpretations readily available, none seem wholly adequate. Eraserhead is still a great mystery for a great many people. I am not aware of an interpretation which encompasses the film in its entirety; all of the strange characters, bizarre symbols, and puzzling sequences. Most interpretations focus upon a few select symbols, sequences, or themes; none, that I’m aware of, address all the elements and therefore the sum of the film. I believe that a thorough analysis of Eraserhead must account for all major elements of the film. Otherwise, one weird symbol or baffling sequence could bring the entire interpretation crashing down like Henry’s decapitated head.

In the research I conducted after arriving at my own interpretation of the film (more on this later), I found one reading which initially seems in line my thinking about the Baby (at the blog Cinema Beans—see Works Cited page). But this interpretation also quickly goes off track. It is a good effort, but in my view ultimately fails to identify the key clues and make the logical connections necessary for a complete and satisfying interpretation of the film.

It’s been 37 years since Eraserhead’s original release and there is still no consensus about what it all could mean. No one has put forth a definitive interpretation of the film. Therefore, hubris be damned, this is my attempt.

I do not think, as some do, that such an interpretation is impossible. I just think that it is very difficult. This difficulty, this rational impenetrability, is one of the fantastic things about the film. It forces the viewer to take the film in intuitively, rather than intellectually. By Lynch’s account, the film was “felt,” (Lynch, Lynch 64) or created intuitively, with reason applied later. (For more about this, see the discussion about the Biblical quote at the end of this essay.) But despite it’s apparent lack of order, Eraserhead has a set of rules that it follows closely. It is not a random mass of bizarre images. There is a logic to what happens in the film, as David Lynch has stated:

“Everything makes sense to me, you know. Eraserhead is real logical to me, and it has rules that were followed and it has a certain feeling that was followed all the way through. And you sort of tune into that at the beginning of the film, and you sort of know what’s right. And it makes certain sense to me and it feels right.” (Saban and Longacre)

Through the processes of writing we can bring dark things into the light and make the unconscious conscious.

Crazy Film, Crazy Approach

For Eraserhead, I initially tried my usual method of analyzing a film, i.e. watch it several times, take notes along the way, and use those notes to come up with an evidence-based interpretation. No problem, right? Wrong.

I quickly discovered that this method was not anywhere near adequate for Eraserhead. Eraserhead is an incredibly dense, subtle, and symbolic film. My detailed notes on a particular scene still left out too much potentially important information. I decided the only way to really capture what was happening in the film was to transcribe the entire thing, as closely as possible, in script format. If I could recreate an accurate script for the film, I might be able to study it’s structure. Hopefully I could use the script to unpack the strange symbology and bizarre sequences. I would also get to know the film very, very well in the process. Rationally, I didn’t know if this method would work. But I followed my intuition. Eraserhead is an unconventional film and it felt like it required an unconventional approach.

This method paid off greatly. For me, the transcription process revealed critical elements of the film that had been hidden in plain sight. These elements proved to be the important keys that unlocked the film’s central themes. Having to describe each environment, character, scene, and action forced me to think deeply and precisely about what I saw. I could no longer let something pass unexplained because I couldn’t understand it and had difficulty describing it; I was forced to describe it. This led to connections I hadn’t seen before and opened up new possibilities of meaning for the film’s strange symbols. I discovered surprises and reveals in the film that had only registered on a subconscious level, if at all. Many of these discoveries I have not seen described in print anywhere else. And now that they have been consciously acknowledged, they are impossible to ignore. For me, the film has become not only a much less confounding experience, but also a more pleasurable one. It’s become one of my favorite films.

Regarding the use of outside sources to aid in the initial analysis, I’ve taken David Lynch’s advice. In Catching the Big Fish he briefly discusses film interpretation:

“You don’t need anything outside the work. There have been a lot of great books written, and authors are long since dead, and you can dig them up. But you’ve got that book [i.e., the film-DJ], and a book can make you dream and make you think about things.” (Lynch, Catching 19)

While I’ve used many outside quotes and references to Twin Peaks in my subsequent explanatory essay, all of this is supporting evidence gathered after the fact. For my initial interpretation of Eraserhead, I made a conscious effort to use only the film. No other source helped me arrive at my conclusion. Of course, as stated above, I have a history with Lynch, and it is quite possible that my familiarity with his work subconsciously informed my reading of the film. But I can’t speak to my subconscious. And I truly believe that Eraserhead stands on its own. All the clues necessary to understand the film are contained within.

All you need is the film. Eraserhead has made me dream and think about things. Actually, it has lit my brain on fire. Walk with me.

What the Hell Just Happened

The summary below is necessarily detailed because, with Eraserhead, the devil is most definitely in the details. In order to unlock the mystery, it is important to have all the clues:

A dark, deformed man –The Man in the Planet–lives in a shack on a dark planet inside the mind of the film’s central character, Henry Spencer. The shack has an electrical cord which attaches to a large hole on the planet’s surface. The Man in the Planet stares out a window inside the shack, into darkness. Henry’s head floats in space and his mouth opens as if to scream. Seemingly as a reaction to something he sees outside his window, the Man in the Planet pulls factory-like levers in front of him. Each lever causes one of following actions: a spermatozoon creature to shoot from the frightened Henry’s mouth, a dark puddle to appear on the planet’s surface, and the spermatozoon creature to splash into the dark puddle. It sinks deep in the liquid of the puddle. The result is then birthed into Henry’s bleak industrial world through a hole that resembles the shape of the puddle.

A frightened and bewildered looking Henry walks home through this industrial wreckage. He passes a frightening power station and steps in a puddle on the way home.

He reaches his apartment building, checks his empty mailbox, and takes the elevator upstair.

Before entering his apartment he has brief interaction with the Beautiful Girl Across the Hall. She says that a girl named Mary called and invited him to dinner at her parents’ house. The Beautiful Girl Across the Hall seems attracted to Henry, but he takes no action.

