Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

One month after Twin Peaks' cancellation, David Lynch wanted to return to the world the show inhabited through the familiar self-contained medium of film that would allow fewer restrictions and interference that the series faced throughout its run. Continuing Twin Peaks, however, was not without its setbacks, as Mark Frost's friendship with Lynch strained as a result of the lack of control the two had for most of the second season, and Frost's dissatisfaction with the ideas Lynch had for this film led to the two going their separate ways for awhile, with Frost directing Storyville at roughly the same time. Cast members like Sherilyn Fenn and Richard Beymer, whose roles of Audrey and Benjamin Horne were important to the life of Laura Palmer and the town of Twin Peaks, didn't return from reasons that remain confusing to this day, yet flip-flop between disatisfaction with the second season and Lynch's absence, or simple scheduling conflicts with other films. Lara Flynn Boyle didn't want to return either, and her role of Donna Hayward had to be given to up-and-comer Moria Kelly, considering that having Laura's best friend be completely absent would have been detrimental to what Lynch was planning. Kyle MacLachlan, fighting to avoid being typecast, requested a much smaller role for Agent Cooper as planned, which required retrofitting his connection to the murder of Teresa Banks that provided a link to Laura's murder in the first place. All of these issues meant Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me was going to be a tricky puzzle with a lot of incomplete pieces to write around, though the average fan of the series surely would not have known of these behind-the-scenes issues, and presumed the film would continue the massive cliffhanger left behind at the end of the show, and it would be a return to the complex tone of lightheartedness and horror that made the show a hit sensation from the start.

That's not entirely what happened.

When the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, people didn't expect a film that starts out as a procedural investigation and transitions into the bleak and explicitly violent last week of Laura Palmer, where none of the eccentric humor is present and the absence of several actors and locations resulted in Twin Peaks feeling much more lifeless and empty. The reactions are still somewhat debated (reports of ceaseless boos and jeers from the Cannes audience during the film's credits have been debunked by a handful of sources), but it was easy to see this was a polarizing one, as one side praised the film's exploration of the unspoken darkness plaguing the life of a luminous representative for good in the world, while the other side believed Lynch had gone ass-backwards from what made his show brilliant and doubled down in unsolvable mysticism that defied any answers. Mixed reviews, a complete absence of context for those that didn't watch the series, and the fact that the show was off the air for a year now, meant the film was a box office failure, and the two films meant to follow this one were completely canned.

The most harshest of critics decried Lynch as the man who murdered Twin Peaks, and this was something I was somewhat aware of when I eventually decided to venture into the film not too long after finishing the series at the age of 16/17. I wasn't going to let the overwhelming negativity of the possible reaction at Cannes influence my mind too much, as I adored everything about Twin Peaks and figured the film would be more of Lynch's strange beauty and terror he presented so flawlessly in the few episodes he directed, just through the lens of the iconic and tragic girl whose death became the driving force for the series. Seeing Cooper on the original DVD release's spine, back cover, and insert implied I would get more of a man I had seen as a harbinger of positivity even knowing his fate in the series finale, and my befuddled experience with Mulholland Dr. and my enraptured viewing of Blue Velvet meant I was at least somewhat primed for the more darker aspects of Lynch and how he sees the darker underbelly of America. I went in with an open, if cautious mind, ready to see how Lynch wanted to resurrect Laura Palmer for what was originally one last time.

I absolutely fucking hated this film when I first saw it.

What I saw when I laid my eyes on this film for the first time was a pale, fragmented image of a story that held deep promise, one that traveled through the last moments of Laura Palmer in an incoherent, meandering, and confusing mess that provoked its unpleasant evil to create an exercise of misery without the contrast of love, beauty, and good that made the show a spectacular sensation. An overlong prologue with two new characters I began to feel antsy about that ended completely inconclusively, ten minutes of Cooper that felt unfulfilled, and David Bowie, the legendary David Bowie whom I regard as one of the most fascinating musicians and artists and a man I was super fucking excited to see once his name popped in the credits, rambled in a bad Texan accent and wasn't even on-screen for most of his appearance. It felt evil, it felt perverse, and it was not at all the show I fell in love with, but a despicable collection of nonsensical scenes that made my interest in other Lynch projects hesitant for a little while.

What I wanted was a complete contradiction of Lynch's modus operandi. What I wanted never could have happened in the first place.

Lynch shot five hours of footage that had to be cut down to 2 and 1/4 hours, and most of the missing pieces would have quelled my need for the regular mishmash of tones from the series, but looking at the film now, at a point where I'm older, wiser, and more receptive to David's requests of connecting the dots myself, of course dread and fear were going to be the main emotions in bringing the troubled teenager's story to life. Of course the fright of being tormented by a demonic-like entity, the greasy-haired denim-clad BOB, ever since one was twelve, surviving abuse and walling her heart away from secrets even as her downward spiral into the town's corrupted side would lead to a person haunted by trauma seeing the world as relentlessly bleak and confusing, when the world's rules are being made up and manipulated completely without one's control.

