The Good: Well-directed, Interesting vision, Explains some things
The Bad: Adds too many elements that ridiculously complicate the already existing plots, Lack of DVD extras
The Basics: Confused and reworking many elements of Twin Peaks, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me presents a number of bad people behaving terribly.
Sometimes, I think that reviewing is an addiction, like alcoholism. Alcoholics, like those with eating disorders, are notorious for playing games. They justify an action here with a maneuver there and they are experts at making deals with themselves ("One more drink, then I'll . . "). I think sometimes when review a whole slew of things, reviewers find themselves making deals with themselves, especially if they go through one artist's entire library. And it does not mean that the deal makes the review any less genuine, but it does mean that there is some factor other than just what is on the material being reviewed coming into play.
I mention this at the beginning of my review of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me because as I considered how I could and would rate this, I found myself making a deal. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is supposedly a prequel to the television series Twin Peaks (reviewed here!) and it does that fairly well (read the full review!). However, in the process, writer/director David Lynch guts much of his own mythology, creates a film that is often disturbing for the sake of being disturbing and utilizes conceits that he uses (better) in other movies of his. In considering all of this, I realized I did not like Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me all that much. Some of the problems that others have with it, I do not. But largely, I watched the movie and felt that Lynch did a far better job with Mulholland Drive. Mulholland Drive (reviewed here!) is surreal, somewhat pointless and utterly weird and a film I have avoided reviewing because it is so difficult to describe it or evaluate it. So, as I sat down to write this review, I made myself a deal: I am not recommending Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and I will finally write a review for Mulholland Drive and I WILL recommend that. There is nothing disingenuous in this: ultimately, I would not recommend Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me on its own and Mulholland Drive is pretty much a crapshoot anyway.
So, with that up front, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me illustrates events alluded to in the television series Twin Peaks. A year before the murder of Laura Palmer, Teresa Banks is killed, wrapped in plastic and set in a river to drift. When her body is found, the FBI investigates (it's not entirely clear why . . .) with Special Agent Chester Desmond leading the investigation. He is accompanied by FBI forensic coroner Sam Stanley, who performs an autopsy on Teresa's body and finds the requisite clues, like the printed letter inserted under her fingernail. Desmond returns to Teresa's trailer park to look for other clues and disappears entirely.
This, naturally, upsets the Philadelphia FBI office, where Special Agent Dale Cooper has been having dreams and visions. He, Albert, and director Cole are shocked when another lost agent, Jeffries, appears and disappears before them. This seems to have little to do with the life of Laura Palmer, cocaine addict and high school student. She spends her last days doing drugs, having sex with several people, and corrupting her friend Donna. Stalked by an immaterial evil, Laura Palmer is given the opportunity to change her fate, but she rejects it, ultimately leading to her inevitable murder.
Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is not the violence or how graphic it is, but rather how it makes little sense even to those who paid attention to the television series and pretty painstakingly figured it all out. It makes absolutely no sense to those who come to this as an independent movie. Seriously, if you are not a Twin Peaks fan, the movie is utterly incomprehensible, ruins the surprises of the series (who killed Laura Palmer is downright obvious and explicit in this), and is so troubling that it is not likely to make one want to pick up the television series (which is legitimately great).
Allow me to dispense one criticism many others seem to have with Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me: it is graphic. That this movie would be graphic is something of a "well, duh" thing. I loathe drug use and there is a lot of drug use in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me but it makes sense because from the first episode, two things viewers knew about Laura Palmer was that she was a drug dealer and a drug user. So, while we see her do a lot of coke and have a lot of sex, neither of these are a surprise; they are perfectly appropriate for the character she was. We get that.
The problem comes when the graphic qualities seep into other characters who did not have all of Laura's bad habits. For example, Bobby Briggs is a known drug dealer in Twin Peaks. He was also characterized as a varsity athlete and while there are certainly varsity athletes who use coke, he had a father who was troubled by him smoking cigarettes; Bobby suddenly using coke with Laura goes against some of his characterization in a way that simply doesn't work.
