David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992) is quite the contentious subject for fans of the original television series. It serves as both a prequel and sequel for the series; allowing the viewer an insight into the final seven days of the life of the mysterious Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), and also some clues to the fate of certain characters after the timeline of the series. However, despite its focus on a mysterious character that people want to know more about, it is hated by a lot of Twin Peaks fans, and also by viewers who had not seen the original series.
Spoiler alert! This review has spoilers everywhere. You should see the film, though. Please skip to the end where I explain why.
I believe that part of the problem people have with this film is that it has none of the charm or accessible humour from the series. It really is a bleak and confronting film with rare moments of relief. My question is, what did people expect? The story of Laura Palmer is horrifying. Laura is a victim of repeated sexual abuse and incest, a teenage drug addict, a pseudo-prostitute, and is ultimately a victim of murder. To have the quirky humour and jokes of the series accompanying Laura’s story from her perspective would not do the pain of her story any justice. But, people loved the ethos of the series and probably wanted to see a return to it in this film.
This leads me to another question. Although the film (in my opinion) stands by itself, for someone who hasn’t already seen the television series, can this film be watched independently? Twin Peaks was a huge success, but its viewership died down steadily until it was cancelled after a massive cliffhanger (yes, I’m still bitter about it) in its second season. People who want to see this film are either fans of the series, and therefore may want to see a continuation of the series’ character, or are random bystanders who might be fans of David Lynch (likely), or random bystanders who feel like watching a psychological horror film (seems unlikely). It’s unclear who the intended audience is meant to be: anyone, or just fans? Would random bystanders would get any value out of the film? The film requires a certain amount of established knowledge about the world of Twin Peaks, but can also be seen as its own mini-world from Laura’s perspective. Who knows. I’m biased because I am obsessed with the series, but would love to have an insight on this from someone who has seen only the film and not the series.
There is a mini-storyline at the beginning regarding the murder of Teresa Banks, who is the very first victim of the killer Bob. We also get to see inside FBI headquarters, to get a look at Special Agent Dale Cooper before he sets off on his assignment to Twin Peaks. We also see David Bowie for a couple of minutes. I was curious to see the investigation behind Teresa Banks’ murder, and to contrast her situation with that of Laura’s, as someone who has seen and loved the television series. While this first part of the film was watchable, I found my attention waning as I just wanted to know what happened to Laura Palmer.
It is interesting to watch the film as a huge fan of the show, as we are able to see Laura Palmer in action consistently, rather than only through flashbacks. It turns out Sheryl Lee is a pretty good actor and illustrates the horrors of Laura’s daily life in an authentic way. Although there are moments where her lines seem overtly melodramatic, Lee competently demonstrates the pain of being the victim of sexual assault and having to hide that fact from the public eye.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is a truly Lynchian film. Peppered with his characteristic real-but-not-real moments, strange one-off characters, and a direct gaze at the horrors that some individuals face, it’s almost as if Lynch wants the viewer to physically feel Laura’s pain. The film is uncomfortable to watch. You see rape and violence, and you are forced to watch as Laura is beaten and dies. You’re essentially watching her downfall as it happens, and it’s not a good feeling.
However, the ending is bittersweet. Having watched Laura experience horrific events, we are treated to a moment of peace. While the ending can be (and is) debated in terms of its symbolism, and knowing what happens after Laura’s death in the television series, I felt that the ending of the film was satisfying. Regardless of your beliefs in any religious afterlife (of which I have none), it feels good to see that at the end, after all she’s been through, Laura might be in a better place. Or is she? We’ll never know.
While this film can stand on its own alongside the television series, I question whether people who haven’t seen the series would get any value out of it. Plus, if you watch the film and then the series, then the big mystery of the series is spoiled for you. It would be advisable to watch the series and then the film; keeping the thought in mind that the film has a completely different ethos to the series.
For fans of David Lynch, I would say this is required viewing, regardless of whether you have seen the series or not. It’s no Mulholland Drive (2001), Lost Highway (1997), or Blue Velvet (1986), but it is a compelling display of his quirks as a filmmaker. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is one of those Lynch films that makes you feel supremely uncomfortable. It is an excellent and confronting exploration of the downfall of someone who seems perfect on the outside, but is conflicted and scarred on the inside.
Watch the trailer here.