Is it Future or is it Past? ‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me’ Saunters Into the Criterion Collection

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Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me

Is it future or is it past?

This summer, David Lynch and Mark Frost brought back to television screens a revival of their cult classic television show Twin Peaks. Anyone approaching Twin Peaks: The Return with any sense of expectations was bound to be disappointed by Lynch’s enthralling and confounding form of storytelling. After all, David Lynch isn’t the kind of filmmaker who is going to be eager to just pick things up right where they left off. Of course, there was plenty of evidence that having expectations for The Return would be the wrong way to approach the revived series, none greater than the feature film that Lynch made after the show wrapped its initial run, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, which is now available on a comprehensive special edition from the dedicated lovers of cinema at the Criterion Collection.

The first season of Twin Peaks was a ratings smash with its twist on the soap opera genre and a central mystery that would have viewers pondering and debating: Who killed Laura Palmer? But the ratings took a dip in the second season the network interference on the show has been well-documented. Midway through that second season the series wasn’t renewed, giving Lynch and Frost a narrow window to end the series on their own terms. The way they chose to conclude Twin Peaks was with one hell of a cliffhanger, an ending that, once again, confounded and irritated dedicated viewers of the show scared by the ambiguity of numerous unanswered questions. Lynch didn’t use the opportunity of making a movie based on the series to answer the lingering question of “How’s Annie?” Oh no, instead Lynch made Fire Walk with Me a prequel to the series, taking the audience back to the last week of Laura Palmer’s life, her pain and suffering, all the while creating a new set of unanswerable questions that would torment those enrapt in the mystifying world of Twin Peaks.

It shouldn’t be surprising that Fire Walk with Me was a commercial flop. As Lynch himself says on one of the special features, “[Audiences] don’t rush out and get tickets for incest and murder.” What’s surprising is that Fire Walk with Me was savaged by critics upon its release. In the New York Times, critic Vincent Camby said, “[Fire Walk with Me] isn’t the worst movie ever made; it just seems to be.” In Entertainment Weekly, Owen Gleiberman wrote, “The movie is a true folly—almost nothing in it adds up…” It has taken a long time for Fire Walk With Me to get its critical reevaluation, and now that the saga of Twin Peaks has finally reached its conclusion (though I really hope there’s more), time has proven Fire Walk With Me to be an indispensable part of the bizarre mythology that Lynch and Frost have crafted over the decades – further aided by the extended and deleted scenes on the hour and half special feature known as The Missing Pieces.

Twin Peaks has always dealt with doppelgangers, and Fire Walk with Me kicks off the film with a murder mystery that is like a warped twin to the murder of Laura Palmer. FBI Special Agents Chester Desmond (Chris Isaak) and Sam Stanley (Keifer Sutherland) are sent to Oregon to investigate the murder of a young blonde woman, Teresa Banks (Pamela Gidley). After a quick rundown from Gordon Cole (Lynch), the two agents are dispatched to a local sheriff’s department. Unlike the friendly faces that greeted Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) in the series, Desmond and Stanley are met with an entirely obstinate police force unwilling to help in the investigation. This chapter that is seemingly unconnected to the murder of Laura Palmer takes a usual turn when Chester Desmond disappears. The role of FBI is further complicated when a visibly distraught Phillip Jeffries (David Bowie) mysteriously appears and disappears in the Philadelphia offices, exclaiming that he won’t talk about Judy. Fascinatingly enough, these are plot points that seem of little importance to the rest of Fire Walk with Me, but are vital to the whole of the Twin Peaks lore, especially the events that unfold in The Return.

My name is Annie. I’ve been with Dale and Laura. The good Dale is in the Lodge, and he can’t leave. Write it in your diary.

In the quaint town of Twin Peaks, Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) is seemingly the ideal American girl. She’s a beautiful blonde that was the homecoming queen, dating the dreamy Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook). As David Lynch so keenly does in his other works, there’s a darkness lurking underneath this glistening example of an American suburban ideal. Laura is the subject of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse at the hands of the evil spirit BOB (Frank Silva), who later possess her father Leland Palmer (Ray Wise). Laura recedes into a world of promiscuous sex and drug abuse to escape the demons that have plagued her for far too long, the specter of BOB looming over her existence until that fateful night when she’s brutally slain, her body dumped in the water wrapped in plastic.

Twin Peaks has always dealt with the ugly topic of violence against women, and it’s hard for some to sit through that in Fire Walk with Me as it focuses almost entirely on Laura Palmer’s torment without the quirky supporting oddballs that populate the northwestern town. However, that streak of violence is just what Lynch wants to bring to the forefront, because it has always existed underneath that façade of American normalcy. It’s a system that overlooks violence and abuse against women in order to protect the status quo, allowing for a darkness to build up under the surface that can swallow youthful innocents like Laura Palmer or Annie Blackburn (Heather Graham). This theme that started in the original series was amplified in Fire Walk with Me and further explored in The Return (the Evil Cooper/Dougie Jones dichotomy represents both sides of men in this dreadful equation). There may be plenty of heroes like Special Agent Dale Cooper ready to battle the evil, but there are always those willing to stand by and let evil triumph through sheer indifference, reaching the point where complacency is the ultimate impediment to justice. This dark aspect of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me combined with the dread caused by an ambiguous ending leaves the viewer with a scar on the psyche, a dark, unsettling horror that is at once familiar and unknown.

Once again, the Criterion Collection has issued another one of David Lynch’s masterworks in a deluxe edition that teeming with special features (please do Wild at Heart next) and yet none of which allow the viewer any further insight into Lynch’s intent. The director isn’t going to spell it out. He never has and he never will. Everything he wants you to know is on the screen. His work isn’t meant to be deciphered. He doesn’t direct his story in code. Instead, they’re meant to be experienced and interpreted. The works of David Lynch aren’t pass fail; there’s no right or wrong as long as you stick to the information provided on the screen and not just project upon the work. The world of Twin Peaks is dense, terrifying, and seductive all at once. Fire Walk with Me has all these trademarks but also presented the reality that David Lynch will never succumb to audience expectation, no matter how rabid they might be.

Through the darkness of future past, the magician longs to see, one chance out between two worlds – fire walk with me.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me
  • Overall Score
5

Summary

Derided by critics and fans upon its release, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me continues to be critically re-evaluated with a new special edition on the Criterion Collection that further cements the film’s importance in the Twin Peaks mythology, especially after the events of Twin Peaks: The Return.

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