For this, the final Twin Peaks Revisited, I’m going to do something a little bit different. Instead of going over the plot points of the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me beat by beat like a TV recap (something that seems kind of ill-fitting for a feature film) I’m going to talk about the film itself, why it was made, and how the ultimate fallout of the film’s release colored the public’s perception of Twin Peaks as a whole, for better or worse.
But first, for those who haven’t seen the film, (and really, you should probably watch it before reading this) at the very least a brief plot synopsis is in order: The following plot breakdown has major SPOILERS for the television series, so fair warning for those of you who haven’t been following along with us here on Twin Peaks Revisited.
Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me covers the last seven days in the life of Laura Palmer, leading up to her murder (which the first half of the television series revolves around solving) and dovetailing right into the pilot for the TV show. The first half hour of the film consists of the investigation into the murder of teenage waitress/prostitute Teresa Banks, a victim of the same killer who later killed Laura Palmer, but who is only referenced in the series in passing, and never seen. In this film, her backstory and connection to Laura are fully revealed.
As the television series told us, Laura Palmer, once again played by Sheryl Lee, is a popular high school girl, who is seeing two boys at once, football star Bobby Briggs and broody biker James Hurley, and while her best friend Donna thinks that’s her biggest secret, she’s been hiding a much bigger one for years–systemic sexual abuse from a demonic figure called BOB, ever since the age of 12. She uses drugs and sex to cope with her abuse from BOB, but things get worse when she finally unravels BOB’s true identity, and discovers it to be her own father, pillar of the community Leland Palmer, played by Ray Wise. Realizing the horror of her own situation at last, and knowing BOB wants to possess her in the same way he’s used her father, she chooses to let him kill her rather than continue the cycle of abuse.
It’s a dark, dark movie, and one that has divided the Twin Peaks fanbase for over twenty years. Some loathe it, while others (myself included) feel it’s a crucial part of the overall story of Twin Peaks, and that Twin Peaks just isn’t the same without the denouement of Fire Walk With Me.
The Difficult and Painful Birth of Fire Walk With Me
A Twin Peaks movie was more or less announced (via the local nightly news) right after the Twin Peaks series finale had aired on ABC. Series co-creator David Lynch said he wasn’t done with the world of Twin Peaks yet, and had more to say about it. Considering the show’s cliffhanger finale, fans were hoping that the feature film would solve those cliffhangers and finish the show properly. That ultimately wasn’t what David Lynch had in mind. Instead, he decided to go back, and give Twin Peaks the prequel treatment, eight years before Star Wars would popularize the word “prequels” to the world at large.
But the movie that would ultimately become Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me would not be an easy birth. Mark Frost, the series’ co-creator, had nothing to do with the development of the film, feeling strongly that a feature should continue the story for the fans, and not go backwards (he was also making his directorial debut at the same time on a film called Storyville.) But Lynch wanted to go back to the time when Laura Palmer was still alive, and ultimately Lynch was the bigger name that got the film its financing, so he won out. Frost has a producer credit, but FWWM is almost totally Lynch’s baby, although he has a co-writing credit with series writer Robert Engels.
After that, most of the TV cast signed on to return…but there were a few, key holdouts. And I’m not talking bit players either, but major parts. Lara Flynn Boyle refused to return as Laura’s best friend Donna Hayward, so she was recast with Moira Kelly, an actress who had worked with Sheryl Lee before in a TV movie of the week. The next big loss was Sherilyn Fenn as Audrey Horne, who was already booked to shoot Of Mice and Men with John Malkovich. Re-casting Donna and not including Audrey (arguably the show’s second most popular character) was a big blow, although story-wise, it wasn’t needed for Audrey Horne to be there, as the TV series established that Audrey and Laura were not close friends at all. And frankly, Moira Kelly looked more like season one Donna Hayward than Lara Flynn Boyle herself did by the end of the series, having lost a ton of weight already and appearing somewhat gaunt.
