"You want to hear about our specials? We don't have any."—Irene (Sandra Kindler)
She's dead, wrapped in plastic. Her name is Teresa Banks. FBI boss Gordon Cole (David Lynch), trusting intuition and cryptic clues (the FBI seems more like a Rosicrucian order than a policing agency), sends two low-key agents, Chet Desmond (Chris Isaak) and Sam Stanley (Kiefer Sutherland) to Deer Meadow to investigate. They get surly service at Hap's Diner, scuffle with the sneering Sheriff Cable and his deputies, and search the trailer park where Teresa lived. In the course of the investigation, Agent Desmond vanishes.
One year later, in the sleepy town of Twin Peaks, Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) whispers to her hapless boyfriend James Hurley (James Marshall), "I'm gone." And soon she will be.
What does it mean to burn? Sound burns: each time you speak, waves move outward. Their friction heats the objects around you. The hiss of static is like the hiss of fire, consuming noise. In the end, all that remains are ashes, cinders.
The repercussions of a death cause waves to spread outward as well. We all know by now what changes were wrought by the death of Laura Palmer. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me brings Laura's journey full circle, wrapping up the final moments of the television series (a brief appearance by Heather Graham as Annie, in Laura's dream, reveals what we all know from the series cliffhanger, that "the good Dale" is trapped in the Lodge, where time does not matter, and awaits Laura's arrival) and offering new secrets (who is Judy?) that may lead us on new paths.
In spite of the Teresa Banks prologue, the real core of Fire Walk With Me is Laura Palmer. We follow the last week of her life, knowing what will happen to her, and knowing that beneath the cool exterior of the homecoming queen is a drug-addicted, promiscuous manipulator so deep in trouble that her actual death might have almost been an afterthought. And yet, David Lynch chooses to dwell here on a third side to Laura Palmer, one little explored (though hinted at during the second season) during the television series: Laura Palmer as abuse victim. In this light, her kindly daytime façade and self-destructive nighttime persona begin to make tragic sense. Laura throws herself into debauchery as an escape, as a way of creating some perverse justification for the trauma she suffers at the hands of her own father. Leland (Ray Wise) Palmer's torment by an "inner demon" suddenly makes sense as well: BOB is the dark heart of man made flesh. Does Leland embrace BOB willingly, or is he merely a pawn of a greater evil?
And Donna, Laura's best friend? Here Lynch takes advantage of Lara Flynn Boyle's absence to cast Moira Kelly—a doppelganger Donna in a film rife with doubles. This Donna craves the identity of her lovely and troubled friend, sneaking after Laura at night, naïvely trying to mimic her depravity—and Laura will have none of it. Laura knows the path she is on will ultimately kill her, one way or another. As she tells Harold (Lenny von Dohlen), who keeps her diary safe from her tormentor BOB, "He says he wants to be me, or he'll kill me." But after all, doesn't Laura secretly want to be somebody else, in order to escape the terrors of being Leland Palmer's daughter?
Sheryl Lee, who was given little chance to stretch during the series (even as Laura's doppelganger cousin Madeline), shows a talent here for barely contained hysteria. Ray Wise, suppressing fury, and Moira Kelly, offering a mix of longing and concern, carry themselves well. The rest of the cast, while not given much to do, seem comfortable in their characters—which is understandable considering they are stepping directly over from the television screen. Well, at least in the Twin Peaks portion of the film. During the Deer Meadow investigation, we must endure the bland Desmond and Stanley. Not to disparage Isaak and Sutherland's performances (they are always good, and Lynch has always had a deft hand with actors), but the characters seem deliberately flat and the situation has a "let's get this over with and get to Laura Palmer" feel to it.
The first act of the film feels cramped, more of a parody of the original Laura Palmer investigation than an individual story. Of course, it fits the "doppelganger" theme perfectly, with Desmond and Stanley as mirror images of Cooper and Albert Rosenfield (Desmond as cool to Cooper's enthusiasm; Stanley as bland to Albert's fury)—and everything from the bad coffee to the sinister sheriff as reversals of Twin Peaks. But it seems more of a one-off joke on the television series that does not provide us with much new information or thematic development. Surprisingly, we can glean much more useful information from the bizarre manifestation of Philip Jeffries (David Bowie) at FBI headquarters: themes of power (Jeffries shouts about electricity, later Laura looks at power lines, and of course, fire figures in here), surveillance (cameras, the use of static to suggest the virtuality of their collective dreamworld), disappearance. But the heart of Fire Walk With Me is the final week of Laura Palmer's life.
If anything, the film actually suffers from having to conform to the restrictions of a "Twin Peaks movie." Left to itself, the story of Laura Palmer's psychological journey holds up, but in between, we are obligated to make sense of Bobby's bumbling attempts to be a drug dealer and James' perennial pouting. Perhaps this material would have worked better if Lynch had severed it from the Peaks franchise entirely. Most of it would still have worked (Cooper as an enigmatic policeman fated to play Laura's spirit guide, the demons of the Lodge still manipulating human behavior) anyway. Like the television show at its best, we must treat the events in Fire Walk With Me as if they are happening in a dream, where characters and events mean several things at once, and the fantastic overlaps with the realistic without question.
Legend holds that Lynch shot a host of scenes featuring Twin Peaks regulars, as a gift to the fans, that ended up on the cutting room floor. Although, as I just noted, the film overall probably would have been better off not being a Twin Peaks project, it is unfortunately that distribution rights for this additional material could not be worked out for the DVD. The only extras are a theatrical trailer (which plays up the child abuse angle prominently) and a 30-minute collection of interviews with the cast, chopped together to make it seem as if the cast is chatting with one another about what they have been up to lately and how Twin Peaks affected their careers. There are some funny stories too, of course, and a bit about the missing scenes. The absent Lynch comes across as an enigma (as he would likely want): with some actors he allows improvisation, others must conform to the letter of the script; with some he is forthcoming, with others he is cryptic. Perspective here is as subjective as it is in the series and film. But all agree that Lynch can handle actors skillfully. As Michael Anderson puts it, "When you start pulling your subject matter from your own unconscious, it hits coincidental bells in other people's unconsciousness that you don't know you're gonna hit."
Although the film boasts an anamorphic transfer that looks quite acceptable much of the time, the latter half of the film suffers from color bleed and scanning lines (especially during the Red Room scenes). And there was one major case of artifacting toward the end. Perhaps I received a defective copy as a screener (I have heard no one else complain about these problems), but if this is not the case, these technical errors are inexcusable. Of minor concern is Lynch's refusal to allow a chapter index on the disc, but it certainly does not affect viewing the film.
David Lynch fans are probably going to find more to be pleased with in Fire Walk With Me than those looking for a comfortable followup to Twin Peaks, but even if this is one of Lynch's weaker efforts due to the narrative constraints he is obligated to follow. Perhaps all that extra content, trapped in the Black Lodge of litigation, will see the light of day in the future. And perhaps New Line has fixed the egregious problems with the transfer by the time you read this. Would you like a soothing bowl of garmonbozia in the meantime?
Laura is forgiven. But those who feed on pain and suffering are still at large. And some of them apparently work at New Line. This court stands in recess, in search of a good cup of coffee.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
• Theatrical Trailer
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