310. TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992)

“…after I saw Twin Peaks—Fire Walk With Me at Cannes, David Lynch has disappeared so far up his own ass that I have no desire to see another David Lynch movie until I hear something different. And you know, I loved him. I loved him.”–Quentin Tarantino

DIRECTED BY: David Lynch

FEATURING, , Moira Kelly, Chris Isaak, Keifer Sutherland,

PLOT: The first thirty minutes cover the FBI investigation of the murder of Teresa Banks (an event referred to in the first season of “Twin Peaks”). The action then moves to the town of Twin Peaks, focusing on high school senior Laura Palmer, the beautiful homecoming queen who has a secret life as a cocaine addict and upscale prostitute. As her father begins acting strange and tensions inside her home grow, Laura goes to a “party” at a cabin in the woods, where tragedy strikes.

Still from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)

BACKGROUND:

  • ” is a massive franchise, covering two original televised seasons, this feature film, a revival series broadcast twenty-five years after cancellation, and even two novels by co-writer Mark Frost and a book version of “The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer” (credited to David Lynch’s daughter ). Our coverage is similarly scattered: read about the pilot here, the original series here, and the 2017 series here.
  • Lynch had originally planned for Laura Palmer’s murder to never be solved, so the television network’s decision to force the writers to reveal the killer or face cancellation in the second season was an outside force that changed the direction of the overall story.
  • Some of the actors in the TV series’ large cast either refused or were unable to reprise their roles for the feature film, the most significant of whom was (who played Laura’s best friend Donna). Boyle was replaced by Moira Kelly. Series co-creator Mark Frost also disagreed on the direction Lynch was taking the “Twin Peaks” story, and declined to participate in the movie.
  • Over 90 minutes of additional footage was shot, including appearances by characters from the series who didn’t make it into the final product.
  • Lynch originally hoped to make two sequels which would pick up where the television series ended, but Fire Walk With Me‘s disappointing box office ended those plans.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The angel in the Red Room (although the curtains suddenly turn purple for this scene). It’s one of those tender moments Lynch likes to put in to remind his viewers that, no matter how much evil and perversion he throws onto the screen, he still unironically believes in the ultimate power of goodness, love, and salvation.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: The blue rose; Southern Bowie on security cam; garmonbozia

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: “Twin Peaks” is an uneven franchise, ranging over a landscape that covers everything from soap opera to surrealism and quirky comedy to rustic perversion, and so it may be appropriate that Fire Walk With Me is an uneven movie. The feature film continuation of the story is packed with dream sequences, unexpected cameos, mystical characters, and bizarre symbolism (an Arm eating creamed corn?). It was a financial and critical flop whose unremittingly dark and obscuritan tone turned off both casual series fans and mainstream critics, but for better or worse, David Lynch defiantly tears his own way through the universe he dearly loves.


Original trailer for Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

COMMENTS: Early on in Fire Walk with Me, a woman in a red fright wig walks in front of three FBI agents, makes funny faces and hand gestures, spins around, and leaves without saying a word. Typical Lynchian randomness, right? Not so fast; one of the agents later explains to the other that every article of clothing the woman wore, every gesture she made, held a secret meaning. After his superior decodes the entire piece of performance art for him, the junior G-man mentions that the lady was also wearing a blue rose. The more experienced agent compliments his powers of observation, but informs him “I can’t tell you about that.”

In a meta-symbolic sense, this sequence explains what the viewer can expect from Lynch’s film: seemingly abstruse images will have a coded meaning in the story, but something will still remain hidden that the director can’t tell you about. Whether he will refuse to explain it, or whether he doesn’t know himself, is left ambiguous. Fire Walk With Me proves muddled in more than its symbolism; it’s also more than a bit of a mess in structure and purpose. It’s set in Twin Peaks’ familiar universe, but the tone is far darker and weirder than the TV show. The project is constantly pulled in two different directions due to its conflicting desires to tell a compelling story about a doomed high school girl that’s capable of standing on its own, and its obligation to please fans of the canceled TV show by tying up loose ends, however insignificant they might be. And although there is a touching tale at the film’s core and beautiful imagery scattered throughout, to me the production errs too much on the side of providing “Twin Peaks” fanservice, with multiple dream sequences each trying to outweird the previous, scenes that serve no other purpose but to address passing inconsistencies from the TV series, and the shoehorning in of beloved characters who logically should play no part in Laura’s story. Much of this confusion results from editing; Lynch originally shot about three-and-a-half hours of film and cut it down to two hours. Had the other footage, which was often lighter in tone, been spread throughout the film, the experience would have been much different—more like watching three or four television episodes strung together (but now with an “R” rating).

