Wednesday, June 15, 2011


David Lynch, 1992
Starring: Sheryl Lee, Moira Kelly, Chris Isaac, Ray Wise, Kyle MacLachlan, Dana Ashbrook, Madchen Amick, Eric DaRe, James Marshall

What a cluster fuck.
If you love Twin Peaks, I would suggest checking out this film. If you've never seen the series or are for some insane reason ambivalent about it, don't bother. The primary problem is that Fire Walk With Me tries to be a prequel to the series, but is inherently a separate story. Due to the cuts in the original screenplay, it is nearly impossible to follow what is going on if you haven't seen the show. If you love the show and are expecting a coherent story or some answers, forget about it.

Agents Desmond and Stanley investigate the murder of Teresa Banks. A dancer named Lil gives them some clues, including a blue rose. In the morgue they discover that Teresa has had a ring removed from her finger and a letter "T" has been shoved under her fingernail. In Philadelphia, a missing agent (David Bowie) reappears and tells Gordon Cole about strange dreams involving the Man from Another Place, BOB, and others we know Cooper will later encounter in Twin Peaks, then the agent breaks down screaming. Desmond, still on the Teresa Banks murder, has gone missing. Agent Cooper is sent to investigate, but it leads to nothing.

A year later we meet Laura Palmer, homecoming queen by day and coke-head whore by night. She discusses some bizarre things with her friend Donna and later realizes pages are missing from her secret journal, probably stolen by the entity known as BOB. She discusses this with her friend Harold and tells him that BOB is going to kill her if he can't possess her. Harold says that BOB isn't real. Laura has some sort of episode and flees, leaving him her journal. Cooper speculates that someone else will be killed and Laura gets a clue that BOB is her father Leland. Things are particularly tense at home and she has a dream about the Black Lodge, where Cooper, the Man from Another Place and Annie Blackburn appear and discuss events that occur at the end of Twin Peaks. They try to warn her.

That night Laura, Ronette, and Jacques go to the Roadhouse for sex and drugs and Donna invites herself, to Laura's dismay. Leland takes Laura to breakfast and they have an encounter with the one armed man, MIKE, who tries to warn Laura. Leland later remembers killing Teresa and we learn about a prostitution ring that involved Teresa and Laura. Laura does a lot of cocaine and is raped by Leland/BOB while her mother is sedated in the other room. It is implied that this is a repeating occurrence. Bobby and James both realize Laura is in trouble. She goes to the woods to have an orgy with Jacques, Leo, and Ronette, but Leland is watching outside. He attacks the two other men and takes Laura and Ronette to the train car. MIKE intervenes, saving Ronette and preventing Laura from being possessed by BOB, who then kills her and dumps her in the lake. The Sheriff finds her, as in the beginning of Twin Peaks, and her spirit wakes up in the Black Lodge, though it is implied that she eventually goes to the White Lodge.
Apparently a big part of the problem with Fire Walk With Me is that the screenplay was significantly cut. The original version allegedly contains all the characters from the series, but many of their roles were cut due to politics and scheduling conflicts. Instead of rewriting the script, like a reasonable person would do, David Lynch just extended the weird introductory scenes with Isaac and Sutherland and stretched out Laura's "I'm crazy and tormented" scenes. Good thing there was extra time for us to watch Bob eat creamed corn in reverse and see monkeys talk about Judy. The few scenes involving Agent Cooper have him wandering around the set as if he has no clue how he got there.

My biggest complaints are the casting and acting. Moira Kelly is a poor replacement for Laura Flynn Boyle's Donna. Donna is one of my least favorite characters, but the trade off is just awful. If there is an actress out there who can give off less sex appeal than Kelly, I'll eat my DVD collection and set my computer on fire. I'm also not sure how I feel about Sheryl Lee. She is Laura, so it would have been impossible to replace her, but I don't really know if she was a strong enough actress for the role, particularly since most of the film centers around the outrageously bad week she has before her death. Though to be honest, I think a lot of my issues with Laura in Fire Walk With Me have more to do with the script and less to do with Lee as an actress, so I'll get off her back. The acting in general is troublesome. It's the same style as in the series, but without the humor and obvious soap opera satire. There are a lot of random casting decisions like Kiefer Sutherland, Chris Isaac, and David Bowie as essentially wasted characters who only appear in the opening sequence. I wish more had been done with them.

Ultimately, I don't know how I feel about this film. What I said initially is true, that it is a total, irredeemable mess, but I do love a good disaster. I can't help being endlessly fascinated by films that try to say something original, profound or at least true, but are given just enough leash by the studios/producers/directors that they manage to hang themselves. In general I've found that I tend to write more about flawed films than perfect works I thoroughly love. Fire Walk With Me attempts to do some very interesting things, but unfortunately misses the mark. I loved it anyway.

The film generally received terrible reviews and was even booed at Cannes. I think a lot of people had trouble swallowing the absence of Mark Frost. Without his influence, fun, comedy, and thrill of discovery in the series, most of which is fueled by Kyle MacLachlan's Agent Cooper, is completely gone. Only the disgusting, seedy underbelly remains. The sense of the surreal and the absurd that can be threatening but is frequently also lighthearted or even benevolent, has been abandoned for relentless nightmare images. Laura is in hell and we are right there with her. It initially upset me that the film became about the horrors of incest and sexual abuse. Within the larger framework of Twin Peaks, this feels like a cop out, like Lynch is revealing the monster at the end, when it would have been more terrifying to leave things up to the imagination. But within the smaller, more personal world of Fire Walk With Me, Laura's nighttime terrors are real and Lynch examines them in a sensitive, thorough way.

I think a lot of people also had a really hard time with the narrative structure, which is a disaster. While Lynch's later works frequently eschew a linear plot line -- such as Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive -- this film is just not particularly coherent. I'm actually not sure what audience this film is for other than Lynch himself, who repeatedly states in interviews that he mostly made the film because he wasn't finished with Laura. It is not quite a Lynch movie, not quite a horror movie, not quite a Twin Peaks movie, not quite a prequel, not quite a sequel, and not quite a narrative film. The number of unexplained connections alone are migraine inducing, like the blonde man killed by Bobby, David Bowie's missing Agent Jeffries, Judy, the sudden appearance of Annie, the potential magic power of Teresa Banks' ring, the white masks, etc.

Overall it is a deeply flawed but ultimately powerful film. If you can handle the slapdash writing, haphazard use of characters, and barrage of non-sequiturs, it is enjoyable. There are great visuals and a great score, as well as some truly creepy and unsettling moments. Allegedly one day we'll get to see the longer director's cut or possibly the rumored five-hour cut that restores much of the screenplay. For now you can pick up the region 1 single disc, which is the version I'm reviewing.

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