Some scenes in Twin Peaks: The Return are black and white. These are the scenes with the Fireman, Phillip Jeffries, the meeting of Cooper and Laura in the woods, Monica Bellucci dream, and almost whole part 8. The use of monochromatic palette can be attributed to the stylistic choice by David Lynch, but it still must be serving some idea. This means that the scenes I’ve mentioned have something in common that distinguish them from the rest of the story.
In this article I present my ideas about what can be the common concept behind black and white scenes that justifies the said stylistic choice for these otherwise quite different scenes. I have three possible explanations which I’m going to discuss below.
Explanation 1—The Ethereal
All black and white scenes take place somewhere out of the ordinary world. I’ll call it ‘ethereal’ because they are otherworldly and non-material. Though this otherworldliness means different things in different scenes. For example, Fireman’s palace is possibly the White Lodge; Dutchman’s both exists and doesn’t exist at the same time, it can appear and disappear; as for Gordon’s dream, I think it’s self-explanatory.
But there are also scenes with mixed chromatic choices. One example of this is Jeffries scenes, where only his section of the room is black and white. Cooper’s and Mr.C’s parts are coloured. It suggests that it’s Jeffries who is in that ethereal space, he resides somewhere that is not of this world, unknown or even unknowable, and/or he exists in unknowable form. In this latter case, Jeffries himself represents that etherealness.
Another example of the mixed scenes is Andy’s vision which even contains images with different grades of colour saturation. I’d like to emphasize that this vision is essentially different from the whole scene of Andy’s meeting with the Fireman, because what Andy sees is happening inside the ethereal space without necessarily being a part of it. His vision is like a film, the recordings of various events edited for Andy to see. Therefore, the coloured parts of it are not exception from the rule, but represent a part of entirely different thing. But why this vision contains both black and white as well as colour parts and what the degree of colour saturation indicate?
I chose to separate this section, because as I said, Andy’s vision is different. Andy watches the images depicting the ‘reality’ affected by otherworldly influences. It starts with black and white images which represent the domain of otherworldly. The first colour image is that of the screaming girl from the pilot. It is black and white at first and then turns colour. This is the moment when something changed. What can it be? In my opinion, it shows the moment when the tragedy starts influencing the world of Twin Peaks, in other words, when Lodge influence is actualized in the ‘real’ world.
The same would be true for the image of pole 6. It is black and white in the beginning, then comes less saturated coloured image, and finally fully coloured image. All three are the same image of the pole outside Carrie’s house in Odessa. First, black and white one represents a stage of possibility of the influence from the Lodge beings; second—less saturated—is the influence that is not established and can be changed; the third is already changed, established, final result of the ‘official version’. In short, the more lodge influence is actualized the more colourful the image.
And one more thing. If monochrome palette signifies otherworldly influences, how this applies to Lucy’s phone, the image of which is also black and white? It’s strange because that phone is definitely from this world. My suggestion is that it is related to the phone being the mean through which Lodge can affect the reality. Remember that Lucy doesn’t get modern equipment? She has her own understanding for those things. She still uses the landline phone which receives the energy that is similar to that of pole 6, and that energy is what Lucy understands. That energy is also connected to the ethereal. So maybe that’s how she is able to keep track of the exact time, exact place, and in that crucial moment—exact personalities.
‘You can go in now’
Perhaps the simplest and most straightforward explanation is that black and white scenes take place in or are somehow connected to dreams. Monica Bellucci dream is the most convincing argument for this explanation. It, simply, is a dream. And it is black and white.
But how about other black and white scenes? They are not all dreams. Or maybe they are? They can be dreams of someone. Jeffries who continues living in his own slippery dream; Fireman’s dream who keeps dreaming creation of Laura; even part 8 can be a dream—dream of time and space who dream that battle of good and evil, and Laura’s dream.
‘You can go in now’—Jeffries says this line after he’s found the exact point in time that Cooper needed, shown him hints about Judy, and just before Cooper is going to be transported to that point in time—February 23, 1989.
