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Complicity through Cinematography

by Sarah O'Brien

The scene begins with a close-up of a football, which Leo is slicing with a knife while seated at the kitchen table. When he hears Shelly coming in from work through the front door, Leo quickly stands up and places the football discreetly on top of the fridge, turning toward the sink to put a bar of soap in a sock. Shelly then comes into the kitchen, happily saying hello to Leo, and that she has brought him some pie, but he, unpleased, questions her about where his "favorite blue shirt is", whacking the pie out of Shelly's hands. As Shelly backs away, stunned, Leo aggressively claims he has to teach her a lesson about respecting his property. After saying, "This is going to hurt you,", Leo turns on the radio for music and menacingly moves toward Shelly, spinning the sock with soap as she cowers on the floor of an unfinished corner of the house, covering her face in fear of the impending beating.

The significance of this scene comes not only from its addition to the plot, in which we find out that Leo is physically abusive toward Shelly and her plans to expose him using the shirt may have been foiled, but more so from its cinematography. Particularly striking is the camera's motions, as it becomes more shaky as the scene becomes progressively more tense and aggressive. The camera also alternates between shots of Leo and Shelly while moving the opposite direction of the character shown, moving toward Shelly as she backs away and away from Leo as he moves forward. This gives the viewer both first-person perspectives, of Leo as the approaching predatory and Shelly as the cornered prey. The end of the scene is therefore particularly uncomfortable to watch, as the viewer sympathizes with Shelly but feel complicit in her harm, unable to stop Leo from hurting her although the perspective is through his eyes, as if the viewer is Leo.


Twin Peaks, Season 1, Ep 2, "Traces to Nowhere"

Leo attacks Shelley with rock in sock

from Twin Peaks (1990)
Creator: David Lynch
Posted by Sarah O'Brien