THE SECRET DIARY OF LAURA PALMER: The Truth Behind Her Smile

In Twin Peaks a picture is worth a thousand words.

Amidst the striking visual imagery of Twin Peaks there’s one image that stands out – the portrait of Laura Palmer. The smiling face of the beautiful young Homecoming Queen everyone thought they knew. In her diary Laura reveals what was going through her mind behind that smile: “I still felt the hands and the mouths of the men I had been with hours before the photo was taken.” She accuses the town of mocking her and wonders, “How could they not see that I was being swallowed up by pain?” One of a few tie-in novels published between the two seasons, The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer “as seen by Jennifer Lynch” was the first time Laura was given a voice. In the diary we learn that she hid a world of pain and darkness behind her smile. She led a secret life consumed by “dirty” thoughts and actions she feared would shatter her relationships—and her mind—if she dared to speak them out loud. In the series we get only pieces of Laura’s story through Agent Dale Cooper’s (Kyle MacLachlan) investigation and the residents of Twin Peaks. In the diary Laura Palmer gets the chance to tell what happened in her own words.

Laura’s story begins in 1984 on her twelfth birthday when she receives the diary as a gift. Spanning five years the entries start with the typical concerns of a young girl, like boys and first kisses, and end with a very desperate young woman entangled in a haze of drugs and sex. She references BOB (his name is always written in all caps) as early as the second entry, indicating the sexual abuse had already begun. From here her thoughts turn toward violent sexual fantasies and she becomes convinced this makes her bad and unworthy of anyone’s love. She’s constantly struggling with the dark and light sides of her psyche and seeks redemption for her bad thoughts and deeds. Eventually, she decides that acting on her impure thoughts is what will keep BOB away since it was the good Laura, after all, that attracted him in the first place. This rationale leads her down a promiscuous path resulting in a serious cocaine habit and forty sexual partners by the time she’s fifteen. By the end she’s left questioning her sanity and whether or not BOB and her experiences with him are even real. When nothing she tries succeeds in keeping him from terrorizing her, she falls deeper into darkness and begins to lose all hope.

After the success of the first season, David Lynch and Mark Frost gave Lynch’s daughter, Jennifer, the task of writing Laura’s diary as a spin-off. Their only stipulation was that she had to tell the tale without revealing Laura’s killer. She manages this task well, maintaining the mystery surrounding BOB with only subtle references and clues to who he might be, usually found in Laura’s cryptic poetry. Near the end of the diary there are pages missing, presumably ripped out by BOB since Laura’s final entry indicates they contained information that helped her determine his identity. She plans to tell someone but fears no one will believe her: "Please, Diary, help me explain to everyone that I did not want what I have become." She was found dead, wrapped in plastic, just days later. The diary works as a great companion piece to the series and even more so to the film, Fire Walk With Me. It offers a great deal of insight into the mysterious backstory of Laura Palmer, who was the emotional core of the story.

Earlier this month a new audiobook version of The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer narrated by Sheryl Lee was released. Those who saw Fire Walk With Me are familiar with how intensely Lee immersed herself in the role of Laura Palmer. In the series, Lee and Lynch created a character that has continued to intrigue audiences for decades. Although we rarely see Laura, the mystery of her life and death hovers over the town like a storm threatening to consume them. Her diary complements the film, which acts as a prequel to the series and gives Laura a lot more screen time. Lee’s audiobook performance conjures many memories of Fire Walk with Me in the way she encapsulates the light and dark essence of Laura with a simple change in tone. One moment she’s the exuberant little girl receiving a pony for her birthday and the next she's speaking in a seductive whisper racked with self-loathing and despair. There are also a number of chilling moments where she impersonates BOB reminiscent of the scene where she visits Harold Smith (Lenny Von Dohlen) to leave her diary for safekeeping. Sheryl Lee was a mesmerizing force in the role of Laura Palmer and she remains as captivating as ever in her performance of the audiobook.

Revisiting the series after reading Laura's diary actually enhances the viewing experience. It also heightens the emotional impact of the final scene in Fire Walk With Me. Realizing the depths of Laura's battle to save herself from the dark life BOB condemns her to inspires perpetual empathy for her character. The smile on Laura’s face when the angel arrives to take her away is utterly heartbreaking. In that moment she is finally free to rest in peace and her constant fear that she was beyond redemption is silenced. BOB didn’t ruin her. He didn’t win. In contrast to the portrait of the Homecoming Queen, there’s no pain behind this smile. This smile is real. Yet it’s that portrait of her that is burned into our memories. The image of the beautiful young girl everyone thought they knew. The constant reminder that through every dark night she suffered in the woods no one ever came to save her. While I'm unsure what role Laura Palmer will play in the upcoming season after so many years, I imagine her image still haunts the residents of Twin Peaks. Now that they know the dark truth behind her smile. 

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