Prequels have a strict formula. They set up the stories we already love and play into what we loved about them. The idea is to capture everything that worked in a capsule and translate its formula into an origin story. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me breaks the formula entirely. It does not offer any particular fan service or feelings of comfort, like how you feel when you’ve returned home after a long stint somewhere else. Instead, it’s steeped in unease and provides an entirely new series of questions about Twin Peaks.
It does not show nostalgic love for the two seasons of Twin Peaks that preceded it. In the opening shots, a television goes to static and is promptly cut down with an ax. This is an artist declaring their work dead and saying the process was final. David Lynch created television that broke all of the rules and now he is destroying actual televisions, telling us something of his intent here.
Fire Walk with Me is a difficult movie to come to grasps with. It initially opened to sour and confused reviews. Why would you expand this wonderful universe and throw out everything that works? Its first forty minutes don’t even take place in Twin Peaks but another town, Deer Meadows, which is inflicted with the same spiritual evil. It doesn’t even star Twin Peak’s beloved Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan). Critics were confounded by its release: why create such a non-sequitur off on its own tangent, and maybe inside its own nightmare, when working within a version of a popular television show?
The reason is that this is the show that Lynch wanted to create. It took me many tries to get to the truth or to convince myself that this was an underrated masterpiece. In fact, the movie got better with every repeat viewing, a bold acquired taste – like the best coffee blend – that grows with you and alongside you and reveals its depth and weight as you accept loving it on its own terms.
The other thing about Fire Walk with Me is that, as separate and weird as it can be, it’s an essential component to understanding the universe. I think it has improved dramatically now that it has been connected to the recent Twin Peaks: The Return. This has to be cause for reappraisal. It’s now a central motivating part of the universe and made more valuable by new association. Where it was once an odd preface to a disconnected TV show, it’s now a pivotal piece of required viewing to understand where everything comes from.
This is Laura Palmer’s (Sheryl Lee’s) movie. It’s the manifesto of her troubled life showing how things got to be so bad. Where she was only an ethereal beauty, distanced from time and place before, she is now central, moving toward a death we all know about; we can cringe as we watch her demise. Even if we hadn’t known, her fate is spelled out in plain letters. There is already a spirit of death inhabiting this once sweet high school girl.
Sheryl Lee gives an inspired performance. It’s clear at every turn she’s given herself entirely to the production. She brings a brilliant energy to the film. Where she was once only the premise, she is now the movie and it almost certainly benefits, as she turns in several of the finest scenes to come out of Twin Peaks.
Even if you’ve gone through it before, it’s time to give Fire Walk with Me its reappraisal. Now that it is a central foundation to the new show, it will require a couple hours of your attention anyway if you want anything like a complete understanding of what is going on. And it’s a special prequel, once again breaking every role of form.
Our initial viewing may have been startling. Fire Walk with Me is a rejection of what has come before and what we expect from this kind of outing. Try to get on the same wavelength and its genius will slowly seep out. Just like Laura Palmer, we must enter the painting to understand the darkness of our world.