I’ll never forget where I was when I first saw David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. I was 13 years old in a pre-streaming world with the movie being the easiest way to access the show thanks to cable television. Seeing parodies of the show and the fact that I was a dedicated TV Guide reader, where the magazine often touted it as one of the great shows of our time, made me more curious about checking it out. When I finally sat down to finally enter this world on a late summer night in 2006, I despised it so much that I wished that I was in a theater with a drink so I could throw something at the screen with the nonsense I was being shown. Little did I know, for David Lynch’s stuff, being weird and nonsensical was a constant in his filmography.
Just a word of advice if you’re a person who’s curious to see this for whatever reason. Watch the show before you do that. I didn’t at the time because it just wasn’t around and I was totally lost on what was going on. And you live in a time when Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu have the original two-season run that’s available. If you are willing to endure two intentionally messy but sometimes brilliant seasons of television, this movie is a strange yet emotionally enriching experience that is rewarding for those who are interested in this unusual world that David Lynch has created. Luckily, The Criterion Collection’s new streaming service The Criterion Channel is now available. Being a fan of their DVD/Blu-Ray collection, I decided to subscribe to it and I’m grateful that I was given the chance to revisit this movie with more mature eyes as it was added on their service.
The movie focuses on the final days of Laura Palmer, the teenage girl whose murder was the focus of the series this is based on. In the series, Laura was barely shown and all of what we knew about her was solely dependent on what her friends and family said about her. Nothing was ever concrete about who she actually was. Apparently, she was a great friend to some and a person with some darkness to her to others. Despite Lynch’s reputation for being a filmmaker who’s always nonsensical and ambiguous with his work, he actually does get to what was going on with Laura and how she turned out as a result of her environment. He’s not afraid to show the good and the bad parts of this young girl’s life. In the hands of Sheryl Lee, she’s able to make Laura an actual person and is able to keep her grounded despite all that she has to deal with. She makes interesting character choices that feel very organic to the situation. Even with the various moments of surrealism, the world revolving around Laura feels very grounded as well. The fact that it’s a movie makes the stakes feel bigger in scope as there’s more focus on the series’ previously established darker elements. There’s also a higher production value that helps to create a creepier atmosphere.
It’s clear that Lee gets Lynch’s brand of weirdness as she’s down for whatever the movie throws at her. She has a very movie star face in that she has a face that is pleasing to the audience and the camera. It definitely does help for those wanting eye candy but she also fits the world she’s in as she’s this appealing person on the inside, but like the town she inhabits, there’s a lot of ugliness inside of her that’s just waiting to burst out. We learn that she’s someone with a lot of pain in her life and her haphazard behavior feels reasonable because of that. Now that we actually see Laura Palmer, the woman, the legend, in person, it feels like she’s lives up to what the show has built up for her. Ray Wise gives a fantastic performance as Laura’s father, Leland. Knowing that he’s the source of Laura’s pain makes his appearance here even more daunting as we actually get to see how much of a monster he truly is. On the show, we only see the aftermath and it takes very little time to see him unravel, but it’s all ambiguous until a certain point in the series. Here, we’re forced to live inside these really intense moments with him and the movie succeeds on taking advantage of the extra run time and attention towards his character via Laura’s perspective to build on an already complex character.
It was good that director David Lynch basically ignores a lot of season 2 and the unnecessary detours it takes just to get to the meat of what most people are here to see. The high school stuff has never been my favorite aspect of the series as it always seemed like he was never that interested in exploring that perspective. A lot of these characters like James or Donna just weren’t that intriguing on the series, but the absurd situations around them made them more compelling. Here, they abandon most of that to focus on stuff that Lynch knows people want to know more about while still remaining in that high school corner of the show. With a more keen focus in mind, it turns out that it’s more compelling as it’s clear that whether living or dead, Laura is still the most interesting character out of all these teenagers. Even some of the characters that return are only there to show their connection to Laura and in that regard, it was really good. Where that’s presented the best are the moments with Laura and her friend Donna. Here, we got to see how far their relationship could go as we see how dedicated they are to each other. It was also nice that Lynch really toned down the humor and actually took the material more seriously. It’s better since the movie goes to some dark places that it’s hard to create levity from. It never feels exhausting because even with all that’s revealed, a mystery still remains. The fact that things aren’t always 100% clear allows the movie to play around with the world it has built. The overall ambiguity successfully adds a lot to the atmosphere and mood of the overall movie.
Even though most of this movie focuses most of its time on an aspect that wasn’t very compelling in the TV show, the movie held my attention. Having Laura as the center of the story probably helps a lot. A lot of the other high school characters are kept at a distance and it allows for more time to get into Laura’s mind and what she’s going through. Sheryl Lee makes what could be a totally unlikable character very sympathetic as she helps to communicate what she’s going through. She’s clearly someone in a lot of pain and the movie gains a lot of emotional resonance due to how well she gets that across to the audience, no matter how painful and heartbreaking it might be. I was a bit worried when the movie began with a weak beginning with Chris Isaak as an FBI agent, but the movie picks up steam once it returns to the town of Twin Peaks itself. Lynch is able to get a lot out of this origin story and many fans will be satisfied with what he has to offer here. Much like many of his other movies, this is a movie filled a lot of ambiguity and mystery, resulting in many memorably weird moments throughout. However, it’s the mostly concrete story of Laura Palmer’s final days that will stay with viewers the most.
I am giving Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me a 4 out of 5 Hairpieces!