Tag Archives: Twin Peaks

The zen of Coop


A damn fine cup of coffee.

“The idea of zen it so catch life as it flows.” D.T. Suzuki, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism

PRIMARILY IN THE FIRST SEASON of Twin Peaks, the show, through FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), introduces its viewers to Buddhism via Cooper’s obsession with Tibet. I can’t speak to Cooper’s actions with regards to the more traditional aspects of Buddhism (Dale Cooper and Buddhism is interesting if you are interested in that). However, I happened to recently re-watch the series while I was simultaneously reading D.T. Suzuki’s An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, and the similarities between Suzuki’s words and Cooper’s actions were striking.

The main idea of Zen Buddhism is that all truth can be found in the moment. The past doesn’t exist, nor does the future. Only by focusing on what one is doing right now can enlightenment be found. There is no enlightenment in the external. It is found within.

Cooper often embodies this idea of being all in on the moment. The primary example would be Coop’s sincere adoration for a good cup of coffee. It isn’t a need for the caffeinated energy rush. It isn’t about satisfying a thirsty palate. It is about that moment when that hot, earthy liquid makes first contact with the lips, warming the tongue and throat before comfortably resting in the belly. When Coop takes the first sip, it isn’t unusual for him to, say, lift his hand to stop all action and commentary around him, so that he can focus on that one, lone, simple action, because at that moment that is where he both wants to be and should be. There is no fear, no hate, no violence, no cases, no pressure, no clock, just a damn fine cup of coffee and a clear mind.

Joshu once asked a new monk: “Have you ever been here before?” The monk answered, “Yes, sir, I have.” Thereupon the master said, “Have a cup of tea.” Later on another monk came and asked him the same question, “Have you ever been here? “This time the answer was quite opposite. “I have never been here, sir.” The old master, however, answered just as before, “Have a cup of tea.” Afterwards the Inju (the managing monk of the monastery) asked the master, “How is it that you make the same offering of a cupe of tea no matter what a monks’ reply is?” The old master called out, “O Inju!” who at once replied, “Yes master.” Whereupon Joshu said, “Have a cup of tea.” – An Introduction to Zen Buddhism

WHILE THAT’S THE MAIN EXAMPLE of the zen of Dale Cooper – in part because it is repeated frequently, particularly in season one – it’s not the only one. There’s a moment where Cooper and Twin Peaks sheriff Harry Truman are sitting in the police station, talking shop, when Coop reaches up and tweaks Truman jovially on the nose. It’s the kind of act that could seem demeaning or rude. But really, it’s an affectionate act between two men who have great respect for each other. For Coop, it’s also an affirmation of his living in that moment. While some reactions work in many situations – as the story of Joshu above shows – there are plenty of times when an act such as Cooper’s nose touch would be ludicrous or insulting, such as at the funeral of Laura Palmer or during the questioning of Mike and Bobby. And Coop, being a man of each moment, would have never considered tweaking Truman’s nose in those situations. But for that one second in that one place at that one time, it expressed his joy at being in a place he loved, doing the job he loved, and conversing with a friend and compatriot.

These may seem like minor actions, and maybe they are. But they are also indicators that Coop is a man who yearns to catch the flow of life. It is an interesting mindfulness that you don’t often see in characters from popular culture, one that helps make Coop – and Twin Peaks – unique.

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‘Wayward Pines’ aces the Season 1 test

Kate (Carla Gugino) gets more than she bargains for in her attempt to escape Wayward Pines.

Kate (Carla Gugino) gets more than she bargains for in her attempt to escape Wayward Pines.

I was wary of Wayward Pines.

It came down to two things. The first was the name “M. Night Shyamalan” propped up prominently in the advertising. Most of his work since The Village has been the film equivalent of a raging tire fire, and after what he did to Avatar: The Last Airbender, I wasn’t sure I’d ever watch anything he was involved in again. However, Shyamalan deserves some credit here for making Wayward Pines work. His tendencies to lean on moody atmosphere and a deliberative pace in the pilot set the tone for the rest of the first season. I wonder if working off another’s material – the series is based on the books by Blake Crouch – as well as working on a television series, which is more collaborative than the auteur role Shyamalan is used to as a film director, is part of what is responsible. If so, that mix has proven potent, and Wayward Pines can head in some interesting directions from what’s been established already.