In his apartment Henry plays music and dries his wet sock on a radiator. There are many bizarre features to his apartment, including a twig-like substance around the base of his radiator and a mound of twig-like substance on his dresser. There is also a leafless tree branch in a small mound of dirt by his bed. There is a window of bricks above his radiator. He stares at the brick window for long time. He then goes to his dresser, takes out ripped pieces of a picture of Mary, puts them together and examines the picture closely.

Henry walks to Mary’s parents’ house through the dark and fearful industrial environment. Mary accuses him of being late. He goes inside and sits in the living room with Mary and her mother, Mrs. X. Mrs. X grills him about his job. Henry says he’s a printer on vacation.

Mary’s father, Bill, comes from the kitchen saying they’re having chicken for dinner. The chickens are strange, small, man-made and new. He then complains about have to put all the pipes in the neighborhood and how it’s degenerated over the years, from pastures to the “hellhole” it currently is. Mrs. X chases him to the kitchen.

In the kitchen, Mrs. X makes an old lady toss a salad by controlling her arms. The old lady stays in the kitchen when they leave, even though the light is out.

At the dinner table Bill says his arm is numb and asks Henry to carve the chicken. When Henry sticks a fork in the chicken it starts moving it’s legs back and forth and gushes blood from a hole in its end. Mrs. X makes orgasmic sounds then screams and runs away. Bill seems numb to the scene.

Mrs. X returns and pulls Henry aside to talk. She demands to know if Henry had sex with Mary. Henry doesn’t answer, and Mrs. X aggressively comes on to him sexually. Henry is fearful of this and calls for Mary. When Mary arrive Mrs. X says there’s a premature baby at the hospital, Henry’s the father, and they can pick it up after they get married shortly. Mary says they’re not sure it is a baby and Henry thinks it’s impossible. His nose starts to bleed. Mrs. X gets ice.

In Henry’s room, Mary tries to feed the baby. The Baby, which looks like the spermatozoon creature, has a strange reptile head and bandages around its body. The Baby spits the food out and cries constantly, frustrating Mary. Henry goes to his mailbox and finds a small box. He takes to the street and opens it. There’s a small seed inside.

Henry hides the box in his jacket pocket and returns to his room. He lies on the bed and stares at the radiator. A light turns on in the radiator and we see a small stage in the radiator. Mary continues trying to feed the baby. She asks if there is any mail and he says no.

We see many ominous shots of the brick window while in Henry’s apartment.

In the night Henry takes the box from is jacket and places it in a floral cabinet. The baby cries continually. A fearful-looking Henry looks reaches over to Mary for sex, but she shrugs him off.

The baby’s cries won’t stop. She screams for it to stop and it won’t. Mary can’t take it. She gets dressed, pulls her suitcase out from under the bed in a fearful and sexual manner, and leaves.

After she is gone Henry has a vision of the Beautiful Girl Across the Hall.

The Baby is then unusually quiet. Henry gets a thermometer from his dresser and the Baby’s temperature is normal. But when he turns around again the baby is covered in boils, gasping for breath.

Henry set up a respirator for the baby and sits by it. Henry looks at the seed in the floral cabinet and puts on his coat to leave, but every time he tries to the baby starts crying more, forcing Henry to stay in his room.

Henry has a dream of a woman with mashed potato-like cheeks —the Lady in the Radiator—who dances on the stage in the radiator and crushes spermatozoon creatures with her feet.

In the night Mary mysteriously appears back in his bed. She thrashes around in a strange, wet-sounding manner. Henry finds spermatozoon creatures under the covers, coming from Mary. He throws them against the wall and smashes them.

The floral cabinet opens and the seed dances away onto the dark planet. One end of the seed opens up, revealing an eery, dreamlike image of Henry in his room at night. The Beautiful Girl Across the Hall knocks on the door and asks if she can spend the night. The Baby cries but Henry puts his hand on its mouth. The Beautiful Girl Across the Hall moves in to kiss Henry.

We then see a pool of white liquid on Henry’s bed, with Henry and the Beautiful Girl Across the Hall naked inside it, kissing. The Baby cries and the Beautiful Girl Across the Hall stares at the baby while kissing Henry. They sink into the pool.

The white liquid vanishes, leaving darkness. The Beautiful Girl Across the Hall sees the dark planet and is afraid of it. She vanishes in the darkness.

The Lady in the Radiator appears on the radiator stage and sings a song about everything being fine in Heaven. Henry approaches her on the stage, but the environment turns into white light when he touches her. He is scared and she disappears. The Man in the Planet appears briefly and the scene turns into a nightmare. The crushed spermatozoon creatures are blown off the stage. A giant version of the dirt tree wheels itself onto the stage. Henry retreats behind a witness stand on the stage. His head then pops off and falls onto the stage, pushed off by a phallic object that shoots out of his collar. The tree starts gushing blood and Henry’s head is surrounded by the blood. The Baby’s head emerges from Henry’s collar. Its screams fill the stage. Henry’s head splashes into the blood and disappears.

Henry’s head falls onto a city street. His scalp tears away, revealing his brain. A child in the street grabs the head and runs away. He takes it to a factory and gives it to the Boss. The Boss then takes it to a machine operator. The operator extracts a sample of Henry’s brain and feeds it into a machine. The machine produces pencils, using the brain sample as the eraser heads. The operator draws a mark on a piece of paper with one of the pencils and erases it. He lets the Boss know it’s okay. He sweeps the eraser dust into the air.

Henry wakes. We see a prominent shot of the brick window. We also see several shots of Henry’s empty bed.

Through barbed wire we see the road below. There is a large puddle with a pipe coming from it. We then see two figures by the puddle. One appears to attack the other with a club near the puddle.

Henry watches through the window. Henry then decides to knock on the Beautiful Girl Across the Hall’s door. There is no answer.

Henry returns to his apartment and the baby snickers loudly, seemingly to mock him.