Of course it's inhumane and unsettling to find out your father is the person that's been possessed by an evil like BOB, a tool to commit incestuous rape and cruel emotions until the time comes to murder her. It's a difficult thing to swallow no matter how one slices, and the film answers Cooper's question of whether it's any easier or comforting to accept a man would rape and murder his own daughter. This is done by making us unsure for most of the film if it’s Leland's tormented psyche or BOB's unforgiving reason for existence causing Laura’s suffering. Lynch shows us a side of Twin Peaks with all horror, no humor because it takes us into the viewpoint of a young girl unable to cope with her father's abuse, nor the drugs and sex she uses out of fear that she's beyond redemption, of being inescapabily fenced in a corner, quaking in awareness of her tragedy with the though that her angels have abandoned her and her potential salvation. A whirlwind of nightmares with the inevitable fact of death looming over the viewer can only be presented as such, and the film's unrelenting devastation is now something I praise rather than throw venomous contempt towards because it does not hide the pain of Laura losing all but some thin shreds of innocence.

This is no longer the Standard-and-Practice approved inferred version of the events. The smashing of a television following the film's opening credits subtly warn us of that.

It's of course necessary to point out the phenomenal performance Sheryl Lee gives as an alive Laura Palmer that conveys every bit of emotion needed in portraying a girl powerless to stop what gives her the most fear, all the anguish in realizing a person she loves has been defiling her and all the walled-off worry in having to make it through the school day with cocaine in her system. Lee is tasked with a lot of pained screaming at key moments, all of them of abject terror that come from places of unrestrained fear and grief surrounding what will become of her short life, and the raw sadness of Laura that Lee channels through double lives of self-destruction and tears, helps sell the film as the disturbingly real insight of abuse victims that Laura was, even as things get patently surreal with trails to the Black Lodge or deeply poignant moments like the angel from her bedroom painting disappearing, Laura's fear of being abandoned by love coming true to her eyes.

The film's obtuseness does have some answers, but Lynch acknowledges that he can't give everything away through a woman named Lil giving coded assignments to Special Agent Chester Desmond, many of her bizarre mannerisms dissected by Desmond himself aside from one special object. The blue rose worn by her was one of the many things that can be attributed to my initial frustration towards the film, but (with The Return also filling in some holes later down the line) the answers to the film are in front of me, just not in anything that's blindingly obvious that naturally helps the film survive in rewatches. A blue rose, something irrational to nature, is a major hint that what Desmond is assigned to is connected to the very same supernatural beings like BOB and the people Agent Phillip Jeffries met during his disappearance, unliteral in trying to express the very being of evil and how it grows hungry, desiring the consume the good of the world time and time again (as represented by the extreme animalistic negative forces of the monkey that talks about Judy. I think. Wait, what did I just write?).

Similarly, the Black Lodge also holds answers that defy rational logic, but again are prescribed with the same unliteral meanings that beings from another plane would naturally understand. From this film we learn the Man from Another Place is not just a little man that likes to dance, but also MIKE's severed arm metamorphosing into new life, both free agents desiring the taste of garmonbozia as nourishment unclear to us humans. Lynch, however, does let us know just what garmonbozia is, as it is the pain and sorrow of humanity that quenches murderous traits, keeping the balance calm until evil takes its wrath on Earth once again for the sweet, sweet substance that looks just like creamed corn. Where this ties back into Laura is Mrs. Tremond (AKA Mrs. Chalfont for some confusing reason, maybe tying into the franchise's themes of complicated duplicity, I dunno), a person who we know hates creamed corn, and thus pain and sorrow, giving the young girl soon to die a painting of a doorway, allowing Laura to enter the realm of the supernatural places like the Black Lodge, exiting her deepest subconsciousness to realize the person behind her father's mask while listening to the words of Annie Blackburn, a person who will arrive in Twin Peaks much too late to meet Laura in real life, and her confirmations of the good Cooper being trapped in the Black Lodge. These allow Laura to see how askew her world truly is, and become the first steps that allow her to not become a victim to BOB's twisted nourishment.

Despite my initial damnation, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me is not without its salvation, as Lynch ends the film not with the discovery of Laura that we saw in the beginning of the pilot, but rather the embrace of the angels absent from her waking life, spiritual fulfillment in the knowledge that her soul will no longer face the torment and hell that BOB was responsible for. Redeemed by the image of innocence from her childhood returning to her, her transcendence from a traumatic life leading her into the light (with Leland's own death at the series' mid-point likely allowing him to see Laura as the angel absent from a fatherhood tainted by BOB) is the film's necessary conclusion of humanity that does reveal it not a film of evil's victory, but of Laura's eventual ability to escape self-harm, to prevent BOB from polluting her innocence fully and find respite in her newfound clarity within the static of the world. I overwhelmingly misjudged this film, and now I can see it as the heavy, disturbing work of art with a profound faint heart, truly putting me into the tear-inducing world of Laura Palmer that's fantastically harrowing as the chilling atmosphere lingers well after the credits conclude. It wasn't the film I wanted, but it was much more important I got the film we needed through the demystification of a girl we once only knew as being dead, wrapped in plastic.

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