Seriable’s Mark Jones reviews the Twin Peaks movie: Fire Walk With Me
For Twin Peaks fans mourning the cancellation of the series back in 1991, the prospect of a movie directed by David Lynch that would offer new life to the show’s mysterious world must have seemed like a gift from the gods. Many may have felt differently sitting in their cinema seats though, as the finished result was really more of a prequel, and posed as many questions as it answered. The film proved a flop ruling out the prospect of any future sequels that might have given fans the closure they needed but that’s not to say it was a complete waste of time. Sure, it lacks a lot of what made the series so great but it expands and explains the show’s mythology in interesting ways that hint at what could have been, but unfortunately wasn’t.
The film is largely about the last seven days of Laura’s life, but the first, and arguably most interesting, part of it is centred around the investigation of Teresa Bank’s murder a year before. For the most part though it’s almost like a film of ‘The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer’ than of the show itself, focusing mainly on Laura and her friends and family rather than the inhabitants of Twin Peaks as a whole. There’s no Benjamin, Audrey, Jerry, Pete, Doc Hayward, Catherine, Big Ed, Nadine, Josie, Dr Jacoby Hawk, Harry, Lucy or Andy. There’s a little bit of Coop but his role in the film is small, and while James and Bobby return, played by the same actors, Lara Flynn Boyle is replaced by Moira Kelly as Donna. Although she bears a fleeting resemblance to her predecessor, she’s just not Donna, and it breaks the illusion a little bit which is a shame and certainly makes it harder to treat the film as canonical Peaks.
We may not see as many of the original cast as we would have liked to, but other favourites like the Log Lady and the One Armed Man turn up. The Log Lady’s role isn’t so big, she’s the usual dispenser of cryptic advice, but the the One Armed Man/Mike’s role as the former partner of Bob who has turned against him is explored further and he proves to be one of the more revealing characters.
When viewed from the perspective of a film that expands the show’s mythology rather than one which revisits the characters that were in it and their story, it becomes more satisfying; especially the first part. It involves two detectives, Chester ‘Chet’ Desmond (his initials the reversal of Dale Cooper’s, and in many ways his personality is opposite too) and Sam Stanley, as they are sent to investigate the murder of Teresa Banks. One of Gordon Cole’s “Blue Rose” cases, there’s a suggestion that it is connected to a spate of similar mysterious cases which have some connection to the supernatural events in Twin Peaks. Agents go missing, agents reappear and familiar symbols and characters pop up which hint that there have been strange goings on outside of Twin Peaks.
When Chet Desmond goes missing after bending down to pick up the ring with the owl glyph inscribed on it, beneath the Tremond’s trailer, Dale Cooper is called in to investigate. But that’s about as much as we get to learn of the “Blue Rose” cases (aside from the murder of Laura Palmer) because then the action moves to Twin Peaks and we follow Laura on the days leading up to her murder. While the strange ring isn’t forgotten about, the rest of the movie is more about exploring the darker side of Laura that we never really got to know in the TV series.
Apart from the more interesting plot and the excitement of the “Blue Rose” cases which almost sound like they could be Fringe events, the first segment of the movie feels more like the true Twin Peaks. Sure, there aren’t the same locations or characters, but it has a sense of humour which plays against the dark storyline. Crooner Chris Isaac puts in a good turn as Chet Desmond the hard nosed detective who is sidled with the more naïve agent Sam Stanley played by Kiefer Sutherland. Neither really have a parallel in the series but offer the contrast of humour and darkness which was the key to its success.
Chet is confirmed missing back in Gordon Cole’s office where Cooper appears for the first time onscreen, at 10.10am on February 16 to be precise. He says to Cole he’s worried about that particular day because of a dream he told him about. While it’s an intriguing set up, Kyle MacLachlan‘s performance makes things feel more off as it seems more like the Cooper who is trapped in the Black Lodge rather than the eternally cheerful agent who didn’t look so miserable even when he was shot three times. During his time in Cole’s office he witnesses the return, and re-disappearance, of Agent Philip Jeffries played by David Bowie. This is one of the more tantalising parts of the overall mystery which really hints that it isn’t just Twin Peaks that has an entrance to the Black Lodge. He may have been the biggest guest star Twin Peaks ever had but David Bowie is suitably weird enough not to not feel out of place in the film and delivers some intriguing clues, insisting that he’s not going to talk about “Judy”.
