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LELAND: “What is this world coming to?!”
We would have a hard time defining the nature of the couple’s relationship. Their marriage has obviously gone off tracks a long time ago, yet they still play pretend to have an idyllic marriage. The earliest notion of their failed marriage is already visible in Laura’s diary entries, which date back to when she was 12. In one of the first entries (page 11), Laura describes an occasion in which she walked in on her parents having sex: “I had a fever and went into my parents’ bedroom and saw them naked with Dad on top. I just left the room and Mom came to see me a few minutes later with some aspirin and 7-Up. She never said a word about it. Donna says they were definitely having sex, and I already knew that, but they didn’t seem to like it. They just seemed to be moving very slowly and not even really looking at each other.“
Leland Palmer has been abusing his daughter ever since she was twelve years old. A few years later, in “Fleshworld,” he finds a picture of Teresa Banks (from Deer Meadow) who reminds him of Laura. Teresa is actually how he sees Laura, and that gives him an excuse to molest his daughter. He contacts Teresa, who he hides his name and his true identity from. Leland and Teresa arrange a meeting with some friends of hers, but when he arrives there, he realizes that Teresa has brought his daughter. From his behavior Teresa concludes that he must, in some way, be connected to Laura or Ronette, and later, from Jacques’s description, she finds out that Leland is Laura’s father. At that point she starts blackmailing him, and soon he murders her in order to preserve a wide-spread picture of himself as a successful lawyer, a perfect father and husband, with a perfect family.
In reality, Leland treats Laura as his precious little daughter, but on a few occasions the true nature of their relationship becomes visible: he acts like a jealous lover. When he sees her necklace, he asks: “ Did you get this from your lover?”, and when James comes to see Laura, Leland stands at the door “supervising” their conversation (that must be what occurred to Laura the last time she saw James).
All the while, Leland believes that Laura knows his true identity. That is why the last few days of her life represent a gradual, simultaneous discovering of the truth for the both of them. This belief of his stems from his opinion that she likes what he is doing to her ( NOTE: the dinner scene, “How do you know what she likes?”), and it can be seen from the fact that he has ripped out all the pages of her diary where there is any indication of BOB’s true identity.
Sarah is obviously aware of everything that is going on, but she consciously takes the easy way out and refuses to see the problems in the family. However, since she cannot completely repress her knowledge of what is happening, she becomes mentally unstable. When (in the script) she says: “No, this can’t be happening.” (when she realizes that she is wearing the sweater she has been looking for everywhere), the sentence obviously refers to the whole situation in her family. And then she says: “I’m gonna have ANOTHER breakdown.” If that is not her first breakdown, how come Laura never realized what is wrong, i.e. how come she never saw the connection between BOB, Leland, Sarah’s condition and her own behavior? If they seemed like a perfect family and the only thing that did not fit into that picture was her secret life her parents did not even know about, why was her mother in such a state?! When Laura hugs her mother trying to calm her down, Sarah backs out and walks away just as she always does (NOTE: we must mention the scene when Laura enters the house and calls “Mom?”, but gets no response. This scene is obviously a metaphore for the relationship between Laura and her mother, because it would normally be expected for a housewife to be home when her only daughter comes back from school).
Their whole reality, their family life, is a farce. With all Laura’s lies, Sarah worries about utter nonsense (e.g. Laura’s smoking – from the script) – which actually are the things that should worry the parents of a 17-year-old girl in a normal family. In one of these scenes, Sarah tells Laura: “You can tell me anything. I’ll understand”, which is another one of the Palmers’ statements that sound ironic from our point of view, because we know that Sarah constantly refuses to face the situation.
There are many indications of Sarah's instability that show her need to escape the real state her family is in, such as her chain-smoking habit, the visions and her obsession of obtaining the illusion of a family idyll. One of the most prominent Sarah's behavior patterns is her chain-smoking. Her smoking is so overdone that even Donna, on one occasion, comments this overuse as exceedingly unnatural: “If I had a nickle for every cigarette your mom smoked, I'd be dead.”
Throughout the movies and series, special emphasis was placed on her visions, the most important of which was the White Horse - in the movie it appears an instance before the rape scene, and in the series before Maddy's murder. The White Horse could be interpreted as her longing for freedom. The logical explanation for these hallucinations would be the effect of drugs Leland has been giving her for years (NOTE: Sarah’s silent concession is best presented through Leland’s gentle and discreet movement, with which he encourages her to drink the drugged milk). Although the visions are side effects of the drugs, they pose as a reflection of her inner state. The visions of the White Horse appear in these particular moments, for they are the breaking points of the Palmer family state. However, in both cases, the Horse remains unattainable and so does her liberation.
If one watches carefully, one can notice a number of carefully inserted details that bring about implications of her escapism. One of the most interesting ones is the book “How To Speak German,” which she is reading in bed, in the aforementioned scene before Leland rapes Laura for the last time. The title and the subject of the book seem utterly ridiculous and inappropriate in such unhealthy home atmosphere.