I was very excited when I heard there was going to be a Twin Peaks movie. How thrilling it would be to see how Cooper gets out of the Black Lodge!
I think a lot of people were thinking something along those lines. So why did David Lynch give us a prequel instead? I can think of two answers. Either that was a more compelling creative direction for him, or he didn’t feel like giving the fans what they wanted.
By most accounts, Lynch didn’t like how his tv experience went. He wasn’t able to direct every episode, and was frustrated with how other directors treated his show. The ratings dropped. Then the network stopped supporting the show, effectively killing it. When he returned to direct the last episode, he made it punishingly weird and dark. And those words could be used to describe the movie, too. It’s hard to deny that Lynch must have felt bitter. The fact that the movie opens with a television showing static just before getting smashed seems to support the idea.
As do the opening scenes, which could be read as a parody of Twin Peaks. How else to explain Lil? There’s nothing she conveys that Gordon couldn’t have simply said to Chester. And then there’s Deer Meadow, which is like the opposite of Twin Peaks. The locals are hostile, and the coffee sucks. The mood of the entire pre-Laura section is airless. It’s a very off-putting way to begin the movie.
As far as I’m concerned, that long opening segment should be chopped off. Sure, we’d miss eerie moments like the schoolbus of screaming children and Agent Jeffries’ otherworldly visit to the FBI office, and we’d see less of Agent Cooper. But what we’d get in exchange is a more focused film.
The first couple of times I saw Fire Walk With Me, most of its more abstract elements felt like Lynch imitating himself – badly. It felt like his focus was on putting weirdness on display instead of creating an atmosphere. I have a somewhat more charitable view now: maybe he just got too wrapped up in his Black Lodge mythology. It doesn’t add anything to my viewing experience when the Man From Another Place (MFAP) says, “This is a formica table. Green is its color.” Don’t get me wrong – I love the MFAP. But I thought he was best used in his very first appearance on the show. What Lynch has done with the second season finale and the movie goes against what usually drives him: he has robbed the MFAP of some of his mystery.
You know what does work, though? Laura Palmer, Lynch’s stated inspiration for wanting to make this movie. Sheryl Lee paints a complete picture of the inner life of an adolescent who is a victim of sexual abuse. She so inhabits the character that I imagine it haunted her for a while after she was done with the film. I could swear she’s crying half the time she’s on screen, but it never loses its power. Everything she’s doing makes emotional sense.
She’s assisted tremendously by Lynch and Robert Engels, who co-wrote the script, which portrays her with great empathy without shying away from her jagged edges. One of my favourite scenes is when Donna defiantly follows Laura on her night on the town. Donna knows her friend is in deep trouble, and this is the only thing she can think of to do about it. And Donna wins that round. When Laura sees her best friend splayed naked on a table, she fiercely protects Donna’s uncorrupted innocence. There’s no way she’ll let her follow her down to hell.
One thing the tv show made pretty clear was that Leland was not conscious of what he was doing to his daughter – it all happened while he was possessed by BOB. The movie takes a very different approach. There are many indications that this is a straight-up case of sexual abuse. At home, Leland’s relationship with Laura is an abusive one. And shortly before he kills her, he says, “I always thought you knew it was me.” There are many other moments that support this reading. And that certainly seems to be Leland (and not BOB) who pays Teresa Banks for sex. Is it also Leland who kills her? There’s even a moment that suggests Sarah might be complicit in her husband’s misdeeds – it’s in the looks she and Leland exchange when he gives her drugged milk to drink. But Lynch keeps it ambiguous. After making Laura cry at the dinner table, Leland sits in his bedroom crying, as if he’s just realized what he’s done. He goes to her room and tells her he loves her. At the same time, the film doesn’t discount the existence of BOB. We see him next to Leland in the Red Room – separate. And the fact that Ronette has seen BOB proves he’s not just in Laura’s imagination. So I’m not sure whether to call Lynch’s handling of the Leland/BOB duality ambiguous, or muddled.
- Gotta give props to Angelo Badalamenti for a score that covers the emotional range from moving to creepy.
- Agent Jeffries seems to know what’s eventually going to happen to Cooper when he points at him and says, “Who do you think that is there?”
- That traffic confrontation between Leland and Mike is intense!
- The boy played by Lynch’s son seems related to the Jumping Man.
- “Bobby, I found a pinecone.” Drunk Laura is funny.
- The movie reveals that The Man From Another Place is the arm Mike cut off.