REVIEW: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me [1992]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: R | Runtime: 135 minutes | Release Date: August 28th, 1992 (USA)
Studio: New Line Cinema
Director(s): David Lynch
Writer(s): David Lynch & Robert Engels / David Lynch & Mark Frost (TV series “Twin Peaks”)

“And the angels wouldn’t help you cause they’ve all gone away”

Without European money, American auteur David Lynch wouldn’t have many features to his name. His style isn’t necessarily conducive to our general population’s tastes, its surrealistic and highly sexualized depictions of the darkness underlying American society’s false façade of harmony a hard sell. So it was surprising he’d have a primetime television show at all, let alone one that sparked as much excitement as “Twin Peaks” during its Season One heyday. But there it was: a goofier and more expressionistic riff on the subject matter of his Blue Velvet and a more “wholesome” environment than the film preceding its production, Wild at Heart. Season Two would find itself struggling to sustain that buzz, though, losing its way through dead-end plot forks and increased humor before its chilling finale.

It’s crucial to note that Lynch was behind this cliffhanger-filled swan song, one with a revelation so intriguing that a Season Three might have reclaimed its stride. That wasn’t to happen, though, in part because many of the episodes before it meandered about with sequences so out-of-left-field that even devoted fans found themselves scratching their heads once casual viewers left en masse after solving the central mystery of who killed Laura Palmer. Some members of the cast were just as disappointed, so much so that series lead Kyle MacLachlan initially refused to reprise his role as Special Agent Dale Cooper in Lynch’s planned prequel film Fire Walk with Me. He’s been quoted as saying that he felt abandoned by Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost. You can’t blame him.

He’d eventually sign on in a limited capacity—Lynch and co-writer Robert Engels creating FBI Agent Chester Desmond (Chris Isaak) to takeover earlier scenes—with almost all of the surviving cast members agreeing to roles despite many not making the finished piece (only two hours and fifteen minutes were allotted for almost five hours of footage). Lynch had to stay true to his motivations and many peripheral characters, especially during the days prior to the series’ start, provided little more than comic relief. Their inclusion would have ensured a similar tone to the show, but the point of returning to experience the nightmarishly volatile relationship between Laura (Sheryl Lee), her father Leland (Ray Wise), and evil incarnate “Bob” (Frank Silva) meant dissolving appearances and traveling directly into Hell.

That surface sheen of apparent innocence is a huge reason why “Twin Peaks” found its way onto American televisions in the first place, so its absence meant Lynch needed financial assistance from France to get things moving (leading to why 90-plus minutes of deleted scenes were never released until 2014). This allowed him to go to darker places—to the chagrin of stars MacLachlan and Peggy Lipton as talked about in a DVD documentary—and really put the horrors of abuse onscreen in a way that does their emotional and psychological impact justice. Fire Walk with Me wouldn’t deliver anything we didn’t already know from the show, but it portrayed it without filter. The hedonism, cruelty, and chaos beneath suburbia’s pristine image of happiness could no longer hide.

An opening prologue depicts Teresa Banks’ (Pamela Gidley) murder investigation with the aforementioned Desmond and Agent Sam Stanley (Kiefer Sutherland) on the trail. Cooper eventually joins the case (because the show told us he would) so that the strange fluidity between his dreams and reality can be introduced alongside the abstract notion that “Bob” would strike again. It’s a brilliantly orchestrated fifteen or so minutes that whisk us back into the quirkiness of unique civilians on our plane and the malevolence of demented specters within the parallel world known as the Black Lodge. Familiar characters are seen (Michael J. Anderson‘s Man from Another Place, Frances Bay‘s Mrs. Tremond, and Jonathan J. Leppell as her grandson) as well as brief newcomers (Jürgen Prochnow‘s Woodsman and David Bowie‘s Phillip Jeffries).

