It’s day three of Twin Peaks week on That Was A Bit Mental! Having already reviewed season 1 and season 2, today I look at the controversial movie Fire Walk With Me. Tomorrow I’ll be reviewing the recently released deleted scenes The Missing Pieces before finishing on Friday with a review of the international pilot.
Starring: Sheryl Lee, Ray Wise, Moira Kelly, Chris Isaak, Keifer Sutherland, Kyle MacLachlan, Dana Ashbrook, Phoebe Augustine, Pamela Gidley, James Marshall, David Lynch, David Bowie, Madchen Amick, Michael J Anderson, Frank Silva, Walter Olkewicz
“When this kind of fire starts, it is very hard to put out. The tender boughs of innocence burn first, and the wind rises, and then all goodness is in jeopardy.” (Log Lady, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me)
After the second and final season of Twin Peaks ended in June 1991, fans still had a bumload of questions.
Two queries in particular were most pressing. What was Laura Palmer really like before she died? And just what did the show’s ending really mean, especially regarding Agent Cooper?
They wouldn’t have to wait long for reassurances that answers were coming. Only a month after the show was cancelled, David Lynch announced he was making the first of three Twin Peaks movies that would fill in the missing gaps and explain what was really going on.
Ultimately however this first film – entitled Fire Walk With Me – was the only one released, following a massively negative reception from critics and fans alike. The result is a movie that answers a lot of questions, but also raises a lot of new ones that may have eventually been answered had the other two films been made.
Although the main focus in Fire Walk With Me is Laura Palmer and the events in her life in the days leading up to her death, the film instead opens with an incident only briefly mentioned in the series: the death of Teresa Banks, a year before Laura’s murder.
Because Kyle MacLachlan was wary of starring in the film for fear of being typecast, the Teresa Banks death is instead investigated by two new agents, played by Chris Isaak and Keifer Sutherland.
This section is decent enough, but it’s strange watching a Twin Peaks film that opens with a 20 minute segment not set in Twin Peaks and consisting almost entirely of brand new characters.
When David Bowie then appears for no reason, speaks with a horrendous fake redneck accent and proceeds to literally disappear into thin air, it starts to become clear why fans weren’t too chuffed.
Thankfully, before long this is all forgotten and the film promptly fast forwards a year, almost as if David Lynch suddenly realised he was supposed to be telling a story about Twin Peaks instead of trying to shoehorn in as many new actor pals as he could think of.
From this point the main focus is on Laura Palmer, shown alive and well just days before she pegs it. And almost immediately, it’s obvious she was a bit of a wrong ‘un, which comes as a shock.
Although Laura’s promiscuity and drug addiction was often referenced in the show, you did still find yourself ignoring it and siding with her, what with her being dead and all.
After all, with nearly every episode of the show ending with her delightful butter-wouldn’t-melt prom photo showing during the closing credits, it was consistently hard not to think “aww, bless her, I bet she was really lovely after all.”
It’s somewhat startling, then, when you first see her snorting cocaine, or getting her baps out in the school lockers, or soliciting a couple of truckers in a club for a theesome. The series already made it clear she was up to no good, but actually seeing it happen hits you like a falling Douglas fir tree.
Indeed, much of the film will come as a bit of a surprise to those who have already sat though the 30 episodes of Twin Peaks. This is mainly because, without the strict guidelines of TV broadcasting to worry about, Lynch goes all out to shock.
Expect more graphic murders, proper swearing (trust me, hearing Bobby say “fuck” is a surprise when you’ve already heard 1,450 squeaky clean minutes of dialogue) and copious nudity, with Sheryl Lee happy to let viewers see Laura’s own twin peaks with startling frequency. I’m not a prude or anything, mind, it’s just a very different vibe to the show.
Go into Fire Walk With Me expecting a companion piece to the TV show, one that will give clear answers to the questions you may have had, and you’re going to be massively disappointed.
Instead, treat it as a standalone piece – one that still does sort of require knowledge of the series, but is its own story – and you’ll get the most out of it.
