Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me Review

David Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is a baffling, irritating, beautifully made and compelling film that lingers in the mind long after more conventionally "good" films have faded. It's full of unforgettable moments and images that burn themselves onto the mind with an intensity that is as disturbing as it is fascinating. Four viewings down the line, it's begun to come together but I am still in the dark about some aspects and suspect another viewing is required. Luckily, it's rich enough in terms of content and filmmaking to make repeat viewings a pleasure rather than a chore.

If you are unfamiliar with the original TV series then there may be some spoilers in the following review of the film. It's a film which does rely for its full effect on a certain knowledge of the series in terms of character, but if you aren't acquainted with Dale Cooper, Leland Palmer, Bob and company then it is still well worth watching since it's not so much what happens as how it happens that makes this a great movie.

The first half hour of the film seems, on first viewing, to be bizarrely unrelated to the rest. It centres on the discovery of the body of 16 year old Teresa Banks in Oregon and the subsequent investigation by FBI Special Agent Chester Desmond (Isaak). This opening is full of good natured Lynch quirkiness, from his own cameo as a deaf FBI director to the bizarre manner in which the agents are given their confidential assignment information. Despite the obstructive presence of the local police, Desmond and his colleague Sam Stanley (Sutherland) examine Teresa's body and find a small piece of paper with the letter 'T' under her ring fingernail. Her ring is missing and this seems to be the key to the mystery. Desmond indicates that this is one of the "Blue Rose" cases, but will not explain what this means. The film then takes a left turn into stranger territory when Desmond disappears into thin air (literally) and Special Agent Dale Cooper (MacLachlan) is left to pick up the threads. He has the feeling that the killer will strike again, his target being a young sexually active woman, promiscuous and involved in drugs. Needless to say, for series veterans, this is Laura Palmer (Lee), a young girl living in the small Oregon town of Twin Peaks.

Following this introduction, that wonderful main theme kicks in and we begin a journey through the last seven days of Laura Palmer's life. Laura is an outwardly confident but inwardly vulnerable teenage girl whose lack of self-worth and potent sense of self-hatred are fuelled by the sexual abuse she has suffered for years and her nocturnal sessions of drinking, drug-taking and extreme promiscuity. She's a lost soul, unable to get a fix on her life - when with her boyfriend James (Marshall) she says "Quit holding on to me so tight. I'm gone... long gone like a turkey in the corn". It's the knowledge that she is going to die before the end of the film that adds the vital edge of poignancy that tempers Lynch's more self-indulgent ramblings into the plain weird. Sheryl Lee gives a superb performance as Laura, achingly beautiful and gently sad in a fragile way which counterpoints her nighttime excess. Laura's friend Donna (Kelly) is eager to share her experiences and joins her on a journey into the sleazy underbelly of the town which results in Laura having a breakdown when she sees what she has dragged her innocent friend into. Meanwhile, Laura is unable to decide between nice James and grungy Bobby and ends up having both of them. She's also dogged by a terror of Bob, the fiend who enters her room and night and has been raping her since she was twelve years old, a terror which becomes more immediate when she discovers that he has been tearing pages out of her diary.

Essentially, this is a relatively straight examination of a life out of control and heading to oblivion, but Lynch adds some of his unique style. Few other directors are so good at catching a sense of foreboding, making you reluctant to watch because you just know something horrible is going to happen. Because he wallows in the set-up and then pulls back from the nasty detail, the scares are even more potent because Lynch is a master of the mind-fuck. Even when nothing much happens, he can pull your emotions this way and that and make you unable to draw your eyes away despite that ominous sense of fear. My favourite example here is the painting Laura hangs on her wall of a hallway and an open door - watch that door in the scenes that follow and tell me that a chill doesn't travel down your spine. These little touches are usually more effective than the more obviously bizarre moments involving the Man From Another Place, since some of these are more comic than sinister. What it is, however, is all of a piece - in Lynch's world, the natural and supernatural co-exist and the indescribably odd shares the same place as the everyday. The things which defy rational explanation make sense only in the context of Lynch's own universe, so you just have to go along with it. I can think of few other directors who share this talent for making you accept the irrational as part of the everyday; Polanski would be among the others.

Yet, for all the surreal and horrific qualities of the film, the overwhelming impression I have is one of tenderness and compassion. The qualities which blossomed in The Elephant Man and The Straight Story are here too. The heart-rendingly moving scene in the bar when we see Julee Cruise singing is as affecting as anything in those other films; she seems to be singing what is in Laura's heart and she is lit to look like an angel. The angel motif recurs in this film; Laura speaks of falling endlessly through space and says that "the angels wouldn't help you, because they've all gone away". Laura has no-one to guard her it seems, from the sexual abuse which destroys her or from her own addiction. But it's the angelic motif which returns at the conclusion which is, paradoxically, a scene of transcendent beauty and redemption.

Laura is the focus of the film but the other characters are also vivid. Her father Leland Palmer is a difficult role; the link between the two sections and a set of contradictions and neuroses but he is played very well by Ray Wise, pitching the performance at just the right side of hysteria. Moira Kelly is also good as Donna, especially in the scene in the after-hours bar where she has to go off the rails with a drifter. James Marshall is a bit irritatingly wimpy as James but Dana Ashbrook is amusingly brash as Bobby.

The main controvery over the film seems to be the deleted scenes which would have made the narrative rather more lucid. Their omission isn't disastrous, unless you dislike elliptical films, but it does damage certain characters such as Dale Cooper, who has little to do here, and Laura's mother (Grace Zabrinskie). The script reads well and is recommended if you find the film as confusing as I did on first viewing. I suspect that a thorough knowledge of the series helps as well; I saw about half of it back in 1990, but seeing the film makes me eager to catch it all.

If you want a film with a simple beginning, middle and end, this is likely to leave you confused and dissatisfied. If, on the other hand, you want an experience like no other in cinema, then this is a must-see. It's not always effective - the dream scene in the middle is a bit too weird for its own good - but it is always imaginative, ambitious and, ultimately, very powerful.

The Disc

This long-awaited DVD release of the film is a disappointment. The lack of extra features is not surprising, but the poor quality of the transfer is a severe problem.

The film is presented in anamorphic 1.85:1. That's the good news. The bad news is that the print appears to be in pretty poor shape. There is a lot of black and white speckling and a constantly dated and grainy appearance which is just about inexcusable considering the film is not yet 10 years old. There is a small amount of artifacting on display which affects the otherwise solid blacks. Colours are generally good and the contrast is acceptable but otherwise this is not a good transfer at all.

The only soundtrack is English Dolby Digtal 2.0 Surround. This replicates the original theatrical presentation and is generally effective if a little weak in places. It would have been nice to have a 5.1 mix like the German language track on the European R2 disc since this would have made the bass effects more solid and rendered the atmospheric touches more effective. Dialogue is sometimes directional but usually monophonic.

There are no extras on the disc apart from a menu backed by music from the film. The deleted scenes which are hoped for on the ever-imminent R1 DVD do not appear. There are not even any subtitles.

This is a poor DVD release of a film which deserves a lot better. I can't imagine that Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me will be to everyone's taste, but it is as unique a film experience as you're ever going to find. Sadly, the quality of the DVD does not encourage me to recommend it, even to fans of the film.

N.B: This is the upcoming British release of the film, due out on the 17th September 2001 from Second Sight. Most retail sites list it as R2, but the case states that it is Region 0.

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