Twin Peaks: A Trauma Narrative

Twin Peaks 2While David Lynch denies knowledge of trauma theory, Twin Peaks and its prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me can certainly be read as postmodern trauma narratives of childhood abuse. Twin Peaks is a supernatural crime series centering on the murder of high school student named Laura Palmer by her father Leland and Fire Walk with Me is a prequel to the series that focuses on the days leading up to her death. The film narrates Laura’s struggle with her abusive father and displays many of the experimental techniques employed in trauma narratives. The employment of an experimental form in postmodern trauma literature can be seen as an attempt to more accurately represent the workings of a traumatised mind. For example, the form of trauma narratives are often fragmented and repetitive in order to mimic the way in which a traumatic event is experienced belatedly through nightmares and flashbacks (Caruth). In novels such as Slaughterhouse-Five, for example, the narrative is told out of sequence while Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods takes the traumatic event in the novel and narrates it twice. Similarly, in Twin Peaks, the narrative similarly moves backwards and forwards in time in that events that occurred in the series final are discussed by characters in the prequel. Also, the central traumatic event of the series, that is, the murder of Laura, is literally repeated. When Laura dies, her identical cousin Maddy Ferguson moves into her house and eventually suffers the same fate as her when she is murdered by Leland. When Maddy announces that she must leave the Palmer household and return home, Leland rams her head into a wall and wraps her in plastic just as he did to Laura. Moreover, in Fire Walk with Me, we are told that Leland killed a girl named Teresa Banks. She is also found wrapped in plastic and it is revealed that Leland informed her that she too ‘looked just like my Laura’.

Furthermore, a common reaction to a traumatic episode is the inability to process it and in turn replace it with something more tolerable (Melley). In Slaughterhouse-Five for instance, in order to protect himself from his traumatic memories of the Dresden bombings, Billy Pilgrim imagines he is a time traveller abducted by an alien race known as the Tralfamadorians who inform him to ‘Ignore awful times, and concentrate on the good ones’ (85) while John Wade in In the Lake of the Woods is unable to fully confront his painful memories of Vietnam and similarly replaces them with ‘more pleasant ones’. For instance, his acts of atrocity in the war are made more palatable by envisioning them as magic tricks: ‘He displayed an ordinary military radio and whispered a few words and made their village disappear’.

In Twin Peaks, there is a similar displacement of traumatic events onto the supernatural. For example, whenever Leland enters Laura’s room at night she does not recognize him as her father but as BOB, an aging demon from another dimension, because the idea of her father as her abuser is too horrific to confront directly.

Therefore, while Lynch claims to know nothing of trauma theory then, he appears to have thoroughly researched it.

For more information on the conflicting representations of reality and the supernatural in Twin Peaks, see here:


Caruth, Cathy (ed). Trauma: Explorations in Memory. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1995. Print.

Davenport, Randi. ‘The Knowing Spectator of Twin Peaks: Culture, Feminism, and Family Violence.’ Literature Film Quarterly 4 (1993): 255-259. Print.

Twin Peaks. Dir. David Lynch. CBS Television Distribution, 1990-1991. Television.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. Dir. David Lynch. New Line Cinema, 1992. Film.

Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five. London: Vintage Books, 2000. Print.


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