After “Twin Peaks” concluded, people wanted answers. Resolution, closure, something — those not infuriated by that wide-open ending had endless questions about Coop, the Black Lodge, Audrey Horne, and the wind in the trees. What they got instead was “Fire Walk with Me,” a 135-minute prequel even less concerned with resolution and closure than the cliffhanging finale. They should have known better.
The film premiered at Cannes in 1992, just a little more than a year after David Lynch and Mark Frost’s cult phenomenon was unceremoniously canceled following its meandering second season. To say it wasn’t warmly received would be understatement: “Fire Walk with Me” is one of many worthy films that have been booed mercilessly at the vaunted festival, and Quentin Tarantino’s response typified the overall reaction: “After I saw ‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me’ at Cannes, David Lynch had disappeared so far up his own ass that I have no desire to see another David Lynch movie until I hear something different,” he said in a 1992 interview with film critic Ella Taylor. “And you know, I loved him. I loved him.”
Nevertheless, anyone who plans on watching the long-awaited new season of “Twin Peaks” on Showtime should go out of their way to see “Fire Walk With Me,” and not just because Lynch says that doing so is “very important” to understanding what comes next. With the benefit of time, distance, and the ability to accept that “Fire Walk with Me” isn’t what many wanted it to be, it’s easy to accept the film for what it is: a bracing look at incest and rape. (The “Missing Pieces,” 90 minutes of deleted and extended scenes included in the 2014 Blu-ray box set, are clarifying as well.)
Set during the last week of Laura Palmer’s life, the film finds Sheryl Lee giving a wrenching, largely unsung performance as the wayward homecoming queen, with her Laura going through cycles of abuse at the hands of her father Leland and the malevolent spirit possessing him known as Bob. It ends moments before the show begins, with Laura’s brutal murder and subsequent embrace by the angels that were absent throughout her brief life.
“I’m having a hard time believing,” Sheriff Truman says when confronted with the supernatural nature of Bob in the season-two episode “Arbitrary Law.” Agent Cooper replies: “Harry, is it easier to believe a man would rape and murder his own daughter? Any more comforting?”
The answer, of course, is no, and so viewers are likely to have the opposite reaction of Truman: It can be difficult, throughout “Fire Walk with Me,” to discern where Bob ends and Leland begins — is Bob really a supernatural entity, or merely a projection of Leland’s own tormented psyche? “Fire Walk with Me” isn’t as quick to absolve Leland of responsibility as the series was, one of many bitter pills the movie forces viewers to swallow.
The point of this strange prequel was never to let us in on what became of these characters after the show ended. It was to clarify how they came to be in the first place and serve as an after-the-fact manifesto. Even more than most of Lynch’s films, “Fire Walk with Me” requires the viewer to get on its wavelength — in addition to being characteristically strange, it thoroughly resists being the exercise in fan service that so many craved.
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