By Christian Gay
There’s nothing quite like the experience of watching David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, his prequel and epilogue to the ABC television series, allowed Lynch to connect plot points (albeit loosely, and with tangled string), answer some lingering questions, and make explicit some of the more taboo themes of the network television series. Filmgoers unfamiliar with Lynch or the series will immediately get a sense of his surreal style as the film opens – the screen is blurry and blue, eventually revealed to be a static-filled television screen, which is then destroyed with a baseball bat to the sound of a woman’s terrified screams. Could this be Lynch’s signal to the audience that he is through with television, and here, returning to film, ready to smash all preconceived notions of his work?
In Twin Peaks, the television series, the relationship between Laura Palmer and her father is vaguely unsettling; they seem a bit too close. In the film, Lynch takes this a step further, making it clear that Laura is the victim of her father’s rape and incest. He is the killer in the Palmer family, and for audience members who have seen the television series, we know this before the characters on screen do. The dinner table scene immediately brought to mind Shadow of A Doubt. In Alfred Hitchcock’s 1945 film, we follow the story of a teenage girl in small-town America whose Uncle Charlie comes for a visit. We see right away that the girl has a close relationship with her Uncle Charlie that borders on romantic; they stroll through town arm-in-arm, and when he is mistaken for her date, she doesn’t correct anyone. At one point in the film, he gives his niece a green ring to wear, mirroring a betrothal. We in the audience know from the film’s outset that Uncle Charlie is in fact, a dangerous killer. As the girl slowly realizes her uncle’s sinister side, she rejects the green ring along with his affection, but decides to hide her realization from her family to spare their feelings. Dinner conversations with her uncle and family grow exceedingly tense once she suspects he is a killer. The parallels between the two films are everywhere, from the specificity of the green ring Laura gets from Leland, to the overarching theme of a killer lurking behind the façade of the typical/perfect American family.
With Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, Lynch returns to the cinema from television, and seems to tip his hat to the master of movie suspense and another television pioneer, Alfred Hitchcock. When Alfred Hitchcock first directed for the new medium of television in 1955 with his series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, he began with a tale of home invasion and rape at a trailer park (No, not the Big Trout Trailer Park we see in Fire Walk with Me). In “Revenge,” Hitchcock cast his blonde-du-jour Vera Miles as a trailer park newlywed who is brutally attacked at home while her husband is away at work. This plot mirrored the way the new medium of television was “invading” the hearth and home of America at the time – there were fears that TV would threaten the American family and homemaker, and in his first foray into the medium, Hitchcock dramatized just what was feared.
David Lynch masterfully borrows from Hitchcock’s work in television and film (the detective/main character who disappears 1/3 of the way into the film from Psycho, the surreal imagery and psychology of Spellbound) but uses a dreamlike style all his own. Like Hitchcock’s, Lynch’s work can be both funny and terrifying, but Lynch adds elements of surrealism and melodrama to a 90s sensibility to create a unique and memorable style that demands to be watched and re-watched by the attentive viewer –as long as you can stay awake.
I have owned this film on DVD (along with the original television series) for many years, but am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I had always fallen asleep fairly early into its two-plus hours. After this most recent, extremely satisfying, and fully conscious screening, I couldn’t help but wonder if my drowsiness was justifiable. Despite being peppered with moments both bizarre and terrifying, the film, like most of Lynch’s work, is on the whole poetic, quiet and methodical – almost hypnotic. Lines of dialogue are whispered; characters enter and exit scenes without speaking; abstract shots of scenery are accompanied by white noise and haunting lullaby melodies. Lynch’s surreal world is one made of dreams; characters work late into the night and talk of wanting sleep and having bad dreams; often they are shot lying down and/or in bed, and we are led to believe the film captures images both real and imagined. Laura Palmer says it best when lying on couches with her best friend Donna, she explains that, “nighttime is my time.”