But the true big blow that almost derailed the movie was when Kyle MacLachlan refused to return as Agent Dale Cooper. MacLachlan had dreams of big movie stardom after the initial success of Twin Peaks, and didn’t want to be another William Shatner, known forever for one role (subsequent parts in big, terrible Hollywood movies like The Flintsones and especially Showgirls would derail his dreams of movie stardom quickly enough; ultimately a return to TV would salvage his career.) So Twin Peaks’ most popular character bowed out, and it didn’t seem you could have a movie called Twin Peaks with no Coop.
Lynch decided to forge ahead anyway. The part of the film that deals with the FBI investigation into the murder of Teresa Banks was re-written to introduce two new FBI Agents, Chet Desmond and Sam Stanley. Eventually singer Chris Isaak (who scored his first big mainstream hit with ‘Wicked Game’, a song chosen by Lynch for the soundtrack to his film Wild at Heart) was chosen as Agent Desmond, and Kiefer Sutherland, then best known for movies like The Lost Boys and Young Guns, was cast as Stanley. Other notable players in this portion of the movie were cast with legendary performers like Harry Dean Stanton and even rock legend David Bowie as long-lost FBI Agent Phillip Jeffries.
And then…Kyle MacLachlan changed his mind. Realizing he owed his entire career to his portrayal of Agent Cooper, and to David Lynch in particular for discovering him when making Dune, he agreed to shoot a week’s worth of scenes in Washington state. Whether or not this whole thing caused a fracture in his working relationship with Lynch is unknown, but he hasn’t worked with Lynch since, although that will change with the upcoming Showtime season of Twin Peaks.
So in the late summer and fall of 1991, some two months after the last episode aired, the majority of the TV cast reunited in Washington state and Los Angeles (by this point, Richard Beymer, who was in the shooting script, bowed out as well, saying the script reduced Benjamin Horne to a mere drug dealer for Laura Palmer. With Beymer gone, the characters of his brother Jerry and wife Sylvia were cut as well.) Supposedly the shoot went well, and in interviews with the press during the filming, Lynch and co. talked about a whole series of films, some which would follow the end of the finale of the series and continue the story forward. Twin Peaks was going to become a movie franchise, so who cares if the show had ended? Twin Peaks was too cool for TV anyhow, and now we’d have new Twin Peaks for years to come. Except…that’s not exactly what happened.
The Quick and Brutal Death of Laura Palmer (and the Film)
Before Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1992, it had already undergone massive changes in the editing room. Over a dozen main cast members from the show were cut out of the final film, as their stories were totally tangential to the main Laura Palmer storyline. Although they shot their scenes, gone were characters like Big Ed, Nadine Hurley, Major and Mrs. Briggs, Dr. Jacoby, Sheriff Truman, Andy and Lucy, Deputy Hawk, Doc Hayward and Mrs. Hayward, Josie Packard and Pete Martell, and more. Although their scenes weren’t key to the story Lynch was trying to tell, it felt like less Twin Peaks with them gone, which hurt the final product in the eyes of many.
At the movie premiere in Cannes in 1992, legend has it, it was greeted with boos from the audience (this has been disputed by the likes of Robert Engels, the movie’s co-writer, who was present). Whether or not that is true, that story has persisted to this day. Regardless of Cannes, to say that critics didn’t like it is something of an understatement…they outright hated it, and more than that, many felt betrayed by it. Where were the cute nods to coffee and cherry pie? Where was the irreverent humor? Why was it so, so dark??
More mainstream critics were baffled by the film’s weirdness, and more high-brow critics who loved Lynch’s same weirdness in other films hated it here, because they felt Lynch was “selling out” by cashing in on the Twin Peaks‘ brand name. One of the only reviews that seemed to get the movie at all was the LA Weekly, which wisely called out that when you combined the show and the movie together, Twin Peaks‘ was truly the work of David Lynch’s life. But mostly, critics met the film with snide snarky comments and outright contempt.
With Fire Walk With Me, Lynch went straight into the dark heart of what the story of Twin Peaks is all about-the sad and horrific molestation and ultimate death of a teenage girl by her own abusive father. It’s all there, bubbling under the surface of the TV series too, but FWWM put it out front and center; to Lynch, Twin Peaks was always about Laura Palmer. But to a lot of viewers, that’s not the part of the show they wanted to see projected onto a huge movie theater screen, larger than life.
