Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Movie Appraisal: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me directed by David Lynch is probably one of my favorite movies of all time. To put it out there, this movie is not for everybody. David Lynch is not for everybody. If you haven't seen an episode of the Twin Peaks television series, don't watch this until you watch that series. Despite the fact that this movie is mostly a prequel to the TV series, it also has elements of a sequel. And the spoilers provided by the movie would probably be best avoided if the television series is in your interest at all.
If you're reading this review and you like the other movies I've reviewed, Twin Peaks is probably the series for you. It is by far my favorite television series of all time. If I were to write my own series, it would end up looking a lot like that one. But this movie- this movie is where the heart and soul of Twin Peaks truly is. It has it's true capabilities, weirdness, and insanity out there for all to see before the end. It's a gory, visceral, surreal, and introspective look at what would lead up to the television series, but it stands all on its own as something brilliant and spectacular.
David Lynch made his career making movies that pushed the bounds of psychology, horror, and the nature of surreality. This movie has all those elements in it, often becoming quite terrifying if you can parse exactly what's going on. This is the reason the television series is a much watch for understanding this movie fully. It's absolutely needed to understand both the horror and the implications of exactly what's going on. I don't know how much and how often I can proselytize why this series and movie are some of the best works of fiction ever created.
I know that sounds like the ravings of the lunatic. I get that. but nothing this original exists anywhere else. It led to so many other different takes off of the same material. It was also, in my opinion, the Firefly before that show and subsequent movie existed. Cancelled before it should have been (in my opinion), leaving fans stranded with more questions than answers, and having a fanatical fanbase, Twin Peaks was a movement and an expression more than it was ever a simple television show.
The movie should have been there to answer lingering question and tie up loose ends, but when has David Lynch ever done anything of the sort? For every question answered in the movie more arose from it. And frankly, the movie brought me a whole new definition of small town horror when I first watched it quite a few years ago.
So, with introductions over, let's talk about this movie if we can. First off, the movie can be viewed as two different parts. The first part follows around a series of FBI agents (including our good friend Agent Cooper!) as they are involved in some odd investigations. I always found it odd how the FBI is basically comprised of some of the weirdest people imaginable, every one more surreal and interesting than the last. Agents Chester Desmond and Sam Stanley (played by Kiefer Sutherland) are looking into the murder of one Teresa Banks. And the investigation is hampered by an uncooperative police force in the town of Deer Meadow. Deer Meadow is also basically the opposite of the town of Twin Peaks. Anyway, they get their information from a woman named Lil, who dances for them.
And it's weird. They interpret the dancing, and I have to believe it all has something to do with how Lynch and his films (and television show) were received. Most of Lynch's films are surreal, often with the easiest way to view them being to interpret the plots and fill in what you need to from the information provided. A David Lynch film is something to watch. There's nothing else like them, not in my experience anyway. While not everything might have a hard meaning in his movies, I do believe the interpretations can still be there. He's such a deliberate filmmaker that I can't see him not having specific ideas on what he means to do in a film.
The investigation of Teresa Banks murder goes on, but nothing is really found out, besides a missing ring and a missing trailer. And eventually a missing Chester Desmond. And that's where the movie leaves Deer Meadow, going instead to Philadelphia to focus on Dale Cooper for a while, who has had a series of dreams over the course of the movie, prophetic dreams. He tells Gordon Cole (played by David Lynch) about the dreams and a man named Jeffries (played by the man and the legend David Bowie) enters the room only to disappear again. It is surreal and odd, and probably makes no sense at all. I think he's connected with Windom Earle, although I'm not sure why I think that. (Windom Earle is form the latter half of the second season of the TV series.)
Finally we get to the main part of the movie: the lead-up to Laura Palmer's death. And what a lead-up it is. We see a visceral, surreal, dark, and often very salacious as well. I don't think I've ever seen nudity made so ugly, so feral, and so hard to look at. What it looks like to me throughout the film is victimization. And it's obvious that's what it is. Laura Palmer leads a double life. On one side, she's the beautiful homecoming queen with a nice family life, a best friend, and a boyfriend (or two). But beneath it she's a drug addict, a sex addict, a person who has no idea what she wants in her life or from her life, and mostly she's a scared young woman. She admits to being raped since she was twelve, although early on she claims she doesn't know who's been doing it.
