Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, David Lynch’s follow-up prequel to cult classic television series Twin Peaks, has always been an odd beast. It recounts the final seven days of the life of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), whose inexplicable and brutal murder is the impetus for the short-lived drama that riveted viewers when it aired between 1990 and 1991. It is also about the similarly brutal murder of Teresa Banks (Pamela Gidley), a woman killed a year before Laura in a similarly ritualistic manner whose death puts FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) on alert, following the disappearance of one of his colleagues investigating her murder.
One would expect that the film is a strict prequel, but it is not: Fire Walk With Me plays with time in a unique and nonlinear fashion, making it both prequel and sequel in an odd, contradictory sense. Like Twin Peaks, it is both dreamy and nightmarish, making the conflation of time make sense slightly more. There are visions and sigils, haunted rings and groves of trees, whirring ceiling fans and rustling curtains. The film itself is cryptic and strange, embracing a full-tilt Lynchian mode that the director successfully curtailed in the ethereal Mulholland Drive. Fire Walk With Me is about dreams, desire, and death. It is about answers and more questions. And it is also an unflinching look at the horrors of incest.
The completed film, released in 1992, was a box office bomb, receiving widespread loathing from the critics; it was booed at Cannes when it premiered at the film festival. Fire Walk With Me is an odd curio: It’s a film that attracts and repulses at the same time, its emphasis on evoking the oddness of Twin Peaks but with a sharper, more graphic edge that isn’t sanded down at all, thanks to the absence of almost the entire cast. Kyle MacLachlan, who played the intrepid Cooper in the show, barely appeared in the film. The quirky denizens of the Washington border town — whose own thwarted passions and crimes provide a sharp narrative spine to the show — are largely shoved into the background, as the film focuses more on Laura’s home life and those involved in her murder. The final week of Laura’s life — rendered impressively by Lee, whose riveting performance is criminally overlooked here — is a mix of pleasure and pain, a sad end to a tortured life as she comes face to face with the man who had abused her and raped her for so many years: her father, Leland Palmer (Ray Wise), in the guise of the malevolent BOB.
And yet those looking for answers within Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me discovered only more questions and more than a little “garmonbozia” (pain and sorrow), in the form of creamed corn and a lot of head-scratching imagery. A cliffhanger ending for Twin Peaks found Cooper in the Black Lodge, attempting to rescue his girlfriend, Annie (Heather Graham), only to find himself trapped while BOB escaped into the world into his body. Quick flashes of Cooper and Annie turn up in Fire Walk With Me, offering a glimpse at what happened after the final episode of Twin Peaks, a glittering lure in the darkness.
With the release of Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery, however, Lynch opted to release a series of deleted and extended scenes from Fire Walk With Me that not only expand upon Laura’s murder and her state of mind in the days before her death, but also offer deeper hints about the end of the series. At a crowded Los Angeles theater on July 17, Lynch unveiled the footage — dubbed “The Missing Pieces” — for the first time, and the assembled crowd of journalists, fans, and cast and crew members watched as numerous subplots from Fire Walk With Me, which had ended up on the cutting room floor, were brought back to life, more than 20 years after the film was released.
These deleted scenes range from the bizarre to the truly heartbreaking; they shine a stark light on Laura’s relationships with those around her, including the dynamic at play between her, her fragile mother (Grace Zabriskie), and her father, and that with Donna Hayward (Moira Kelly, replacing the show’s Lara Flynn Boyle), her far more innocent best friend. One sequence depicts Laura at the Haywards’ house and reveals a sad longing for a sense of normalcy, one glimpsed in the easy intimacy between Dr. Will Hayward (Warren Frost), Eileen (Mary Jo Deschanel), and Donna… which is at odds with the horror unfolding at Laura’s house. While the film goes to great lengths to capture the trauma experienced by Laura, there are scenes of exquisite happiness as well, such as when Leland, Sarah, and Laura join hands to recite a Norwegian phrase (“Hello! How are you? My name is Leland/Laura/Sarah.”) around the dining room table. These light and playful scenes — Sarah’s crazy laugh alone makjng it worth inclusion — are in stark contrast to the pain and sorrow of many of Laura’s other scenes, including one in the Briggs’ basement in which she begs Bobby (Dana Ashbrook) for cocaine in order to dull the constant horror of her life.
Some of the scenes are little more than fragments. Laura becomes transfixed by the ceiling fan in the hallway outside her bedroom, an otherworldly voice calling to her and freezing her in place, a creepy smile slowly passing across her face, until she’s awakened from her reverie by her mother. In another, she snorts cocaine from a small plastic bag with a key in it, secreted in a locked diary, a clue that will play into the murder investigation in the show. In another, she hides in the bushes, waiting for James (James Marshall), as Leland arrives home: As he makes his way up the stairs towards the house, Laura waits in terror that he will spot her, his eyes darting wildly towards her hiding place. There’s a phone call between Laura and Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn), in which he begs her to make him a tape and we sense Laura’s vexed frustration with these silly, stupid men who want to own her. There’s a high-speed drive to a redneck bar for Laura and Donna and some drunken guys, a sign that reads something like Cana-DUH and the U.S. of Fucking “A” slung above the wooden bar. The sight of logging trucks passing by as they walk down the road is a glimpse at the world of the past, of another time, of wood and death and possibility.
