Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
"This film hinges on a powerhouse performance from Sheryl Lee the like of which has rarely been committed to celluloid."

When the series Twin Peaks first appeared on television screens in 1990, one thing that didn't seem mysterious about it was the crime at its centre - the murder of a beautiful 17-year-old blonde, a homecoming queen. In fact, such murders are so much a staple of what we watch on TV and in the cinema that we rarely question the logic of them. They are part of an acceptance, a normalisation of violence against young women that extends far beyond the screen.

In this film, which is at once a prequel and a sequel to the TV series, David Lynch turns that logic on its head. He gives agency, personality and humanity to the murdered Laura Palmer, and restores the full horror we should all feel at such brutality.

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In the light of that, it is perhaps not surprising that this film was so aggressively rejected on its first screening at Cannes. A record number of people walked out. Sure, some were just reacting to Lynch's style. They said it was too surreal, they didn't make the effort to translate his symbolism, or they said it was too indulgent. The latter accusation might be a fair one - Lynch admittedly made the film as a piece of art, without much regard to the viewer. But what many complained of was that it was unnecessarily brutal. This may show not only a lack of understanding but a lack of willingness to understand.

Yes, this film is ugly, and not for the faint of heart, but what it shows is the sort of thing that goes on in the private lives of hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. Its brutality is absolutely necessary. It is a wake-up call. It says that it is not enough simply to pass comment that child abuse is not very nice - we all have a responsibility to face up to the fact that it could be happening to someone close to us. Even in a nice place like Twin Peaks.

This film hinges on a powerhouse performance from Sheryl Lee, the like of which has rarely been committed to celluloid. The story makes no apologies for who Laura Palmer is. It doesn't try to make her into the safe, bland victim of so many TV movies, a person whom we can comfortably identify as 'innocent'. Like most victims of abuse, she is a conflicted person sometimes prone to aggressive impulses. This is not helped by her use of cocaine, but, at least in the immediate term, the cocaine helps her to survive. She also has a dangerous sexuality, participating in activities way beyond the bounds of respectable society, but this is far from mere voyeurism on the film's part.

Some fans of the TV series commented that they "felt sorry for Laura until [they] found out what she was like". Lynch asks: shouldn't we feel sorry for her regardless? What are we if we say that anything she did made her being raped and murdered okay?

For years after she made the film, Lee says, she was approached by strangers in the street who thanked her for giving them the courage to speak up about the violence and abuse they had suffered. That, she says, made it all worthwhile. For Lynch, it formed the keystone in a series of works about the social vulnerability of women which would later include Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire.

If all of this sounds a bit obscure and not a subject you could imagine yourself relating to, there's something else about this film that's different from previous work on these themes. It really doesn't pull any punches and, although it does make heavy use of symbolism (you'll see a lot of the series' red rooms), it doesn't hide behind it the way most such stories do, turning the camera politely away. Instead it confronts not only Laura's emotional disintegration but also the fear she experiences head on. If Eraserhead left you quaking under the covers, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me will come to finish you off. Although it is an intensely personal film, this is something you may not want to watch alone.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me reveals the side of this quiet American town that could never be shown on television. Lynch ended up making it with the support of French studios because most of those in the US found it too much to stomach. Doubtless some viewers will feel the same. Others will find it too difficult to connect with Laura's experiences, or will instinctively turn away rather than let themselves connect with it. But if you're ready and willing to stay the distance, you'll see a tremendous piece of cinema.

Reviewed on: 07 Feb 2009
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The last seven days in the life of Laura Palmer - a young woman's desperate attempt to reclaim her identity after years of abuse.
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Director: David Lynch

Writer: Mark Frost, David Lynch

Starring: Sheryl Lee, Ray Wise, Grace Zabriskie, Moira Kelly, Eric DaRe, Phoebe Augustine, Dana Ashbrook, Chris Isaak, Pamela Gidley, Kyle MacLachlan, David Bowie

Year: 1992

Runtime: 135 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: France, US


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If you like this, try:

Blue Velvet
Mulholland Drive
Twin Peaks