But we find out along with Laura, and what a reveal it is. it is one of the few movies brave enough to tackle an incestuous relationship in a believable way. Laura's father, Leland (Ray Wise, basically the second lead of the movie after Sheryl Lee's Larua), has been possessed by an evil creature named BOB. he's been in love with and raping Laura for years as BOB, but we're left wondering whether or not it's been Leland all along... or if BOB is really the perpetrator. The incestuous relationship is definitely an undercurrent of this entire part of the film, with a definite focus on Leland's responses to Laura's relationship, manners, and life. But there is also Laura's odd reactions to her father, so much pointing to the idea that she knows he's been raping her, but is hiding it under the surface. The awkward moments, the nearly broken home, and the appearance of normality- those are certainly themes throughout both Twin Peaks and David Lynch's works in general, but here they are on display for all to see.
In some ways, many ways, this film is the natural progression from a film like Blue Velvet. Both involve "normal" suburban or small town life, but both also involve this undercurrent of sleaze that David Lynch captures so perfectly. And that's what this movie is at times: pure, unbridled, and unadulterated sleaze. The horror is throughout this movie, maybe not in overt murderers or copious amount of blood and gore, but rather in the normal being so awful as to not be able to be accepted. It's about the degradation of Laura Palmer, about the character's final days, and about how she was falling apart because of the sexual abuse, the incest, the being used constantly- even letting herself be used, wanting to be degraded and worshiped because of that sexual abuse. It's so well-handled, not with baby gloves, but as a visceral look at it. And it is terrifying and sickening all at once.
It's meant to be. And that might be the creepiest thing about the movie. The nudity isn't meant to be sexual, it isn't mean to evoke a sexual response. It's meant to invoke a heavy feeling of sickness. I know that's how I felt watching it at least. Leland's rape, eventual capture, and murder of Laura are also sickening. it is so awful to see, but Lynch makes it so compelling to watch. You don't want to see the conclusion, but you cannot look away.
Obviously this movie has many things, little things, that have meaning. The pictures in Laura's room mean something. The angel that was with her has left her once the ring comes into her mind. And the door opening painting that brings Laura to the Black Lodge- it has layers of meaning. The Black Lodge being the worst of entities and "humanity" alike. But the whole movie has layers of meaning- throughout there are moments where you wonder if you're even watching reality anymore. There are moments in the Roadhouse that feel like that, specifically within the Pink Room, which I would say is the absolutely most surreal moment in the film.
To me, this movie is the pinnacle of what it means to be a surreal and psychological horror movie. It brings about elements that are used to evoke emotions. While we follow Laura, we see what kind of person she is. We get to intimately know her, see her struggle, and see her fall. And all the while we get odd moments of comedy, real life, and absolutely blanketed horror- all of which culminate in Laura's murder. I can't say enough good things about this movie. David Lynch is a master as well as being one of my favorite filmmakers of all time.
I've avoided Lynch for the most part in these reviews. There is so much to say about his movies that I feel slightly uncomfortable extrapolating meaning. And since most of his movies are some of my favorite films, I find it very difficult to want to review them for fear of not doing them justice. But I have to talk about them all eventually, one way or another, and this film, one of his more direct films, felt like a good place to start our journey in exploring Lynch as a director, a storyteller, and a true artist of the screen.
This is a complex film, and I don't blame others for not liking it or really any of Lynch's material. While I think David Lynch is amazing, I can see how many think his films are crazy nonsense- and that's really their loss, not mine. So, this is a full recommend for me, but really only seriously watch it if you can get through Twin Peaks. It'll also help if you like Lynch's other movies like I do.
Putting it out there, this is the absolute scariest movie I've reviewed this October, so if you're looking for sleazy and hard-to-watch horror, this is where you should start. Well, Lynch, in general, is very good about that.