Twin Peaks Fire Walk with Me
It’s difficult to overstate how much hatred Fire With Me Walk managed to summon on its release in 1992. David Lynch’s Twin Peaks prequel got off to a rocky start at the Cannes Film Festival where its final credits were met with howling boos from the audience, but that was nothing compared to how American film critics greeted the film.
“A morbidly joyless affair,” wrote USA Today while dismissing FWWM’s far darker take on the town of Twin Peaks. Even worse was Variety’s summation: “It’s not the worst movie ever made; it just seems to be”. However, in the UK, the film was greeted very differently with notable critics such as Mark Kermode and Kim Newman lavishing praise on FWWM as one of the best horror films of the early 90’s (Kermode has even gone as far to say it is Lynch’s best film subsequently).
Fans of the TV show were similarly divided. Twin Peaks’ 2nd season had only concluded a year earlier and had already haemorrhaged viewers thanks to a mid-season lull where Lynch’s input was noticeably absent. Audiences hoping for a return to prime Peaks were quickly alienated by the prequel’s explicit and bleak approach, while others revelled in the film’s cryptic nature that delved far further into its own mythology than the TV show had.
25 years later, Fire Walk With Me remains a profound yet frustrating companion piece to Twin Peaks but it has been mentioned increasingly in the build up to season 3 that it contains vital clues that are a sign of things to come. Therefore, it cannot be discarded as merely Lynch’s cathartic tantrum at not getting his way with the original show -as some would posit FWWM as- and instead, deserves a fresh evaluation to gauge its importance to the Twin Peaks universe.
Questions in a World of Blue
David Lynch is hardly subtle in quickly telling the audience that this isn’t a TV show anymore. Indeed, the opening shot of the film is a TV being smashed with an ax after the titles sequence accompanied by a mournful jazz overture from Angelo Badalamenti rather than the haunting sentimentality of the show’s theme tune.
We are then given a crash course in how to watch a David Lynch film as Special Agent Chester Desmond (played by singer-songwriter Chris Isaak) and Agent Sam Stanley (Kiefer Sutherland) are summoned to an airfield by Lynch’s Gordon Cole to receive a briefing on the murder of a young prostitute via a dancing woman in a red dress (no, really). The detectives then dissect the dancer’s expressions and movements to ascertain what kind of case they are embarking on with one detail remaining unrevealed: a blue rose pinned the dancer’s dress. This is as far as Lynch goes with holding the audience’s hand and with this brief tutorial on the interpretation of semiotics, he makes a statement of intent that the viewers will be doing the legwork from here on in for the rest of the film and even that might not be enough to find all the answers.
The prostitute who has been killed is Teresa Banks, whose name cropped up several times in the TV show, and very quickly we discover that we’re not in Twin Peaks anymore. In fact, we’re in Deer Meadow, Oregon -some ways south of the titular town- and Lynch takes great pain in showing us an inverse depiction of Twin Peaks. Firstly, the local law enforcement is arrogant and obtuse to the point where Special Agent Desmond has to use physical force to gain access to the case. This is far removed from the clement charm of Sheriff Truman and fresh coffee and donuts that greeted S.A. Cooper in TP’s pilot (the uncooperative deputy in Deer Meadow mocks Desmond for wanting fresh coffee, in case the subtext wasn’t clear enough). Even after inspecting Banks’ body and retiring to a local diner for sustenance, we’re greeted by a coarse and callous waitress who could not be further removed from the warm and wholesome Norma at the Double R.
Despite this clear attempt to provide a mirror image of the tone and characters we’d grown to expect from Twin Peaks, this opening act still feels more akin to the TV series than what follows. After the FWWM’s most (in)famously weird scene, where David Bowie strides into Gordon Cole’s office to accuse Dale Cooper of not being the real deal (retroactive proleptic irony, basically) before disappearing into thin air, we move back north to more familiar climes… at least, so we thought.
The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer
The last seven days of Laura Palmer’s life was poured over a great deal in the first season of Twin Peaks, so Lynch’s decision to show them uncensored on the big screen didn’t feel like that much of a revelation in of itself. We knew already she had a cocaine habit, an unhealthy user relationship with Bobby Briggs, and she wasn’t adverse to prostituting both her body and soul. Most importantly, we know that she gets murdered which steals considerable dramatic tension from her character arc. However, what we didn’t know was Laura Palmer as a person.
An enormous amount of credit has to go to Sheryl Lee’s performance as the doomed homecoming queen in FWWM. While we already know of her fate and tawdry behaviour beforehand, Lee always paints Laura as a sympathetic and surprisingly empowered woman whose experience greatly exceeds her years. It becomes clear in the bravura ‘Pink Room’ sequence, where Laura is using her wiles and sex to gain cocaine, that she pities her victimisers instead of fearing them.
But Laura’s weak spot remains her confessional diary. Stored behind the dresser in her room, she has recently realised it is being read by BOB, who has been ‘having her’ since she was twelve years old. This leads to the Black Lodge trying to communicate with Laura which gives us, perhaps, the first glimpses of the Lodge itself – barren, stripped rooms with decaying floral wallpaper – that culminates with MIKE (the one armed man from the TV show) confronting Laura and her father, Leyland, to try to avert BOB’s intentions.
