“Through the darkness of future past
The magician longs to see
One chants out between two worlds
‘Fire...walk with me.’”
Rob: Welcome to Weird on Top, the only David Lynch scholarship on the internet. I’m Rob DiCristino.
Alejandra: And I’m Alejandra Gonzalez.
Rob: This is a big week for us, as we’re finally tackling the movie that inspired this whole adventure in the first place: 1992’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. Needless to say, our conversation may spoil the original Twin Peaks series, Fire Walk with Me, and possibly The Missing Pieces, the feature-length compilation of footage deleted from the film. Probably Twin Peaks: The Return, too. Look, if you don’t know who Laura Palmer is, who killed her, and how her story shaped the very fabric of good and evil in the universe, you should probably go figure that out and then come back.
Alejandra: We’ll wait here.
One year later, we meet up with Laura Palmer, a senior at Twin Peaks High School. She’s beautiful and popular, but she’s keeping secrets from her boyfriend (Dana Ashbrook as Bobby), her best friend (Moira Kelly as Donna, taking over for Lara Flynn Boyle), her side jawn (James Marshall as James), and her parents (Ray Wise as Leland and Grace Zabriskie as Sarah). Juggling various cocaine and prostitution-related hustles, Laura is relentlessly haunted by nightmares of BOB and the mysterious Black Lodge that he and his cohorts inhabit. When she discovers a horrible secret that holds the key to her traumatic past, she begins hurtling toward an inescapable fate and grasping for the spiritual salvation she was unable to find on Earth.
Fire Walk with Me, though eagerly anticipated by Twin Peaks fans left hanging by the show’s ambiguous final episode (“How’s Annie?”), was met with mainstream indifference upon its initial release, grossing just $4 million in North America against a $10 million budget. Critics savaged the film: The New York Times wrote, rather gleefully, “It’s not the worst movie ever made; it just seems to be. Its 134 minutes induce a state of simulated brain death, an effect as easily attained in half the time by staring at the blinking lights on a Christmas tree.” Yikes. Home video has since helped rehabilitate its reputation (culminating in the Criterion Collection’s special edition Blu-ray in 2017), and it’s now cited by many Lynch fans as one of the most important entries in his filmography. At the very least, it’s a crucial pivot point in the Twin Peaks story and absolutely essential for those hoping to understand Twin Peaks: The Return.
Ale, I’m going to get out of the way and let you talk about Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.
I’m glad you brought up the film’s rehabilitated reputation because I constantly wonder how much of that had to do with Twin Peaks: The Return, or if it’s only so beloved among Lynch fans while most everyone else still believes Fire Walk With Me to be terribly made. I never had a problem with the film, and obviously really loved it, but it certainly grew on me even more upon revisiting after having seen The Return. I think the two are so important to each other, and it makes sense for people to enjoy the film more today than they did in the ‘90s because of The Return’s existence. For that, I am eternally grateful. How do you feel about the film? Did you always love it or is it more of a newfound appreciation?
Rob: It’s taken me a number of viewings to figure out exactly how I feel about Fire Walk with Me. I resisted it for a long time, actually, and I’m almost positive I had seen Twin Peaks in its entirety at least twice before finally sitting down with it. It’s possible that its reputation at the time was so bad that I chose to preserve my positive memories of the show (which notoriously takes a sharp downturn in quality for most of the second season before rebounding when Lynch returned for the finale) rather than see everything collapse again into what I understood to be a disjointed blob of inscrutable nonsense. What’s more, without co-creator Mark Frost’s steady guidance, Lynch’s abstract sensibilities would surely take things so far beyond the pale that they’d become unrecognizable. Now that I’ve finally absorbed Fire Walk with Me, I’m happy to report that I was right. Left to his own devices, Lynch (with co-writer Robert Engles) delivers a brutal, emotional, and deeply troubling prequel story almost entirely removed from the quirky soap operatics of the original series. In a word, it’s perfect.
Alejandra: Yes! Going into this week’s column, I was absolutely most excited to talk about my journey with my own feelings about Laura. To be honest, I never really gave a shit about her in Twin Peaks because you’re absolutely right when you say that the show wasn’t about her at all. Actually, I remember being so confused as to why so many people felt affection towards her because if anything, the show makes her seem like a pretty terrible person. That obviously never justified the unspeakable things that happened to her, but I stopped trying to make myself care about her pretty early on. That is, until I saw Fire Walk With Me and fell completely in love with her. I don’t know that I have ever felt so deeply moved by another character in a movie before, or that I’ve ever wanted to save somebody fictional this much. Lee’s performance was chilling to the bone; I feel like her screams are still echoing inside of me somewhere. God, can anything even be said about Laura Palmer that would do her character justice? I just feel like I was able to see so much good in Laura that I could not see in her in the series. Her love for her best friend, her family, and the townspeople of Twin Peaks is so evident in the way that she refuses to bring them into the dark world she becomes a part of, and later completely loses it when she realizes she almost draws Donna in to it. I guess that was always present in the series based on how affected the town is by her death, but to actually see it makes a world of a difference. She frustrates those around her because of how isolated she becomes, but her choice to take on her demons completely on her own instead of involving those she loves is the most tragic element of all. I wonder if she could have been saved otherwise.
Alejandra: I am so grateful you showed me that essay, and I’m so grateful for the existence of Fire Walk With Me. I know that it might not be the most perfect film structurally or in terms of writing, but as weird as it sounds, I think it is one of the most emotionally intelligent movies I’ve ever seen. It handles those themes of trauma and isolation exceptionally well, but I think the ending proves that Laura was never completely lost to those things which is an important message to remember when we each go through our own moments of darkness and desperation. I loved watching this with you, and almost feel like putting it on again as soon as we’re done here! Do you have any closing thoughts for Fire Walk With Me?
We’ll be back in a bit to talk about David Lynch’s first commercial hit, 1980’s The Elephant Man. Until then, remember: This world is wild at heart…
Alejandra: And weird on top.