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Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
Image: New Line Cinema

Film

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me: A Darker, Creepier Look at Laura Palmer

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me at 30!

It’s crazy, looking back, how quickly the original Twin Peaks epoch came and gone. The original series debuted on ABC in April of 1990, becoming an instant phenomenon that spring, and having fans obsessing over it for that entire summer, leading up to the second season premiere this fall. The mainstream success faded, however, over the course of the second season, and the show was canceled in the summer of 1991. 

The David Lynch-directed Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me arrived just a year after the cancellation, in August of 1990, 30 years ago this week. With the mainstream phenomenon over, the film barely made a dent at the box office. 

This was not much of a surprise- Fire Walk With Me isn’t the slightest bit accessible, even by Lynch standards. It has a prologue with no resolution, a bizarre sequence involving David Bowie, and some instances of sex and violence that go far beyond anything the Twin Peaks series brought to network television. And it had at its center a non-movie star who was originally hired to play a corpse. 

But as with most things Twin Peaks, Fire Walk With Me has both undergone a critical reappraisal in the years since, and emerged, rightly, as a cult classic. That’s due, mostly, to the committed and one-of-a-kind Twin Peaks fan base, which has now lasted a generation. 

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
Image: New Line Cinema

Fire Walk With Me is an oddly structured film, even for Lynch. It begins with the story of FBI agent Chet Desmond (singer Chris Isaak) investigating the murder of Teresa Banks and then suddenly disappearing, something that remained unresolved not only in the movie itself but in all future Twin Peaks projects. The action shifts to the Philadelphia FBI office, so original series hero Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) can show up briefly, along with an even weirder cameo from David Bowie, which must have been pretty jarring for anyone watching who didn’t hear about it ahead of time. 

About 45 minutes in, we get the main story, which is the final week in the life of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee.) We see her various love affairs, the complications of her life, and her slow realization that BOB, the demonic entity seeking to possess her, has actually taken over the body of her own father Leland (Ray Wise.) The film ends with her murder, along with an epilogue set in the Black Lodge. 

There aren’t a lot of surprises, since most of what happens in the Laura story was previously laid out in the original series and ancillary projects, like the “Secret Diary of Laura Palmer” book. But what Fire Walk With Me did not do was tie up loose ends of the series, or solve many of its mysteries. 

David Bowie
Image: New Line Cinema

But what’s especially jarring is how much darker Fire Walk With Me is than the Twin Peaks series. That show, like Blue Velvet and so much of Lynch’s work, is about the darkness within and below classic Americana. There’s next to none of the latter in the 1992 movie- not a lot of apple pie or time spent in diners. Instead, there’s a great deal of murder, rape, and orgies. 

Lee more than capably carries the movie, except for the part where she was 25 at the time of production, and not the slightest bit convincing as someone who’s in high school. Wise also nails the trickiest role of all, as the outwardly decent man taken over by evil. Moira Kelly replaced Lara Flynn Boyle as Donna, with Sherilyn Fenn’s Audrey not in the film for some reason. 

I remember thinking at the time that there was probably a four, or five-hour cut somewhere out there of Fire Walk With Me that made perfect sense, and indeed a massive amount of deleted scenes were released in 2014 as The Missing Pieces. Then again, I was 14 when the movie came out and I’m sure I was too young to get it. 

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
Image: New Line Cinema

Of course, Twin Peaks ended up being revived in 2017, for the 18 episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return. The plot of the revival ended up having way more to do with Fire Walk With Me than expected, and it was just as inscrutable, leaving much more unexplained than explained. 

It might not be the best of Twin Peaks, never reaching the highest highs of either Season 1 or The Return. But Fire Walk With Me is a key part of the Twin Peaks mythology. 

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and RogerEbert.com. In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

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