Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is every bit David Lynch’s love letter to the original TV series as well as a middle finger to it. He returns to control of the incredibly popular TV show, now in film, and has the chance to make corrections and deliver closure to the end of the series. Except David Lynch is also a troll so none of that happens and this is a mostly prequel.
I don’t know if I can do justice to how big a deal Twin Peaks was when it came out in 1990. The first season is amazing TV and swept pop culture. It might have been the first cinematic TV show. It’s an amazing season of TV and the first episode is almost a movie in itself.
“Who killed Laura Palmer?” was at the forefront of pop culture. Remember how Game of Thrones would take over your Twitter and Facebook? Imagine that level before social media.
Season one is endlessly rewatchable with great characters, weird characters, real characters and complete weirdo fake characters that somehow totally work. Because it’s Twin Peaks, and in Twin Peaks no one is what they seem.
It mixes equal parts soap opera, crime drama, horror and comedy. But the tone always stays and the story never gets lost despite this. Every episode is just one day in this town that you get immersed more into its complete weirdness.
Then season two happened and it crashed and burned really hard in 1991. The first 8-9 episodes of that season are still terrific and the last 2 episodes are pretty good too. In fact, the final cliffhanger was so good that it had people lined up for this movie and also in a tizzy for a sequel 25 years later.
Where the show failed in season two was in the struggle between creators David Lynch and Mark Frost up against the network and what it wanted. The result was them mostly, to completely, pushed out during the bulk of season two. The other, is that solving the death of Laura Palmer was never supposed to happen. It was just the entry point to this town where no one is what they seem, and what else is going on here? It’s a town full of mysteries.
Not intending to solve her death doesn’t mean Laura Palmer isn’t or wasn’t important. She was. She is this movie. She’s the reason for the whole show and David Lynch takes this chance to show you why.
We knew that Laura Palmer was important to everyone in this town, and we found out how everyone had crossed paths with her. But we never really knew how it happened.
Now we do, and it’s horribly depressing and disturbing. (Trigger warning for rape, incest, sexual abuse and trauma)
We know how this ends so watching it all feels so much more tragic. You know there isn’t a happy ending.
We’re seeing the last two weeks through Laura Palmer’s eyes. We see how she did connect to everyone in this small town. She’s the prom queen on the surface but underneath she’s a deeply disturbed and traumatized kid dealing with the toxicity of popularity, people around her not having her best interests in mind, family problems, sexual abuse, malicious guys trying to groom her or use her and a generally aimless existence.
Despite all that, Lynch wants to give dignity and a character to Laura Palmer. Showing us all the awful things she got swept up into or willingly joined but still why everyone loved her and how she did what she could to get through it all.
It’s dark and unsettling, but it isn’t excessive. You’re not being guilted or forced into these feelings and it never feels like torture porn.
I don’t know if I’ve seen a movie that handles similar subject matter in a similar way. Wind River is similar, but that feels more real and dark than surreal and creepy.
And that isn’t to say that this movie is unrealistic. Twin Peaks just doesn’t meddle in unambiguous realism. It’s supernatural and abstract at times. But the emotions are real.
Sheryl Lee is fantastic as Laura Palmer. She’s so good at being creepy and deliberate. She has an amazing piercing scream. She conveys through her eyes everything you need to know about how she’s feeling and the horror of the moment. You never stop empathizing with Laura.
She’s a young girl living through horrific sexual abuse, coping with it and finding ways to try and move forward. She’s involved with shady characters at night while trying to stay the prom queen during the day. She’s embracing the dark spiral she’s going down, but wants to make sure her friends and other girls don’t get caught in it. She has nowhere to go and be safe.
And this girl is only 17 years old.
Ray Wise returns as Leland Palmer and he’s as good as ever in that role. He’s creepy. So creepy. Yet he has a commanding presence that believably terrifies Laura into paralysis. It makes you worry for her immediately.
The line between Bob and Leland is blurred more than the show. There are a lot of ways you could read it but you’re never told. Its purposefully ambiguous. How much of this is Bob vs Leland is something we are never supposed to find out.
Every scene they have together is tense. Excellent use of ambient noise to feel real. When they’re in a nightclub you can’t hear them over the music. The sound of car horns and engines overpower their dialogue. They’re drowned out. It’s overwhelming.
The movie gets so loud at points that you’re unclear what’s going on. It becomes chaotic with screaming and rumbling. It adds to the layers of dread and unease. But then it comes back down to the slow piano music that’s equal parts comforting and forboding.
The cinematography is much more intimate and claustrophobic than the show. There are a lot of close ups and shots that hold sometimes forever, sometimes ending too soon. You’re often looking up or down at characters. It all works with the overacting to make everything seem that extra bit supernatural and twisted.
If you’re not familiar with the show, you might not understand as much in this movie as it expects you to. It does stand well on its own, but you’ll definitely be confused or left feeling a bit empty on certain scenes.
This is Laura’s movie, but we don’t get there for a little while. We open in Bizarro World Twin peaks with a crappy diner, rude cops, a cheap trailer park but they do find a dead body of a pretty blond girl mysteriously murdered.
We go to the FBI offices and hang out briefly with agent Dale Cooper but he isn’t being a total weirdo yet. Some weird stuff happens with David Bowie, and the apartment over the convenience store with the spirits is established. The Red Room is present. It feels a bit fanservicey, but it’s also establishing the supernatural side of things.
David Lynch is equal parts mad man and mad genius. This movie would be incomprehensible with anyone else at the helm, but it makes sense in the end because it’s David Lynch. There’s a magic when Twin Peaks and him collide, even when examining something so dark.
The movie is an examination of a damaged girl, the way her town tore her down, and the way no one was there to help her. We know everyone had their chance to help her, but didn’t. We now know why “Who killed Laura Palmer?” mattered so much to Twin Peaks. And now we know how bad this girl had it first.