Henry hears elevator doors and opens his front door. He sees The Beautiful Girl Across The Hall at her door, with another man. She is taking him into her apartment, presumably to have sex. Henry continues to stare at them. She looks at Henry and sees his head replaced with the Baby’s head, quaking in fear.

Henry returns to his apartment and the Baby begins snickering loudly, mocking him again.

In anger Henry takes a pair of scissors out of his dresser. He cuts the Baby’s bandages open while it quakes in fear. The Baby’s hideous organs are revealed. Henry stabs the organs with his scissors. The Baby begins spewing blood from it’s mouth and organs and appears to be dying. Henry turns away in horror. The lights flicker violently.

The mashed potato-like substance begins spewing from its organs, consuming it’s body. Its head appears to pull away from its body, but Henry still doesn’t look at it. The lights continue to flicker violently.

The Baby’s head becomes gigantic and appears to jump around the room.

Henry finally looks at the head. The Baby’s giant head lunges towards him and the lights burn out. Henry looks away.

In the dark we then hear a loud crack. Henry looks at the head again. He sees the dark planet from the beginning. The front of the planet explodes open.

We see the Man in the Planet pulling on his levers for all he’s worth. Sparks from the levers hit his face and body. We see the mashed potato-like substance on his face and body.

The screen then turns to white light and white noise. We see the smiling Lady in the Radiator. She embraces Henry warmly. Henry accepts the embrace with a look of peace on his face.

What Others Think

There are many, many theories about what Eraserhead could mean. Below I’ve listed three common ones. It is easy to see why these interpretations endure: each of them holds a kernel of truth about the film’s meaning.

1. It’s an Illogical Dream (or Nightmare)
The interpretation goes like this: Eraserhead is a crazy and scary dream that, like a dream, ultimately makes no sense in and of itself. Its meaning is derived strictly from what the viewer brings to it. Therefore, it can mean anything at all. Eraserhead is like an inkblot and all interpretations are equally valid.

I do think there is some truth to this interpretation. I do think that the entire movie is a dream of some sort (more on this later). But just because it’s a dream doesn’t mean it lacks rules and logic. If it has rules and logic, it can add up to something.

Claiming a film can mean anything at all is often the easy way out. It is usually a knee-jerk reaction to material that is difficult, confusing, and uncomfortable. For a cinematic detective, it’s the ultimate excuse for not doing the difficult analytical work necessary to arrive at meaning; it’s ultimate rationale for turning off your brain when something becomes too hard to understand.

While inkblots are fun to play with, Eraserhead is most definitely not an inkblot. The film was constructed with exquisite care over a five-year period. It is cohesive. I take David Lynch at his word when he states above that there is logic (albeit dream logic) at work in Eraserhead, and that it follows it’s own rules, from beginning to end. Just because these rules may be difficult to uncover doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

2. It’s About Suicide
Others believe that Eraserhead about Henry’s suicide. According to his interpretation, the Baby turns out to be Henry. Henry kills the Baby, therefore Henry kills himself.

There is some truth to this reading as well. The Baby does seem to represent Henry in some way (again, more about this later). And Henry does kill the Baby at the end.

Intuitively though, this doesn’t seem to be enough of a reason for a great movie. This reading turns Eraserhead into nothing more than a dark joke, with the punchline being that Henry kills himself in the end.

It also doesn’t seem logical. In Eraserhead, Henry fears that the Baby will replace him in some way. We see this twice: in the “trial” on the radiator stage when his head falls off and is replaced with the Baby’s, and also near the end, when the Beautiful Woman Across the Hall sees him with the Baby’s head instead of his own.

Does it make sense that he’s afraid of replacing himself (i.e. his own head) with himself (the Baby’s head)? Why would this be something to fear? Logically, it’s still himself.

3. It’s About the Fear of Fatherhood/Anxiety About Parenthood
This seems to be the most popular interpretation, and with good reason. Many people believe the film is primarily about Henry’s anxiety regarding becoming a father and the responsibilities that role entails.

There is a lot of truth to this interpretation. Clearly, Eraserhead explores the anxieties of new parents in its storyline about life with the difficult Baby. Any parent can relate to aspects of Henry and Mary’s plight. This reading cannot be dismissed.

At least, on the surface.

This surface story can be summarized as follows:

Young lovers Henry and Mary have a baby out of wedlock. The baby is premature and deformed. Mary’s parent make them take the child. They get married too young and move in together to care for the child. Mary can’t take the baby’s constant crying and leaves. Henry takes over the care of the child, but feels trapped. The constant demands of his sick and needy child prevent him from pursuing an adulterous relationship with his neighbor. In anger and resentment he kills the child and ends up in a form of heaven, where everything is fine.

In this interpretation Henry ultimately kills his child, as strange and deformed as it is. If we follow the logic of this interpretation, Eraserhead is a straight up horror film. An evil man kills his child and is rewarded with Heaven. The Lady in the Radiator would have to be a sort of demon. In this reading Eraserhead could be considered perhaps the darkest film of all time. It would be the ultimate celebration of infanticide.

Yes, the Baby is a burden. It cries all the time. It drives his wife away. It’s sickly. It keeps him from pursuing his beautiful neighbor. Yes, he fears that the Baby will replace him and that he will be erased. It truly seems to mock him.

But morally, none of this can come anywhere close to justification for killing it.

Intuitively, it feels wrong that Lynch, now a father of four, would put so much time and effort into a film whose sole purpose is to show the horrors of child rearing, and one which ultimately rewards its child-murdering protagonist. Like Agent Cooper when all the clues point to Ben Horne as Laura’s killer, the intuition rebels. This conclusion doesn’t feel right. There must be more going on in the film.

Likewise, it doesn’t feel right that the Lady in the Radiator, such a beautiful figure in the film, is ultimately a demon. The scenes with her are just too joyful. The final shot with her is nothing short of ecstatic. The song she sings is reassuring. The white light she occupies certainly does not look like Hell. Typically, Lynch adheres to the tradition that Hell is dark and Heaven is light. The crescendo of white light and white noise that ends the film definitely feels like a triumph of some sort.

