Wednesday 29 April 2009

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), David Lynch

The tragedy of Cinema is that we are looking through a one-way mirror at a world that is unreachable, that is blind and alone.

I have never seen a film where the screen has felt so thin, the story so immediate and raw as it does in Fire Walk With Me.
The screen, though, is still too thick to smash, too thick to allow us to intervene.

Twin Peaks : Fire Walk With Me - angel

Since the beginning of film, there have been depictions of abused and exploited women, such as Kenji Mizoguchi's Oharu or Robert Bresson's Mouchette. I find those depictions to be somewhat withdrawn. The character is little more than a doll in a cardboard house beaten by an outsized hand. Their sorrow is cathartic and our emotions are easily washed away with tears. There is a tasteful distance, a slow pan, and eyes ultimately turned away.

In Fire Walk With Me there is intense horror and staggering beauty but neither is fetishized. And Lynch never turns away. He shows us what others imply, and shows it unsparingly. He shows what we want to see, not out of titillation or the promise of retribution, but out of sympathy. The world abandons Laura but we do not. We must not.

What makes Laura's story so powerful is that the abuse she suffers at the hands of her father has not only withered her soul but poisoned it. She has turned to prostitution and become a drug addict. She is selfish and cruel. What's more, she is always aware of what has befallen her

"Your Laura's just me now"

The angel in the painting on her bedroom wall, watching over her, vanishes too. She fears that she cannot be saved. She fears that she cannot be loved and is beyond redemption. We are shown the destruction of all that is good in a person:

"The tender boughs of innocence burn first, and the wind rises, and then all goodness is in jeopardy"

The high drama of this premise is handled with great subtlety by Lynch and actress Sheryl Lee, who plays Laura Palmer. They give her so much life and such basic humanity. We have become accustomed to praising acting performances that remain 'performance'. Lee's performance is perfect; manipulative, childlike, fearful and devilish in one consistent, always believable, character.

When her end finally comes her angel is waiting for her. Disbelieving jo
y convulses out of her. It is the first time she has been happy for years.

The film ends on a freeze frame of her smiling face, just as every episode of Twin Peaks concluded on her beaming high-school portrait. Only this time the image that was once a cliched symbol of a corrupted innocent, of a good gir
l gone bad, of a suburban town with dirty secrets, has been brought to life and reconstructed. Laura is no longer a mere object around which the TV show's weird and farcical storylines revolved. The closing image is no longer a lie. The pain and the happiness is real.

n Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is true horror - in other words, hurt and the fear of hurt. It has a love for the character that is beguiling and bewitching. It is a wonderful film.


  1. Quite an excellent little piece - which cuts right to the heart of what is so different, and troubling, about Fire Walk With Me compared to the much more popular series. I haven't seen it since that initial viewing last summer, but the impression remains - it was one of the most intense experiences I've had watching a movie, and though I had more problems with it than you did, I am deeply impressed with a movie whose impact can be so forceful.

    Your comparison with Mouchette is interesting. Fire Walk With Me felt more immediate to me too, but that may in part be cultural - FWWM plays on a very American, late-century mythos of teenage experience and pop culture. I think my problems with Fire Walk With Me - that there was something (perhaps unintentionally) sadistic in the director's treatment - are similar to the problems I had with Mouchette, but for entirely different reasons. With Mouchette, I felt Bresson's stylistic coldness and the relentless cruelty of his and Bernanos' scenario was possibly as merciless and nasty towards the protagonist as any of her tormentors in the movie; wheras in Fire Walk With Me, it was the juxtaposition with mythical and comical elements left over from the show (elements you note are greatly reduced in the film) that made me uneasy - as if they trivialized Laura's suffering.

    Truthfully, I had never these films in relation to one another before - it's a fascinating comparison both for their similarities and differences.

  2. Thanks for the comment. I'm glad that this film is getting some of the credit it deserves - in my opinion it's Lynch's best.

    The only issue I have with it is something you mentioned in your piece - the nature of Bob:

    "But it also tries to pass Leland Palmer's actions off as the machinations of an evil spirit. Bob tells Laura that he thought he had fooled her into thinking her rapist was her father, when it was in fact him - she didn't realize the reverse was true. But the reverse isn't really true. No matter how you cut it, the man who comes in her window is Leland Palmer, her father, and if Lynch tries to tell us otherwise he's just downplaying the shock value of his own material."

    The film suggests he is real (though we can never be sure) and is an evil being taking over Leland rather than the manifestation of the Evil within Leland. This tends to muddy the waters vis a vis Leland's guilt.

    Maybe the film would have been stronger still if it was the latter or if Bob was a projection of Laura's to mask the terrifying and traumatic face of her pain - much like in A Tale of Two Sisters (though that was multiple personality disorder).

