September 21, 2009 / Filmwell
Excerpts from Roger Ebert’s Journal, September 20, 2009 Every year good films show at the …
October 23, 2012
It is tough to say much more about David Lynch’s Fire Walk With Me than what is covered in the recent review/digest by Alex Pappademas over at Grantland. This lengthy list of the surreal contours of Laura Palmer’s backstory is perhaps a model of efficiency for Lynch criticism, as it captures the sense of assemblage that haunts his cinema. There are certainly stretches of narrative in Lynch’s films (e.g. A Straight Story being essentially one extended, unblinking stretch of narrative unfolding like an Iowa interstate). But the Lynchian universe in which these stories take place is built bit by bit on piles loopy dialogical fragments, desultory leads, and casual sleights of hand. So it stands to reason that all Lynch discussion should henceforth be numbered and/or bullet-pointed for ease of access.
1. FWWM is not everybody’s favorite Lynch film, striking many as a vanity project crossed with Twin Peaks apologia. I think this is a fair assessment. It is an attempt to lend a little explanatory closure to the Twin Peaks series that had floundered so miserably in the second season (excepting Episode 29, which makes the old college try at turning the Red Room/Black Lodge rabbit hole inside out). But this closure is transmitted through a psychic jungle of images and references all connected to the more familiar settings of previous episodes. It is as if we are seeing everything again through Laura Palmer’s eyes, whose perspective we find is alternately sanguine, frantic, reckless, degraded, terrified, etc… Almost willing her into being through the directness of these emotions, Lynch reconstructs Laura out of the mere suggestions and mirages that haunted the original series.
2. I am not sure how I feel about Lynch’s Laura, who turned out in FWWM to be somewhat different than the one I had created as a placeholder during the series. But my apprehension in this regard is something that has been percolating lately relative to Lynch’s brand of character development. Lynch doesn’t film people; he films ideas that are embodied by a menagerie of twitchy figures. He maneuvers characters across a script like a professor of post-structuralism edits footnotes in a paper on Derrida.
3. For this reason, I find myself evaluating Lynch’s films based on the feelings they evoke. Examples: Eraserhead is so blatant in its exploration of paternal fear that I can’t even watch it. Wild at Heart is too frantic and outsized; the emotional mirror image of a Jarmusch film. Lost Highway is not a horror film, but it is very effectively about what horror feels like – as is Inland Empire from a different direction. While my early appreciation for Lynch as a stylist has waned, my estimation of the way his films transmit such fundamental experiences has deepened. Lynch’s craft works because there is either a big difference between seeing and feeling in his films, or there is no difference at all.
4. One of the opening scenes of FWWM involves a red-wigged mime lady squinching her eyes and fists, stamping her feet on the tarmac. It is a code for Agent Chester Desmond that only he can really read — each gesture a clue about what is to come. He soon reveals the set of warnings he has deduced from the specifics of her dance, which has little correspondence to its actual form. But Lil the Dancer, as she is known, is the archetype of all Lynch characters. They are all responsible for sending messages, or at least giving the impression that they are.
5. Which brings me back to FWWM proper. It does wrap up the loose ends of the TV series in a nice little bow. It is commonly agreed that the jig was up with the reveal of the murderer of Laura Palmer in episode 16. The show simply had nowhere to go after that. But FWWM lends those initial episodes an aura of purpose. Laura’s death is posed as a tragedy on a cosmic scale (which oddly recalls Sproul’s suggestion that “sin is cosmic treason”). What happens to her just barely fits within the boundaries of utterability, spilling over into the assemblage that is the Red Room.
In the startling sets of revelations which unfold in Twin Peaks + FWWM we can see that Lynch understands the nuclear unit, the domestic environment, as the incubator of the self – for better or for worse. The things that happen in our families generate our self-identities. Even if we don’t all have Laura Palmer-like experiences in our immediate family history, Twin Peaks is a show about family and community and these networks that make us who we are. This makes FWWM an expressionist glimpse of the nightmare that ensues when this whole relational process goes haywire.