The second thing that concerned me were the comparisons to Twin Peaks that were popping up in early reviews. I view Twin Peaks as one of the most uniquely twisted shows in the history of television, almost sacred because of the swirl of odd humor, kinky otherworldliness and dark underpinnings that are unmatched. Well, it turns out I didn’t have anything to worry about, because those reviews were dead wrong. Wayward Pines is distinctly lacking in sense of humor, which isn’t a put down. That’s just not what the show is, and it’s the easiest thing to point to as a difference when comparing it to Twin Peaks. Also, in Twin Peaks, the secrecy that drives the show is the hidden lies of the townspeople who are living the small-town, American dream. Wayward Pines‘ secrecy is more about the workings of the town itself, how it came to be, why it is so isolated, the planned machinations happening behind the scenes and what those machinations result in. Really, Wayward Pines feels much more like Lost than Twin Peaks.

FBI agent Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon) won't follow the party line in Wayward Pines: Don't talk about the past, don't go past the wall.

FBI agent Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon) won’t follow the party line in Wayward Pines: Don’t talk about the past, don’t go past the wall.

Hopefully, the Lost comparison won’t extend past the first season. The ending of season one changes the focus of Wayward Pines, spinning the plot in a different direction. The cast could potentially be radically different as well, even after the culling of familiar faces throughout the first season. The potential is there for long-term success, if the show and the folks running it can maintain the balance of plausibility of the action with the more far-out, fantastic elements that are part of this cloistered world.

If not, it could get … well, lost, for lack of a better way to put it. The ending of season one leaves the show dangling on a precipice, a radical change of course charted for the upcoming season. Abandoning the situation as it was, moving ahead a few years, could test the patience of fans if it is not handled delicately, possibly even alienate fans who would like more of what they saw and aren’t ready to push on.

I, for one, have hope. We’ll see if that hope is rewarded.

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‘Mother’ has touches of David Lynch

What would this mild-mannered woman do to save her son?

What would this mild-mannered woman do to save her son?

I’ve said before that Joon-Ho Bong’s The Host is probably the second-best creature flick I’ve ever seen, trailing only Jaws. I’ve also previously expressed my affection for Bong’s Snowpiercer, a nice piece of sci-fi cinema.

But somehow I’d missed what might be Bong’s finest work so far, 2009’s Mother. The movie opens with titular mother, played magnificently by Hye-ja Kim (pictured above), standing in a field of wheat, dancing dreamily and emotionless, no one around to witness this except the viewers.

Upon seeing this, I immediately thought of Twin Peaks, the soon-to-be revived serial soap co-created by cinematic super-freak David Lynch. Whether it’s Audrey dancing by herself in the Double R or Leland crying and pleading for someone to be his partner at the bar of the Great Northern, Twin Peaks is my screen reference for all things related to weird dancing. Between the music and Kim’s movements, it seemed like it could have been pulled straight from the show.

As Mother unfolded, it continued to remind me a lot of Twin Peaks and what is probably regarded as Lynch’s greatest cinematic achievement, Blue Velvet. Both of Lynch’s creations deal with smashing the American, small-town mythos. America’s small towns are really not what Leave It to Beaver and The Andy Griffith Show would have you believe. Yes, the serene, exterior perfection isn’t hard to find in the burgs and hamlets of the good ol’ U, S of A. But what lies underneath that facade is shadowy and disturbing, made more so because those who live there do their best to keep up the front and ignore the darkness.

Mother has a lot of that, the exposure of hidden sins in what happens to be a near-perfect place to live. Everyone knows everyone, the murder rate is nearly non-existent, eccentrics can be left to their own devices, even flourish in their own way. But as mother tries to clear her son of the murder he has been accused of, we see the classism, the small-town snark, corruption, bullying, underage prostitution, all of this which everyone seems to know is happening but refuses to confront in any meaningful way. Even those who appear to be innocents, as the tale unfolds, we find those people to be just as bad or worse than those in power.

The Host and Snowpiercer are flashier and more accessible, particularly for western audiences. But Mother is a work of great nuance and substance, signifying the work of someone who has greater depths to delve into. I can’t wait to see where Bong take audiences next.

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Is ‘Lords’ the best of Rob Zombie?

If you're in a creepy, blood red room with just a cross and a horrifying, unrecognizable beast, it's probably time to find a new apartment.

If you’re in a creepy, blood red room with just a cross and a horrifying, unrecognizable beast, it’s probably time to find a new apartment.

So if you’re here for the short answer to the titular question, the answer is this: No.

(SPOILERS AHEAD. Don’t say you weren’t warned.)

