Coming Back to Fire Walk With Me
Years ago, after having watched the entirety of Twin Peaks on DVD, I was finally ready to sit down and watch Fire Walk With Me (1992). I had so many questions after that last episode and here was Lynch's chance to wrap up some loose ends, elaborate on some concepts, and really refocus after an up and down final season. But instead of the cherry-on-top finishing touches I erroneously expected, and to my to my dismay, he went for a prequel. A prequel that not only covers all of the ground we had already known in slightly more than necessary detail, but also threw in even more questions to add to the pile of unanswered ones we already had.
So, needless to say, I was kinda pissed. Seeing it’s Lynch, I don’t know that I was surprised so much, but I was kinda pissed. All I remembered about the film was a lot of screaming, some creepiness, a dull sense of confusion and that one amazing scene of Lil in the red dress scrunching up her face and twirling. Gone was the sense of humor and the clever surrealism, the tingling mystery and the soap opera wasteland; instead Fire Walk With Me felt like a gratuitous two hour rehashing of information I didn't deem necessary. One and a half stars out of five.
Cut to today, several years and one new Twin Peaks series later. I quickly realized from the tone and feel of the first four episodes that it would probably be more relevant to rewatch Fire Walk With Me than attempt to marathon the entire original series again. Since two hours is less of a commitment than 30+ anyhow so I said okay fine, let's do this again.
To my surprise, the movie was completely transformed from what I had remembered. With some distance from the show, and zero expectations, I found myself really settling in and enjoying it. It was even less baffling and disjointed than I had remembered it. Now suddenly spending time with Laura Palmer and backtracking her steps before her death felt more necessary than ever. Instead of just an extension of the show, it extended outwards as an almost standalone movie about abuse, empathy and pain.
Fire Walk With Me is simply far more grounded and real than the television show ever dared to go. Laura isn’t just a blue, dead corpse that washes ashore; she isn't just the static photograph of the beautiful homecoming queen. In Fire Walk With Me Laura is a living breathing and hurting young person. We see her attempting to be a normal teenager, she courts the attentions of Bobby and James but only with as much enthusiasm as one might idly pick a scab on their arm. We see her desperately struggling with her visions of BOB, the man who crawls through her window and rapes her every night. We see her world fall apart as she realizes that BOB and her father are one in the same. We see her anguish, covered up with cocaine and self-imposed prostitution in an attempt to make sense of her abuse. We see the way she moves, how even when she's in lingerie she still thrashes about on her bed like child. We see a lost, sad and confused teenage girl attempting to grasp for a sense of power in a world that allots her none. It’s easy to become numb to the murders we see on television and even on the news. Twin Peaks very specifically dealt with the grief fallout of those who survive after such tragedy strikes. Fire Walk With Me, on the other hand, hammers home the anguish of the life that existed before it was defined, rewritten and glorified by a final tragic and violent act.
I’ve also got to admit that upon my second viewing, the film became a more enriching supplement to the show than I previously remembered. Instead of filling what I had felt were unanswered plot holes, it focused on filling the emotional gaps instead. With all of the myriad of films, books, television and unfortunately real life murders, it's so easy to take the dead woman at the center for granted. By fleshing out Laura as a human being, I not only found myself truly pained by Laura's abuse, but it also deepened the stories of everybody around her; elevating James’ innocent angst, Donna's attempted empathy, and even Agent Cooper's helplessness. The scenes with Donna, James, and Bobby all serve to contrast with Laura’s premature maturity – they’re so clearly still thinking and acting as teenagers, while unbeknownst to them Laura is being immolated by sexual abuse and drugs. Meanwhile, this movie also introduces the concept of Cooper trying to help Laura in three timelines – his past, his present, and his future – yet he still can't seem to prevent her murder. I mean geez, it was distressing enough by the end of season two.
PS - I also suspect the current Twin Peaks episodes are strongly connected to the first half of this movie. The second time around the scenes of Cooper staring into the security cameras and hanging out with David Bowie suddenly seemed extremely important. Besides the fact that David Bowie's Phillip Jeffries character has already been name dropped in the 2017 series, his appearance and subsequent disappearance, seemingly connected to the electronic security cameras, very quickly turns a light on in my head; Cooper's re-emergence from nonexistence in episode three of the reboot seems to happen in a very similar static-y way. Never mind that missing FBI agent Chester Desmond is most certainly floating around in the black lodge somewhere having touched the green ring...
Well, anyhow, that's neither here nor there as I've certainly learned my lesson about expectations and David Lynch. Even if none of these loose ends get tied, at the very least I've finally learned to enjoy the ride. Lynch sells stories through imagery and emotional intuition, to have the experience of watching his movies is quite literally the point of watching them. Not unlike his obsession with transcendental meditation, you need to be able to turn off your mind and live in his moment. Forgetting the emotional life behind his surrealist horror is to lose the point entirely.