Fire Walk With Me occupies a strange space in the universe of Twin Peaks. It is in some ways the most pivotal piece of the puzzle and it is in others the most marginal work of the bunch. It is perhaps appropriate that it exists within this unusual duality as its reputation aligns in many ways with its own themes. Those who have observed it only as a work within David Lynch’s filmography have been met largely with disappointment. Even some who admire the original television show view it as a lesser Lynch work. Yet it is almost equally celebrated as a haunting part of Lynch’s largest cinematic world.
The film explores the events immediately preceding the premier of Twin Peaks. It tells the story of the days leading to the death of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). It includes many of the original cast from the show reprising their roles for the final time until Lynch’s 2017 revival series: The Return. It also explores some new threads that deepen the lore of the original Twin Peaks universe. The opening sequence features Chris Isaak and Kiefer Sutherland as a pair of FBI agents. This wouldn’t be so odd if not for the fact that the pair merely parallel the numerous FBI characters from the original run. FBI Agent Phillip Jeffries, played by David Bowie, is introduced during the film as well. Bowie’s death last year has left fans who were intrigued by this mysterious character to simply wonder.
A strong argument could be made that Fire Walk With Me is Lynch’s scariest film. Within the bounds of its surrealist plot, it also explores the utter corruption and destruction of a teenage girl. Those familiar with the original series know Laura Palmer mostly as a character who is discussed and idealized by others. Though talk of her unseemly behavior does exist in the original run of the show, in Fire Walk With Me she is truly revealed on the screen as a deeply disturbed young woman. All of her relationships are troubling and often violent, and her mental stability seems constantly at stake. These elements combined with the true supernatural horror throughout create a genuinely terrifying sequence of events.
I saw Fire Walk With Me for the first time after watching the original two seasons of Twin Peaks, so it’s difficult for me to judge the film in any other context. As a part of the canon of this world it is profoundly interesting. As an exercise in entertainment it is disturbing in the way of most great shock horror. However, if removed from context I still think this qualifies as a lesser Lynch work. Though it was intended to be viewable with no context, I struggle to imagine how a viewer could deeply connect with the characters in taking the film as an isolated work. The horror might feel needless and the violence excessive without an understanding of its broader meaning. Minor characters entering and exiting the plot might feel largely out of place to the viewer not familiar with them from the outset. All-in-all I’m confident that the experience of watching Fire Walk With Me is best enjoyed as merely a piece of the story rather than its own work. Still, a lesser Lynch is more than most filmmakers are capable of and Fire Walk With Me is a delightful, albeit upsetting treat.