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Theme Tuesday - Twin Peaks - Fire Walk with Me

David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks is such a tremendous cultural touchstone (and huge blindspot for me) that I decided to rectify matters and take the deep dive for the month of May.

At the time of its release, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me had a profoundly negative reception, from being booed at Cannes (a strange mark of honor historically) to being torn apart by critics. Now, however, I see this film come up quite often when cinephiles are asked about their favorite Lynch works. It has become somewhat de rigeur to declare Fire Walk with Me as a low-key masterpiece, ranking high in the Lynch oeuvre.

One thing that was for sure was that this is very much a David Lynch work. Notably absent from the movie is co-creator Mark Frost, not to mention some other staples of the show: Sherilyn Fenn, Lara Flynn Boyle, Kyle MacLachlan in a much reduced role. The film dives into the life of Laura Palmer a week before her murder and impetus for the Twin Peaks show. There are hints of the mythology that the show had started developing including the Black Lodge and BOB. But most of the film dives into the psyche of Laura as a victim of abuse, and how she falls into dissipation to cope with the trauma.

And this is where I think the controversy was. Twin Peaks devotees are, to a fault, ardent conspiracy theorists who seek meaning in every significant and insignificant detail of all Twin Peaks media. It’s actually kind of the appeal of the notoriously opaque Lynch himself, who has said that the only person his work had to make sense to was himself. Paradoxically, many of these fans also seek answers constantly, and that is precisely what Fire Walk With Me was lacking: answers. Or at least answers of the more mundane type such as “Can you tell me more details about the Black Lodge?” “Where did BOB come from?”, etc.

In contrast to most people, I would argue that when Lynch indulges in the more bizarre, rather than focus on the story of Laura, is when the film is the weakest. The bizarrely dressed woman in the beginning who tells details about a mission through her dress and her gestures comes across as almost a parody of Twin Peaks obsessives who would seek meaning in whatever nonsense Lynch chooses to put before them.

Lynch knew that he had something really compelling in Laura Palmer since much of the appeal of the TV show was revealing piece by piece the real Laura Palmer. He felt that her story was worth exploring since she could finally have a voice instead of others speaking on her behalf. I think he pulled it off brilliantly. Sheryl Lee’s performance is heartbreaking and sympathetic. From this movie, you start to understand the effect that she had on people around her and why they were deeply affected by her murder, even as she alienated people around her for understandable reasons. It’s perhaps the best portrayal of a female character that Lynch had done up to that point in his career. You can see the blueprint for future characters Betty and Rita in Mulholland Dr., both deeply complex and mysterious women who manage to be more than ciphers that men project their desires and insecurities onto. I don’t think Fire Walk With Me ranks in the absolute highest tier of Lynch, but it has hints of what characterizes his best work.

 

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