The movie debuted at #8 at the box office the weekend it came out in the US, on August 28th, 1992. It only played in 700 theaters, but with a total domestic gross of just $4 million dollars, it was considered a huge failure, especially given the Twin Peaks brand name. The film was only a huge hit in Japan, where Twin Peaks mania was just as big, if not bigger, than the US, but the Japanese are less quick to get over their pop cultural obsessions and move on to the next shiny thing like Americans do. By August of 1992, a Twin Peaks movie in theaters was as relevant as, say, a ‘Gangnam Style’ movie would have been in 2014, two years after the fad had played out. For everyone but hardcore fans, which was most of America, the entire Twin Peaks phenomenon really was always just a fad.
The Beautiful Resurrection
But something funny happened over the past twenty-three years since the movie came out and flopped, killing all hopes at the time that Twin Peaks would continue in any form. People began to recognize the movie as not only being good, and far better than it was ever given credit for upon release, but for actually being brilliant. FWWM is a harrowing portrait of incest that isn’t always easy to watch, that’s very true, but it is also almost impossible to forget. Sheryl Lee and Ray Wise turn in the performances of their lives as Laura and Leland Palmer, and in a truly just world, they both would have received Oscar nominations for their work.
Fire Walk With Me has also reclaimed its reputation because not long after its release, genre movie fans began to recognize the film as a horror movie, which it totally is, supernatural killer and all. On its 20th anniversary, Fangoria magazine did a cover story on the film, now recognizing it for the kind of movie it was. Almost all of David Lynch’s works have some kind of horror element to it, but Fire Walk With Me is truly an outright horror film, and one of the best of the last twenty-five years..
The movie is no longer looked at with such a harsh eye (although there are some holdouts who simply won’t view it as “official” simply because their favorite TV series character isn’t in it.) While there aren’t many who would say it’s Lynch’s best film (that honor goes to Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, and maybe even Wild at Heart) it is certainly more engaging and memorable than Lost Highway, or the totally impenetrable Inland Empire. But when coupled with the series, Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me form the greatest work of David Lynch’s career, and its no wonder he couldn’t resist the lure to come back some twenty-five years later.
Last year, the long-thought-lost hour-and-a-half of deleted footage for Fire Walk With Me, most of it featuring the characters from the series who weren’t included in the final film, was restored and released as “The Missing Pieces” and given its own premiere with Lynch in attendance in Hollywood to a packed house of hardcore fans. Not bad for a film deemed an utter failure two decades before.
A lot of the more famous faces in the movie, like David Bowie, Harry Dean Stanton, and Kiefer Sutherland, agreed to work for very little simply because they were big fans of the TV show.
Although the movie is 95% a prequel to the series, there are many references to events that happen at the end of the show. Heather Graham’s character Annie Blackburn (who only shows up for the show’s last few episodes) appears in a vision of Laura Palmer’s, wearing a dress she wore in the final episode of the series, seemingly communicating to her from the future. She tells Laura that “the good Dale is in the Lodge, and he can’t leave” alluding to Cooper’s fate in the series finale. This was meant as a tease for a sequel that would have followed up on the series finale’s loose plot threads.
Also, all of the scenes with Cooper in the Red Room/Black Lodge take place after the series finale. This includes the final shot of the movie, where Agent Cooper is comforting the newly dead Laura Palmer. An angel appears to them both, indicating that Cooper and Laura are together in the White Lodge, not the Black, as the final episode of the series implies.
The opening sequences in the town of Deer Meadow, where Teresa Banks was murdered, are a twisted mirror held up to the pilot of the series. Where Laura Palmer’s death was a huge deal to everyone in town, no one really cares that Banks has died. Unlike the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department, the cops in Deer Meadow are uncooperative with the FBI. And the local diner Hap’s is an unfriendly version of the Double R Diner, with absolutely no specials on the menu. Instead of a beautiful hotel, all Deer Meadow has is a dingy trailer park. You could even call it the doppelganger version of the town.
To help create her character, who she only played as a corpse and a kind of spirit on the show, actress Sheryl Lee read and re-read The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, written by David Lynch’s daughter Jennifer.