So, Eraserhead either has the darkest ending imaginable or, somehow, a triumphant one. I’ve come to realize that it is indeed triumphant.

We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

Eraserhead’s own bizarre nature undercuts a surface reading of the film. Clearly, there is more going on than what is happening on the surface and we are not meant to take events at face value. The characters in Eraserhead often do not act like “normal” people and there are events in the film which could not possibly occur in the “real” world. For example, when Henry won’t tell Mrs. X whether or not he had sex with Mary, Mrs. X says something very bad is going to happen to him if he doesn’t tell and then starts “coming on” to him sexually. She starts kissing him and nibbling on his neck. This is bizarre and not at all a human response. Likewise, the roasted chickens we eat do not bleed and start thrusting their legs back and forth when we begin to carve them on our dinner tables. Actual babies do not look or act like the hideous, impossibly-brought-to-term Baby that Henry and Mary bring home.

Little details in the environment are off or strange, signaling that we’re not in the “real” world: Henry seems to approach the X’s house from two directions, the X’s home has strange flower-like objects embedded in its walls, their kitchen appears to have multiple stoves, their oven seems to be in a cabinet, their clock has one hand, a twig-like substance surrounds Henry’s radiator, Henry’s elevator rises unbelievably slowly, the elevator doors on his floor are painted with dark textured material, the wallpaper and paint always seems haphazardly applied (as if quickly put on to cover something), the strange paper-like bricks outside his window, etc. The film is absolutely loaded with bizarre, verging-on-impossible environmental details.

Clearly, we are in some other reality than our consensus reality.

David Lynch has described the film as “A dream of dark and troubling things.” (Olson 60) I would emphasize the word “dream” in this summary. I believe the entire film takes place within the mind. In the film Henry states that he is on “vacation.” I believe that he is on a mental vacation and that Eraserhead is the ultimate head trip.

(Note: since the dreamer is not ultimately identified in the film, from this point forward I will refer to him—judging from the fears we see illustrated, I presume it is a male dreamer–as “Henry,” i.e. we are in Henry’s mind in the film.)

If Eraserhead does take place entirely within Henry’s mind, then all the elements within the film—the environments, the characters, their actions, etc.–are created by Henry.

This would explain why characters often don’t act or react in human or realistic ways in Eraserhead. These are not actual people, but representations of something within his mind. Representation of what is the question.

If we are dealing with the architecture of the mind in Eraserhead, it opens up the possibility of a deeper story than the surface one described above. It means there could be two levels of meaning in the film:

A.) A surface story with about the anxiety of becoming a parent, with bizarre events and character too strange to take at face value.

B.) An underground story, or deeper level of meaning, which remains mysterious until we collect and decode all the representations, or clues.

The Clue that Unlocks the Puzzle Box

For any mystery, one must have all the necessary clues in order to unravel it. The same is true of Eraserhead: we must have all the necessary information in order to make a sound interpretation. But Eraserhead is a still a great cinematic mystery. After 37 years there is no critical consensus about the film’s meaning. No one has been able to identify all the clues and show how they are connected. Consequently, there is no interpretation that had been entirely convincing.

I believe this is because David Lynch has hidden his clues very well in this film.

In Greg Olson’s Beautiful Dark, David Lynch says of his films: “I always hide all my fears, and sometimes my films hide them too, only in different ways” (Olson 58).

Like his fears, Lynch withholds and obscures what may be the most important clue in the film.

That one clue, when added to the other clues, unlocks mystery of the film. With this clue Eraserhead springs open like Eckhart’s puzzle box in Twin Peaks. It is a clue that is repressed by Henry and withheld by Lynch. It is a clue that he saves for the final act of the film. And when presented, it is presented subtly. It is a clue I have not seen referred to in any interpretation of the film. And it is a clue that I think it is absolutely vital to understanding the film.

That clue is what’s behind the bricks in Henry’s window.

Those odd, paper-like bricks outside of Henry’s window. Are they keeping Henry trapped? No, he can walk out his door. Perhaps they are keeping him safe from something? If we are dealing with Henry’s mind in the film, then the bricks could represent an attempt to repress something. Hide it behind a brick wall. Repressed things don’t stay repressed though, and that paper-like brick wall could be torn away at any moment.

If you look closely at the film, you will see how many times we are shown shots of that window. (In fact, you can count how many times in my script translation below.) Over and over and over we are shown this window, usually in dark shadows and with an ominous wind. There is often a slight hint of a scream in the sound of the wind in these shots. It is shown again and again and again. It must important. Yet no one, to my knowledge, has asked why we see so many shots of this window or questioned what might be behind those paper bricks.

Lynch does eventually show us what is behind them: after Henry’s eraser factory dream, he wakes up, and looks like he’s had a realization of some sort. We see him dressed, back turned to the window, staring at his empty bed. In the next shot, through blurred barbed wire, we see the dirt road below. There is a large puddle in the road with what looks like a pipe coming out of it. We then see two figures and what appears to be a violent assault that takes place by the puddle. One of the figures appears to attack the other with a club of some sort.

The next shot is of Henry looking out his window. Remember, previously there were paper bricks that blocked that window. Now, magically, the bricks seem to have disappeared and Henry stares out his window at the attack below.

This is what Lynch has withheld and Henry has repressed behind his paper-brick window: a violent attack in the street.

The shot of Henry looking out his window recalls another shot of another character looking out his window. We are led back to the beginning of the film.

The Man in the Planet, Revisited

The shot of Henry looking out his window is very reminiscent of the Man in the Planet staring out his window at the beginning of the film. Like Henry’s room, there appears to be a puddle of some sort outside his shack. This cannot be a coincidence. Instead of a pipe coming from the puddle there is an electrical line. After Henry’s silent scream while floating in space, The Man in the Planet appears to react to something he sees outside his window with a shiver or spasm. He then pulls the levers that leads to the conception and birth of the spermatozoon creature.

