If you were a "Twin Peaks" junkie, then David Lynch's movie prequel, "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me," will be a wallow in Peak culture so intense your circuits will lock up. It may turn you into the Log Lady.
If you didn't get it then, you're not going to get it now.
Lynch's specialty seems to be conjuring imagery that is deeply unsettling, but in odd ways. He's not some twisted gross-out master; he likes to creep up on you, as if he's working sideways, insinuating his way into your consciousness until he's ready to completely disconnect you from reality. That backward-talking dwarf with his trapedzoidal head and pimp's wardrobe is only one of many strange icons Lynch hauls out to beat us senseless with.
On the other hand, he's not a storyteller in any true sense of the word, even though he co-opts the soap opera structure. He's far TTC more interested in pursuing his vision of experience beyond the edge of the knowable than in getting to the next plot point. That's why "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me" feels as if it's about 17 hours long. It just pokes along, admiring itself, until the dawn comes up.
Basically the movie covers the last week in the life of Laura Palmer; in other words, it ends where the TV series starts and thus it has no independent life: It couldn't exist without the series, and unless you really studied your Cliffs Notes on the series, you may be a bit lost. It's also vividly subversive in its imagery, as Lynch loots several pornographic traditions to find the sources for his imagery.
Sheryl Lee, seen mostly as a Saran-wrapped stiff in the TV show, is the center of attention. Though she's the homecoming queen and dating the quarterback, her life is a bowl of pits, not cherries. A strange psychopath named Bob, who (we are given to understand) is really in possession of her otherwise mild father's soul, is raping her every night. Dislocated from a moral compass, she drifts through Twin Peaks' considerably evolved criminal underworld (a favored Lynch theme is the maggoty substrata running under the pristine surface of small town life), trading sex for coke from roadhouse scum, accompanying Bobby (Dana Ashford) on dope-buying missions (he blows a guy away; she thinks it's funny), turning tricks in neighboring small towns, subverting then saving her best friend (Moira Kelly), and falling in and out of love with James. No wonder the young woman has bags under her eyes!
As Kurt Vonnegut said: busy, busy, busy.
What keeps the sordid life from mere sordidness is the degree to which Lee manages to suggest Laura's inner pain; that's something Wise brings to his role, too. This doomed and haunted father-daughter team seem to have been chosen to work out some mythic ritual of parent-child violation, all the more unsettling because it's not confronted directly. Indeed, one of the things that gives all of Lynch's work such power is that it seems to be drawn from an elaborate mythology that he and only he is aware of. It's a universe so symbolic it feels almost miniaturized, like an ornate Lionel small town.
That strategy can backfire: In a prequel to the prequel, Lynch sketches the adventures of a Dale Cooper-like FBI agent named Chet Desmond in investigating a crime that's a precursor to the murder of Laura Palmer. But it's so "symbolic" it becomes stilted and comic on the way to being unwatchable; it gets the film started with a resounding stop.
Another major irritation is the self-referential way Lynch recycles "Twin Peaks" arcana for no good purpose except to goose the cognoscente: Thus the Log Lady herself wanders in, utters something forgettable (I forget what), and disappears. Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) also pitches in, but he seems to exist primarily in a dream world, that multi-draperied funeral parlor that seems to be the Olympian control room for the goings on in Twin Peaks, and his contributions serve only to further obscure the already quite obscure.
And the other question: Isn't this stuff over? I mean, ok, two years ago it was a kick and a hoot, and then it was time for "Twin Peaks," like hula-hoops and pet rocks, to go die. But no: Lynch will not let it go. The movie feels like a zombie.
'Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me'
Starring Sheryl Lee and Ray Wise.
Directed by David Lynch.
Released by New Line.