When Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me debuted in theaters in 1992, a year after the TV series was cancelled, it was met with some of the harshest reviews director David Lynch has ever received. At a screening in the Cannes Film Festival, the movie was greeted with booing and jeering and was very badly received by fans and critics alike. The film bombed in theaters, failing to make back its ten million dollar budget and destroyed any chance of the continuation of Twin Peaks.
But Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is not a bad movie. In fact, it is quite superb. It isn’t a flawless film to say nor is it David Lynch’s greatest work but is a stunning piece of art. Perhaps the movie was not necessary, but I did not see it as a self-indulging exercise the majority of critics did.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is a prequel to the TV series about the last seven days of Laura Palmer’s (Sheryl Lee) life. Laura appears to live an every day life: she was the homecoming queen for her high school, she’s dating the lead football player in her school Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook), and she has a loyal best friend. However, as Twin Peaks revealed, there was more in Laura’s life than what meets the eye. Laura secretly does cocaine and works for drug sealers. While her public boyfriend is Bobby, in reality she’s seeing motorcyclist James Hurley (James Marshall). And she’s being tormented and raped by Bob (Frank Silva), an evil entity who exists in another world.
There are multiple differences between Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and Twin Peaks. Other than a few flashbacks, Laura never appeared in the series and the audience only learned about her from other characters. Twin Peaks also operated as an ensemble show; while Laura’s murder was the series’ main driving force, there were other subplots, like Andy’s relationship with Lucy. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, on the other hand, focuses only on Laura. Many of the show’s characters don’t appear, though many make cameos or play smaller roles. Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) plays a part in the movie in the murder of Teresa Banks, and the film also hints his mysterious fate that occurred in the series finale, but otherwise the movie is about Laura.
But the greatest difference between the series and the film is the tone. Part of the reason of Twin Peak’s success, I believe, contributed to the lightheartedness of the situations. While the series approached many dark elements common in the Lynchian universe, it also spoofed soap operas and had jokes about coffee and cherry pie. As opposed to David Lynch’s other works, Twin Peaks was more approachable for audiences. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, on the other hand, ditches the cheeriness and is the bleakest, darkest portrait Lynch has ever painted, even more so than Blue Velvet. Perhaps this is due to the fact the film is a reminder that Twin Peaks was about rape and murder, or that Lynch wanted to take another direction for the movie. Audiences must have disliked Fire Walk With Me because of this, but looking at it by itself I feel the film stands on its own. It’s an admirable film, filled with many of Lynch’s regular trademarks like his rock soundtrack, hypnotic pacing, and off-the-wall weirdness, and though it lags a bit in the beginning, it’s a wild ride.
Ray Wise, who plays Laura’s father Leland, deserves much praise for his performance. Leland was always Twin Peaks’ most interesting character, and in the film Lynch expands him further, resulting in one of the director’s best characters. Lee also is noteworthy as Laura, a role that must have been difficult to play. Many of the other actors aren’t given as much to do besides those two actors, but the acting is still strong overall.
While not at David Lynch’s peak, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is a highly underrated project that’s as fascinating film the director has ever made. Enormously misunderstood by audiences initially, this is a movie that deserves more acclaim than it receives.