“Well now, I’m not going to talk about Judy, in fact we’re not going to talk about Judy at all. We’re going to keep her out of it”
This won’t be the last time the name is mentioned in the film (the second instance is when it is whispered by the monkey at the end) and while Jeffries refers to a female Judy it’s hard not draw a connection with Major Briggs’s surname Garland. In a state of delirium towards the end of the series he mentions his surname in relation to the Wizard of Oz star Judy Garland and intriguingly Jeffries is wearing red shoes suggesting we’re meant to make the connection. It also wouldn’t be the first time Lynch embedded a reference to the Wizard of Oz in one of his films and Wild at Heart also contained a few nods to the movie. It could of course just be a red herring and Judy may have been an important part of the puzzles that was to be revealed in another movie.
As Gordon asks him where he’s been the scene fades to static and a masked man dancing and then to a room (not a red one) where the various characters from another place are gathered. This is one of the most clue-laden and revealing segments where we learn that creamed corn is in fact symbolic of “Garmonbozia” and the idea that electricity is connected to Lynch’s spirit world is reinforced. Before he disappears again he mentions that he’s been to “one of their meetings”, that “we live inside a dream” and says that the meeting took place above a convenience store. Among other intriguing tidbits is the fact that when he arrives he questions “who do you think that is there” while pointing to Cooper.
The first segment of the film is like a prequel within a prequel. It starts with an extreme closeup on a TV set displaying static and ends with Cooper recording a message to Diane on his dictaphone;
“Diane it’s 4:20 PM. I’m standing on the bank of Wind River near the location of where the body of Teresa Banks was found. Diane this case gives me a strange feeling. Not only has Special Agent Chester Desmond disappeared without a trace but this is one of Cole’s blue rose cases. The clues that were found by Special Agent Desmond and Agent Stanley have led to dead ends. The letter that was extracted from beneath the fingernail of Teresa Banks gives me the feeling that the killer will strike again. But like the song goes, “who knows where, or when?”
It will be another year before Cooper records his famous first message to Diane as he drives to Twin Peaks and the scene concludes the first part of the movie before it moves on to Laura Palmer’s story. It then cuts to a shot of the familiar road sign, this time in widescreen, before we head into town to learn more about Laura. There are no shots of the Saw Mill or the Great Northern Hotel though, and after the sign and the mountains fade we see Laura walking to school with Donna. The fact that this is almost like the opening of the TV show inevitably leads to disappointment when the audience realises it’s Twin Peaks but not as we knew it.
As this film is mainly about Laura Palmer this means Sheryl Lee gets to flex her acting muscles a bit more than she did in the show. Lee doesn’t do a bad job but it would have be good to have seen more of the internal conflict that was present in The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer rather than just her more exposed dark side (and that’s not the only part of Laura that gets exposed in this film). Aside from Donna she doesn’t really have anyone she can confide with in the film apart from her diary and for the most part comes across as a typical high-school girl who has gone off the rails, snorting coke in the bathroom and selling herself for money in seedy bars. If we’d seen more of the Laura who wants to be good, the one who resists Bob’s attempts to take her down a dark path, it might have made the ending more powerful and Laura’s journey more complete and her character more sympathetic. She does, however, know that she’s nearing the end of the path she’s on and describes herself to James as “long gone, like a Turkey in the corn”.
The best parts of Laura’s story are not only the things which couldn’t have been broadcast in a TV show (at least not in the early 90s) but her interaction with the people from another place. Mrs Tremond and her grandson (also known as the Chalfonts) are the most prominent characters to appear from the Red Room aside from Bob and Mike. They may not be giving us answers about Agent Cooper but it’s certainly fascinating to see their roles expanded upon outside of the brief time they spent in the show. In the series the grandson made cream corn disappear from a plate and reappear in his hand, this is now revealed to be Garmonbozia, a Lynchian concept which represents “pain and suffering”. They also give Laura a gift of a framed picture which turns out to be a kind of portal to the Red Room. Not as much time is spent in the room as is with its inhabitants and the scenes feel a bit flat compared to its predecessors.
Even if these new sequences aren’t as good, they offer plenty of insight into the mysteries surrounding the enigmatic room. Mike confirms he is the arm and tells Cooper in Laura’s dream that he makes a sounds like a whooping Indian, which is actually the sound that’s heard at telegraph pole in the trailer park when Chet and Cooper are there. Laura is instructed by the Cooper in the Red Room not to take the ring. When Laura awakes, in the dream, Annie Blackburn is lying next to her in bed. She has a bleeding nose and tells Laura that the real Dale is trapped in the Black Lodge and can’t leave and to write it in her diary. These events offer many clues, expanding the mythology and helping our understanding of the Red Room and agent Cooper’s fate.