Is “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” Better than People Think?
SPOILERS FOR TWIN PEAKS AND FIRE WALK WITH ME FOLLOW
Twin Peaks is coming back. That’s no secret; debuting May 21, Showtime will air eighteen new episodes of the cult show, all written and directed by co-creator David Lynch. To add to the hype, Showtime president David Nevins, who has seen a rough cut of the episodes, described it as being “the pure heroin version of David Lynch.” That’s some level of hype.
But now I’m going to let you in on a bigger secret. One that some fans probably won’t agree with, but is the truth nonetheless.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is better than you think.
How dare you, sir! Fire Walk With Me is garbage! I’ll admit, I thought so too at first. Released after the untimely cancellation of the show, which has (arguably) one of the biggest unanswered cliffhangers in TV history, the feature film didn’t bother answering questions or dealing with the fallout of the finale. Instead, it told a prequel story about the last seven days in the life of Laura Palmer, whose murder kicked off the show (“She’s dead. Wrapped in plastic.”), with only a few vague references to what happened in the finale.
I was in the “garbage” bandwagon after watching it the first time. But now that I’ve seen it a few times it’s changed in my mind. Lynch’s work will do that to your mind. To me, Fire Walk With Me is less a “Twin Peaks movie” and more of a “David Lynch film.”
When looking at Lynch’s filmography, Fire Walk With Me has more in common with another Lynch film, Blue Velvet, than it does with Twin Peaks. Both movies are set in idyllic, American towns that slowly reveal a seedy underbelly of drugs and murder. Both films feature a woman in trouble, desperate to escape a sexually abusive relationship. But while Blue Velvet is viewed from an outsider’s perspective (Jeffrey Beaumont, played by future Twin Peaks star Kyle MacLachlan), Fire Walk With Me is told from the girl’s (Laura’s) perspective. That makes it both more compelling and traumatizing to watch. But it also feels more beautiful, in a way.
Lynch has never been about giving answers and his works show that. Twin Peaks was never going to reveal that Laura’s father Leland, possessed by the woodland demon BOB, was the one who killed her until ABC stepped in (after swarms of fan backlash to the season one finale) and made Lynch reveal the killer. Mulholland Drive, arguably Lynch’s masterpiece, changes the roles of the two lead characters for the final act of the film, and Lynch has been mum ever since as to which reality of the film is the “real” one. Don’t even get me started on the labyrinthine, dream-like logic of Inland Empire.
This is all to say that Lynch, like plenty of other creative geniuses before him, has always been about telling the stories he wants to tell. He doesn’t care about what viewers “want” to see. He gives them the stories he wants to, believing these are the stories viewers “need”. In that respect, Fire Walk With Me was never about giving answers to what happened to Special Agent Dale Cooper and the townsfolk of Twin Peaks. It was about fleshing out the world we already knew and telling a heartbreaking story of one girl’s escape from the darkness in her life. It was a story, in retrospect, that we needed.
But what about the opening act, which is all about the FBI investigating an early case involving a BOB-possessed Leland? What about it? That was Lynch retaining a key element from the show’s DNA. Why else have fan favorite FBI characters like Albert Rosenfield and Gordon Cole pop up for brief cameos alongside the likes of then-current and future stars like David Bowie and Kiefer Sutherland. Yes, it doesn’t “gel” with the rest of the movie’s narrative, but it does offer a deeper look into what the FBI was up to before Cooper arrived in Twin Peaks. Just like Laura’s story offers more context to the events of the pilot.
Finally, the recent release of “The Missing Pieces”, ninety minutes of previously unreleased deleted scenes from Fire Walk With Me, has helped soften the overall viewing experience. No, it doesn’t answer questions like fans would want it to, but it does provide some needed, Twin Peaks-ian humor to the dark storyline of incest and drug abuse. Plus, seeing even more characters from the show appear helps to envision a completed film that would be more akin to what the show had been.
But you don’t need “The Missing Pieces” to enjoy Fire Walk With Me. Sure, more clearly defined answers to that mind-numbing finale would have been nice. But take the Twin Peaks connections out of your mind and what you’re left with is a fantastic, if challenging, film that stands as a hallmark of Lynch’s resume.
(But watch Twin Peaks first. Seriously. The film benefits from knowing what happens over the course of the show. Skip it and you’d be cheating yourself out of one of the best TV shows to ever air on network television.)