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

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

TWIN PEAKS First Time Viewer Companion: Preparing for 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.

When Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me was released, it got some of the worst reviews of any film ever made. I'm not exaggerating. If there is a film by an acclaimed director that got more vicious notices, I'm not sure I know of it. Whether or not one likes the movie, the volume of vitriol it received speaks to a phenomenon way beyond whether a movie is good or bad. There was a lot going on there.

Today, the film isn't discussed nearly as much as it should be; when people talk Lynch films this tends to get overlooked probably because it's attached to a TV show and people feel the need to watch the whole series before tackling the film, or dismiss it as just a spin-off and therefore presumably not on the level of Blue Velvet or Mulholland Dr.

When the film IS written about today, however, the dominant take has changed completely. Most serious writers about Lynch - biographers, scholars, critical analysts - consider it one of his most powerful, misunderstood works, quite apart from its relationship to the acclaimed show. In LA Weekly/Village Voice, Calum Marsh called it possibly Lynch's greatest film (and keep in mind that an international poll of critics just picked Mulholland Dr as the best film, bar none, of the 21st century, so calling FWWM Lynch's best film period is no small matter). Mark Kermode has a video praising the film to the skies, particularly Sheryl Lee's performance (which he said should have won an Oscar - that's an understatement), and naming it one of the best horror films of the 90s. Yeah, horror film - we'll get to that in a second! Greil Marcus, in his 2006 book The Shape of Things to Come, about art and America from the standpoint of the Bush era, spends an entire chapter raving about the film and especially Lee, analogizing it with classic works of literature and folk songs. James Grey, the director of The Immigrant, considers it one of his favorite films of all time and praises it as the most empathetic film he's ever seen. And so on. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is like the dude from the Dos Equus commercials. It doesn't get discussed much, but when it does the praise is overflowing.

A lot of first-time viewers still stumble over it though, because it's not what they were expecting. I hesitate to even talk about its subject directly, though that cat's already out of the bag for most new viewers (and certainly wasn't a secret when the film was released), but I do have three pieces of advice, which I'll trot out again when the rewatch reaches the finale:

It's a horror film. That's not quite accurate - FWWM spans, and defies, multiple genres, but it helps to know going in that its primary emotional experience won't be humor or romance, but abject terror.

It's nothing like the series. This can be exaggerated - obviously there are many echoes and touchstones - but it can't be over-emphasized. This movie is not about the ensemble, it doesn't follow the soapy format, it mostly jettisons the quirky humor, and it isn't even shot in a style at all like the series, trading slow-moving master shots for Steadicam close-ups. Just be prepared for a radical departure.

Don't try to figure it out. There will be tons of great discussions on these threads about what various things mean, how they relate to one another, dozens of theories and readings and headcanon. That's all fun to do but I think a first viewing of the movie should disregard that aspect completely, at least till it's over and the credits are rolling. Otherwise you'll probably just get frustrated and confused trying to make sense of everything you're seeing. You're not supposed to get it right away - the characters onscreen certainly don't. The best way to approach it is like a dream, just go with the flow of images and sensations and don't ask questions. Take the ride.

Finally, I can't say for certain you'll like the film (in particular, if the film's subject didn't interest you much on the show itself, this may not be your cup of tea - or it may give you a whole new perspective/appreciation, as it has for some). I CAN say however that it's an absolutely crucial part of the narrative, and really must be digested/pondered for any Twin Peaks experience to be truly complete. Like a twist at the ending of a movie, but more in terms of tone & perspective than plot, Fire Walk With Me reconfigures everything you've just watched on Twin Peaks and casts it in a new light.



The comments section below may contain spoilers for season 3.

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