Connecting these two clues, The Man in the Planet creates the spermatozoon creature as a result of Henry witnessing the violent attack in the street. The spermatozoon creature represents fear. The Man in the Street then launches fear into Henry’s world. As Greg Olson points out in Beautiful Dark, in the first shot we see of Henry in his industrial environment, he is looking over his shoulder in fear. (Olson 61)

Lynch has often stated that Eraserhead is his Philadelphia Story, and that the film was inspired by living in Philadelphia. For Lynch, Philadelphia was a place of fear:

“Philadelphia, more than any filmmaker, influenced me. It’s the sickest, most corrupt, decaying, fear-ridden city imaginable.” (Hartmann)

“‘It wasn’t a normal city when I was here,’ Lynch recalls. ‘The fear, insanity, corruption, filth, despair, violence in the air was so beautiful to me.’” (Adelson)

The opening sequence of Eraserhead is a creation myth for fear. It shows how fear was conceived and how it came to be in Henry’s world. But by withholding the critical clue of what’s behind the window, Lynch has made it difficult for us to interpret this sequence. We cannot unravel the mystery of the spermatozoon creature until we know what is behind the window. Of course, it’s the lack of this knowledge that makes the film what it is—an incredible mystery.

Fear and Sex

If the beginning of the film is a creation myth for fear, the process through which it enters Henry’s world is sex and birth. Fear’s “parents” in the film are the dark puddle where violence occurred and Henry’s reaction to it, a scream. After the spermatozoon creature splashes into the puddle, we see a shot looking up in the darkness to a hole of light with grass around the edges. We then move through the hole, out of the darkness and into the light. This shot movement is reminiscent of birth, and represents fear being born into Henry’s world.

(In is also interesting because this shot movement is a microcosm of what the film ultimately does—move from darkness to light. More on this in the “Beauty in Contrasts” section.)

In the process of creation, fear is strongly associated with sex in Henry’s world. The two become intertwined and twisted together in Henry’s mind. Henry’s world, and in fact the fabric of the entire film, is super-saturated with both sex and fear. They twist Henry’s mind and consequently Henry’s environment into a bleak, frightful industrial world where young lovers are forced to take the Baby, the product of fear.

It’s amazing how many times fear and sex appear in close association with each other in the film. The two go hand in hand in Eraserhead. Some examples from the transcribed script:

–The creation myth for fear that opens the film
–The many, many camera movements into a dark hole: moving into the planet, moving into the shack, moving into the seed’s hole, etc.
–Stepping in the dark puddle
–Mary having a fearful seizure when Mrs. X bring up “what Henry did”
–The chicken thrusting its legs and bleeding
–Mrs. X reacting orgasmically, then screaming in terror, when the chicken is stabbed
–Mrs. X “coming on” to Henry after stating something bad will happen to him
–Forcing Henry and Mary to take the baby.
–The Baby itself—a fearful object that came into the world through sex
–The fearful look on Henry’s face as he tries to initiate sex with Mary
–The Beautiful Girl Across the Hall’s fearful reaction after sex with Henry
–Henry’s head being pushed off by a phallic object and enveloped in a pool of blood
–Henry’s brain sample going into the pencil machine

It is certainly not unheard of that fear could become intertwined with sex. Before the sexual revolution of the 1960’s, fear and sex were closely associated with each other in American culture. An interesting way to look at Eraserhead is as a critique of 1950’s attitudes towards sex. The X’s on one level represent a satirical take on the 1950’s ideal. The nice family’s home has been twisted by fear.

How exactly has fear entered their home? Once again, Lynch makes the abstract literal: Fear has been pumped in through the large pipes in their home. Pipes which are connected to the puddle, the source of fear. Bill, the family patriarch, installed these pipes himself.

Bill, for his part, has become increasingly numb to the fear which has saturated his home and his environment. His response to bizarre and fearful events is to wear a plastered-on smile and carry on inane small talk (“So Henry, what do you know?”). His arm has literally gone numb from it, like Teresa Banks’s arm goes numb in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

Likewise, the old lady in the kitchen seems to have become completely numb and paralyzed by fear. She can’t even move enough to toss a salad, enjoy a cigarette, or leave the kitchen when the lights go out. The longer these characters live with fear, the more numb and paralyzed they become.

For the young Henry and Mary, having sex has led directly to the fearful dinner scene. The X’s force the young couple, the next generation, to take fear with them into their own home, to raise and nurture themselves. They both know something is not right (it’s impossible that there is a baby already, says Henry; they’re not even sure it is a baby, says Mary), but they take it anyways, carrying on the cycle.

So What Exactly is the Baby?

The impossibly brought to term, reptilian, deformed, repulsive, crying, needy, watching, controlling, mocking Baby, with outer bandages hiding hideous internal organs, clearly represents something. David Lynch is a master code builder. We are not meant to take such an important and bizarre object at face value. And just as creamed corn represents pain and sorrow in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, I believe the Baby represents fear in Eraserhead.

The Baby is a larger version of the spermatozoon creature from the opening sequence. On the surface level, it’s the product of the young, scared parents Henry and Mary. But on the deep level its “parents” were Henry’s scream and the dark puddle where violence occurred. The Baby itself is fear.

Here is the chain of (dream) logic that leads from the puddle to the Baby:

Dreamer witnesses violence by a puddle–>Reacts with a scream–>Fear is created in the mind–>Fear is repressed by the conscious mind–>Fear is associated with sex–>Fear defines the subconscious world–>Fear is an unnatural state for the mind–>Fear cannot stay repressed permanently and must be dealt with in some manner–>Fear bursts through, manifesting itself in a bizarre form which the mind can handle–>The Baby

Fear Itself

Once you plug in what the Baby represents, the film takes on an entirely different meaning than the surface story. For example, in the surface story:

Sex has led to the Baby. The Baby drove Mary away. The Baby prevents Henry from acting freely. The Baby stops Henry from having sex with his neighbor. Henry is afraid that the Baby will erase him. Therefore Henry kills (erases) the Baby and goes to a Heaven of sorts.

