Reviewing a movie you’ve seen a million times over an almost twenty year period is a hard task, especially when it comes to something that has become a large part of your life and that you think about often. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is a film that fits into this category.
First, a little background: I discovered the original television series Twin Peaks (1990-1991) in late 1999-early 2000. I remember vaguely that I’d had a few conversations with my parents about it and was interested in its premise. One night, my mother called me on my personal landline corded phone (yes, I know) inviting me to come out of my room and watch Peaks with her and my father. I rushed out of my room excitedly, sat down with my parents, and began to watch. I was instantly entranced as Angelo Badalamenti’s iconic theme music played over the show’s opening credits, which feature a beautiful wooded and water-filled Washington setting.
Almost immediately, I recognized certain aspects of the show from my earlier childhood, specifically the shot of Audrey Horne’s shoes as she enters her private car in the show’s pilot, and a shot featured later on in the series of Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) behind a swinging door from the now-infamous episode in season two, directed by Diane Keaton. Watching the series awakened in me a love for the surreal and the absurd. From almost the first moment I set my eyes on it, I was hooked; and I realize now, all these years later, that at the young age of thirteen, I had fallen in love for the first time.
The reasons for this are much like the show itself: both simple and complicated. It was the first time I saw characters with whom I identified with fully and felt actually represented me. Instead of being ostracized or made to feel stupid (unless they happened to cross paths with Miguel Ferrer’s FBI agent Albert Rosenfield), each character’s quirkiness was not only accepted, but celebrated. Many of the characters in Twin Peaks made me feel comfortable, as if they were old friends. I felt like I was home.
Looking back now, however, I acknowledge that I probably should have taken in the series, and David Lynch’s subsequent feature-length prequel film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), later in life when I was able to wrap my head around the subject matter a little better. While I loved the setting, characters, plot, direction, and the writing, there were some very heady themes in the original series that were both suggested and talked about, but very rarely actually shown onscreen, as it was aired on network television. While I admittedly could handle the show to an extent at the time, the film was, and still is, an entirely different story. Situations mentioned and alluded to in the series are not only seen, but amplified in Fire Walk With Me, and to this day, it is still a very difficult film for me to watch.
Now, there are times where I’m able to say to myself, “This is an excellent supernatural parable about the real-life horrors some people go through” and watch it knowing full well that it is just a movie. However, likely due to the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo movement, it absolutely killed me when I recently watched the newly released Criterion edition of Fire Walk with Me.
Over the years, I’ve both implored and argued with people that they should watch this movie, as I feel very passionately about its merits as a serious and important piece of filmmaking. I do, however, understand that there are some people who do not wish to subject themselves to the difficult themes that the film deals with. That said, I do have a problem with those I’ve met who are vehemently opposed to watching the film or the series for incredibly ludicrous reasons; such as the gentlemen I went on a date with a few years back who said he didn’t have time to watch the entire series, so he planned on watching the first season and the final episode only. (Ironically, he told me I needed to start a film blog, and here I am making fun of him in one. Go figure.) While I understand that David Lynch is not the majority’s cup of tea, and watching thirty episodes of a “failed” television series, plus its feature length prequel is both a time-consuming and difficult task, the fact remains that the series and film highlight the all too real phenomena of both physical and sexual abuse. This isn’t just a plot device. It is the tragic life story that thousands of people face daily, making this film an especially important piece of work that should be seen by as wide an audience as possible, to shed light on what so many face and are afraid to speak out about or confront. If Lynch isn’t for them, it’s not for them. That’s fine. But the ferocity with which they attack it, simply due to how long it is or who wrote and directed it, is incredibly perplexing. Simply put, they shouldn’t drag something they’ve never seen through the mud just because of misconceptions or their own biases.
That isn’t to say that Fire Walk With Me is without its flaws. Continuity errors between the original series, several officially licensed tie-ins, and the film are abundant. People, not unlike myself, voiced their issue with this for years, but it isn’t so much of a problem now. When Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost got together to create the long-belated third season, Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series (also referred to by fans as Twin Peaks: The Return), which aired on Showtime in 2017, they looked at the continutiy errors not as problems, but as opportunities. Both Lynch and Frost found ways to ingeniously use these errors to their advantage, making a lot of them no longer a problem. The best example of this is Frost’s 2016 third season tie-in novel, The Secret History of Twin Peaks, which includes even more inconsistencies. While these errors are no longer seen as such due to the blatant changes Lynch and Frost made to their universe, the film is still frustrating in other ways.
