Ice-cool and defiant, clad in skimpy temptress black, Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) enters a rough-and-tumble nightclub with a big neon gun on the outside. Inside, everything is red-the room glows like lava-and the band plays a nightmarishly slow industrial boogie, the sound so loud we have to read subtitles to see what people are saying. Laura starts swaying drunkenly on the dance floor, her top peeled off to expose girlish breasts. Before long, we get the message: Laura Palmer is in hell.
In Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, director David Lynch takes the themes and events of his famous television show and attempts to infuse them with talismanic significance. The movie covers the final, tragic week in the life of Laura, the dimpled good-girl-gone-bad whose beautiful blue corpse cast a queasy shadow over the series. Yet Fire Walk With Me isn’t really about Laura. It’s about David Lynch’s obsession with Twin Peaks, his need to transform the story into a deep-dish metaphysical reverie of good and evil.
The demon haunting Laura is, of course, her father, Leland (Ray Wise), who has slept with her since she was 12. At night she has fantasies of a long-haired backwoods ruffian named Bob crawling into her window and having his way with her. In spiritual terms, Bob and Leland are the same person: Bob is Laura’s hallucination, her way of burying the horror of incest. Yet the horror keeps sliding into her mind. She’s so overwhelmed with guilt and sleaze that she numbs her pain by becoming as ”bad” as possible—doing coke at school, having sex with strangers, and brushing off the one guy who cares for her, the doleful biker James Hurley (James Marshall). There’s a piety built into the role and, indeed, into the entire movie. Unlike Kyle MacLachlan’s voyeuristic Hardy Boy in Lynch’s great Blue Velvet, Laura feels no intrinsic attraction to evil. She’s a victim, pure and simple. In Lynch’s terms, the angels have deserted her.
At once hypnotic and baffling, filled with surreal motifs and symbols—a boy prancing around a parking lot in a long-nosed mask, a white horse that suddenly appears in a living room—Fire Walk With Me could be the most rarefied teen horror film ever made: It’s like A Nightmare on Elm Street directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. Most of the film is devoted to the languid tale of Laura’s downfall. At the same time, her self-destructive exploits melt into fantasies so portentous one would laugh them off the screen if Lynch hadn’t placed them there with religious solemnity. There are scenes in a red-curtained chamber that looks like Satan’s waiting room. There’s the dwarf from the TV series (Michael Anderson) who speaks in fortune cookie Dadaisms. There is even, heaven help us, an on-screen angel.
Most of all, there’s Laura—depressed, hysterical, always crying. Released from her body bag, Sheryl Lee proves a vivid actress. As the life force drains out of Laura, she begins to wear her trampiness desperately, like a suit of armor. The movie is less a druggy Peyton Place than a kind of doomed soliloquy: The Love Song of Laura Palmer. The appearances by the other Twin Peaks characters are perfunctory, at best; MacLachlan’s owl-eyed Agent Cooper has been relegated to a cameo. Even Laura’s relationship with her nightmare father isn’t really developed. Leland is just a perverted psycho—a glowering stud bogeyman—and the film builds to their confrontation with dull, grinding inevitability. In a strange way, Fire Walk With Me is tipped too far toward the dark side. What’s missing is an organic vision of goodness.
The movie is a true folly—almost nothing in it adds up—yet it isn’t jokey and smug like Lynch’s last film, Wild at Heart, or his recent TV series, the gruesomely wacked-out On the Air, which seemed to pick up where the disastrous second half of Twin Peaks left off. There have always been two sides to Lynch: the inscrutable, demonic prankster and the rhapsodic dreamer. In Fire Walk With Me, he’s at least trying to recover his poetic sincerity. If only his dreams weren’t starting to look like reruns.