[The conclusion of my lengthy ramble about Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery. Contains “sultry rock music” and SPOILERS!!!]
Although I’ve seen Fire Walk with Me (1992) several times in the past, it’s always been in isolation from the TV series, usually separated by a handful of years… so watching it straight after the show that spawned it was a novel experience for me, but also quite a jarring one. There were, it has to be said, several behind-the-scenes snarl-ups, that negatively affected the finished film… first was David Lynch’s estrangement from co-creator/writer Mark Frost… second was the reticence of Lara Flynn Boyle, Kyle MacLachlan, and Richard Beymer to return to their well-established roles, resulting in the recasting of ‘Donna’, the reduction of Special Agent ‘Dale Cooper’s involvement in the opening investigation (with Chris Isaak taking up the slack as a substitute agent), and the total absence of ‘Benjamin Horne’, despite his close connection with both Laura and Leyland Palmer, who are the central characters of the piece. This results in numerous narrative contradictions/disconnections between the series and the film… but there’s also a severe tonal discontinuity, with the film taking a much more sombre (some might say “turgid”) approach to the material, which is peppered with graphic gore and nudity. It’s no wonder that many Twin Peaks fans were outraged when it was first released, resulting in a box-office belly-flop, which scotched Lynch’s plan to produce a trilogy of prequels/sequels.
Overall, I do find FWwM a bit on the boring side, at times… it probably doesn’t help that we already know most of the facts about how/when/why Laura died, so seeing it all acted out, like a reconstruction on a crime-stoppers show, isn’t exactly the most gripping way to spend two hours of your evening… but there are just enough disorienting blasts of Lynch’s trademark dream/nightmare-logic to keep you glued to your seat, with eyes and ears wide-open… even when your brain is taking a quick cat-nap. As Al Strobel notes in one of the interview featurettes, you’re better off approaching it as a piece of challenging video-art, rather than easy-going entertainment.
As for the cast, Sheryl Lee delivers a bravura performance in the lead role of tormented teen-prostitute/“homecoming queen” ‘Laura Palmer’, doomed to die a miserable and untimely death, but still praying for redemption via the angelic painting on her bedroom wall. The series had never allowed her much opportunity to play Laura as a living, breathing human being, and she clearly relished the opportunity to exhume the character… even if it meant channelling all of the loneliness, shame, guilt, confusion, and self-destruction that weighed Laura down as a victim of demonic/domestic abuse. In a more successful/accessible film, Lee’s courage and commitment might have bagged her a brace of trophies, but sadly she was only nominated for two awards (a Saturn, and an Independent Spirit), and didn’t win either one of them… while the intense and demanding nature of the experience (not to mention the subsequent backlash) might well explain why Lee hasn’t pursued the high-flying acting career that she more-than-earned during her time in Twin Peaks.
Meanwhile, Moira Kelly is suitably doe-eyed/adorable as Laura’s bewildered BFF ‘Donna Hayward’… and Phoebe Augustine‘s sparky cameo as Laura’s partner-in-crime ‘Ronette Pulaski’ made me wish we’d seen more of her character when she was still “compos mentis”. Mädchen Amick scored a disappointingly brief (but still very endearing) appearance as Laura’s apathetic co-worker ‘Shelly Johnson’… and newcomer Pamela Gidley made a strong impression as ‘Teresa Banks’, an unfortunate mutual acquaintance of Laura and Leyland, whose foolhardy attempt at blackmail led to her getting murderised. Catherine E. Coulson’s cameo as ‘Margaret Lanterman’ (aka “The Log Lady”) warrants particular attention, partly because of how much I love her character/performance, but also because of how hard I was pulling for Laura to simply turn around and follow Margaret back to her cabin for a nice hot cup of tea and some cookies, instead of carrying on into the Roadhouse, and date-rapey oblivion. In fact, I wish we could all follow Margaret back to her cabin and hide out there listening to her uber-earnest sermons, while the rest of the world goes to Hell… though, I imagine she’d probably have something disapproving to say about that too…?
The major selling point of the Entire Mystery boxset is that it contains 94 minutes of extended/deleted scenes from FWwM (edited together, and exhibited as The Missing Pieces)… many of which feature characters from the TV series who don’t appear in the film, as well as call-backs (forwards?) to events from the pilot, which might have made it much more “of a piece” with its progenitor. Although the sheriff-station slapstick in scene #26 (starring the otherwise AWOL Kimmy Robertson as ‘Lucy Moran’) would have felt rather out-of-place amidst the darker material, and has no bearing whatsoever on the plot, there were a couple lighter scenes that could have helped to leaven the film, while also adding to its story… specifically scene #10 in which the Palmers enjoy a hearty/hysterical laugh over Leyland’s attempts to teach them Norwegian (to impress a group of visiting investors), in stark contrast to the more fraught and terrifying dinner scene we see later in the film after Laura identifies her father as her abuser… and also scene #13 in which a tearful Laura flees to Donna’s house for some respite, and shares a genuinely sweet and tear-jerking moment of wholesome familial warmth with the Haywards (including Mary Jo Deschanel as ‘Eileen Hayward’), again providing a counter-point to the horror lurking in Laura’s own home.
There’s also a classic bit of Lynchian comedy in scene #15 with ‘Pete Martell’ (Jack Nance) and ‘Jocelyn Packard’ (Joan Chen) debating the value of an American dollar with a disgruntled customer… and a freaky-as-hell super-slow-motion close-up of Laura becoming partially-possessed by Bob (Sc. #16), that will give you nightmares for weeks! Oh, and there’s even a couple scenes set after the events of the series finale, including one with ‘Annie Blackburn’ (Heather Graham) being wheeled into hospital, where she delivers her drowsy plea to Laura (which is seen in the film, as a prophetic vision), before a nefarious Nurse steals the Owl Ring off her patient’s feeble hand (Sc. #29). Boo! Whether Annie died or not, I couldn’t say… but Graham has lamented the fact that she wasn’t asked to return for the new season, so we won’t be seeing much of her character this time around, and may never have an answer to Evil Dale’s question: “How’s Annie?”
There are a couple interesting extras on the final disc, including the rather bizarre “Between Two Worlds” featurette, in which Lynch interviews Lee, Zabriskie, and Ray Wise in-character as the Palmers, bringing viewers up-to-date (sort of) on what’s happened to them since the events of the film/original series. It was recorded in 2014, specifically for the boxset, so it must have been quite a challenging acting exercise for them, to try to reconnect with those characters after so much time had passed… but at least it gave them (and Lynch) a head-start on the rest of the cast who’ve returned for the third season! On a purely logical/pedantic level, it does bug me a little that Leland and Laura have aged naturally (albeit beautifully), despite being dead all this time… but using fiddly de-aging FX doesn’t seem like Lynch’s style, and you can’t really apply real-world “logic” to what happens to people in the Black Lodge anyway… in theory, things appear in a form that the observer can understand, so (if pain and sorrow can become creamed corn) there’s no reason why spirits/echoes/doppelgangers of departed/trapped spirits can’t appear to age in real-time. Right…?