Some of these deepen the aura of dread surrounding the overarching plot or Laura’s inevitable end. Others are simply unnecessary detours. There is a long scene in which Chris Isaac’s Agent Chester Desmond beats up a local police officer in order to transport Teresa Banks’ body to Portland. Another has Desmond and Sam Stanley (Kiefer Sutherland) interviewing Teresa’s employer as a worker noisily fixes a light bulb. Another has Stanley showing Cooper the letter “T” that was found beneath Teresa’s fingernail. A quick scene has “the dashing” Cooper playing a game with the always-unseen Diane, in which he has to guess what the secretary has changed about her office. (It’s sort of adorable.) The terrifying world of the Little Man From Another Place and his cohorts is given a little extra time, with a series of scenes capturing a bizarre meeting between the Little Man, BOB, Mrs. Tremond (Frances Bay) and her grandson, a jumping child in a pointed white mask, and what appear to be demonic lumberjacks. There are additional close-up shots of a mouth screaming in agony or pleasure, unnerving in both in its intensity and shot composition.
The vast majority of the Twin Peaks-set scenes not involving Laura didn’t make it into Fire Walk With Me, which means that the diverse and weird cast of characters from the show didn’t turn up in the completed film. Missing Pieces seeks to reverse that, restoring a scene with Pete (Jack Nance) and Josie (Joan Chen) in which they argue with an elderly customer about the sizing of a two-by-four. Leo (Eric Da Re) forces Shelly (Mädchen Amick) to learn how to properly scrub the floor of their kitchen. Norma (Peggy Lipton) and Big Ed (Everett McGill) have an entire subplot about their star-crossed affair, as do Sheriff Harry Truman (Michael Otkean), Deputy Andy Brennan (Harry Goaz), and spacey police station receptionist Lucy Moran (Kimmy Robertson) — theirs involves the appearance of drug trafficker Bernard Renault, whose death in the early episodes of Twin Peaks leads to a series of misunderstandings and murders.
One subplot involving David Bowie’s long-lost Phillip Jeffries is somewhat fleshed out while left deliberately vague. In the film, Jeffries mysteriously appears at the FBI field office in Philadelphia, muttering about “Judy,” an encounter he had with the Little Man and BOB, the month of Laura Palmer’s murder (“February, 1989”), and that Cooper isn’t who he appears to be… before vanishing in front of Gordon Cole (Lynch). What is revealed here is that (A) Jeffries appears to teleport from an Argentine hotel and (B) when Jeffries vanishes from Gordon’s office, it’s to return to that same hotel in a flash of smoke and fire, the wall behind him singed and black. (That a terrified hotel bellhop loses control of his bowels is also part of this odd scenario.) Just who Judy is remains a mystery, and there are no further scenes that indicate her identity or just what is causing Jeffries to teleport around the world.
However, while this plot is left deliberately hanging (potentially for a planned sequel or two), the scenes about the ending of Twin Peaks glimmer with possibility: One is a longer version of the final scene of the show, in which Cooper, having escaped the Black Lodge, goes to brush his teeth and sees the reflection of BOB in the mirror (“How’s Annie?” he grunts over and over again), before savagely smashing his head against the glass. In this version, he lays down on the floor so that Harry and Hawk (Michael Horse) can discover him, claiming that he “slipped.” Elsewhere, Annie is transported to the hospital from Glastonbury Grove and rushed to the ER in a scene that takes place in the hospital corridor, her body slick with blood. Later, she whimpers in her coma the words that Laura hears in a dream — another example of the conflation of time — before a nurse steals the accursed ring off her finger. It’s this ring that plays a role throughout Fire Walk With Me, seen on the hand of Teresa Banks before her murder (Desmond searches in vain for it before finally seizing it, and disappearing in the process) and displaying a sigil that plays a role in Twin Peaks as well.
When Cooper appears in the Black Lodge in one scene, that ring appears on an ornate pedestal in front of the Little Man; in another, the scene replays the same way but this time the ring is not visible, and Cooper realizes that Annie must have it. And then the ring is slipped off Annie’s finger in the hospital. Just what Cooper’s epiphany means is unclear: Is Annie now vulnerable to possession from the spirits? Is this nurse marked for death? Putting on the ring is what seals Laura’s fate: When BOB is unable to possess her, he stabs her in a fit of rage.
As Missing Pieces goes on, it begins to coalesce into something… it’s not quite a film in its own right, but rather a series of vignettes that capture stolen moments. Some give us a deeper portrait of Laura and those around her — laughter at a family dinner table, a woman crying in an empty diner, the Log Lady (Catherine Coulson) hearing Laura’s screams echo through the night, electricity crackling through power lines. It adds up to something alternately funny and heartbreaking, terrifying and uplifting. There’s a rare humor and a raw horror at play here, subtly shifting the tone of Fire Walk With Me in the process.
Missing Pieces may not pull back the curtain on the larger mysteries of Twin Peaks or give us a definitive look at what happens to Cooper after his possession (other than his presence in the Black Lodge and him comforting Laura, whose spirit has arrived there — more time shifts!), but what these deleted and extended scenes do is give us a deeper appreciation both for what Lynch’s maligned film set out to do and for the incredibly nuanced and powerful performance achieved by Lee here. Laura isn’t a character in Twin Peaks, but rather an emblem. Here, Lee gives television’s most famous dead girl a profound sense of vulnerability, exploring both her flaws and her strength in the face of a harrowing experience. Twin Peaks might best be summed up in a sentence uttered by Lara Flynn Boyle’s Donna in the show — “It’s like I’m having the most beautiful dream and the most terrible nightmare all at once.” — and Fire Walk With Me turns up the temperature on that whole statement, resulting in a film that pulses with Hitchcockian tension but also a strange and ineffable humanity.