Twin Peaks, WA: a quiet town where reigns the sort of civilized boredom that Freud described in Civilization and its Discontents. Until the body of Laura Palmer is found floating in the river. A discovery which brings the monotony of small-town America crashing down.
Nestled between two peaks, the community soon appears to be caught between two, drastically opposed forces: Cooper and Bob, law and order versus barbarism and violence. As Freud summarized in Civilization and its Discontents: “this battle of the giants: the struggle between Eros and Death, between the instinct of life and the instinct of destruction, is what all life consists of.” Especially once the thin veneer of small-town respectability collapses.
Cooper: the instinct of life
Soon after the murder, FBI agent Dale Cooper is assigned to the case. He becomes a beacon of hope for the forces of justice and order in town, as local law enforcement and the secret organization of ‘the Bookhouse Boys’ soon rally around him. In his mission to capture Laura Palmer’s killer, he is reminded of a previous case which he had been unable to solve. Leading him to believe he is on the hunt for the same culprit.
Interestingly, although his purpose is to restore the comforts and quaintness of civilization to the town, his method is deeply instinctual and verges on the psycho-analytical, as Cooper is seen at all times recording his thoughts and feelings into a portable tape-recorder. Furthermore, most answers in his investigation come to him in the form of riddles delivered to him in his dream by a giant. Cooper’s entire method rests on a dream in which he “subconsciously gained knowledge of a deductive technique involving mind-body coordination operating hand-in-hand with the deepest level of intuition.”
So, while Cooper fights on the side of light, order, civilization, his methods are deeply instinctual and require him to tune in to his subconscious. In the words of Sigmund Freud: civilization does not rest on the advantages of work in common alone, it is instituted by the instinct of life – Eros – “whose purpose it is to combine single human individuals into one great unity, the unity of mankind.” A unity that Cooper tries to recreate in Twin Peaks by harnessing the power of instinct.
Bob: the instinct of destruction
The figure of Bob in Twin Peaks is confusing. He is a spirit, seemingly devoid of any bodily existence, who takes over his hosts – in this case Leland Palmer – and makes them commit horrific crimes without them having any recollection of it happening.
Only in his dying moment does Leland remember seeing Bob in a dream as a child, and letting him inside. Remembering his crimes, he is invaded by a sense of guilt. Guilt, as Freud states in Civilization and its Discontents, is an agency that civilization sets up within individuals to watch over him, and thus “obtains mastery over the individual’s dangerous desire for aggression” – the death instinct.
Devoid of memory and morality, subjects possessed by Bob ignore – and indeed actively undermine – the rules of civilization. For Freud, “the primary hostility between human beings” – instilled by the death instinct – leaves “civilized society perpetually threatened with disintegration.” The kind of fear – and pleasure – that Bob feeds off of in his hosts.
A battle between two giants
Chasing down Bob, the death instinct, leads Cooper, the life instinct, in the depth of the woods surrounding Twin Peaks, in search for the Black Lodge. The Bookhouse Boys are the first to mention the Black and White lodges. Supposedly extradimensional places, one is the home of kindness and love, the other of fear and violence.
However it soon becomes apparent that the Black and White lodge are adjoined. That one is but the mirror image of the other. And that in going through this place – which one might describe as a spiritual more than a physical space – the contest between life and death instincts appears to be played out not in Twin Peaks per se, but in each of its inhabitants psyches. In the lodge, Cooper comes accross the inhabitants (dead and living) of Twin Peaks. Or rather, their dopplegangers – revealing the potential for good and evil that lies within each and everyone.
As he exits the Black Lodge, it becomes apparent that Cooper is Bob’s latest victim. Or rather, that the death instinct won the battle in Cooper – the consistent defendant of Eros throughout the show. In a second edition of Civilization and its Discontents, Freud only ammended the original by adding one sentence. A question to be exact, as Freud ponders the result of the confrontation between Eros and Death: “but who can foresee with what result?” And the battle of the two giants for the control of Twin Peaks is left equally unanswered as the Third Season begins.