In case you didn’t know, BOB is a denizen of the Black Lodge who exists within Leyland Palmer, of whom seemingly even the other inhabitants of the supernatural realm are wary. It is within FWWM that we learn of ‘Garmonbozia’, which is apparently a form of currency in the Black Lodge generated by pain and suffering, a nd apparently BOB owes a great deal of it. But to Laura, the most disturbing aspect is that she has unwittingly been involved in an underage and incestual relationship with her ‘unknowing’ father for the last six years, as is finally revealed to her in the last few days of her life.
And it is this that is perhaps most fascinating about David Lynch’s take on Leyland Palmer: how complicit was he in the murder of two young women -including his own daughter – and the attempted murder of another (Ronette Pulaski)? While the TV show ostensibly cleared him of all charges as just the mere host for BOB, FWWM paints a different picture. The film suggests Teresa Banks was about to blackmail him for his affair with her, thanks to her discovering his identity through her ‘business’ connection with Laura. It’s hard to imagine BOB being adverse to such chaos entering into Leyland’s life, so perhaps Leyland had both hands on the wheel when it came to the killing of Teresa Banks.
It is all BOB, however, when it comes to the murder of Laura Palmer. After he reads the diary, it becomes clear to the demon that his desires for pain and suffering would be much better served by Laura’s body than Leyland’s. When BOB forcefully takes both Laura and Ronette to a deserted railway car, David Lynch gets a little heavy handed with the imagery by introducing a floating angel that opens the door to let MIKE throw his ring into Laura and allow Ronette to escape. The ring stops BOB from being able to possess Laura (oh sorry, there’s a magic ring that can stop demons possessing people which was alluded to by a hallucination of a bloodied Heather Graham – returning briefly as Annie – earlier in Laura’s bed) and in his impotent rage, kills her.
We then see Laura sobbing in the famous red curtained room while being comforted by Dale Cooper as an angel watches above, suggesting that Laura is destined for a higher place. It is a pure Lynchian moment as the director uses the aforementioned heavy-handed imagery again in a completely abstract setting to make it blatantly apparent what his sentiment is in a situation that makes little sense.
I’ll See You Again in 25 Years
The inherent dichotomy that lies within FWWM is that it’s a Twin Peaks prequel that doesn’t reflect or even respect many of the TV show’s strengths. Absent are virtually all of the quirkier characters such as Nadine, Pete Martell, Deputy Andy, and Major Briggs (though the fan-favourite Log Lady makes one brief but very memorable and profound appearance). Likewise, gone is the humour and charm that the show’s darkly wacko reputation often stifles in the eyes of the uninitiated. For fans, especially those that managed to eke some entertainment out of the second season lull between the capture of Leyland Palmer and the quest to find the Black Lodge, this bleak rendition of Laura’s last seven days on Earth feels nearly akin to a slap in the face.
Matters weren’t helped by casting issues with Moira Kelly having to replace Lara Flynn Boyle as Donna Heywood – Laura’s best friend – due to scheduling issues (Kelly singularly fails to bring that flinty spark to the character that Boyle always delivered flawlessly). Additionally, Kyle Maclachlan had reservations about returning to his most famous role as he’d wished to avoid type-casting resulting in S.A. Dale Cooper’s part in proceedings being drastically reduced. It is perhaps the lack of so many familiar and beloved faces that leaves FWWM feeling adrift from its source material and the shift in tone borders on contemptuous at times.
However, FWWM in its final two-thirds is actually an extremely effective and affecting horror movie in its own right. Lynch is never anything less than a master craftsman when it comes to creating an aesthetic experience, both visually and audibly, and FWWM is arguably his most disturbing work. Though it does often veer into hysterics and melodrama, it also almost uniquely captures the terror and despair of domestic sexual abuse and as Laura becomes aware of her inevitable fate, she almost accepts it as a form of relief. While it may have been unnecessary for Lynch to show much of what we’d already been told by the series, there’s little doubt FWWM elevates the tragedy of Laura’s death which could have only been accomplished in the unflinching manner of the film.
One aspect that remains enticing to Peaksies was far more exposure of the Black Lodge and some of its inhabitants. It doesn’t give up its mysteries easily but when we enter its realm, there is an acute sense of the intrinsic malice and other-worldly nature of the place that one can’t help but feel we should have been given more of in the TV show and, hopefully, we will be in season three.
Of course, FWWM struggles to stand alone as a film due to its origins and it can be tough enough for dedicated fans to retain a tight grasp on the meanings and happenings of the piece that surely would be beyond those unfamiliar with the source material. That said, FWWM has remained a fascinating treasure trove of clues and secrets of Twin Peaks lore over the last two decades.
Does Fire Walk With Me equal its parent TV show at its ‘Peak’? Not quite. Nor can it really be considered among the finest of Lynch’s work (lest we forget, his 2001 film Mulholland Drive was recently voted the best film of the century by major critics’ consensus). Still, to this day, it’s hard to overlook the film’s pretensions and frustrations along its reluctant dependency on source material that it seemingly has little regard for on occasions. However, much like its own story, Lynch’s paradoxical prequel manages to effectively straddle two worlds by being a significant departure from the Twin Peaks universe while remaining an essential part of it.