The overlong and unwanted 30 minute prologue, with two new FBI agents (Chris Isaak and Keifer Sutherland) investigating the Teresa Banks murder which occurred a year before “Twin Peaks” proper begins, is a prime example of the movie’s confused approach. So is the presence of Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Cooper, whose role has been retrofitted from the series canon so that he now has a precognitive spiritual connection to Laura (and thus can appear in this movie). This prologue appears in Fire Walk With Me as much (if not more) from outside influences as from organic storytelling: MacLachlan was reluctant to reprise his role and could only be convinced to show up for five days. Isaak’s character was a replacement for Agent Cooper. ‘s part was included to introduce a plotline for a sequel that never got made. Cast members like Sherilyn Fenn, Lara Flynn Boyle and Richard Beymer either refused to do the film, or couldn’t fit it into their schedules. And so forth—Lynch was left working at a puzzle with incomplete pieces, fitting them together with whatever ingenuity he could manage. Still, the prologue feels like a mistake and an unnecessary intrusion in the story; it could have easily been cut altogether (even though that would have meant no Agent Cooper), or at least cut down to ten minutes or so. The idea of making the TV series’ MacGuffin (Laura Palmer’s murder) into the central attraction of the feature film was a brilliant one, and a firmer dedication to that premise would have resulted in a purer film.

These complaints aren’t meant to suggest Fire Walk with Me is a bad movie. It would be impossible to please everyone with a “Twin Peaks” prequel, so Lynch deliberately chose to appeal to the show’s hardest core “dream sequence” breed of fans (and to himself), rather than making something that would be accessible to newcomers or more casual fans. Fair enough. In terms of quality, Walk With Me is miles above the troughs of “Twin Peaks”s second season, although it never reaches the majestic heights of the show’s magical first eight episodes. This feature gives Lynch the opportunity to spotlight luminous Sheryl Lee, the iconic and tragic girl “full of secrets” who (being dead) was necessarily sidelined during most of the television series. Lynch goes full bore for his hallucinations, especially a senseless bit with Bowie (trying out a Texas accent!) joining a cast of dwarfs, kids in plaster masks and other Black Lodge weirdos. But the quietly strange moments impress more: Laura’s boozy last dance in a bluesy pleasure pit lit with red strobe lights, Leland picturing Laura and Donna in their underwear, a Renaissance angel fading off a painting. The homecoming queen’s painful final moments are harrowing, but Lynch grants the abused girl a coda of surrealistic grace. All in all, as a wrap up to the “Twin Peaks” phenomenon, Fire Walk With Me is frequently brilliant and sometimes frustrating, just like the series that birthed it. Much is explained, and much is over-explained, in terms of Lynch’s peculiar interior mythology (garmonbozia?). Much is left as a blue rose (“Judy,” says the monkey?) Those who treasure David as a teller of psycho-riddles to be solved will appreciate Walk With Me‘s puzzles, but there’s still wiggle room left for those of us who appreciate Lynch as the diviner of ineffable mysteries. To me, Lynch obscured is much more interesting than Lynch decoded. I don’t want to know what’s behind those red curtains, because that revelation is sure to be less majestic than the infinite possibilities of the unsaid. Fortunately, Lynch never opens one door without closing another.

Fire Walk With Me is nowhere near as bad as contemporary critics thought, but nor is it the “masterpiece” (!) some revisionists have claimed. A lot of the film’s messiness comes from Lynch’s method of working: he films things that interest him, and hopes they will come together later. (See also Mulholland Drive, another movie birthed from a TV script in which Lynch had no idea where the story was going to end up when he started filming). The central villain BOB only enters the story when Lynch accidentally catches an image of crewmember Frank Silva reflected in a mirror while shooting a mundane scene in Laura’s bedroom, decides it was a happy accident, and writes a character for him. ABC network forces him to “solve” Laura Palmer’s murder against his will, which leads to Leland Palmer being named the sacrificial lamb-slayer, which creates this particular incest-themed back story explored in Fire Walk With Me. Over the years the world of “Twin Peaks” has evolved from outside influences—including the recent deaths of cast members—which have required things to be rewritten on the fly. The town lives its own life, only guided by Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost. And, for better or worse, this is the universe Lynch loves, the only project that could coax him out of an eight year retirement after completing 2006’s INLAND EMPIRE. So, with all its flaws, we’ll let Fire Walk With Me stand in for the entire “Twin Peaks” project. Consider it the representative of all the secrets of Peaks: the coffee and the cherry pie, the fish in the percolator, Audrey Horne trance dancing to jukebox jazz, the Man from Another Place talking backwards, the one-armed man, the secret diary, the pine weasel, the Black Lodge and its doppelgangers, the creamed corn of pain and sorrow, Dougie Jones, the jokes and the horrors, all the head-scratching mistakes and the inimitable triumphs. Twin Peaks: a (not so) nice place to raise your kids up. There’s nowhere quite like it.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…will inevitably attract die-hard fans, but will be too weird and not very meaningful to general audiences. Ultimately, this feels like David Lynch treading water before moving on to new terrain.”–Todd McCarthy, Variety (contemporaneous)

