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All the wacky, unexpected cultural references in Twin Peaks

The cult series pays homage to everything from demonic spell books to teen soap dramas

Twin Peaks is the freaky David Lynch cult TV classic that launched a thousand cherry pie recipes, indie pop songs titled “Laura Palmer” and more than a few club nights called “Wrapped in Plastic”. Everyone from Scooby Doo, Lisa Simpson and Cher Horowitz has made a mention of the 90s crime procedural, and its influence on pop culture stretches much further than the Washington state line.

But the cool thing about David Lynch is, you know, those damn owls are never what they seem: fleeting allusion and underlying symbolism is behind every astral projection, neon sign or weird backwards-but-not gesture. Nothing is by accident. So check out this non-definitive list of all the cultural references that make Twin Peaks as mind-melting as it ever was.

LAURA PALMER’S NAME CAME FROM OTTO PREMINGER’S FILM LAURA (1944)

The name of our departed teen queen was plucked directly from this American film noir and its protagonist, a beautiful and successful advertising executive who is also at the heart of a murder investigation. Both Lauras are shrouded in mystery, and obsessed male cops build their elusive characters from the bottom up. Both Twin Peaks’ Dale Cooper and New York police detective Mark McPherson become fixated on the unreachable, mesmerizing women they’re investigating.

Fire Walk With Me, the satanic and horrifying prequel, sees the return of Laura Palmer in the run-up to her bloody end. Bringing back the ‘dead’ castmate is similar to the plotline of Preminger’s Laura, and the new perspectives see the elusive women made whole.

EDWARD HOPPER’S REALIST PAINTINGS INFLUENCED THE SETTING OF TWIN PEAKS

Lynch has expressed a real love for painters like the raw, emotionally charged Francis Bacon and the American realist Edward Hopper. You’ve probably seen Hopper’s work Nighthawks somewhere, the oil painting of people in a late-night diner in the 40s, which has had visual shout-outs from Hard Candy (2005) to Blade Runner (1982). It’s not just in the symbolism of Big Ed’s, but the temporal dimensions that Hopper’s art explores are thought to have influenced Lynch’s vision of the Americana archetype through the lens of noir and darkness. Twin Peaks as a town toes the line between civilization and nature, echoing Hopper’s Gas, which shows a gas station on the edge of a dense field. Lynch’s town of murder and demonic entities is physically planted between two mountain peaks, with train tracks that lead to nowhere.

MARILYN MONROE’S LIFE MIRRORS LAURA PALMER’S

Lynch and series co-creator Mark Frost originally worked together on a film adaptation of Goddess, the biography of Marilyn Monroe, but it was abandoned after they failed to get the rights to the book. Their next collaborative project was, of course, Twin Peaks. It seems like elements of the late Norma Jean have been instilled in Lynch’s blonde teen queen. Both Monroe and Palmer reached posthumous mythical status, with their dark secrets of drugs and escapades that made them lost, deviant characters. They’re also both women who have a sexual hold over the men around them, and that Palmer is killed just after making a resolution in her diary to reveal the affair she’s having parallels the life of Monroe painfully.

DONNA AND JAMES’ ROLLERCOASTER RELATIONSHIP WAS INSPIRED BY JIM AND JUDY IN REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE

Donna and James are that soap opera, young and fiery stock relationship that Lynch included to balance out weirdness that was swallowing the town. As the two who knew her best – well, one side of her anyway – the pair take the investigation into Laura’s death in their own hands. They’re innocent, immaturely selfish and impulsive, with an OTT kind of love that emulates Jim (James Dean) and Judy (Natalie Wood) in teen exploitation drama Rebel Without a Cause. Donna and James parody the tropes of bad boy with a bike and the loved-up good girl on her way to bad, as they slowly become disillusioned with a town that’s getting darker and darker.

DEMONIC SYMBOLISM IN THE BLACK LODGE COMES FROM AN ACTUAL ANCIENT SPELLBOOK

Lynch’s flirtation with the occult can be found in the evil, murderous spirits that cloud the neo-noir horror Lost Highway and dumpster demon of Mulholland Drive. The ritual magick sigils, which work in tandem with the dark, left-handed power of the Black Lodge, come straight from the Lesser Key of Solomon, a grimoire (read: creepy spell book) that summons demons.

THE WEIRD WAY PEOPLE SPEAK IN THE BLACK LODGE WAS INSPIRED BY SATANIST AUTHOR ALEISTER CROWLEY

The Black Lodge: the red-veiled space filled with terrifying screaming doppelgangers, demonic entities and killer Bob also pops up in occultist Aleister Crowley’s novel Moonchild, which sees a war between the white and dark magicians over an unborn child in 1917. It’s said that he taught his followers the Occult Law of Reversal, which involved talking, walking and thinking backwards for those who want fame or power. It’s warned against in the bible as a form of divination, so maybe don’t try this at home if you want to keep the Satanists out of your flat. But this is something Lynch uses in the Black Lodge, in some of the scariest scenes, where the cast spoke their lines backwards, which were then reversed in the editing process to make it sound creepier. “See you in 25 years?” Maybe not.

DALE COOPER SHARES A NAME WITH A PLANE HIJACKER FROM THE 70s

Dale Bartholomew Cooper, FBI Special Agent played by Kyle McLachlan, lands in Twin Peaks to investigate Laura’s brutal murder. He loves a good cup of black coffee and a slice of that cherry pie (or two), but what’s even more intriguing about him is that his name is a reference to D.B Cooper: a man who hijacked a domestic American flight in 1971 who was never found. Maybe it’s playing on the hijacking of Twin Peaks by the dark forces that Cooper longs to uncover? Who knows.

His character also plays upon Lynch’s love of noir: the hard-boiled detective like Sam Spade of the Maltese Falcon or Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. McLachlan has said he modelled himself on his character, Jeffrey Beaumont, in Lynch’s mystery drama Blue Velvet.

HANK JENNINGS PRISON NUMBER MATCHES JEAN VALJEAN'S IN LES MISERABLES

The career criminal of the town, who plays at being the reformed ex-con but is really still an ass, has a prison number that mirrors that of Jean Valjean’s in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. Valjean spends 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family, so Jennings has it kind of easy in comparison. Incidentally, Sideshow Bob and Principal Skinner in The Simpsons share the number too: 24601.

THE VOICEOVERS, NEON SIGNS AND FLASHBACKS COME FROM FILM NOIR

Twin Peaks is a pastiche of soap opera, horror and film noir, with noir as a significant influence on Lynch’s entire body of work. The use of flashbacks – which we see again and again, like Ronette’s terrifying dream in hospital of Bob and Laura– is a common technique used in noir to create a mind-bending narrative. The voiceover, evident in mystery dramas Lady in the Lake and Kubrick’s The Killing, finds its way into Twin Peaks through agent Cooper’s use of his voice recorder, addressing his notes to Diane. The neon signs – and practically every sign in Twin Peaks is neon – show up a lot in film noirs, and you can find a similar one in the 1934 drama The Postman Always Rings Twice.

HITCHCOCK’S DOUBLING TECHNIQUE IS EVERYWHERE 

Doubling also massively comes into play in this Manichean world, where good and evil are at odds with each other. It’s used regularly in Alfred Hitchcock films, like in Psycho, where Marion Crane steals the money and flees, whereas Norman Bates is left to wish he ran away from his own situation. Character doubles draw parallels between each other. Laura essentially leads a double life as good girl homecoming queen and coked-up sex worker with secrets and two diaries, as well as a doppelganger cousin Maddy. Her father, Leland, is inhabited by the evil Bob, and agent Cooper is up against his double, the sinister Windom Earle.