In the deep story the themes become clearer. Henry’s actions are no longer immoral, and the film makes more sense:

Sex has led to fear. Fear drove Mary away. Fear prevents Henry from acting freely. Fear stops Henry from having sex with his neighbor. Henry is afraid that the fear will erase him. Therefore Henry erases fear and goes to a Heaven of sorts.

Instead of committing a horrific act by killing an actual baby, Henry performs a triumphant one by killing the fear within his mind.

Plugging “fear” into the equation of the entire film:

The film takes place entirely within Henry’s mind and begins with his scream. Immediately after the scream The Man in the Planet, while staring out his window and connected via electrical power line to a dark puddle, instinctively reacts. He begins the conception of fear, creating the spermatozoon creature, the puddle, and causing the two to come together with his factory-like levers. Fear is then born into Henry’s mind and therefore his world.

The architecture of Henry’s mind is saturated with fear, as represented by the decayed and frightening industrial landscape. Henry gets fear on him physically by stepping in the dark puddle. The deeper Henry goes into his subconscious, represented by his apartment building, the darker it gets.

Henry has repressed the true source of fear behind a brick window in his room. Repressed things do not stay repressed though. The come out in other ways, forcing us to deal with them.

In his mind, this deep repressed fear comes out in the form of a common fear for young people —an unwanted pregnancy. The X’s force Henry to take the manifestation of fear, the Baby.

In short order fear drives Mary away. Fear keeps Henry trapped in his room by getting sick and demanding attention. Fear watches him constantly.

Henry dreams of a woman (the Lady in the Radiator) who destroys fear by crushing it with her shoe. Mary mysteriously appears in his bed, producing more fear, but Henry destroys them.

We see into Henry’s secret desire, his neighbor, the Beautiful Woman Across the Hall. She represents possible escape and relief from fear.

Henry tries to quiet his fear during his dream encounter with her, but she becomes afraid when she sees Henry’s fear for what it really is, a dark planet. Henry’s dream then turns to the Lady in the Radiator, who comforts him by letting him know that in Heaven everything is fine and that they will be together there. Henry approaches her, but is scared of her white light. Fear asserts itself again and the dream turns into a bizarre trial where a phallic object forces Henry’s head from its body. Henry’s head is then replaced by fear’s head. Henry’s head falls through a puddle of blood into another world, where it is taken to a pencil factory and turned into erasers for pencils. He fears that sex will destroy him, turning him (a printer) into a destructive force (an eraser).

By acknowledging this though Henry has taken a step towards confronting his fear. After waking from his dream he is finally able to see what is outside the brick window (and what the Man in the Planet reacted to)—a violent attack by a puddle. He is slowly peeling back the onion of fear.

He goes to his neighbor’s door. There is no answer. He returns to his apartment and fear mocks him. He then hears his neighbor in the hall. He goes out to meet her but she is with another man. In her view, she sees him with fear’s head.

Henry returns to his apartment and fear continues to mock him. In anger he confronts his fear. He cuts open fear’s outer layer (bandages) and stabs it’s heart. Fear’s body is overwhelmed by the same material that makes up the Lady in the Radiator’s cheeks (and therefore her smile). Fear’s head escapes it’s body, becoming giant and burning out the lights.

Despite this Henry eventually looks at fear and sees it for what it is—a dark planet. It then begins to blow apart. The Man in the Planet tries to stop the process with his levers, but cannot. The white sparks from his levers begin to overwhelm him, and the same material that makes up the Lady in the Radiator’s cheeks begins to consume him. In a moment fear is destroyed and all that remains is a white, blissful light. We see the Lady of in the Radiator and Henry embraces her without fear, in peace and with a sound mind.

Fear is destroyed by bliss. The nightmare turns into a dream.

Fear, Intuition, Bliss

In the second season finale of Twin Peaks, Windom Earl, Agent Cooper’s nemesis, uses Annie Blackburn’s fear to enter a mysterious realm by a dark puddle (a puddle, by the way, that is very reminiscent of puddle in Eraserhead). That mysterious realm is the Black Lodge and fear is the key to its gates. Likewise, in Eraserhead, fear is the key to the mysterious realm of Henry’s mind.

When we understand that the Baby represents fear in Eraserhead, we learn that:

–Fear is buried deep down
–Fear is all-consuming
–Fear is dirty and decayed
–Fear can become intermingled with sex
–Fear can be inherited and passed on
–Fear can disguise itself
–Fear is difficult to see
–Fear is like a deformed monster
–Fear is constant and nagging, like the crying child
–Fear can attach itself to you
–Fear can feed off of you like baby’s umbilical cord
–Fear can control you
–Fear laughs at you, and mocks you
–Fear keep you from action
–Fear keeps you from love
–Fear is hideous on the inside
–Fear is unnatural as a constant state
–Fear is difficult to face directly
–Fear can be destroyed
–Fear can be transformed into bliss

Once fear moves into Henry’s room, both Henry and Mary, almost immediately, seek relief from it. Fear is not a natural state and the moment it begins we instinctively try to move away from it. In the film Mary gives up trying to feed it, going through the motions of the relationship until she can escape from Henry’s room. Henry also looks for escape from fear. This opens him up to the possibility of an affair with the Beautiful Girl Across the Hall. We see the seed of his desire for her soon after the Baby moves in.

If fear is an unnatural state, then what is our natural state? According to David Lynch, in Catching the Big Fish, humans naturally want to progress towards bliss:

“And why is it so easy [to move towards bliss–DJ]? Because it’s the nature of the mind, because the mind wants to go to fields of greater happiness. It just naturally wants to go there. And the deeper you go, the more there is of that until you hit 100% bliss.” (Lynch, Catching 52)

When Henry cuts the Baby’s bandages and stabs its organs, he is not consciously aware that he’s killing fear. He is driven by internal forces to commit an act which on its surface is repellent to our nature. Fear is so intense though, and so antithetical to our true selves, that the urge to kill fear is overwhelming. We recognize fear on a deeper level, and we are moved to destroy it.