The biggest issue is that Fire Walk with Me is missing one very crucial element: series co-creator Mark Frost. Frost is very much like the straight-and-narrow Sherriff Harry Truman (Michael Ontkean) to Lynch’s dreamy and idiosyncratic Agent Dale Cooper. Frost helped keep Lynch from going over the surrealist deep-end and, at times, Fire Walk With Me feels lost without him. The details behind his lack of involvement are relatively murky; all that has been officially said about it is that he was opposed to making a prequel before a sequel tying up loose ends could be made, so he chose not to be involved.
While I am a great fan of David Lynch and his other work, what made the series work so well was that Mark Frost had the ability to temper the indulgently absurdist and overwhelmingly bleak nature Lynch’s filmmaking style often exhibits. In turn, Lynch helped Frost add more odd, off-the-wall humor and depth to his work. They pushed each other’s boundaries and this is what helped them both create a work that was not only more palatable to the average viewer, but also something altogether new that was a beautiful blend of quirkiness, mystery, and darkness. Frost’s more subtle style added to the show’s mysterious nature, and although I consider Fire Walk with Me an important piece of filmmaking, his absence does hurt the film at times. The lack of his subtlety and temperance often makes the viewer occasionally feel like they, too, are being abused.
This feeling of abuse causes major conflict on my end, as this factor is also somehow the film’s saving grace. Fire Walk With Me is not supposed to be a comfortable film to watch. The first thing the viewer sees is a television being bashed in; a not-so-subtle metaphor that this is not our beloved network series. The first half hour of the film investigates the murder of another girl in a sleepy little town called Deer Meadow; but this time, we see days old coffee, dirty and dank midnight diners, and an unhelpful, corrupt police force.
Once this is over, we return to the town of Twin Peaks, but this time, we see it from a different perspective. Gone are the days of the friendly, cherry pie and coffee-filled town with a dark interior; here, all we see is the seamy underbelly. Most series regulars do not appear and one major character from the series, that of Laura’s best friend Donna Hayward, even had to be recast. While the decision to do so was not on the end of director David Lynch, but due to actress Lara Flynn Boyle rejecting the part, it ended up working out perfectly fine in the end. Rumors have floated around for years that paint Boyle in a bad light, especially during her time on the Twin Peaks set. While the way Lynch decided to introduce her in the film as the new Donna was quite hilarious, replacement Moira Kelly is exceptional in the new shoes she had to fill. She brings a heartbroken sweetness and delicate naiveté to the role, something that got lost in the second season of the original series and needed to be at the forefront of her portrayal in the prequel.
Fire Walk With Me is on a completely different level from the television show for many reasons. It is no longer the offbeat, occasionally disturbing, often fun weekly trip viewers were used to. It was critically and commercially panned when it was first released and was even “booed” at the Cannes Film Festival in 1992, a place where Lynch had won the top prize of the Palme d’Or just two years earlier for Wild at Heart (1990). In the last several years, however, the film has experienced a critical re-evaluation and was recently selected to be added into The Criterion Collection’s well-respected and prestigious catalog.
I cannot stress enough just how hard of a movie Fire Walk With Me is to watch. It is, after all, a fly-on-the-wall viewing of the final week of a broken, beaten-down teenage girl, teetering on the edge of sanity, cursed with a secret that will eventually lead to her demise. It is both a haunting and boundary-pushing film with amazing performances. Enough praise cannot be heaped upon actress Sheryl Lee, whose portrayal of Laura Palmer is one of the all-time greatest achievements in cinematic history. She gives all of herself to a role that could very well have broken someone and is able to make even the most ridiculous of dialogue (I’m looking at you, “gobble, gobble, gobble”) both heart-breaking and believable.
If you or anyone else you know is the victim of any kind of abuse, please call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.