Friday, April 1, 2016

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

1992's TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME, writer/director David Lynch's prequel to his cult T.V. series, is one the most uncomfortable yet exhilarating experiences I've had watching a movie.  It will baffle and repel many viewers, as do many Lynch efforts. Perhaps especially those who loved the ABC television series, which was a genius concoction that spoofed soap operas and infused it with some terrifying supernatural elements. But also added a lot of folksy charm and endearment.  This new film was not the sort of thing they had seen at home.  The tone was unrelievedly ominous, far moreso than before.  Many beloved characters were missing.  The movie was greeted with a chorus of boos at Cannes, and many devotees, including good ol' Quentin Tarantino, were among them.  The first time I watched it I was just browbeaten by its relentlessness.

The movie covers a lot of ground, and delves into the psyche of its doomed main character Laura Palmer with an abandon you may not be used to seeing in an American feature.  Swede Ingmar Bergman has touched upon this level of emotional violence in films like CRIES AND WHISPERS.  Lynch is his own animal, with a point of view not unlikely shared by anyone else in the universe.  It's often a challenge to describe his work,  to do justice to the beauty in the grotesque that embodies his films.  Does his singular portal suit the life of Ms. Palmer, a wildly complex high school coed?  Someone who is more than just a bad girl wild child, someone with aged wisdom who recognizes her recklessness will ultimately lead to her demise.

Sheryl Lee delivers a strong, multifaceted (and highly underrated) performance as the lead character,  an adrift teen in the Pacific Northwestern town of Twin Peaks, a town filled with secrets, as we learned from the show.  But unlike the small screen effort, FIRE WALK WITH ME is almost entirely devoid of humor and quirk. This is one reason why the film tanked so dramatically at the box office.  And while yes, this movie is a prequel, fans were also looking for closure and resolution as the Season Two finale left several dangling threads and cliffhangers.  Though, it was intended to keep viewers hungry for Season 3, which was not to be (until 2017, as you probably heard) as the network cancelled the program due to a steep decline in ratings.  This occurred after Laura's murderer was revealed.  Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost had in fact intended to never reveal the assailant as to keep the mystery and intrigue fresh.  A wellspring for potentially endless storytelling.
Should one watch the series before seeing this movie? I would lean towards a "yes", as much of FIRE WALK WITH ME will be incomprehensible otherwise.   Someone in the invisible audience may wonder who that girl who appears in Laura's bed, covered in blood, saying something about a black lodge, is, and what she has to do with the story.  For those who have seen the show, that moment will begin to suggest alternate timelines, or dream states. And what about that elderly lady and the kid wearing the mask? They were featured in but one episode of the show.  Knowing how Laura's father Leland (Ray Wise) relates to "Bob" will immeasurably deepen many of the scenes here.  But this film could in fact work as a stand alone drama, a nightmarish portrait of the ravages of incest.  I would be very interested to read the thoughts of real life victims' reactions to this movie.

Those familiar with Twin Peaks lore will see far more, of course.  Will continue to debate the Red Room, Agent Cooper's dream, and so on.  Having this base information should enrich a viewing of FIRE WALK WITH ME, but the focus is (following a half hour prologue with two other FBI agents investigating the death of another girl, who had the same killer) on Ms. Palmer.  Her final seven days are full of aggressive duality - trustworthy steward who assists with the Meals on Wheels program, devoted friend, but also a cocaine abusing, slutty party girl.  Confused but yet all too aware.  Lee is just perfect, and heartbreaking.

Seen again quite recently, TWIN PEAKS FIRE WALK WITH ME may well be Lynch's most disciplined, clear minded bit of cinema.  For all of its oddity - lengthy, hypnotic scene in the bar, the intense traffic encounter, someone appearing as if in drag giving clues via pantomine, David Bowie speaking what sounds like jibberish (though may actually be plot points) in a country accent - there is a sober tragedy at the core.  It's quite stunning, actually.

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