Eraserhead, simply put, is about confronting fear, destroying it, and embracing bliss.

Breaking the Code

As Eraserhead‘s perpetually frightened and bewildered protagonist, Henry tries to navigate a world built in dark code. He has little awareness of the forces driving him and little understanding of the symbols around him. As David Lynch stated in 1986:

“Henry is very sure that something is happening, but he doesn’t understand it at all. He watches things very, very carefully, because he’s trying to figure them out. He might study the corner of a pie container, just because it’s in his line of sight. He might wonder why he sat where he did. Everything is new. It might now be frightening, but it could be a key to something. Everything should be looked at. There could be clues in it.” (Chute 38)

As Henry tries to understand his bizarre world, so do we. But because Eraserhead is populated with representations of the mind, rather than “real” people and situations, it is up to us to decode them.

Like the two wrapped packages he carries home with him in the beginning of the film (representing his two loves at the time—Mary and the Lady in the Radiator), Henry has repressed and hidden many things: in his dresser, in the radiator, underneath his bed, in a box, in his jacket pocket, in the floral cabinet, and, most notably, behind the brick window in his apartment.

One of the more bizarre things he has hidden, at least on the surface, is the Lady in the Radiator. With her mashed potato-like cheeks, she sings and dances on a small stage in the radiator, stomping on fear. Since cold is associated with negative feelings, it makes sense that the ultimate symbol of goodness would live someplace warm. Her cheeks are puffy with a strange mashed potato-like substance that seems to have been generated by her smile. This same material consumes the body of the Baby and the face of the Man in the Planet. You could say that they were both consumed by her smile. Why mashed potatoes? Mashed potatoes are comfort food, just as The Lady in the Radiator is a source of comfort for Henry. Mashed potatoes also go hand in hand with chicken, which was the meal of fear at the X’s dinner table: chicken and mashed potatoes, meat and potatoes, fear and bliss. Two sides of the same coin.

Piled upon Henry’s dresser, around the base of his radiator, and the edge of radiator stage, there is a twig-like substance, which, considering that Henry has hidden his two loves (Mary and the Lady in the Radiator) in these locations, seem to represent a threshold to them. The twigs also look very much like pubic hair, which is a threshold to the sexual organs. The twigs are dark and strange though, and therefore also associated with fear. The rule holds that sex and fear are linked in Eraserhead. The trees in Twin Peaks also seem to indicated a threshold to mysterious places, like the White and Black Lodges. Twigs, of course, are strongly associated with trees; another strong connections between the worlds of Eraserhead and Twin Peaks.

The dog with the litter of puppies in the X’s living room appears to represents an animal instinct to procreate at work in Henry’s mind. Again, we see branches and twigs in close proximity, indicating a threshold to this instinct. This drive is the awkward elephant in the room with Henry and the Xs. It sits there, loudly nursing its pups, while Mrs. X, with Mary at her side, interrogates Henry. Yet even this instinct whimpers when faced with fear.

The lamps the X’s living room and Henry’s room, as well as the lights in his elevator, run on electricity. Electricity seems to have a strongly negative connotation in both Eraserhead and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. In the creation myth for fear that opens Eraserhead, the shack that the Man in the Planet lives in is connected via electrical power line to the dark puddle on the surface—the ultimate source of fear. Electricity can be thought of as bad energy, and the lights indicate how much bad energy is flowing at the time. When fear is low, so are the lights. When fear is at its highest levels, the lights burn out. The patterns on the floors of both Henry’s apartment entryway and the Black Lodge in Twin Peaks are reminiscent of electrical waves. In Fire Walk With Me the word “Electricity” is spoken by the Black Lodge demons at their meeting and spelled out explicitly in subtitles. We are exposed to a burst that bad energy through the flickering lights when Agents Desmond and Stanley arrive at the dinner in Deer Meadows. And there are many ominous shots of power lines as Agents Desmond and Cooper investigate the trailer park where Teresa Banks disappeared. The characters in the trailer park seem intuitively aware of the bad energy that flows there. Some of these characters appear to have been deformed by it. Likewise, electricity represents bad energy in Eraserhead. The lights burn out when Mrs. X takes Henry aside to tell him about the Baby after the horrific dinner; they also burn out when the Baby’s giant head lunges at Henry in the film’s climax. In both cases fear is at an extremely high level.

The wind that blow through Eraserhead, and blows through the trees in Twin Peaks, is an indicator of something dark and fearful. Much like the electricity in the film, the wind increases as Henry’s fear becomes more and more intense. If you listen for the wind, you will hear it prominently featured in the third act of the film, as Henry confronts the source of fear.

The small dirt tree in Henry’s room (the branch in the pile of dirt with the doily on bottom) seems to represent Henry’s superego—his sense of right and wrong. Henry navigates very similar mounds of dirt in the opening of the film. The branch in the dirt tree represents a threshold, as described above. In this case, it is a threshold to right and wrong. In Biblical terms, the dirt tree is reminiscent of the the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil: the mixture of two opposing forces, just as sex (a creative force) and fear (a destructive force) are mixed in the film. In Eraserhead, it is of great importance when something is lit and when it is not. Being lit indicates that the object is question plays a role in Henry’s thinking at that particular moment; not being lit indicates that it is not on Henry’s mind at the time. The dirt tree is lit when Henry’s thoughts or actions challenge his sense of right and wrong. It is prominently lit while he thinks about the floral box with the seed in it, which represents his hidden and growing desire for his neighbor, the Beautiful Woman Across the Hall. In Henry’s nightmare on the radiator stage, there is a giant version of this tree. The dirt tree occupies the judge’s position in this dream trial scenario. The doily at the base of the dirt tree is reminiscent of a jabot, which is sometimes worn by judges. The giant dirt tree then appears to pass judgement on the twitchy Henry, who nervously awaits his sentence on the witness stand.

