DIRECTED BY: David Lynch
PLOT: This prequel to the events of the cult TV show explores the sordid story behind homecoming queen/secret bad girl Laura Palmer’s last days before her brutal murder.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: In terms of its chances of making the List, Fire Walk with Me‘s pluses and minuses are the same: the fact that it’s so intimately entwined with the TV series it sprang from. That makes it a good candidate to represent a franchise that has blessed us with some of the most memorably weird moving images of all time. The downsides are that this feature film makes no sense whatsoever to anyone who’s not thoroughly familiar with the minutiae of the “Twin Peaks” universe; further, much of what goes on in its 135 minute running time feels like housecleaning, tying up numerous loose ends from the canceled series.
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: many 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 it’s 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 also constantly pulled in two different directions due to its conflicting desires to tell a compelling story about a doomed high school girl, a story 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 story at the film’s core and beautiful imagery scattered throughout, I’m afraid that 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.
The overlong and unwanted 30 minute prologue, with two new FBI agents 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).
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 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 season. 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 series’ run. Lynch goes full bore for his hallucinations, especially a senseless bit with David Bowie (trying out a Texas accent!) joining a cast of dwarves, kids in plaster masks and other Dark 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 does grant the abused girl a coda of surrealistic grace. All in all, as a wrap up to the “Twin Peaks” phenomenon, Walk with Me is frequently brilliant and sometimes frustrating, just like the series that birthed it. Much is explained, and perhaps 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.
Series co-creator Mark Frost did not have a role in writing Walk with Me‘s script. Some fans—those who responded mostly to the comic quirkiness of the characters and the show’s absurdly overwrought melodramatics—found Lynch’s solo permutation of “Peaks” too dismal and out of tune with the tone of the rest of the series. According to interviews included on the DVD, some of the film’s cast shared the same opinion; others defended the movie passionately against the movie’s tepid critical response.
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)