Review No. 612
Sad: Laura Palmer’s dead. Sadder: Cannes booed her eulogy.
Director — David Lynch
Producer — Gregg Fienberg
Screenplay — Mr. Lynch & Robert Engels
Based on — Twin Peaks, created by Mr. Lynch & Mark Frost
Sheryl Lee — Laura Palmer
Ray Wise — Leland Palmer
Moira Kelly — Donna Hayward
David Bowie — Phillip Jeffries
Chris Isaak — Special Agent Chester Desmond
Harry Dean Stanton — Carl Rodd
and Kyle MacLachlan — Special Agent Dale Cooper
Also starring Pamela Gidley, Jürgen Prochnow, Kiefer Sutherland, Phoebe Augustine, Gary Hershberger, Frank Silva, Eric DaRe, Miguel Ferrer, Heather Graham, Frances Bay, Peggy Lipton, David Lynch, James Marshall, Lenny Von Dohlen, Grace Zabriskie, Mädchen, and Dana Ashbrook.
Note on the cast: Donna Hayward is a recurring character in Twin Peaks, but Lara Flynn Boyle signed off the role for the film production. Whereas Moira Kelly is listed as a newcomer, her character is a returner.
Distributor — New Line Cinema
Film Festivals — May 1992 (Cannes Film Festival); October 30, 1992 (São Paulo International Film Festival)
Release Dates — August 28, 1992 (USA)
Language — English
Country — France; USA
Running Time — 2 hours, 14 minutes
MPAA — — STRONG VIOLENCE, SEX, AND DRUG CONTENT, AND FOR LANGUAGE.
TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME WAS WATCHED ON SEPTEMBER 29, 2013.
“What’s up doc? Just a few words before I go to sleep. I feel like I’m going to dream tonight. Big bad ones. You know, the kind you like. Its easier talking into the recorder. I guess I feel I can say anything. All my secrets. The naked ones. I know you like those doc. I know you like me too. That’ll be my little secret, okay? Just like your coconut. Why is it so easy to make men like me? And I don’t even have to try very hard. Maybe, if it was harder…”
–Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) in Episode 6 of Twin Peaks, aka “Realization Time”
The pilot for Twin Peaks aired on April 8, 1990, and even at that point, it had a large audience pondering three questions.
1. Who killed Laura Palmer?
2. Is the small town of Twin Peaks strange because of PTSD, or does Laura Palmer have nothing to do with their offbeat natures?
3. And who is Laura Palmer, anyhow?
The first season took a good look at her and established one certainty about her: there’s more to her (a lot more) than the smile we see in the recurring photograph of her. But the second season began to lose viewers halfway through, not because of poor quality, but because the focus was deviating away from Laura Palmer and into side stories. Thankfully the series finale, on June 10, 1991, found a loophole and tied up a few loose ends. It also left a door open, and that’s where Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me comes in. It’s this epilogue that answers the first two questions. A third season is rumored, but who knows whether that’ll answer the third question.
Fire Walk with Me reintroduces Laura Palmer in a way that feels like an alternate pilot for the series. Though this works best with the movie, because we don’t really have to be introduced to anybody new. I’m still thoroughly impressed that I managed to forget about the plethora of characters that were either omitted from the production, or included only in the deleted scenes. (How did I get through any of the unusually forced comedy during the first half, without once feeling like I seriously missed Lucy Moran and Andy Brennan?)
The more familiar you are with Twin Peaks, the more you’ll catch David Lynch’s little in-jokes. You’ll either appreciate them, or you’ll find them self-indulgent. The Palmer story is prefaced with a few shots from the title sequence; assuming you watch this as intended (after seasons one and two), you’ve probably memorized Angelo Badalamenti’s “Falling,” maybe gotten sick of it. I appreciated the foreshadowing element of framing the “Laura Palmer photograph” in a climactic scene, but after thirty episodes, it’s a cliché. The only in-joke that seems to work without cheese is the use of Badalamenti’s music during a climactic conversation scene. (You know, the same music used during conversations in the last five to ten minutes of each episode.) It creates such tension.
The epilogue begins chronologically: by covering the events after the season finale of Twin Peaks. Kyle MacLachlan was reluctant to sign on, even having played the most prominent character in TV series. His fear was being typecast, and that is what has happened, but that much is softened by the revealing of a similar Twin Peaks hero. Chris Isaak is believable as a less boyish Kyle MacLachlan, and his investigation is fairly more involved than MacLachlan’s; not only is he a parallel to MacLachlan, he was there the whole time and we didn’t even notice it.
That much amounts to around forty minutes. Every second afterward is arguably the most important portion of the series, because it depicts a flesh-and-blood Laura Palmer. You just can’t show a character like herself on TV without having the censor boards go nuts (and that’s with Twin Peaks carrying a “TV-MA”). Fire Walk with Me is the length of two back-to-back Twin Peaks episodes (ergo, it’s ⅔ a prequel), and while it acts like two separate stories, they interweave smoothly. Sheryl Lee is perfect as Laura Palmer, which is saying something because with respect for the TV series, she did little more than pose for three or four photos, and record Laura’s last spoken words. She doesn’t just “act” here; she represents Laura’s own transformation in such a way that we barely realize it. We get a perspective of the last seven days in Laura’s life, and by the time of her death, we couldn’t be much more clueless (or curious) about her. She seems fine on day one, but by day seven, she’s trashed her beauty for promiscuity, unveiled her (apparently nascent) schizophrenia, and developed an addiction to cocaine. She’s fairly reserved as it is, so when she finally speaks, who knows whether to believe a word she says.
It’s little more than dreamlike atmosphere that makes David Lynch such a bizarre director. Believe it or not, the events in his movies are rarely abnormal (and never impossible), just how he handles them. In the last half hour, he doesn’t give a normal look at Laura. Now we’re really seeing it through her eyes, as he’s gotten us into her head with chaotic, paranoid visions of an atmosphere as natural as a classroom. We’re subjected to her schizophrenia, with a camera that is undergoing either hypnosis or REM. Of course, the art direction and set decoration rarely fail as far as rendering Twin Peaks for a larger screen. In fact, both aspects are met with massive appreciation. Watch Lynch deviate furthest from reality. You’d swear Da Vinci painted those sets.
David Lynch may be the only great director who can make a movie lurid and fantastic. His mentality is far more risqué than any American director I know of, while violence is chosen with creativity far surpassing frequency. Blue Velvet marked his obsession with classic Hollywood elements such as the “love scene” and the “femme fatale” in the ‘80s. Ditto Mulholland Dr. about a decade and a half later. Sandwiched right in between: Fire Walk with Me. Lynch turns this into a quasi-horror movie. He did this with the pilot (1990) and the finale (1991), but this epilogue (1992) is just slightly more effective. Let’s ratify that with a mention of the climax. It’s unforgettably disturbing, and while it’s an “early twist ending,” it’s a heavy one after two seasons of being misled.
But the film takes the show to a whole new level. The saga ends an opera, not a soap opera. Almost inevitably, Laura is covered in a flowing plastic sheet; moments later, the curtain closes. We could call this a soap opera in season one. At this point, it bears the same nomenclature as La bohème.