3:1 – The purple realm

Opening titles dispensed with, Part 3 continues Agent Cooper’s (Kyle MacLachlan) descent through the infinite, having been shunted out of our plain of existence during his brief spell in the mysterious glass box. It’s a bracing reintroduction.

He sees an expanse of purple smoke. A cloud of it blooms out of centre frame as we appear to switch to his P.O.V. It is like a new universe is being created, or that its existence is being revealed to use for the very first time. Not for the first or last time, The Return evokes the spirit of David Lynch’s first film, Eraserhead. That sense of something being conjured into being – or of being presented for discovery – is rife here.

The reverse angle on Cooper sees him tainted with the purple light as he grows closer to this new place which, as the show offers no explicit name, I shall refer to as The Purple Realm, for reasons that will become abundantly clear. The soundtrack roars and then we cut to a new image and silence.

A building. It appears industrial. Functional. Brutal. Let’s call it The Fortress. The entire image is tinged purple and one can tell that it is a smallish set that has been expanded upon using VFX in post-production. While the budget may have been tight for such a vast series, Lynch has been making his visual effects look just-so on no money since the aforementioned days of Eraserhead (think how thoroughly the ‘baby’ convinces). Therefore the slightly unreal look of a lot of the VFX throughout The Return may very well be a deliberate stylistic choice; an aesthetic that has been considered and chosen. We are looking square-on at a sort of balcony on the side of the large structure of The Fortress. A dark doorway evidences the ability to go inside.

Cooper drops into the balcony, falling and landing where we can’t quite see. As with his impact against the glass box in Part 2, we’re quickly provided evidence that the usual laws of physics don’t apply here. The fall ought to have caused him physical pain and damage, but it does not. Cooper gets up, unscathed.

His plummet to the balcony brings back Eraserhead again. Specifically it recalls a shot in that film when, having had his head detach from his body during a kind of hallucination, Henry’s (Jack Nance) head falls past a great industrial building to land squarely in the dank street below. Incidentally, Nance went on to play Twin Peaks regular Pete Martel in seasons one and two. Nance was a regular collaborator with Lynch up until his untimely death on 30th December 1996. He had completed filming on Lynch’s Lost Highway but did not live to see it’s release.

A reverse shot shows us a dark purple sea; the horizon shrouded in eerie darkness under purple cloud. The sea seems tranquil and maybe even eternal. Lynch switches to an angle from below and we come to understand a little more of the scale of The Fortress. Still, the top is shrouded in mystery, and its unclear quite how high, exactly, this balcony is positioned. From Cooper’s vantage over the purple sea, one would expect him to be quite high up. Who build The Fortress? When? How? And where is it? These are questions that will remain open. The last, however, we might get some sense of later on…

In Part 8 we seem to return to this vast sea (albeit cast in black and white, in-keeping with much of that installment) though we will visit a different Fortress, one which might be read as the so-called White Lodge (I personally subscribe to this idea). More on that when we come to it, however it is worth noting that an assumption has been made here in this paragraph; the assumption that it is the same Purple Realm. It may very well not be. This nebulous space is too ill-defined for any certainty, but it is through this dreamlike haziness of the tangible that Lynch casts his spell.

Cooper stands and looks around at this strange place. He has a black aura. Again, this might be a simple byproduct of the VFX and not something to study. Cooper sees the doorway and it seems like his only viable path. A closer shot reveals that it is a window. There is a yellowish light inside. Small, but inviting. A shot from within gives us a hint of a more crimson-coloured space.

Cooper opens the window and enters an interior room.


Next time:  Naido

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