Beauty in Contrasts

In Eraserhead David Lynch uses the most complicated and disturbing of means to convey a message that is ultimately simple and peaceful. He creates a dark and negative world as a means to a light and positive one. These ironies and contradictions are one of the many ways in which Eraserhead is a movie awash in beautiful contrasts. Like the black and white film stock used to create the film, Eraserhead is a gorgeous battle of opposites, and this struggle is ingrained in the very fabric of the film.

We need look no further than Henry himself to see these contradictions (as the film itself looks no further than Henry’s mind). With his sky-high hair, Henry appears to be in a perpetual state of cartoon-character fright. But physically, Henry also looks like a surreal pencil, with an eraser on top. Henry describes himself as a “printer.” A pencil is also a “printer.” It is a creative force. The other side of the pencil, the eraser side, is destructive. Two ends, two poles, yet still one object. Henry is driven by sex (a creative force) and paralyzed by fear (a negative one). He is a creator (a printer who creates fear) who ultimately destroys (killing the baby and erasing fear).

Many objects in the film lead to contrasts. Fear led Henry to commit violence, but also led to the bliss of the radiator. The dresser hides Mary, his object of love, but also hides the scissors, an instrument of death. The symbol of bliss is hidden in the radiator. Yet the radiator is right next to the window, which hides the symbol of fear.

Some of the contrasts or opposites in the film: black and white, darkness and light, good and evil, fear and bliss, warmth and cold, sex and violence, organic and industrial, beauty and ugliness, birth and death, meat and potatoes, milk and blood (the two liquids Henry bathes in during his dream), man and women, young (Henry and Mary) and old (Mary’s parents), birth and death, creation and destruction, phallus and vagina, sticks and holes (the club used by the puddle), pencils and erasers, music and wind, seductive and accusatory (the two uses of “late” in the film), moving in and moving out, beginnings and endings (the end of Eraserhead is new beginning for Henry–one without fear), surface and deep.

An incredible thing about Eraserhead is the way it finds great beauty in these contrasts. While there are far too many instances to list here, I’ll point out one: the composition of exterior shot of Mary’s home. The dark, ominous house with Mary’s body-less head trapped fearfully in the window, the wreaked, decayed yard with steam and particles billowing impossibly upon it. Yet this yard still manages to yield a handful of gorgeous roses. Beautiful life is trying to break through the bleak industrial landscape. As always, David Lynch finds bursts of light in the overwhelming darkness. In my view, no Lynch film better exemplifies this effort than Eraserhead.

One Final Guess

David Lynch has offered up yet another mystery regarding the interpretation of Eraserhead. In Catching the Big Fish, Lynch states that Eraserhead is his most spiritual film and no one understands why:

Eraserhead was growing in a certain way, and I didn’t know what it meant. I was looking for a key to unlock what these sequences were saying. Of course, I understood some of it; but I didn’t know the thing that just pulled it all together. And it was a struggle. So I got out my Bible and I started reading. And one day, I read a sentence. And I closed the Bible, because that was it. And then I saw the thing as a whole. And it fulfilled this vision for me, 100 percent.” (Lynch, Catching 33)

Lynch, of course, isn’t saying what that quote is. But I will venture a guess. While I’ve had the fortitude to carefully transcribe a script for the film and write an analytical essay, I haven’t the time or will to re-read the Bible in search of the proper quote. A newfound awareness of Eraserhead‘s themes make this an intriguing possibility though, and perhaps one day I will. Until then, a Google search for Biblical quotes related to the themes I’ve uncovered will have to suffice. And that search did reveal a very promising possibility.

From II Timothy 1:7, in The Holy Bible, King James Version: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love and of a sound mind.”

The two opposing spirits described above (fear and love) recall the opposing states that Henry A) finds himself in at the beginning of Eraserhead and B) instinctively arrives at in the climax of the film. Henry begins the film with the Man in the Planet, possessed by an unnatural spirit of fear. He ends the film with the Lady in the Radiator, in the presence of love and power, with a sound mind and peaceful expression. Eraserhead is a spiritual film because it shows Henry’s journey away from fear, and his ultimate arrival at God’s spiritual ideal for us.

This quote is also striking because of its similarity to way Lynch described yogis, after seeing pictures of them for the first time:

“There was such a presence of power and dignity—and an absence of fear. Many of their countenances held playfulness or love, or power and strength.” (Lynch, Catching 37)

Therefore, the quote above from II Timothy is my best guess at a Biblical quote which could encapsulate Eraserhead. When dealing with a film as challenging as Eraserhead, and an artist as intuitively brilliant as David Lynch, a best guess is all a cinematic detective can hope for.

The Script

Eraserhead script – transcribed and annotated by David Johnson

Works Cited

David Lynch film and television projects:

Eraserhead (1977)

Twin Peaks (1990-1991)

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)


The Holy Bible, King James Version. New York: Meridian. November 1974.

Lynch, David. Lynch on Lynch. Ed. Ed Rodley. London: Faber and Faber. 1997.

Lynch, David. Catching the Big Fish. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin. 2006.

Olson, GregBeautiful Dark. Maryland: The Scarecrow Press. 2008.

Chute, David. Out to Lynch. David Lynch: Interviews. Ed. Richard A. Barney. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi. 2009.

Online articles and resources:

Saban, Stephen and Longacre, Sarah. Eraserhead: Is There Life After Birth? New York: The Soho Weekly News. October 20, 1978.

Hartmann, Mike. The City of Absurdity. Eraserhead online resources. November, 1996.

Bean, Travis. Eraserhead, or: The meaning of the baby; the meaning of fear. Cinema Beans. June 7th, 2012.

Ebiri, Bilge. David Lynch Thinks No One Will Ever Agree on Eraserhead. Vulture.com. Sept. 19, 2014.

Adelson, Fred B. David Lynch: “Philadelphia is Percolating in Me.” Delaware Online. October 23, 2014.