‘In’ in this line can mean different things: in the woods; in the Lodge Space; in another timeline; in another version. But there is also one, in my opinion, important detail—as Cooper ‘goes in’, he also gradually goes black and white. This means that he goes in to whatever the monochrome palette signifies. In terms of this explanation, it must be someone’s dream.
This is where Cooper ‘goes in’—he goes in Laura’s dream (who earlier had seen him in a dream). Where he goes is the version of events where Laura is the dreamer (who dreams and then lives in a dream). As soon as Laura follows Cooper, she enters his dream. I would argue that Cooper is the only one whose dream we see in colour (at least in The Return). As soon as he enters other people’s dreams, like Laura’s or Fireman’s, it turns black and white.
In this case, who is the dreamer? There is not one dreamer, but many. Everyone can be dreamer, but whose dream we are watching in each specific moment? In plain words, from whose perspective we are seeing things? Whose story is which and how the characters change in different stories. Cooper dreams about saving Laura, and lives that dream time and time again. He takes Laura in his dream and loses her. Maybe because it’s not Laura who is in his dream, but a different woman who looks like Laura, though ‘carries’ Laura in herself.
In terms of this explanation, the whole ‘unofficial version’ that was real before Cooper’s intervention exists in Laura’s dream. The whole unofficial version is Laura’s dream. Gordon will remember it. Maybe because he can track the dreams?—With the little help of Monica Bellucci, of course.
The third explanation is that monochrome palette signifies possibilities. By possibilities I mean the state where things are not yet decided, the state which contains all the possible variables and developments.
This explanation, in a sense, includes the two previous—ethereal and dream events can be considered as possibilities, if we look at them as something not material or not (yet) materialized. I must add that materialization can be undone, like Cooper changes past and old events suddenly become ethereal, dreamy, unmaterialized.
If so, the black and white scenes are either points in time from where things can go differently, resulting in different versions of events; or they are spaces out of time which contain or give access to all the possibilities for further development.
Jeffries and his surroundings comply with this explanation. He seems to be some kind of an archivist of timelines with the access to the different points in time. Hence, he, himself, must be out of time. He moves between those points. He lives in black and white, because nothing is actualized in his world, everything exists as a possibility.
When Fireman instructs Cooper, he gives some hints, but nothing is decided yet, much of the future events depends on Cooper’s actions. Fireman only offers advice and possibilities.
The Fireman’s place, where Laura’s essence/orb is created or born, can be just that—place of the origin of possibilities that can develop into different versions, in this case, depending on Laura’s choices.
The scene where Fireman shows Andy past and future events—here too, final events depend on Andy’s, as well as on Lucy’s actions.
How about Gordon’s dream, which is an actual dream? How the possibilities fit in here? When Gordon tells his team about the dream, he repeats every word Monica has told him. We hear everything twice—once said by Monica, and second time said by Gordon. He actualizes his dream and words said in it. Only then he is able to remember Jeffries’ visit, and Albert starts to remember it too. Dream itself is not material, but it affects reality through Gordon’s words. It contain possibilities which become reality only after Gordon says them out loud in the real world.
As for the part 8, I don’t think it needs any explanation—it’s all about possibilities, the seeds being planted—literally and figuratively speaking.
And finally, Cooper and Laura meeting in the woods. In order for Cooper to save Laura, he goes back in time. Or he enters Laura’s dream, as I said before. And it’s black and white until the moment when Laura decides to go with him, because it is only a possibility until that moment. While Laura’s fate is not yet decided, there are possibilities only, and the scene is black and white. It turns colour as soon as it’s decided, then there is only one possibility, it’s materialized, it has become real.
P. S. Sunset Boulevard
There is one more black and white scene, which can be easily missed. I’m talking about the one from Sunset Boulevard that turned out to be crucial for Cooper to fully awake. It served as the suggestion, reminder from the ethereal world that brought everything together, that gave Cooper possibility to remember who he was and what he had to do.