The scene of Laura Palmer’s murder ended up being one of the last things shot for the movie, and due to the schedule, ended up being pushed to Halloween night, 1991. Halloween also happens to be the birthday of both Frank Silva and Michael J. Anderson, who Play BOB and MIKE, the Black Lodge spirits involved in Laura’s murder. Creepy.
Fire Walk With Me was the only other piece of Twin Peaks that was shot in Washington state outside of the pilot episode. Because of that, there are some visual discrepancies between the pilot, the movie and the rest of the series. The real interior of Twede’s Cafe is used in the movie and the pilot as the Double R Diner, but the series its a set. The interior of the Palmer house in the movie and the pilot is also the same, but the one on the show it is a replica set. Oddly enough, the exterior of the Palmer home used on the show is different from the movie, although the house look very similar, the movie house is on a crowded suburban street, while the TV show house is in an isolated lot.
Although the movie has some continuity “glitches” with the show, it mostly fits in rather perfectly with the show’s timeline. The series gave us a lot of details on who Laura saw and spoke to on the day of her death, and the movie omits many of them, like Laura giving tutoring lessons to Josie Packard and Jonny Horne. Unlike the series however, the movie covers many days in a short time, so those events could have still taken place within the movie’s timeline, we just didn’t get to see them all. Some, like Laura’s relationship with her psychiatrist Dr. Jacoby, and the cassette tapes she records for him, are part of what is now called “The Missing Pieces.” Other plot points the show went over with a fine tooth comb, like Laura’s time as a prostitute at the brothel One Eyed Jack’s, are just given an offhand reference.
Despite popular belief, Fire Walk With Me was not the last Twin Peaks footage shot by David Lynch. He wrote and directed 30 different introductions to each episode featuring Catherine Coulson as the Log Lady, initially shot for the show’s run on cable network Bravo in 1993. After that, he did a series of Japanese commercials for Georgia Coffee featuring Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Cooper and other cast members from the series, that have to be seen to be believed.
There are a ton of wild fan theories about Twin Peaks, and in particular, Fire Walk With Me. One that makes a lot of sense is one from YouTube user selphiealmasy8, which tries to explain the connection of the old woman, played by Frances Bay, and her eerie grandson, played in one episode of the series by Lynch’s own son Austin Jack, and later by actor Jonathan Leppell for the film. The theory posits that the boy is actually an aspect of Leland Palmer from before his possession, which happened during childhood. This “good part” of Leland is actively trying to help Laura figure out the truth over the course of the film. You can see the entire fan theory about the little boy and the grandmother in the video below:
New Line Cinema released the film stateside in 1992, and owned the home video rights. Fans tried to get the deleted scenes released for years, first on VHS/Laserdisc, then DVD, but David Lynch wanted to complete and score the scenes, which was an expensive undertaking that the studio didn’t want to do. Finally, in 2014, after 22 years, the entire deleted scenes were released, and together for the first time with the film, along with the series pilot and all 29 hour long episodes of the show, was released on Blu-ray as Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery. Of course, no we know that its not truly the entire mystery, as Twin Peaks is set to return on Showtime next year.
It’s almost impossible to judge Fire Walk With Me without talking about it in relation to the television series that spawned it, and I see the movie as something that should really only be viewed as a companion piece to the series. But can’t one say that for The Godfather II or The Empire Strikes Back just as easily? It might be a companion piece to a grander piece of art, but what a companion piece it is, with amazing performances, exquisite cinematography, a haunting score from composer Angelo Badalamenti, and unforgettable visuals and sequences. It deserved far better than it got on its initial release, and I’m happy that all these years later, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is viewed as a crucial piece of what made Twin Peaks such an enduring work of pop culture art.
Episode Rating: 5 burritos out of 5
And finally, a truly heartfelt thank you to everyone who followed these Twin Peaks Revisited re-caps for the past eight months. Twin Peaks helped shape who I am as a fan of genre entertainment as a teenager, and probably as a writer as an adult. This has been a genuine pleasure, one I hope to get the chance to do once again when Twin Peaks returns on Showtime next year.