TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME
There was a time when I was intensely passionate about Twin Peaks. I stuck by the show through so many sinking moments and really idiotic turns until Joan Chen's soul was stuck in a doorknob or some silliness. At that point I gave up.
I then made the ghastly mistake of seeing Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me with my mother. I don't think she has yet to forgive me for this. It was not something I expected, even from the sometimes bonkers world of David Lynch.
It looks like Fire Walk With Me has achieved cult status, and with Twin Peaks: The Return now part of the mythos, this film might be in need of reevaluation. Having now seen it again, my position has not changed: it's a horrible film.
Sorry, David...still love you and might name a son after you, but Fire Walk With Me is just bad.
The first part involves the FBI murder investigation of Teresa Banks, who is seen floating on the water, wrapped in plastic. FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole (Lynch) assigns two agents to the case: Chester 'Chet' Desmond (Chris Isaak) and Sam Stanley (Keifer Sutherland) to the case. Desmond is not a man to suffer fools, especially the local sheriff who is highly uncooperative. Then, after going to Deputy Cliff Howard's (Rick Aiello) trailer, which is near Teresa's trailer, Chet finds a ring...and disappears.
This is tied into the vision that Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) has, one involving yet another Agent, Phillip Jeffries (David Bowie), who is rambling he has been to some supernatural world inhabited by dancing dwarfs and weird old ladies with grandsons.
We quickly see that Jeffries was never there...or was he. We then go dark...
Or rather the screen goes black, to jump a year later to Twin Peaks itself. Here, Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) is a beautiful homecoming queen, but one with many secrets. She has at least two boyfriends: football star Bobby Riggs (Dana Ashbrook) and sensitive biker James Hurley (James Marshall), keeping the latter a secret from the former. She also has her best friend Donna (Moira Kelly, filling in for Lara Flynn Boyle).
Donna knows that something is amiss with Laura, but she cannot pin it down. Laura uses cocaine in part to self-medicate due to having a mysterious figure named "Bob" (Frank Silva) come into her room and essentially rape her, which she says has been happening since she was 12. "Bob" is some kind of demon, but it may be that "Bob" is her way of disassociating incest committed by her father, Leland (Ray Wise). It is suggested that Laura's mother Sarah (Grace Zabrinski) may be aware of what is going on.
A lot of Fire Walk With Me is muddled, to be polite.
Laura finds herself unwillingly immersed in the supernatural world but willingly immersed in prostitution and drugs. Her 'pimp', Jacques (Walter Olkewitz) has her come to his bar, where Donna has followed her. Laura takes her to The Black Lodge, which I think is across the Canadian border, and Laura indulges in evil until she sees Donna being led into darkness too. She rescues Donna but cannot rescue herself.
Leland, apparently possessed by "Bob", is shocked to find her in a cabin with men and he takes both Laura and Ronette Pulanski (Phoebe Augustine) into the woods, where despite the best efforts of a one-armed man who is also connected to the supernatural world, Laura is killed.
At the end though, Laura finds herself in that otherworldly world, and she releases her pain when her Guardian Angel and Cooper come to comfort her.
Frankly, I feel I have not given Fire Walk With Me justice in terms of plot synopsis, but I put that down to the fact that it is very hard to make much sense of it. If it makes little sense to someone who has seen Twin Peaks, I can imagine how someone who had never seen the show would find essentially all of it incomprehensible.
Perhaps this is why Fire Walk With Me fails. Lynch appears to have little to no interest in inviting strangers into this peculiar Lynchian world. This is particularly true if you think on the first third of the film.
You get a long segment with Agent Desmond, then not only does he disappear but we never learn what happens to him. In fact, the other FBI agents seem more concerned about Banks' murder than their fellow agent. For a casual moviegoer, this seems almost a bait-and-switch. For a more knowledgeable viewer, it still leaves one wondering whatever happened to Desmond.
This is especially true given how well Chris Isaak was in the film. I actually would follow a case where he and the more literal and somewhat naive Stanley were involved. I think the Isaak section was the best probably because it was the closest the film got to a more conventional film while still having those Lynchian touches. It was eccentric, while the rest of Fire Walk With Me was just baffling and even deranged.
Opaque is the order of the day in Fire Walk With Me. After being treated to a bizarre 'dance' from a woman named Lil that was meant as code for Desmond, we are told about 'the Blue Rose' she was wearing but the film was not about to even tell us what that was about. It never brought it up again. We got Jeffries thrown in there without rhyme or reason, and I won't even go into the weirdness of the little boy in a suit and mask hopping around.
It's hard to judge performances given how one didn't know what one was supposed to see. For myself, I go back to Isaak, someone who really should be given more acting roles. I think he's a great singer, and I think he's proven himself a most competent and compelling actor, so his lack of fame is puzzling to me.
Wise was in a difficult position as Leland. One is never quite sure if he was actually demon-possessed or was a willing and knowing agent to his raping of his daughter. The film seems to want it both ways: one point he essentially forces Sarah to 'finish the milk' (which is probably drugged). At another point he is seen split with Bob, almost unconsciously unaware of things. Wise plays him as both malevolent and slightly comically crazed.
Lee, I think, is a good actress, but again I genuinely wondered what she was doing. Like Leland, Laura Palmer seemed split: sometimes gleefully indulgent in her orgies, sometimes almost a little girl. Sometimes she'd be equally unaware that her father was naked on top of her, sometimes she was fully aware. A case could be made that she disassociated the abuse via "Bob", but Fire Walk With Me is dead-set on bringing in supernatural elements that suggest Bob is real.
As a side note, I felt great discomfort in the killing of Laura Palmer, even if it was not graphic. Killing and torturing women, particularly if it is their father, just seems so awful.
It's pretty crazy in Twin Peaks.
If there is anything to recommend in Fire Walk With Me, it's in the technical aspects. Longtime Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti created a fantastic score, from moody mournful music to frighteningly decadent in the "Pink Room" section. Ron Garcia's cinematography enhances the terrifying nature of this sequence in all its mad glory.
Singer Julee Cruise, who has also worked with Lynch, sings a song written by Badalamenti with lyrics by Lynch. Questions in a World of Blue is a beautiful, haunting number that should have been nominated for Original Song.
Cruise's ethereal voice adds to Questions in a World of Blue's beauty.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me really is for that hardcore Twin Peaks fan who feels the need to see everything connected with the series. It is for me distasteful and nonsensical.
It does have a great soundtrack though...