I’ve been thinking a lot about Twin Peaks. For those of you who are unfamiliar Twin Peaks is a television program from the early 90’s created by Mark Frost and David Lynch.It chronicles the mystery of the murder of a young girl named Laura Palmer. Every week the new episode would expand on the mystery in a very serialized format that feels more at home with television of today, rather then it’s contemporaries in the 90’s. In short, its a masterpiece.
But I’ve been looking into the series some more, and something really interesting caught my attention and interest. Eventually in the series we, the audience, finally learn the truth about the death of Laura Palmer. However, if it was up to Lynch and Frost, this would not have been the case. It was the intent of the duo to keep the answer to the question, who killed Laura Palmer?, a secret that the show would never revel. Unfortunately, ABC eventually forced the duo to revel the answer mid way through their run, much to the disappointment of Lynch and Frost. Lynch talks about this a lot in interviews, and he almost always uses the same general metaphor. He equates the mystery of Laura Palmer’s death, with a goose that lays golden eggs. All they have to do, is keep it there, and the gold we keep on coming. Lynch then inquires, if you had such a goose, why would you kill it?
I then thought about this question in relation to theater that I have been seeing. What are their gooses, and more importantly, are they killing them?
I think one could easily attempt to dismiss this question. Noting that in TV one can have a contentious mystery, and is in fact encouraged to do so, as to incite views to tune in next week. While in theater there is a need to give our audiences a sense of completion, keep them in the mystery, and then satisfy their intrigue with a conclusion.
I believe that this thinking, would terribly waste the intriguing question Lynch is giving us.
I think we can view Lynch’s goose, not only from the perceptive of a lingering question that keeps dramatic potential alive i.e.if we don’t know who killed Laura then we’ll keep watching. But we can also view it as the potential questions themselves have in story telling i.e what questions do I as an audience member still have about this piece of art.
The implication of the Lynch’s point is a rather simple, but important one. In theater, questions are far more valuable then answers. If one was to ask, what is this play about, giving the plays “thesis statement”, or rather what’s it’s trying to prove, would hardly be a sufficient answer.
Rather, one would have to consider what the play is asking, not what it’s saying. To think that the characterization of a play is tied solely to a point it’s trying to make, is a gross misrepresentation of the potential for theater’s purpose. And what I mean to say by that is, If you walk out of the play knowing exactly how to feel about, knowing exactly what it’s saying, if you have no questions left, it probably killed it’s goose.
If there is a lesson to be learned from Twin Peaks for the theater, it is that the gold can only come when the audience still has something to wrestle with. It is only when I walk out of the theater and I have an unanswerable question nagging the back of my mind, do I know that the goose is still alive.