Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me boasts all the hallucinatory Lynchian touches — the perversions of domestic melodrama, German Expressionist imagery, and the staging and cutting that feel right out of ’20s silent cinema. All this is to say that Lynch is not just a purveyor of these forms, but has a knack for rendering them in nightmarish tones, bending these forms out of shape to suit his whims. I say “whims” rather than “needs” because, in a narrative sense, nothing makes much sense in Lynch-land, nor do sense or logic much matter. Lynch is a filmmaker who has no humanist or dramatic concerns: he has nothing particularly to say about human nature, at least in real-world terms. The underbelly of consciousness and the residue of memory are what continually fuel his work –it’s as if he’s using his cinema to subvert and eroticize the clean-cut American popular cinema and white bread television that he grew up with. After all, what is Hoover, the special agent that Lynch plays in Fire Walk With Me, but a grotesque spoof of the J. Edgar Hoover and Joseph MacCarthy caricatures of his television youth?
Fire Walk With Me is a prequel of sorts to Lynch’s 1990 TV mystery series. But rather than preserve the detective-story framework that sustained the TV show (“Who killed Laura Palmer?”), Lynch makes a thriller about the last days of Laura Palmer before she was murdered in the sleepy Oregon hamlet of Twin Peaks. He lays everything bare, including the identity of Laura’s killer, and thereby deadens the central question, the nerve, that coursed through and became the raison d’etre for the TV series. As thrillers go, Fire Walk With Me is about as weak and uninvolving as they get, because nothing in this narrative feels it wants to cohere into a greater whole. Lynch’s cinema doesn’t really operate on the levels of logic or causality, anyway, but rather on absurdities. You get the feeling he’s making it up as he goes, but trying to wring as much weirdness from every moment as he can.
It’s the journey not the destination that counts in Lynch’s cinema–a sentiment I greatly appreciate. And, in movies like Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive, I sensed that his aesthetic preoccupations were developed rigorously enough to bind themes into an understandable whole. But here, Lynch runs out of momentum, out of ideas in the first hour, leaving us to maunder through the remaining 75 minutes, trying to pretend that Laura’s descent into her drug-addled father-fixated sexual nightmares are actually worth following.
Cokehead teenager, Laura Palmer (Lee) wants to know who’s haunting her nightmares and whether her father (Wise) has anything to do with it. Meanwhile, Agent Dale Cooper (MacLachlan) follows the unfolding events, psychically. There are plenty of hilarious and creepy moments here, with Lynch’s one-of-a-kind atmospherics that keep you ill-at-ease throughout yet compelled to keep watching — like passing a car wreck on the highway.
What Fire Walk With Me offers peters out eventually, and the second half feels like a pastiche of tired Lynch tropes — complete with the Dante-esque descents into madness, sexual and otherwise, set to cloying ’50s inspired music, all to ironic and disturbing effect. Without human characters of any consequence, what’s the point? Lynch really drags actress Lee through some bizarre territory — she’s game, just not terribly good. This fire dampens fast, and the results are rather dreary and nonsensical.
Directed by: David Lynch
Written by: David Lynch, Robert Engels
Cast: Sheryl Lee, Ray Wise, Mädchen Amick, Dana Ashbrook, Phoebe Augustine, David Bowie, Chris Isaak, David Lynch, Harry Dean Stanton, Kiefer Sutherland, Kyle MacLachlan, Frank Silva, Moira Kelly