Far, far worse is how the character of Donna Hayward fares. Hayward is played by actress Moira Kelly in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, taking over the role from Lara Flynn Boyle. I was only familiar with Kelly from her role in the first season of The West Wing (reviewed here!) but she slides into the role just fine. Without knowing why Boyle did not return for the movie, I am tempted to editorialize and suggest it was because of how her character was gutted. Donna Hayward takes an unfortunate turn toward the dark and rebellious side in the second season of Twin Peaks, ostensibly out of her grief in dealing with Laura Palmer's death. Indeed, in the television series, we see her and Laura dancing together in a remarkably innocent way and that is characterized as how the pair spent their time together. In some ways, Donna was Laura's stabilizing influence. In Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Laura is Donna's corrupting influence. This is made graphic by Laura taking Donna to a Canadian strip club where the two begin to prostitute themselves and is justified by Donna being given a date rape drug to forget the entire incident. It's head-shakingly bad.
But as far as the lack of sensibility, nothing compares to the elements that immediately follow Chester Desmond's disappearance. Phillip Jeffries is simply an excuse to put David Bowie into the movie. I like David Bowie, I think he'd be a great fit for Twin Peaks. He's given about a minute of on-screen time and the role is ultimately immaterial. He was never alluded to in Twin Peaks (to my knowledge) and his appearance does nothing, save confuse the issue of what happened to Chester Desmond. Indeed, if anything Jeffries's appearance implies that those who have been trapped in the Red Room can somehow leave it at will as easily as they fall into it.
And there's the real bug up my bottom. I sat through the terrible episodes of the second season of Twin Peaks and I got it. The whole latter portion of that season involves one maniacal genius's attempt to enter the Red Room. There a glyphs, alignment of planets, a specific time and place where the portal into it will be opened. As a result, it is completely clear that it is not an easy place to get into and damn near impossible to escape from.
And yet, in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, director David Lynch makes the strong implication that power lines will get one there and back. Either Lynch just likes keeping his camera dramatically on electric lines, especially during key scenes where characters are appearing or disappearing or this is the statement the film is making. It pretty much guts the series with this added in.
That can pretty much be said of most of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Fans of the series see what had been implied before (and did we truly need to see Jacques Renault sexually mistreat Laura Palmer? Or Laura get abused by Bob?) and it is necessarily graphic and disturbing, but the entire cinematic exercise is unnecessary.
Actress Sheryl Lee does a decent job as Laura Palmer. I ought to say that she does a decent job with the material she was given; Laura Palmer becomes aware of Bob's identity ridiculously early in the movie, which seems odd. Lee does well at playing the bad girl and making all of the surreal elements work.
On a similar front, actor Ray Wise gives it his all as Leland Palmer, but his part has been radically altered for Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Leland was presented in only one or two scenes in the pilot episode before his daughter's body is found. He is an energetic lawyer who is seen smiling, bounding around and is a generally amiable and decent guy. In Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, he is a neglectful husband, an abusive husband and he is characterized by the violent mood swings that defined his character as a result of Laura's death.
It's sad when those who create a series do not seem to remember how they put it all together and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me "reads" like it was assembled by David Lynch and Robert Engels without any respect to what Lynch had previously created.
On DVD, the film looks good, but is remarkably stark in terms of bonus features. There is a terrible documentary (possibly cut together by monkeys or some kindergarten film school class somewhere) which has some of the stars of Twin Peaks talking about . . . all sorts of random things, sometimes not even tangentially related to Twin Peaks. The thing is, interviews are sliced together such that people are cut off mid-sentence, two people's interviews are intercut together and the whole thing is sloppy and pointless. There is a theatrical trailer for the movie, which is nice, but no deleted scenes. There is also no commentary track and the lack of either of these things is a real waste for such a dense, confused film.
One suspects that David Lynch, who seems to enjoy weird for the sake of weird does not feel the need to have to explain or justify anything to his loyal fans, but in not presenting his thoughts or the goodies that ended up on the cutting room floor (or a full Director's Vision of the film with the movie he wrote and WANTED to make) he abrogates his responsibilities as the creator of a cult classic. It's one thing to not be used to success and be overwhelmed by having legions of fans who look to your work for meaning and entertainment, it is another thing to spit in their faces when they do. Withholding the pieces he has that could make Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me a more complete vision of Twin Peaks is doing just that.
And moviegoers deserve better than that. Fortunately, we have Mulholland Drive . . .
For other heavily surreal films, be sure to check out my reviews of:
The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus
Henry And June
The City Of Lost Children
For other film reviews, please visit my index page on the subject!
© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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