    1. Or BOB could be coming to feed on the evil that Leland is creating like a shark swimming towards blood.

      The copout that the "Devil made me do it" in the modern world feels like a copout because people no longer clearly understand that the abandonment to the nonhuman intelligence evil is itself a supremely evil act. "The enemy is abandonment" as the Sufis say.

    2. Yes. That's an interesting angle I hadn't really considered.

      That interpretation does seem to fit well. I'd have to watch the film again with that in mind.

      Thanks very much for the comment, Flying Tiger, and sorry for the late response.

  3. love this piece

    the strength of this film (and of much of what Lynch has done) is that it actually has the power to transform US (as viewers) into the angels that Laura has so much trouble finding

    that might sound trite, but I believe it is, in fact, the highest achievement a work of art is capable of achieving

    it is our love for Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer that makes the ending possible (and which overcomes the tragedy of cinema that you so poetically identify)



  4. Thanks for the comment Dave.

    You put it better than I did:

    "it is our love for Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer that makes the ending possible"

    It's a shame that, because the critical consensus is generally negative and because it is the least discussed of Lynch's films, few people will seek it out.

  5. Just finishing a recent Lynch kick - especially focused on Fire Walk With Me - and thought I would revisit this classic piece. It did not disappoint. In simple, clear, deeply perceptive language you manage to capture the magic of this movie. Hope you return to blogging at some point.

  6. Hi Joel and thanks again.

    I read the first part of your discussion with Tony and enjoyed it. I will read the rest (incl. the forthcoming final part) soon. I also saw that you have a Lynch video essay coming up which I will make sure to check out. Are you going to be making another film of your own?

    Fire Walk With Me is one of those films that I can dissect and read others' dissections of without losing the soul of it. Sometimes I feel like running away from essays on films that I have affection for.

    I still think FWWM is one of the outstanding works of cinema.

    Thanks re blogging. It's not impossible even though I don't have the same desire to post that I used to.

    1. I have a bunch of story ideas I am working on simultaneously but have allowed myself to be distracted a lot over the past year, less and less as the months go by. Now that I've finished my Lynch posts (which consumed most of the past couple months) I have no excuse not to focus on creative writing in my free time so I hope to make progress on a feature screenplay this summer. As for when/how these projects will be shot...I've decided that's something I won't worry about for now. One of the reasons I've been so unproductive in the past decade, aside from Class of 2002, is that I always over-concerned myself with practical considerations and abandoned projects in early stages because they didn't seem feasible on a micro-budget. Better, I think, to just write freely and THEN worry about how to re-scale it or whatever. So that's gonna be my approach from now on. That said, I'm hoping within a couple years I will have a feature project completed. I do have one short idea too (that ties in to a feature, as a kind of prequel) and a feature that's basically a combination of interrelated shorts (if I like how that screenplay progresses, it will be my first project as it can be shot in my house - in fact, that's the project I'm working on today as soon as I finish this comment). But for the most part, I'm interested in long-form storytelling.

      I hope video essays, in addition to keeping my blog active and interesting, will also help me re-hone that filmmaking instinct since they sort of combine criticism and filmmaking. I'm happy with how the Lynch one came out, and it's probably my strongest post of the coming month. It will go up on June 16. I know what you mean about "losing the soul" - I went pretty hard on my analysis of Lynch's oeuvre in the last couple posts of the month and now worry that it may be overkill since his work is so dreamy and intuitive (to be fair to myself, I'm not offering "reductive theories" but rather noticing patterns in his overall body of work, but still...). At any rate, I spent a lot of time on them and think they have some good observations so I'm not changing them but ultimately, the thing I like about video essays is that interrelated images often speak louder than words (and if you are going to speak words, better to have them narrated over images). As Godard said, the best way to criticize a movie is to make another movie.

      Well, this was a long comment. Anyway, I will keep an eye on my blogroll for your hopeful eventual return but take your time - output should definitely follow desire; blogging is best when it's a passion project.

  7. Sorry for the late response Joel.

    I'm glad you are working on new film projects. As you know I was impressed with Class of 2002. I really wouldn't know where to start on a screenplay!

    Speaking of shooting in your own house I recently re-watched a Chinese film called Oxhide II which is filmed in one room, around one table and stars the director (a young woman) and her parents. Very good it is too. Talent and will are the most important things.

    As with blogging what matters most, if it's not your job, is that you get something out of it.

    Lynch has plenty of depth thematically, symbolically, visually - it can take more analysis without collapsing under the weight of scrutiny. I think, by and large. that the mysteriousness of Lynch's films is not ruined by an attempt to understand the mystery.

    I'm happy Godard did think that making a movie was the best way to be a critic. He also thinks it's the best way to turn down an invitation to Cannes!

    I'll make sure to check out those future Lynch posts.