Concerned about depictions of/references to sexual assault in Twin Peaks
April 25, 2020 9:27 PM   Subscribe

I have heard that the 1992 Twin Peaks film depicts sexual assault, but I would like to recommend it to someone who very much likes the surreal. [As an aside, let me know if you think I'm incorrect in thinking that Twin Peaks would satisfy an urge for the surreal.] I was hoping to be advised, so I could pass on the information, as to the degree in which sexual assault is a part of the Twin Peaks franchise. Is it clear in the original show or hinted at that a character was sexually assaulted? Would it be satisfying to watch the original show and not the film? Is it possible to watch the original show and skip the film to the recent continuation? Etc.
posted by TheLinenLenin to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

I would not recommend the 1992 TV series or the movie (definitely not the movie) to anyone who is trying to avoid depictions of sexual assault. They are very good, and, yes, surreal, but I found the level of violence towards women made them hard to watch.
posted by LadyOscar at 9:51 PM on April 25, 2020 [12 favorites]

Very surreal, but sexual abuse and exploitation is a running theme in the series. I doubt there’s a single episode without a disturbing reference.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:53 PM on April 25, 2020 [7 favorites]

Sexual violence and sexual exploitation are very much a part of Twin Peaks and are key elements of the crime that is investigated. The 1992 film (Fire Walk With Me) is a prequel to the TV series and is much heavier on the tragedy and horror elements that are present throughout the TV series. Any content warnings you might give someone for the TV series go even more so for the film. Like a lot more. As in probably don't watch if you're worried about triggers. Tonally the show and the film are very different. The show bounces between comedic, soapy, and scary whereas the film is oppressive and dark. That can make a big difference for people that do have triggers, but are able (and want to) consume media that contains them.

If these kinds of triggers are a concern for your friend I would let them know in advance and let them make the decision as to watch it or not. You could also offer to look up more in depth descriptions/prescreen/get timestamps if they are interested in watching, but would like to be better forewarned. This is a service I offer for several friends that enjoy horror movies, but have trouble with depictions of self harm or sexual violence.

To answer you other questions:

No, you do not need to watch the film to enjoy the original run of the show. You may want to watch it (or at least read a summary) if you plan to watch Twin Peaks: The Return, though.




TV Show:

Spousal abuse.
Central investigation around the sexual assault and murder of one woman and the sexual assault of another.
Multiple characters involved with a brothel along with all of the sex trafficking and slimey things that go with that (e.g. getting "first taste" of new hires, underage women, coercion, etc.)
Stalkers and inappropriate therapists.
Affairs, gaslighting, and uncomfortable sexual dynamics abound.
One character has PTSD (or something like it) related to a sexual assault.
Likely more that I do not remember.


There is a scene in which Bob (killer, possibly satan) enters through a bedroom window, sexually assaults a woman, and transforms into her father during the act. There is more, but that first one kind of says it all.
posted by forbiddencabinet at 10:25 PM on April 25, 2020 [6 favorites]

It's not just a question of a depiction here or an unpleasant scene there, it's thematic, it permeates every aspect of the show and to a large degree is what the show (and movie) are about. and it's not just restricted to the Palmers either; the relationship between Audrey and her father is a gentler but twisted mirror of the same dynamic. and the threat of violence between a man and a woman is present in every scene between a man and a woman, whether or not it goes anywhere.

The tone is so different from other media that purports to deal with sexual assault that it's hard to say who would be upset by what aspects. I think it is the best art I ever saw about it, the surrealism and the horror are about -- not only about, but about -- the surreal and horrific aspects of sexual assault. it is not devoid of sexism and missteps here and there, but it is honest and brutal. nothing else comes close. but you can't appreciate any of Twin Peaks if you can't look at that part of it, even just out of the corner of your eye.

I would not show it to anyone who cannot cope with being upset in that way at this particular moment. but I would recommend it to anyone and everyone else.

But yes, you can skip the film. You may be confused at certain points in the third season but that's totally fine and it doesn't mar the experience.
posted by queenofbithynia at 11:42 PM on April 25, 2020 [12 favorites]

There is a scene in which Bob (killer, possibly satan) enters through a bedroom window, sexually assaults a woman, and transforms into her father during the act.

with respect for alternate interpretations -- she's a high school kid, not a woman. it's her willingly "possessed" father who assaults her, the transformation is purely a visual effect, it's the same person the whole time; she can't bear to see him for who he is so sees "Bob" instead until she is no longer able to play that trick on herself.

there are any number of ways to soften what it's about but it's always worse than however people describe it. but I repeat it is genius and it is only horrific in the way that absolutely any depiction of these events is morally obliged to be horrific.
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:22 AM on April 26, 2020 [9 favorites]

Sexual assault, rape, incest, child molestation, violence, and forced prostitution are central themes of the show. They are often shown, rather than hinted at.

It is excellent and surreal. But that doesn’t negate the above.

Don’t recommend things you can’t vouch for personally! I once made a terrible mistake, recommending to a relative a short story I hadn’t read by an author I had read, and the story was extremely triggering for the relative to the point it was cruel to have them read it! This was 20ish years ago and I still cringe.

Maybe your next question can be about recommendations for surreal series.
posted by kapers at 12:48 AM on April 26, 2020 [5 favorites]

Chiming in to agree: Twin Peaks is fundamentally about sexual assault. It is not possible to watch any part of it without engaging with that, neither the first or second series nor the movie. I have friends who suffer from the continuing effects of sexual assault who find it very cathartic, and I personally think it is the best art about these subjects I have ever seen (and strongly disagree with those who see it as 'exploitative'), but it is strong medicine and absolutely not something I would ever encourage someone who was worried about triggers around violence or sexual assault to watch.
posted by branca at 8:11 AM on April 26, 2020 [5 favorites]

The way all of it is treated is as horrible abuse and the terrible toll it takes on everyone.

In my recollection, and I’ve seen the original series and movie a few times along with the incredibly satisfying Showtime series, the men are never excused in their actions and there is a theme of seeking justice for the women who are victimized.

As a comparison, I stopped watching Law and Order SVU after like two seasons bc it was all spectacle. I feel Twin Peaks on exposing and holding accountable the men who perpetrated the acts and less focused on the actual crimes. I don’t have a high tolerance for sexual violence depictions and shows like Mad Men have made me far more uncomfortable (the scene with Joan and her horrendous fiancé in the office). I couldn’t make it through Sons of Anarchy.

Twin Peaks ... those scenes are not what stick in my mind.

No idea if this helpful but hope it is.
posted by affectionateborg at 2:34 PM on April 26, 2020 [3 favorites]

The whole first season revolves around the investigation of the rape and murder of a teenage girl who had been sexually abused since childhood.

I would never ever recommend Twin Peaks to anyone trying to avoid sexual assault related content.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:31 PM on April 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

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