At the time of its release, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me was dismissed for a number of reasons. Namely, it was a prequel at a time when the series on which the movie was based ended on a cliffhanger. People wanted to see the story continue, not regress backward and tell us what we already know. It lacked the humor of the show, taking the world of Twin Peaks onto a much darker trajectory. And the final blow was that there was hardly any Special Agent Dale Cooper of the FBI.
Movies like Fire Walk with Me are almost made to be rediscovered and reevaluated years after the fact. David Lynch didn’t tell the continuing story of Agent Dale Cooper and the Black Lodge simply because that wasn’t the story he wanted to tell. He wanted to tell the story of Laura Palmer in the last days before her tragic death. When you’re watching a movie directed by David Lynch, you’re in for a story that works on pure instinct. His plots don’t follow traditional logic. I feel like there’s a tendency to overthink his movies. You’re simply watching his id on display. If you’re disappointed that you don’t get closure on Cooper, you’re thinking too rationally. You’re simply invited to watch a visual representation of his dreams and wherever they may take us.
If you watched the show, you know the story: Laura Palmer was a fucked-up girl who did drugs, manipulated people and harbored dark secrets. Her father, under the influence of “Bob”, a demon of sorts, sexually abuses her and then finally murders her. In the context of the television show, it’s a wise decision to never actually show those horrible things, to leave them to our imaginations. The movie, however, isn’t a mystery. It’s a tragedy. And the tragedy pulls no punches in showing the horror of Laura’s situation. It’s a gut-punch to see what had only been spoken of or hinted of shown in graphic detail. The film is a chronicling of the events that lead to her death, the moments right before the TV show Twin Peaks carries the story.
Sexual abuse, particularly in a fictional context involving possible demon-like entities, and especially incest, is a hard thing to balance. In a movie following the narrative of a quirky television series, it’s difficult not to have the stomach-churning goings-on not read like exploitation. Somehow, I think Fire Walk with Me does a fine job at portraying the abuse with the seriousness that the subject requires. David Lynch is actually saying something—as he did with the abuse in Blue Velvet.
Sheryl Lee, who plays Laura Palmer, has had a steady career, but never became a star, which is strange to me. She gives a career performance in Fire Walk with Me. She acts the holy fucking hell out of the role. Early in the film, there’s a scene where she hides in the bushes outside of her house and is terrified of the possibility that her nightmares of sexual abuse are real and that the person perpetrating these horrific acts is her father herself. She repeats to herself, “Please, no, not him,” while she sobs these raspy, coughing sobs that are born from the deepest kind of fear.
Fire Walk with Me is also an exercise in total style. David Lynch’s twisted visions have never looked much better than they do here. The Black Lodge, those hypnotic and surreal segments with masked oddities and backward voices, is rendered wonderfully. And Angelo Badalamenti’s music is, as always, wonderful to listen to, particularly in the “pink room” sequence with Laura and Donna.
The Blu-ray boxset is worth getting because the film Fire Walk with Me has around 90 minutes of deleted scenes. Just like all deleted scenes, some are great, some are whatever and some you can see why they were cut in the first place. But, overall, they give a larger scope to the movie, with many characters from the show popping up as a kind of fan service. The deleted scenes, as part of “The Missing Pieces” also extends what happened to Dale Cooper and Annie in the last episode of the series.
In short, Fire Walk with Me is a damn good movie on its own. It’s much darker than Twin Peaks the series, but it seems to have something to say, and it’s not for the express purpose of reveling in sordid things. David Lynch has an obsession with the horrors that lay just underneath the surface of Middle America, and he really nails it here. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me isn’t terrifying because of its supernatural elements, it’s terrifying because of its plausibility.