Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me ★★½

I've written before that TWIN PEAKS is my favorite franchise of all time. My opinion on FIRE WALK WITH ME has gone up over the years. For a long time, I used to resent it as being what had apparently killed the series for good. Fortunately, after THE RETURN happened in 2017, this has been redeemed. But it still isn't a movie that I think represents the best of this universe. Rewatching it now after several years, I was hoping something new would click for me, but it just didn't.

Rewatching all 30 episodes of the original TWIN PEAKS is a timeless joy, and if you consider the pilot episode to count as a feature film, than it's the David Lynch feature I've watched the most. The heart of the series really was its strong characters, brought to life by a great ensemble cast, all of whom brought their own subplots to the absorbing world of this town. But throughout the first half of the series, all of these elements were anchored by one central question, providing a narrative arc for everything: "Who killed Laura Palmer?"

I think every TWIN PEAKS fan will agree that it was this simple question that carried the show. Sure, not every single character or plotline directly tied into the Laura Palmer murder, but it didn't matter. Because the murder was always the primary focus, and up until the murderer was finally revealed, you never knew if one of these subplots might just tie into it after all. The answer to this mystery is one of the greatest reveals in television history. And most will also agree that sadly, once the mystery was solved, the show did not fare too well, with Mark Frost & David Lynch lessening their involvement.

Sure, there were still various subplots to keep the series afloat, and it helped that we were attached to these characters. But without a central underlying arc as strong as "Who killed Laura Palmer?", the narrative became a mess, or as one critic called it, "Attack of the Subplots!" The biggest flaw of the second half of the series is that most of it just plain isn't very memorable, compared to the first half, which is filled with iconic scenes and exchanges.

A common critique I've heard others make is "The show lost its way in the middle, but found itself a bit in the last few episodes." I think this sentiment is mostly a response to the addition of Annie Blackburn (Heather Graham) to the cast. For a character introduced so late, it's amazing how well Graham fit the tone of the series, and no one can deny her chemistry opposite Kyle MacLachlan. The fact that Graham would later be incorporated into FIRE WALK WITH ME is a testament to this. And it leads to a series finale, directed by Lynch himself who also did an uncredited script rewrite, which features a compelling, dark turn of events. Everything set in the Black Lodge feels like the last third of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. It's almost as if Mark Frost and David Lynch wanted to admit "Okay, we messed up by being absent. The show allowed itself to stray too far away from the Palmer mystery. Let's get back to the heart of that." Notice how the finale features the return of many characters who hadn't appeared in a while, including Laura, Leland, Ronette Pulaski, and Killer Bob. It is an effective (albeit slightly contrived) way of Lynch trying to tie it all together, to reconcile the golden age of the show with its subpar age.

Now imagine that you are David Lynch in the year 1992. You think "I had this hit show, but it got screwed up. I want to try and keep the franchise alive in movie-form, but I need to do it quickly because I've lost a lot of audience momentum." If you were to turn TWIN PEAKS into a movie, I think the Ongoing Adventures of Dale Cooper would have been a great angle to use; I for one would definitely have loved that. But sadly, this isn't an option. Kyle MacLachlan is tired of the role and only agrees to make an extended cameo. Plus Lara Flynn Boyle tells you "I've got better things to do" and leaves the franchise altogether (even in 2017 she still refused to return. Guess she really hated it).

"So," David Lynch thinks, "There's pretty much only one option left. Make the movie about Laura Palmer. After all, that's the mystery that kicked off the series and I guess it's what the fans want." A lot of FIRE WALK WITH ME seems to be saying "Forget about latter-day TWIN PEAKS! Remember the pilot? Remember the early episodes? This is that!"

Well, there's a few problems with this. To begin with, Laura Palmer isn't a character we really "knew" or had a connection with. Sheryl Lee may have been a familiar face on the series, but mostly from playing Cousin Maddie. Her only scenes as Laura were either as a corpse, flashbacks, or scenes in the Black Lodge. So as hyped up a character as Laura is, and as familiar as we may be with Sheryl Lee's screen presence, she's still a complete stranger to us.

And, the bigger problem: when you get down it, do we really need to see the murder of Laura Palmer? Do we need this exposition? Laura Palmer's murder was intended as something for us to solve; it wasn't intended as something for us to actually see. In fact, the situation under which Laura was murdered was made intentionally convoluted, which was what made watching Dale Cooper put the pieces together so much fun. Seeing the murder actually unfold only draws attention to how overly-convoluted it is. Laura was intended as a MacGuffin; she wasn't intended to be a character who could carry a movie on her own.

As many before me have pointed out, the opening half hour of FIRE WALK WITH ME has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the movie, but it's actually the best part of the film. If these opening 34 minutes had been released as a separate short film, it would be one I'd enjoy rewatching often. These opening 34 minutes, despite not being set in Twin Peaks, has the most personality, style, and humor that resembles the show. We're introduced to the murder of Teresa Banks and see the parallel town of Deer Meadow, which is the inverse of Twin Peaks in every way. We also meet several likable new characters (played by Chris Isaak, Harry Dean Stanton, and David Bowie) who will all be expanded on much more in THE RETURN. These 34 minutes feel like Lynch really broadening the scope of his mythos beyond the town of Twin Peaks and into a larger world, something he would get a chance to fully do decades later.

But sadly, once the film switches gears and becomes about Twin Peaks and Laura Palmer, the pace grinds to a halt and we get a series of slow scenes that feel bleak and lack the warmth and humor of the series. I think a major factor in this is that it's telling a story with a foregone conclusion. There is no sense of rising action or stakes. The Wages of Cinema Podcast did a wonderful Cinema Immersion Tank episode on this film and made many of these same points, using a Patton Oswald quote to get them across, and accurately pegs this as ultimately a horror film. I've said before that there's never really been a good movie prequel because prequels only exist to provide exposition for things that were unnecessary in the original installment, and FIRE WALK WITH ME exemplifies this.

This isn't to say that FIRE WALK WITH ME doesn't contain some very good acting, mostly by Lee and Ray Wise, or that it doesn't introduce some interesting new characters to the TWIN PEAKS world. But it mostly fails because it never justifies a reason for its existence.

I love David Lynch. If nothing else, he is an artist with great vision who always wants to experiment. As he himself later remarked, FIRE WALK WITH ME was a film made under limitations, restraints, and hard circumstances. It had to try and connect the pieces of a show that had lost its way. It had to reconcile different storylines. It tried to be experimental while still continuing a pre-existing franchise. I think the audience for TWIN PEAKS ultimately didn't want an ERASERHEAD or INLAND EMPIRE-style mindfuck of a movie; they wanted to see their beloved characters again. It says something that Lynch's next film would be LOST HIGHWAY, which he has confirmed is set within the TWIN PEAKS universe. Perhaps we can look at LOST HIGHWAY as a representation of the type of experimentation Lynch wanted to accomplish in FIRE WALK WITH ME but without the restrains of having to tie into the already-established story of a pre-existing TV series.

So speaking as a big-time fan of TWIN PEAKS, my conclusion is this: I always enjoy rewatching the Original Series, even the subpar latter-day episodes. And I always enjoy rewatching THE RETURN in all its insane glory. But FIRE WALK WITH ME, aside from those wonderful opening 34 minutes, is the only piece of TWIN PEAKS-media I don't really enjoy watching, despite the talent on display.

Part of A Look At the Work of David Lynch

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