(Un)familiar faces: motifs, themes and doubles in the world of David Lynch

A number of elements recur through David Lynch’s work. We take a tour from Twin Peaks, down Mulholland Dr. and onto the Lost Highway. Familiarity has rarely felt less comforting…

28 May 2021

By Ronnie Hackston

David Lynch on set of Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Sight and Sound

The world of Twin Peaks sits in a broader Lynchian universe, which at times can feel like a unified whole – perhaps one could meet Eraserhead’s Henry Spencer in the Black Lodge, or run into Dorothy Vallens from Blue Velvet at the Roadhouse. As well as taking cues from and prefiguring other elements of Lynch’s work, Twin Peaks echoes a variety of other filmic influences.


Twin Peaks (1990)
Orphée (1950
Eraserhead (1977)
Twin Peaks: the Return (2017)

The iconic chevron floor pattern in The Red Room appears 40 years earlier in Jean Cocteau’s Orphée, as Jean Marais’s eponymous poet ventures, like Agent Cooper after him, into the realm of the underworld. We see the pattern again in Lynch’s Eraserhead, with the striking zigzag motif on the carpet in Henry’s apartment building.


Eraserhead (1977)
Blue Velvet (1986)
Twin Peaks (1990)
Twin Peaks: the Return (2017)

Curtains, too, are important features in Lynchland – from the stage where Eraserhead’s Lady in the Radiator performs, to Dorothy in Blue Velvet, Julee Cruise’s singer in Twin Peaks, and Club Silencio in Mulholland Dr. They serve to emphasise a heightened, dreamlike unreality. Ditto the theatrical spotlights that herald the arrival of Bob and other supernatural entities. In the mortal realm, One- Eyed Jack’s brothel features some natty curtains, and one-eyed Nadine is obsessed with developing silent drape runners.

Through the looking glass

Frank Silva visible in a mirror in Twin Peaks (1990)
Josie Packard in Twin Peaks (1990)
Twin Peaks (1990)

It was due to an accidental reflection on set that Lynch created the role of Bob for former props-master Frank Silva, and mirrors crop up constantly in the world of Twin Peaks. The first image in the pilot is of Josie Packard viewing herself in a makeup mirror, we learn the identity of Bob’s host via his reflection, and the final image of series two is a maniacally laughing Cooper, now possessed by the malevolent Bob, looking back at him through a shattered bathroom mirror. The Black Lodge is a sinister, Lewis Carroll-esque mirror world, where people speak backwards and nothing is quite what it seems. To quote Orphée, “Mirrors are the doors by which death comes.”

What didn’t Jack do?

Jack Nance in Eraserhead (1977)
Jack Nance in Dune (1984)
Jack Nance in Twin Peaks (1990)

Lynch has established something of a repertory company around him, with several actors making multiple appearances in his work – notably, Kyle MacLachlan, Laura Dern, Frances Bay, Charlotte Stewart, Catherine E. Coulson, Harry Dean Stanton and Grace Zabriskie. The Lynch long service medal, however, must go to Jack Nance, who after starring in Eraserhead went on to appear in Dune, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, Twin Peaks and Lost Highway. Sadly, he passed away in 1996, from injuries sustained in an altercation in a doughnut shop.

She’s filled with secrets

Laura (1944)
Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks (1990)
Ray Wise as Leland Palmer in Twin Peaks (1990)

In the TV series, Laura is both the central character and completely absent, much like the heroine of Otto Preminger’s 1944 film Laura (which also features Waldo Lydecker – alluded to in Twin Peaks via Waldo the Mynah Bird). Although we get to see the last seven days of her life in Fire Walk with Me, Laura is brought to life in the TV series solely through her diaries and the recollections and visions of others. Like Preminger’s Laura, she will somehow return from the dead, however – she’s in the cast list of season three, along with her deceased father, Leland.

When you see me again, it won’t be me

Twin Peaks (1990)
Vertigo (1958)
Sheryl Lee as Maddy Ferguson in Twin Peaks (1990)
Kyle MacLachlan as Good Coop in Twin Peaks: the Return (2017)
Kyle MacLachlan as Bad Coop in Twin Peaks: the Return (2017)

Lynch’s work is rife with doppelgangers and split personalities – Renee/Alice in Lost Highway, Betty/Diane & Rita/Camilla in Mulholland Dr., and Nikki/Susan in Inland Empire. In Twin Peaks we meet Leland/ Bob, One-Armed Man/Mike, and Elderly Waiter/Giant to name but a few. With the blonde Laura Palmer and brunette Maddy Ferguson – both played by Sheryl Lee – Lynch would seem to be making conscious reference to Vertigo’s Judy and Maddy, with a nod also to James Stewart’s character in the latter’s surname. 


The long-awaited third series (2017, also known as The Return) is replete with dopplegangers (now referred to as ‘Tulpas’). Cooper is now split into Good Coop and Bad Coop, the latter carrying the demonic BOB as a passenger. We meet the artificially-created ‘Dougie’, who is sucked back into Lodgespace and replaced with a somewhat mentally befuddled Good Coop, who later calls in a favour with the Black Lodge and has a new Dougie made. Oh, and when Good Coop wakes up in Odessa, he’s now known as ‘Richard’. We learn of the ‘Blue Rose’ taskforce, set up after a woman was murdered by her own doppleganger. Twin Peaks itself seems to fracture into two timelines – one where Laura died, and one where she merely disappeared. Having time-travelled to save Laura, only for her to disappear and start a new existence as ‘Carrie Page’, Cooper seems to be stuck in a Sisyphean loop. “Is it future or is it past?” “What year is this?”

Lynch is now reportedly working on a new series for Netflix, variously referred to as Wisteria and Unrecorded Night. Will it be a continuation of Twin Peaks? Probably not. Will it contain elements, influences and actors that we’ve seen before in Lynchland? You bet. That gum you like is going to come back in style.

The new issue of Sight and Sound

Hamaguchi Ryūsuke: insights on and from the Japanese auteur Plus: Mica Levi on their innovative score for The Zone of Interest – Víctor Erice interviewed about his masterful return to feature filmmaking, Close Your Eyes – a festival report from a politically charged Berlinale

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