Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me ★★★★

Film School Dropouts Weekly Challenge, Week 44 - Auteurs - David Lynch
100 Films by 18 Directors: David Lynch

A descent into the hellish mind of resident cinematic mad scientist David Lynch, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is the prequel to his surreal early 1990s television series Twin Peaks, which was recently revived by Showtime. Introducing us to this sadistic and surrealist world, Fire Walk With Me starts off withe murder of Teresa Banks (Pamela Gidley), the disappearance of FBI agent Chester Desmond (Chris Isaak), and then moves into the central mystery regarding the suspicious incidents happening to high school prom queen Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) in the lead up to her death. From what I gather, her death is the mystery explored in the original television series. What is perhaps the most interesting is how little is actually revealed. Sure, we see what kills her here, but that is hardly the only bit that is important. A film that defies definition and reaches comical levels of Lynchian absurdity, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is simply a damn good time if you are a film lover who adores being thoroughly confused.

What is perhaps most obvious in this film is the balance between heaven and hell that Lynch creates. With references to how, once you walk with the fire, it consumes you entirely with innocence the first thing to go. Read as being in reference to hell fire or walking in sin, Laura Palmer exemplifies this by working as an apparent sex worker who goes to seedy, red-tinted dance halls with creepy men who give her drugs. In dancing with the devil in such a fashion, Laura has let her soul come into direct contact with danger that leaves her open to losing her soul entirely to the pits of hell. With a scene calling back to Rosemary's Baby, Lynch shows what appears to be Laura's father or some other guy named Bob (it flips between the two) mounting Laura as she sleeps, clawing with long finger nails against her body, and thrusting as she slowly wakes up, leading her to wonder if it was all a dream or not. This scene is certainly similar to Rosemary's Baby when Mia Farrow's character is raped by Satan in a dream-like sequence. In many films, such as Angel Heart or The Devil's Advocate, Satan is depicted as having long, gnarly looking nails and the character of Bob has these exact same nails.

The further she descends into madness and sin, Laura loses sight of any of the light of God in the film. In an early shot, Lynch shows a painting on her wall that has an angel serving food to children. Later, this angel is gone. In a scene where she is being attacked along with a friend also caught in this life, the friend is able to escape after a guardian angel arrives to untie her hands. Laura, however, is left to deal with every bit of the terror that her sinful ways has brought upon her. While perhaps not the most important theme, it is clear that there is some evil forces bubbling under the surface here with these nefarious characters clear depictions of absolute evil in our world, capable of destroying the purity, innocence, and mental health of those who give into their temptations purely by being in their presence.

In line with this concept of purity, Lynch places with ideas regarding incest and the protective nature of fathers throughout. Creating horror out of images of Laura's father Leland (Ray Wise) seeing her getting awaiting his arrival to the bedroom after he had asked Teresa to bring her friends to their next encounter, the film dances with going all the way as Leland/Bob/Satan mounts her in the bedroom and has sex with her. This incestuous relationship is naturally jarring to watch unfold and one that neither wants, with both sharing repulsed glances at one another once they know the devious lifestyle the other leads that has led to some unwelcomed shoulder rubbing as a result. On one hand, the film manages to create horror and tension out of this weird relationship between the two that often spirals into absolute insanity, while also calling into question just who Leland is and why he is being used to get closer to Laura in this way.

Much of the horror shared between Leland and Laura is derived from the natural desire of a father to protect his daughter from growing up and meeting seedy characters. Seeing her as a sexual being is not just jarring, but Leland seeing her somebody being prepped for a man as sexually depraved as himself really does him in completely. He knows that Laura is just like the girls he sees, none of whom he actually respects. Thus, it is no surprise to see him freak out on her to wash her hands when he sees her after their unfortunate near-encounter in the bedroom. Yet, it is clear that this is not just some simple case of a father trying to protect his daughter from sex. By rubbing shoulders with these evil characters in his own journey through the film's story, Leland knows the dangers they pose to him, let alone his previously innocent and proper daughter Laura. This largely explains why he is so upset by her wearing a necklace given to her by a boy, questioning if it came from Bobby (Dana Ashbrook). As a member of that world, Leland likely knows Bobby and the dangers he poses to Laura's soul and being by opening the gateway to this seedy underworld that both are immersed within. Yet, as a member of this society, Leland forgets that he too could be used to harm Laura and the more he tries to control her every action and interaction, the more he himself is used to harm her for those behind these murders and evils.

This same protective behavior is exhibited by Laura with her friend Donna (Moira Kelly). Wanting to accompany Laura on one of her meet-ups, Donna is initially repulsed by Laura's actions before being coaxed into behaving just like her and going full bore into the lifestyle. Yet, immediately upon sobering up, Laura panics and goes to rip Donna away from the man who is presently kissing her breasts. Whisking her away and comforting her afterwards, Laura clearly has self-recognition regarding the morality of the lifestyle in which she is partaking. One she realizes that her best friend is about to embark on the same path and may similarly find her death to be coming alarmingly soon. In an effort to curb this possibility, Laura tries to save her akin to how her father tries to save her. Part of it is certainly from the need to protect, but much of it is an attempt to not allow those you love to fall into the same sin as yourself, which is certainly quite noble.

As the lead character in a crime so wicked, Laura Palmer is perhaps the perfect choice due to Sheryl Lee's looks. Attractive, blonde hair, and a truly All-American girl, her being consumed by fire and sin at the hands of these perverse men and perhaps even Satan himself feels like an intimate attack on American culture as a whole. For Lynch, he uses Laura as an allegory to critique the descent of America into sin and wicked behavior, both on a personal level and in the government. With a girl being murdered who seems to be the quintessential American girl, Lynch is able to bury this a bit under the themes surrounding her actual murder, but is still able to develop this enough through throwaway lines like, "So you want to fuck the prom queen?" While it may, on the surface, seem rather innocuous or fetishized, Lynch uses lines such as this to focus on what Laura's significance is as a character. As a personification of this All-American girl, her death and corruption is an attack on the ideals of all America. In the process, her descent into sin, hopes to protect others from falling into her own devious path, departure from being protected by angels, and opting to walk with fire instead, Laura operates as this allegorical figure that Lynch uses to explore deeper themes in the film and crime with this in mind.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is my ninth Lynch and one I put off until after I watched the show, but I really cannot muster the energy or will to watch a television series, so I went into watching this one blind and came away incredibly impressed. Surreal as only Lynch can be, my feeble attempts to ascribe meaning to the film's events likely would make Lynch laugh. Often his films are best watched on drugs or just ignoring anything that could mean something because, in Lynch's films, there may be some meaning but it is so indecipherable that it is hardly even worth undertaking the effort. Instead, they are best enjoyed as surreal, horrifying, and sickly comedic works of a master. Checking every box one is looking for when watching a Lynch film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is chilling, ominous, atmospheric, and an absolute joy to watch throughout, especially as the film's plot and depictions continue to spiral to the supernatural in a way that only Lynch can do without making it feel cheap or arrogant. How this film was derided upon release is absolutely shocking.

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