Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
When it comes to the surreal, there are few who can deliver an effective film that both embraces the bizarre and also makes sense within the confines of its own setting. Fewer still can take an established property of their own devising and reinvent it into something new that is both wholly original but also entirely built upon that which exists. Of course, David Lynch is one of these rare directors.
Twin Peaks was a cultural phenomenon, but it also shifted the paradigm. It presented a brutal crime mystery inside a soap opera where reality goes far beyond the physical planes of existence. It created its own mythos, fusing spiritualism with extra-sensory perception and implanting it into mainstream Americana to offer something truly unique.
The first series of Twin Peaks had a large hand in created what is now prestige television, and though the quality slipped partway into the second season—for a long while until Lynch stepped back in at the end to bring it to a conclusion of sorts—the story of Twin Peaks as a whole is a fantastic one. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is a prequel to the series, but acknowledges the events which occur and has something of a sequel nature to it as well.
Whilst the series predominantly followed Special Agent Dale Cooper, played with wonderful optimism by Kyle Maclachlan, here the focus of the narrative is with the murder victim who was central to the whodunit of the original series: Laura Palmer. Sheryl Lee, who played Palmer in the series, is given so much more to work with than a corpse, as other than a brief prologue the majority of the film follows the last few days of her life. Her acting is outstanding and if this film is anything it is a showcase of her range and talent.
The opening section concerns the FBI investigating a dead girl found in similar circumstances to Palmer when she is later killed. We see the agents tasked by Gordon Cole—Lynch in cameo—examining the body and finding some unusual clues, which are then replicated in Palmer, explaining how Cooper was able to find them. Following this there is an aside where missing agent Philip Jeffries, played with panache by David Bowie, appears at the FBI headquarters and relays a terrifying tale. His speech, however, is mostly drowned out by ambient sound, allowing the visuals to speak for him. This technique of making dialogue inaudible through background noise is used frequently throughout the film, yet it never detracts from the action. Lynch is a master of showing instead of telling, and so that is what he does.
Stylistically, this is a very different beast from the original Twin Peaks, yet it feels like the natural continuation. The style set here is used again in the recent limited series where Twin Peaks returned after an important twenty-five years of waiting. This film is most definitely the bridge between the old and the new.
The trouble with films where we know the ending is that the tension can be lost, but here it is not. Lynch gives us new details and allows us to make discoveries we would never have known otherwise, all while observing a tragedy of Shakespearean scope as the attractive homecoming queen spirals into darkness and beyond as her impending death accelerates towards her.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is a violent and dark film, but it does not revel in its horrors perpetrated towards women. It is not a celebration of femicide, but a condemnation of the evil that can dwell within us all. That does not prevent it being a difficult watch, however. There are some interesting subtextual explorations of abuse, from disassociation through delirium to discovery, denial, and ultimately ending in destruction. It can be devastating, but therein lies the point.
A lot of the original Twin Peaks cast return, including Ray Wise and Grace Zabriskie as Palmer’s parents, though there are a few notable exceptions and one very obvious recasting. Lara Flynn Boyle does not appear and her character is recast, with Moira Kelly filling her shoes. This is a shame continuity-wise, and unfortunately Kelly does little to make the role her own until it is too late. Other additions to the usual cast include Kiefer Sutherland, Chris Isaak, and Harry Dean Stanton, all in new roles.
This is not an optional add-on for the television series, but nor is it an entirely stand-alone film. It is essential viewing as part of the Twin Peaks collection, but also an outstanding movie. Its only weak spot, perhaps, is that it does not necessarily work without the series, but for a Twin Peaks fan like me that is irrelevant.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is a dark and difficult film, but a brilliant and powerful one. The dreamlike sequences and merging of surreal and real are fantastic; it is a demonstration of a master in full control of their art. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is an incredible piece of filmmaking, and it is art in the truest sense. It is mind-blowing.