Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): TWIN PEAKS First Time Viewer Companion: The ending of Fire Walk With Me

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

TWIN PEAKS First Time Viewer Companion: The ending of Fire Walk With Me


These short Twin Peaks episode responses are spoiler-free for upcoming episodes, presented here for first-time viewers who want to read a veteran viewer's perspective on each entry while remaining in the dark about what's to come. They were first published as comments on a Reddit rewatch in 2016.

On the thread for Fire Walk With Me, BaalHammon wrote the following comment:
Rewatching it for only the second time (or third, I'm not sure), I find I'm still not sure what to think of this movie.
I mean I like the first part.
Many people have commented on it being a sort of parody of the series, and it's fun for that, but it's also very eerie, especially the end when Cooper discovers Chet's car with the Let's Rock tag written on it.
The Laura part on the other hand is just gut-wrenching. Lynch has a way to pace scenes with a deliberate sometimes unnerving slowness (the opening episode of season 2 being the most obvious example, but there are many many other examples) and in a way, the last 90 minutes of FWWM feel like that, because of the anticipation of the end we already know.
I actually cried when I reached the final sequence, in part because of Badalamenti's haunting music, but also because I just don't buy it. I don't know what specifically Lynch believes in, but I don't believe in afterlife.
I don't believe that in Heaven everything is fine.
FWWM shows that James cannot help Laura, that Bobby cannot help Laura if he wanted to, that Donna is powerless to save her, and implies that it's the case too for Sarah Palmer (shame that we see so little of her), and the unseen Jacoby.
But if the only glimmer of hope is in the afterlife, it makes it all the more horrible for me.
When I saw Laura smiling at the end I was just crying, and not from relief at finally seeing her freed (as others have put it), but because when years of abuse and trauma culminate in death, that's it.
There's nothing afterwards except the dissonnant serenity of a dead girl's face that seems to be asleep.
To be clear, I'm not saying that movies have to follow my metaphysics views, what I'm saying is how, far from providing any kind of comfort, this final scene just exacerbated in me the horror of everything that I'd just seen before, and I felt an overwhelming sadness which few works of fiction have ever aroused in me.
Apart from that, Moira Kelly is really good as Donna, and though the film is focused on Laura, it also sheds new light on this character, because you realise just how envious she is of Laura, how she wants to be like Laura (and hence that she doesn't really understand Laura). It's not so clear in the series but once you've seen FWWM, Donna makes much more sense, as a character.
Two things that aren't consistent between the series and the film bothered me :
  • Laura's house and the exteriors around the house look nothing like Twin Peaks, it looks like some generic suburb shot in California, and it probably was.
  • Second and worse : in the S2 first episode, Ronette has a flashback of the murder with Laura screaming and Bob hitting her, but in FWWM she gets out of the traincar before it happens.
Also it's kind of weird that MIKE is there at all, that he saves Ronette, and just gives the ring to Laura. I mean if you think he's trying to save Laura, why doesn't he try to do just that ? And if he's out for pain and suffering, why help Ronette escape ? Why does he do anything that he does ?
I mean I guess you can say that he's saved her soul or something like that, but as you may have surmised, I don't find that answer very satisfactory.
This was my response...

Great comment. I think I may have felt somewhat similarly on my first viewing. Though I have always had some form of, I don't know, spiritual inclinations I was very agnostic/skeptical about an afterlife and, more importantly, I think - the notion of any underlying positive order to the universe when I first saw Fire Walk With Me. I even wrote in my first review of it: "But despite what he thinks, the story he has chosen to tell is not about evil as a metaphysical force, or links to the collective unconscious, or anything like that. It's about one very fucked-up girl..."

I wouldn't say I have completely reversed on all of my larger questions, but I'm inclined to see things a bit differently now, in part actually because of the year I spent on Twin Peaks (and little else in terms of media) which led me to some internal realizations/discoveries as well as engagement with ancient texts like the Upanishads. This was the culmination of many years of other factors too, but it's amazing what an impact a show and film (especially the film) can have.

Anyway, we each have our worldviews and it can be hard to "see" whatever a film wants us to see if it clashes with that. I think in a way you hit the nail on the head with the idea that for Lynch, there is something fundamental about Laura's redemption and that after the film he's delivered, it can be hard to digest that turnaround. However, I do think there is depth and commitment to it, it can just take some work to see.

For a long time, I felt the climax of the film was a letdown, and that the angelic ending - while beautiful - may have been something of a tagged-on non sequitur. I don't anymore: I think they, especially the train car (with the angel as the ultimate payoff) are the keys not just to the narrative and theme of FWWM, but the entire Twin Peaks saga. It's a lot to get into, but I'd recommend chapter 25 of my videos (linked above) if you're curious as to how. That's where I was able to make the case most articulately and succinctly. I may come back to this thread to try and rephrase some of that argument though I'll have to move to a computer as this is a lot to type with my thumbs haha.

I think on one level Fire Walk With Me is a psychological portrait of abuse. That's the level I recognized right away and it made a lot of the rest of the film feel extraneous to me. But on another level, the level that not only subverts but also fulfills the show, the film is also a spiritual allegory; this is the purpose of its narrative and why it's not simply a series of painterly portraits (though it would still be great if it was). For all the writers praising (or attacking) Lynch as a postmodernist concerned only with form, and despite Lynch's own refusal to explicate messages or meanings, he has a very clear spiritual ethos shaped in large part by his involvement with Transcendental Meditation (in many ways a highly questionable institution), but also, ahem, transcending the pleasant platitudes of that movement to suggest that the only way to the light is through the darkness.

My advice for anyone who wants to "get" the ending but doesn't buy the tenets of Hinduism (which is, I submit, essentially what Lynch is working with here despite the Christian iconography of angels) is to put aside specific theological questions of afterlife or reincarnation or karma or whatever and focus on the outcome as an allegory for life as it is lived, with the death and rebirth symbolic, involving the realization of fundamental truths and expansion of consciousness. Often times religions just end up being how universal experiences are packaged and sliced off from one another. Laura's pain is extremely real but so, ultimately, is her relief.


Next: The Missing Pieces • Previous: Fire Walk With Me


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