Why David Bowie’s scene remains so terrifying

David Lynch is a weird visionary who’s been known to create a scare or two in his movies – from hobo dumpster Winkies in Mulholland Drive almost any time in eraser head. Lynch is a master at using his imaginative eye to create striking images of surrealism and horror. But of all the moments of dread and unease scattered throughout his filmography, perhaps none seem as confusing, unpredictable and downright terrifying as Philip Jeffries’ brief but unforgettable introduction (david bowie) in 1992 Twin Peaks: Walk With Fire With Me. Polemic twin peaks the prequel/sequel already acts like a horror movie in a more traditional way compared to the rest of his work, but this short scene is so effective because of how rambling it feels through its presentation, Bowie‘s performances and Kyle McLachlanand the disturbing ambivalent ideas that are implied about mortality, self-control, and the inability to escape chaos.


Philip Jeffries’ scene lasts just over four minutes, and yet it’s a moment that transcended meaning both for fans of the show and in Lynch’s creativity as a storyteller. He wrote the film without the involvement of the series creator frost mark, a fact that is quite evident at virtually every moment. The scene opens on a somewhat familiar note at FBI headquarters, with Special Agent Dale Cooper (MacLachlan) entering the frame. Cooper reminds his boss Gordon Cole (Lynch) that this exact moment (“10:10 a.m. Feb. 16”) is a dream he had, before going out to test security camera delays.

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David Bowie Twin Peaks 1
Picture via New Line Cinema

You can already get a sense of the conventions Lynch is playing with in this scene even before Bowie makes his dramatic entrance. In a post To return to-world, it’s easy to forget that Fire walk with me was decried by the public as he performed against the expectations fans hoped for with a twin peaks movie. There’s no grand entrance for Cooper’s introduction, nor any hint of memorable motifs from the original series. Instead, we get a minimal score with light, irritating sounds that hint at the weirdness that’s about to happen. Audiences were already caught off guard by the film’s offbeat focus on Agent Chet Desmond (Chris Isaac) in its first act, and their discomfort likely intensified when a fan-favorite character from the original series finally appears in such an unorthodox way. Whatever nostalgia Cooper’s arrival brings, it’s quickly upset by technical choices that subliminally tell the audience that this isn’t the twin peaks they knew before. It’s something different — something more mysterious. Cooper goes back and forth between security cameras until he notices the feed is frozen on his curious, dark gaze. Light scratches in the soundscape become more apparent.

And then it happens.

Philip Jeffries steps out of the elevator as if he’s been pulled from another web of reality, and inside the building the scene immediately changes from eerie to downright petrifying. Jeffries’ vague and rambling comments about leaving “Judy” out of whatever is going on are disorienting, putting the audience in a state of narrative confusion similar to that in which Jeffries himself finds himself. Before Cooper, Cole, the always skeptical Albert (Michael Ferrier), and audiences can learn what Jeffries has been up to during the two years he’s been away from the Bureau, the spirits of the Black Lodge begin to statically bleed onto the screen, almost entirely diverting the scene. We hear snippets of Jeffries saying he “found something” during their meetings above “a convenience store,” while the haunting jazz score plays through all the succinct madness on display. This moment is intercut with lines and images of known black Lodge residents such as The Man From Another Place (Michael J. Andersonspouting lines like “Garmonbozia” and talking about the infamous ring at the center of Fire walk with me), BOB (Franck Silva), and the jumping man (Carlton Lee Russell), the red-suited, electricity-loving entity that could only come from the darkest and most eerie depths of nightmares. office that he was never really there.

David Bowie Twin Peaks 2
Picture via New Line Cinema

Although the scene is short, it is emotionally overwhelming to process even for multiple viewings. Lynch’s skills feel like they’re being put to the test here, with cuts and crossfades to random settings and characters playing to his advantage as he constructs a deliberately confusing sequence about a man caught between realities. The fact that it works so well can largely be attributed to Lynch as a filmmaker, although Bowie and MacLachlan’s performances also deserve praise. Although Philip Jeffries reappears in a different form in Twin Peaks: The Return, it would be the only time the character would be played by Bowie, who proves to be both captivating and likeable. Bowie behaves with age and pain in this scene, showing Jeffries as living proof of what a person can look, sound and act when tasked with investigating something as unknown and heartbreaking as the Black Lodge. The few lines we hear from him (both in the theatrical version of FWWM and his companion, The missing pieces) show Jeffries being confused and scared by what he has seen – a time-lost psychic who points his hands in the air and screams despite the fact that nothing seems to hurt him. MacLachlan, who is still as good as ever, also shows an impressive level of uncertainty throughout the scene, first frantically calling out to Gordon when Jeffries appears on the camera feed before becoming confused that Jeffries seems to know who he is, even though the two had never met (a clever hint at their post-FWWM).

The interpretations that can be made of Lynch’s works are always accompanied by a bit of uncertainty. While the themes of Fire walk with me sometimes seem clear, the real meaning behind them remains somewhat flexible. The Black Lodge is a place that exists outside of the twin peaks world, where it is implied that impermanence and the flow of time itself are simply not applicable. Philip Jeffries exists at this time as a walking cautionary tale to play with the ethereal world. He is, like Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) for most of the film, a presence unable to escape the anarchic forces that hold the hyper-normal together, and he is both a messenger and a vessel for the world beyond human comprehension. It’s an interpretation that falls in line with the surrealist author’s other classic works, but just strikes differently in a scene like this because of the unsettling conclusions that can be drawn. One can only imagine what kinds of actions could have happened to Jeffries after this confrontation, and it’s literally scarier than anything we could see on the big screen. The scene is a brief but masterful sequence that strongly encompasses the elements that make Lynch not only a unique filmmaker, but also a true master of abstract horror.

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