That isn’t to diss Lords of Salem, which despite every negative review and “Oh my God it’s a train wreck” warning aimed in my direction, I really enjoyed. But I’m not your average reviewer or moviegoer (or at least I’d like to think so). When things start to spin and Rob Zombie eschews more traditional narrative form to go abstract, weird and just plain gross, I’m willing to take that ride. And while I’ll admit the ending wasn’t satisfying, I end up feeling like the journey was worth it, for a number of reasons.

1. Zombie goes old school. The modern, enlightened America knows that the Salem witch trials were a bunch of self-serving, misogynistic, superstitious men taking out their own insecurities and hostilities on the women and girls around them. Zombie takes the traditional horror approach: Sure, the bulk of the women were innocent victims, but there was this one coven that was pure evil and really wanted to unleash the power of Satan on the earthly plane. It’s not very PC, but it’s that PC mentality that ends up biting everyone in the ass in the end. Francis Matthias (nice to see Bruce Davison), an author and authority on the witches of Salem, never once believes that any of these coincidences – the Lords of Salem references, Heidi Hawthorne being a descendant of witch-killing Pastor Hawthorne, the haunting tune (call it “Colonial industrial,” a mix of Francis Scott Key and Nordic dark metal), etc. – are anything more than coincidences … right up until one of the witches bashes his skull in with a skillet. Heidi’s pals, Whitey and Herman, believe Heidi has merely succumbed to pressure and returned to her addict ways, not suspecting something supernatural is at work. Zombie uses our enlightened, modern prejudices against us here. It’s a trick a lot of horror uses, sure, but Zombie does it smoothly, serving his tale well.

2. I don’t need to know everything. You know the main reason why the Dexter series finale sucked so much? The minds behind the scenes felt the need to explain everything. Instead of leaving us with the image of Dexter in his boat, his sister’s dead body next to him, waiting for the hurricane to swallow them whole, never knowing for sure if Dexter survives or not, we get that cheesy bullshit coda with Dexter now playing the role of the loner logger, which runs counter to everything the series set up as well as being just plain stupid. Viewers were given too much, and it left a nasty taste in our collective mouths. In Lords of Salem, I don’t mind that I’m not always entirely sure what’s going on. That’s sort of the point. Heidi, her pals, Matthias, the average Salem citizen has no clue what dark cloud hangs over their fair village. Zombie is putting us in an uncomfortable place of being lost in the dark, right there with the characters. The imagery is terrifying, not of this earth. It is a mix of heresy, putridity and the potential for violence. I don’t need to know who or what that midget, Frankenstein’s monster, turkey-looking thingy is. It ain’t good, that’s for damn certain. The harbingers with the dark, rotted cloth faces? I don’t think they’re here to welcome Heidi to the neighborhood. I find comfort in the fact that Zombie allows his viewers the opportunity to let their imaginations take the reins and run with it.

3. That scary hallway. A significant part of The Shining‘s appeal is how fully Stanley Kubrick incorporates the Overlook Hotel as a character in the film. Roman Polanski – while largely an overrated, obnoxious rapist – managed a similar vibe with the Bramford in Rosemary’s Baby. Heidi’s apartment building isn’t so scary, but her particular hallway is ominous, a portent of bad things to come. It’s creepy every time Zombie shows it. It isn’t quite as important to the tale as the Overlook or the Bramford, but it’s a nice touch and a centering point for Lords of Salem.

4. I get the feeling if the director was David Lynch instead of Rob Zombie, Lords of Salem would have been hailed instead of jeered. OK, maybe that’s an overstatement. But it seems that Zombie’s fascination with white trash culture – something that is part of all of his on-screen work – gets derided because he isn’t viewed as having the intellectual and spiritual take that Lynch is known for while mining the same rural mindset for Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, etc. I’m not saying Zombie is better than Lynch or vice versa, but it feels like their views on the nasty secrets of small towns are not all that dissimilar. I think the real gap is in the perception of critics, some of whom may be a bit on the snobby side.

Sounds like I enjoyed the film, doesn’t it? But in the end, I would still argue that Lords of Salem isn’t Zombie’s finest, not because Lords is sub-par, but because Zombie has made two better films: 2007’s Halloween remake and 2005’s The Devil’s Rejects. In Halloween, Zombie takes the original’s skeletal classic and adds some meat. It’s not the be all, end all of horror movies, but it’s worthy. The Devil’s Rejects is Zombie’s finest to date, creating a film where there is no rooting interest, the anti-heroes unworthy of victory or salvation, and the “heroes” just as irredeemable and low.

But I think Lords of Salem, while not Zombie’s finest film as a whole, may be his best effort as a visual storyteller. I respect that he continues to improve at his craft, and at the same time, I look forward to see what he does next.

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