“While Lynch ladles on the random weirdness around the edges, it is Lee who keeps the film centered, with a harrowing but poignantly sympathetic portrait of a woman’s descent into horror and madness.”–TV Guide

“Memorable moments and ludicrous ones collide in this psychic autopsy, a weirdly fundamentalist cogitation on the intersection of Heaven, Hell and Washington state. Fans of the dark comedy will find little to laugh about — unless it is Lynch’s pretentiousness — in this horrific look at Laura’s last seven days.”–Rita Kemper, The Washington Post (contemporaneous)

IMDB LINK: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

David Lynch – Fire Walk With Me – you can find a wealth of links, a freakishly large collection of stills, the script, the original press kit, and archived articles and interviews at the Fire Walk With Me page at the biggest David Lynch fansite

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me | Twin Peaks Wiki – For a deep dive into minutiae, check out the movie’s page on the wiki fansite

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) – The Criterion Collection page hosts a clip and an excerpt from a recent Sheryl Lee interview

Sheryl Lee on Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and the life of Laura PalmerEntertainment Weekly interview, occasioned by the TV show’s revival but centering on Fire Walk with Me

Was Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me Really Booed At Cannes? – Contemporaneous reports said it was

Kermode Uncut: Film Club – Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me – Mark Kermode is sometimes credited with sparking a critical reappraisal of Fire Walk With Me with this video review

Anatomy of a Fascinating Disaster: Fire Walk With Me – Article for “Grantland” from self-confessed fanboy Alex Pappademas, full of obscure trivia and personal reflections

“Twin Peaks: The Missing Pieces” Makes You See “Fire Walk With Me” In A Different Way – A fairly complete discussion of the unused footage from the film, released separately as The Missing Pieces

9 Ways ‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me’ Connects to the Series Revival – Noel Murray explains the connections between this movie and the 2017 series

LIST CANDIDATE: TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992) – Our original entry on the film

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” – Book length study by Maura McHugh, published in 2017

HOME VIDEO INFO: You basically have two options, depending on whether you just want Fire Walk With Me or you’d rather package the prequel together with the original series. We’ll start with the disc used to compose this review, the 2017 Criterion Collection edition. Remastered and director-approved (as are most Criterion releases), it comes in a two-disc DVD set (buy) or a single Blu-ray (buy). The second DVD is devoted to special features: most notably, The Missing Pieces, a feature-length assemblage of deleted and alternate scenes, including many involving returning cast members (e.g. and Joan Chen) which were (correctly) deemed irrelevant to the main plot. There’s also a shorter version of a conversation between Lynch, Lee, Wise and Zabriske that had previously appeared on “The Entire Mystery” (see below) and new interviews with Lee and composer Angelo Badalamenti.

Criterion released their disc not long after 2014’s nine Blu-ray set “The Entire Mystery” (buy), which gathered the original series together with Fire Walk With Me and The Missing Pieces. There are far too many extras in this massive set to list individually; most of them are related to the series rather than being specific to Fire Walk With Me. It is the ultimate edition for Peaks freaks (assuming you have a Blu-ray player).

Fire Walk With Me is also available to rent or purchase on demand.

7 thoughts on “310. TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992)”

  1. To be honest, I’ve regretted a little bit that I voted on Keyhole over this movie in the 2013 poll, so I’m glad to see that it eventually made the list.

  2. A tepid and thoughtless recap of a movie I would’ve expected you to know how to appreciate. Very disappointing. You could stand to read your own article on “weird for weirdness’s sake” here.