“Bob’s” next victim is of course Laura, so the shift to Twin Peaks is inevitable. The wholesome smiles of her, Donna (Moira Kelly replacing Lara Flynn Boyle), Bobby (Dana Ashbrook), and James (James Marshall) mask the truth of deceit, anguish, and guilt they each possess. Only when Laura opens her secret diary to see pages torn out do we understand the terror she feels and the torture of her life thus far. “Bob” has been abusing her for years, his non-corporeal entity desperate to take control of her body as his next vessel. Those who watched the show know who his vessel is currently, but the trauma has kept Laura in the dark. He craves her “garmonbozia” (pain and sorrow) and her strength to stop him grows thin.

The eventual revelation of his identity provides the answer she’s needed and validation that everything endured wasn’t in her head. It leads to a powerful release of pent-up feelings that have led her to drug-abuse and prostitution as a means to numb her from the truth. We see fear in her eyes, an embarrassment and lack of worth allowing her to push those she loves away in order to save them from her nightmare. She cannot risk “Bob” knowing their identities so he can weaponize her love. She cannot risk sobriety because seeing her assailant as “Bob” is better than seeing him in his earthly form. How she rebels to escape reality becomes salvation. And if it somehow kills her in the process, maybe that’s an ideal fate.

Lynch delves into all of Laura’s secrets in a way that puts her on center stage like the show never could. How he does it relies upon our knowledge of the series—so this movie should always be watched after both seasons despite it taking place before them—and as such makes it difficult to truly look upon Fire Walk with Me as a standalone piece. But I don’t think that was ever part of its intention. Lynch and Lee both hoped to get to the heart of this character that we never saw except via flashbacks. Her death may get the ball rolling as far as the FBI coming into Twin Peaks to overturn more rocks, but her life is what brought “Bob” into their world.

We’ll see how it was his desire to keep Laura in his sights that led to everything. This is as much a story about his evil as her tragedy. It’s about a war between good and bad with unlikely suppliers of the former (see the Tremonds) and immortal creatures wielding the latter. Laura’s absent angels exist in places she doesn’t quite understand yet with the horrors of incest, corruption, and abuse visible in the spotlight without supernatural surrealism to cloud the impact of what’s happening. And both Lee and Wise are up to the task to handle the subject matter with performances that can’t help but shine above the franchise’s usual soap opera hysterics. To watch Wise’s face instantly shift from doting father to violent monster is unforgettable.

It becomes an expressionistic artwork with reds and blues, thematic juxtapositions dissolving into each other, and the transference of place between our plane and the next, but it’s very raw and graphic in its authenticity too. Laura’s transitions from preoccupied victim struggling to stay afloat to high school sweetheart using an artificial air of bubbly excitement is all that overshadows Wise’s performance. These two complex roles allow a glimpse at the humanity both possess, humanity that outside forces have attempted to erase. Those who watched the show know that justice is impossible in any real sense of the word, so this film exists to say that Laura’s death was not in vain. Right to the end she wouldn’t succumb to “Bob’s” desires. Her identity bent but never broke.

So it works as a sequel too. Besides the cameo by Heather Graham‘s Annie supposing that time doesn’t exist in the Black Lodge (“Bob’s” current, past, and future forms forever trapped together and not at all), its display of “Bob’s” power explains how insidious he is. He uses pain to wear down his potential vessels until they become so caught up in the suffering of those they love that they’ll do anything to stop it. The fact Laura never gave up therefore means something. She wasn’t just a victim; she was a warrior who went toe-to-toe with “Bob” and defeated him. Her existence in the Black Lodge isn’t necessarily as a prisoner as much as a symbol of purity, warning others who stumble into its red curtains.

This surreal labyrinth without escape embodies Hell, its walls craving the suffering of innocents. It houses entities of ill intent even as their real world counterparts forsake them (see Al Strobel‘s Philip Gerard). And it of course parallels the as yet unseen White Lodge, a place of goodness that may exist right atop the Black. Perhaps the part of the Lodge we see is merely a waiting room filled with those trying to drag mankind down to the depths of horror. The good—Sarah Palmer’s (Grace Zabriske) horse and Carel Struycken‘s giant—remain in our world guiding those who have gone astray. Maybe the Lodge is simply a glimpse at our eternal souls, the war for humanity waging on behind the scenes with evil sadly in the lead.

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