This isn’t really the story of the Black Lodge, or Shelly and Leo, or the sawmill, or the love triangle with Ed, Nadine and Norma.
This is the story of one girl, her relationship with her friends, the secrets she and her family hide behind closed doors and her gradual descent into hell as her life falls apart before our eyes.
Enormous praise, then, must go to Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer, who carries the film magnificently. Considering she was only picked for Twin Peaks to play a dead body because she lived in the town Lynch was shooting in, to have become the lead of a movie and to have put in a performance like this in the space of only two years is an incredible achievement.
You have never seen anyone go through emotional turmoil like this in a film and she’s just captivating to watch, making it all the more bewildering why she never became a massive star after its release.
Grace Zabriskie, who played her mother, once said of Lee’s performance in the film: “She gave everything she had, she gave more than she could afford to give, and she spent years coming back.” And if anyone should know, it’s her own (fake) mum.
Fire Walk With Me will not make an awful lot of sense the first time you watch it, or even the second time. This is a film so thickly spread with imagery and metaphor that it will require multiple viewings to get your head round it and truly appreciate it for what it is.
This is not a feature-length episode of Twin Peaks. This is a David Lynch horror movie, the surrealism knob turned up to ‘balls-out’, set in the Twin Peaks universe. And as long as you can accept this, and as long as you’re prepared to be very confused, you’ll love it.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me’s rating earns it a place in the hallowed That Was A Bit Mental Hall Of Fame. Click here to see what else made the grade.
HOW CAN I SEE IT?
Fire Walk With Me can be found as a standalone film on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK, and on DVD only in the US.
As it was produced by a different company than the TV series, previous box sets of the show didn’t include Fire Walk With Me. However, that changed late last year with the release of the Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery Blu-ray box set, which features both seasons, Fire Walk With Me, the European pilot and The Missing Pieces, which contains 90 minutes of never-before-seen deleted scenes. Here’s the UK version and the US version.
Alternatively, Brits interested in Lynch’s work in general may instead wish to go for the box set simply entitled David Lynch, which is available on DVD and Blu-ray and features Fire Walk With Me along with Blue Velvet, Dune, Eraserhead, Lost Highway and Wild At Heart.
SHOW ME THE TRAILER:
6 thoughts on “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992) review”
I’ve always had my doubts about the idea of a Twin Peaks trilogy. On the one hand, Lynch said he’d want to go back after FWWM (and now he finally has) and Bob Engels has said there were more films planned. But then I read other interviews where they say it was meant as a standalone. This of course makes no sense considering the deleted scenes with Cooper and Annie at the end – why in the world would you shoot that if you weren’t planning sequels? But I can see Lynch, during the cutting of the picture, deciding that maybe this was to be the final word on Twin Peaks after all. It certainly seems to end that way.
My own (completely speculatory!) assessment is that Lynch really didn’t know what he wanted in the long run, just that right at this moment he wanted to go back to Twin Peaks, explore some cool imagery, and (especially) see Laura Palmer alive and (not-so-)well. During shooting and editing it seems like the last part came into the sharpest focus, probably given the unexpected grandeur of Sheryl Lee’s performance which you so accurately assess here. Whether or not there would have been more sequels had FWWM been more successful is, I suspect, something that even Lynch himself could never really tell us!
Look forward to checking out your series & Missing Pieces reviews.
Thanks for your comprehensive thoughts Joel!
The series reviews are already live (you can find them on the main homepage), and the Missing Pieces review will go live tomorrow (Thursday).
Hi. The reviewer has done a wonderful job of explaining why this movie differs from the show. This should be required reading for those who watch the show and then turn to TPFWWM expecting another 2 hour episode, or satisfying “drawing room scene” where Hercule Poirot explains everything, etc.
It is indeed a david lynch horror movie set in the world of twin peaks, and it does let us see Laura at her conniving, promiscuous, unreliable worst. It also shows us what went in to making her that way. Hats off to Lynch and hats off to this review, which beautifully explains what I have struggled over the years to explain to others about TPFWWM.