    You really didn’t notice anything strange about a prologue that introduces a totally unnecessary protagonist and then annihilates him halfway through the movie? Huh, must just be some goofy mistake! Pay attention. At what point does our fresh-faced agent vanish from the movie completely? (At the exact moment he finds and reaches out for the ring.) And what do we know about Cooper, the next man we see, who is pretty much identical to the first agent except for his face and name? Cooper has prophetic dreams that tell him how to solve his cases. (During the series he repeatedly finds success by allowing random chance, strange coincidences, simply line up and point out the answers for him. Lynch talks about this concept all the time in interviews and it’s very obviously a huge deal for him.)

    Cooper has dreams that seem strange but end up leading him to the knowledge he needs. The movie is set right before he gets put on a case he needs to solve. Think about it.

    That’s right. The entire first part of the movie is a dream sequence that has the sheer audacity to not show the viewer a convenient shot of someone shooting up in bed, screaming. Is that really so wrong? Should every director really be forced to bend down and justify every coincidence of imagery in their film with a little voiceover?

    Well, just in case, Lynch DOES bend over backward and tell you the first part isn’t real. Right off the bat he tells you the movie is full of codes and that you won’t have the deepest ones explained to you (the dancer wearing a blue rose). Then a bit later our heroes are ostensibly drinking coffee in a trailer, nothing is really happening, and the agent’s assistant, Stanley, straight-up asks him: _We really do need a good “wake me up”, don’t we, Agent Desmond?_

    Chet Desmond pauses and looks uncomfortable. Stanley repeats the question as though nothing had happened.

    _We really do need a good “wake me up”, don’t we, Agent Desmond?_

    This comes to nothing and the movie ignores it. But as they stand there, that same scene fills itself with peculiar moments where we see symbols of two worlds growing closer together – the trailer park owner’s bizarre delivery of an unfathomable line – the one-eyed woman’s approach depicted first-person before she shows up at the doorway – and most of all the sudden cut to a screaming electrical/telephone pole with a printed numeral – the same buzzing, snarling type of machine we see whenever demonic influence is bodily spilling over into Earth. When Bowie stumbles upon the sinister meeting and watches secretly for god-knows-how-long we see that a room right off the red room contains the same screeching piles of electrical equipment – a manmade exit between worlds. When BOB tries to enter Laura’s body she stares transfixed at a ceiling fan as it whispers to her – the fan is the porthole that allows him to do it, functional in this aspect due to its electrical connectivity.

    Many of the movies on this list are weird or even interesting only because they mimic dream tropes with a straight face, without warning the viewer that they will be shown a skewed reality. It should not come as a surprise that a David Lynch film would ask a similar level of open-mindedness.

    What really gets me is that at several points you suggest scenes happen for no reason. This is a failure on your part and a surprise given how hard you are on everyone who suggests the same thing about other films. What you mean is you didn’t bother to think about it, because you didn’t want to. That’s fine and cool that it was too complex for you too care about, but don’t pretend the movie is somehow at fault for it. You remember that scene from I think Amadeus where the patron says of Mozart’s hard-worked piece that it has “too many notes”? And that’s just the most crushing thing a creator can hear after showing someone their dearest work, that someone didn’t like it for a completely subjective personal reason, that they just didn’t FEEL like engaging with something too different from what they expected, and the blame, in their mind, somehow lies on the work for not appealing to them more. If you just want a movie to tell you what’s going on without shoving anything confusing in your face, why don’t you go watch Transformers?

    The scene you call “senseless” is one of the most obvious and eye-opening explanations of the entire series’ mythology; maybe you would’ve understood more of it if you weren’t looking for a circus every time you see a dwarf.

    The ingenious thing about doing the movie this way is that, as you point out, it’s a half-assed attempt to satisfy multiple obligations. Lynch wants to satisfy himself, the distributors who want a stand-alone movie, the marketers who want a recap of the show for people who haven’t seen it, and the fans who want a continuation. The inventive way he chose to do it alienates even people who start websites talking about how weird the things they like are. In my mind that makes it a rollicking victory.

    1. It’s revisionism because the original consensus of the film was negative. My own view is that the original critics were far too harsh on the film, and many of the current batch of reappraisals are, in my opinion, too forgiving of the film’s rough edges. I am in neither the disaster nor the masterpiece camp but consider it an interesting, flawed film, middle-of-the-pack Lynch. I am incredulous that a few critics now consider it a masterpiece, and I think some of this attitude may result from over-correcting for the initial bad reviews. I’ll allow my comments may have been overly glib but they represent my position, and if they’re condescending, so be it.

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