Sunday, April 15, 2012

Underrated: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

          If you've been following this blog for any reasonable amount of time, you should know by now that I adore the films of David Lynch. Of course, this should come as no surprise, as a film lover obsessing over David Lynch is about as common as finding somebody who watched Seinfeld in the '90's. Even though my love of David Lynch is nothing special, I would say that my love of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is definitely something that turns heads.

        This is because a lot of David Lynch fans are really only allowed to like a handful of his movies. These are the movies that get written about endlessly by critics for peer-reviewed journals. You know the ones: Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, The Elephant Man, and, to a lesser extent, Lost Highway and Eraserhead. Blue Velvet is especially well-liked amongst cinephiles. College professors like to crowd around and discuss the many sexual and psychological implications behind the movie. They argue over the intentions behind the film's soundtrack's juxtaposed qualities, that final image of the robin's manufactured esthetic, the performances, etc. Blue Velvet was released at the perfect time for a lot of the more highly-regarded film academics working today. They were my age, as it were, and when you're my age, you are very easily won over by style, creative invention, and artistic risk. Blue Velvet had all of this.

         It was no surprise that Twin Peaks, the "David Lynch TV show," became a huge critical hit upon its release in 1990. It was strange, funny, scary, dramatic. The "Lynchian" qualities of the show, you know, those strange things that nobody can really define, were mostly marginalized for the viewer. Yes, BOB is really scary. Yes, the owls ARE watching, but most of these absurd elements are treated with a tongue-in-cheek tone.

        The show works well on multiple levels, as a satire of late 20th century soaps, a murder mystery, a character study, and so on. And when something so original, so married to a particular style, becomes overwhelmingly famous, there is always going to be a certain resentment from the artist. All of a sudden, David Lynch was in a box.

          The show became so popular with audiences that huge groups of fans lashed out against Lynch for not revealing Laura Palmer's killer during the first season finale (Sound familiar The Killing fans?). He was under a huge amount of pressure from the studio to solve the murder and appease his fans. But, honestly, does Lynch ever do anything to please his fans? Does the man who gave us this scene really like to make his audience feel good?


          Lynch has gone on record as saying that revealing the killer (which I won't do here) was the worst thing that could have ever happened to the show. Even though, one could argue, that revelatory episode is one of the single greatest hours to ever broadcast on television.

         Lynch began to feel caged by his own sensibilities. The show was a runaway hit, and the fans had expectations that Lynch could not meet. His films always focus on the ambiguities of life, on the nonexistence of true identity, on the evil and the good that war within us. He is not so much focused on following expectation.

        To confirm my point, I would like for you to see his output. One G-rated disney film. One huge-budget sci-fi adaptation. One biopic. Several undefinables. A 16-minute Lady Dior commercial. A music album.

       He left the show halfway through the second season to work on another project. That project would eventually turn into the Palm D'or winning film Wild At Heart. Another David Lynch film that is remarkably underrated (more on that next week).

      And, after a prolonged (and mostly rambling) second season, Twin Peaks left the air-ways with a finale that raised more questions than answers. Viewers were, once again, pissed at a show that continued to subvert expectations and take true risks. You know, those qualities that made the show so successful to begin with.

     The fans were so vocal about their complaints that David Lynch was able to fund a film set in the Twin Peaks universe. "Hooray!" the fans said in rejoice. "We finally get to know what was going on with Dale Cooper at the end of that finale!"

      Wrong again. Dale Cooper has a cameo in the film.

As does David Bowie!
          The film takes place during the week of Laura Palmer's murder. For the film, Lynch injected a bucket-load more of surrealism into the mix and removed much of the show's tongue-in-cheek humor. And, since there is almost no Dale Cooper, the film is mostly anchored by a performance from Sheryl Lee, who does all she can to hold the film together with her limited acting experience.

         Fire Walk With Me is a mean film. There are no more playful scenes between the characters, no more quirky, funny one-liners from zany small-town folks. In fact, this is probably Lynch's darkest, most atmospheric effort of his entire career (including Inland Empire, let us not forget "The Locomotion"). The surrealistic qualities of the film lend it an otherworldly feeling. Everybody seems to be in on something that the audience never fully understands. The Black Lodge has much more significance in the film, and its use is absolutely puzzling for those who have not recently (or ever) watched the show.

          Allegedly, there is enough footage of the film for Lynch to release a second part, but he prefers the jagged edges of the finished product. He prefers its truncated scenes and frustrating need to keep things from its viewer. And, honestly, so do I. The film has a certain power to it.

          From the moment Chris Isaak and Keifer Sutherland become surprise protagonists to the moment where the photograph of the door reveals itself within the plot, I am hooked on this movie. I am constantly amazed by its artistic risk. For a film based on a beloved franchise with a huge built-in audience, Fire Walk With Me is definitely a financial and artistic risk.

          But perhaps the word risk is giving Lynch's intentions too much credit. The word risk implies that financial success was possible. No, this film bombed. It was strange, scary, dark, violent, ambiguous, and mean. There is a violence in this movie that cannot be controlled.

          To go into exactly why this movie is so scary is to give away the identity of the killer, but let's just say this movie goes places you rarely see in any movie, let alone a movie based on a popular television show.

       Maybe Fire Walk With Me is a tad disjointed. Perhaps the performances are a little stilted. And, yes, maybe the movie is a little too weird. But I am in love with it. I am in love with the integrity Lynch brings to the product. I am in awe of the way he subverts expectations, and I cannot possibly imagine a more fitting way for Lynch to leave the series behind.

[Note: Strangely enough, this movie is hugely popular in Japan. I don't even...]


  1. I want to watch this move again. It was scary, but so strange that I couldn't help keeping my eyes open.

    I'm looking forward to your blog about Wild at Heart!

  2. Great post! Like Hannah, I want to watch Fire Walk With Me again, too (and re-watch Twin Peaks, while I'm at it).