(1992) dir. David Lynch
David Lynch, I think, is one of the most important American directors of his generation. But because I never really followed the television show Twin Peaks, I never got around to seeing Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, also perhaps at the time remaining within the backlash that came at him from the popularity and character of the tv show. Lynch always walks the sublime line with at least one foot treading perpetually in the absurd. And while it was surprising that the popularity of his visions was at all possible, he also found himself ranging into indulgence of these visions and indulgence of more out-and-out humor.
The film, which went into production not long after the television show was canceled, was made to be a prequel and yet something to answer the questions left open at the end of the show. And when it was released, much as the show had fallen into rapid disfavor, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me was lambasted by critics, booed at Cannes, and probably set back Lynch in ways that ultimately might have helped him develop as a writer and filmmaker. It was panned big-time. But then, not terribly long after, the film was re-visited, and more positive reactions developed. Perhaps the backlash at the film and the show had been too shallow, and somewhere within the film was something more interesting.
Well, beyond all that, I never felt that I would ever slog through all 2 or 3 seasons of the show to catch up enough to care to watch the film. But after my growing appreciation for Lynch’s more recent films (Lost Highway (1997), The Straight Story (1999), Mulholland Dr. (2001), and Inland Empire (2006)), I have felt compelled to explore this feature film, at least from the standpoint of one only mildly aware of the show’s mythologies and characters. So, in watching it, I came fairly ignorant of the closures and loose ends. Which may or may not be a problem.
My take on the film is this: It is deeply indebted and devoted to the television show and much of the film’s narrative arabesques and extraneous characters bear significance in ways that one would not appreciate without knowing their significances. That said, the story of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) is played out in a largely complete fashion here, and in a way that communicates the story enough to appreciate outside of further connections to the television show. So the film is perhaps halfway between the spot of needing the backstory and not, and perhaps that is what waters it down to an extent, waters down what is in other ways an emotional story of incest and the hidden world inside the prom queen with drug addictions and sexual exploitations.
The Surrealist aspects of the film probably play out more “Surreally” than they would if one was to understand the more complex tropes of the narrative featuring some psychic phenomena and “The Black Lodge” that unlike images and weirdness that can be read only in their impact, have more telling metaphorical and narrative importance perhaps. Lynch has always been interested in the “underneath” of American life, as most clearly portrayed in Blue Velvet (1986), and that is at play here too. But afterwards, he became more interested in a more explicit duality in identity, which also is at play here.
For a dedicated David Lynch afficianado, it’s well worth seeing this film if one hasn’t yet, even if you can’t be asked to watch the whole television show. I think that Lynch’s experience in televsion influenced his work, pushing him more toward a more and less in the indulgences of his style. And Mulholland Dr., I believe, was a failed television pilot, which took the buidling of the complex universe of characters and wound up trimming it back as it was reconstructed into the feature it became. I am eager to see more of Lynch’s work. I do mean it, he is one of the most important directors of his day. And gladly his day is still going.