This week’s piece on the film, Fire Walk With me: The Last Seven Days of Laura Palmer, brings to an end our journey through Twin Peaks as it was, just before it is changed forever by the launch of a new series. The essay is by Amanda Lyons, who previously wrote about the aftermath of the reveal of BOB’s true identity. It’s great and thought-provoking essay!
And for the last time (unless he is so possessed with Peaks fervour he cannot bring himself to stop) we can enjoy a superb new illustration by Grant Buist (@fitz_bunny), creator of Jitterati; see his tweet-along with the film linked after the essay.
Also at the bottom: links to every #TwinPeaksRewatch post!
There will be one more post in this series which I’ll put up in a day or two, but with this post our rewatch journey is at an end. Whether you’ve read along in 2017 or some year in the future, I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride!
Book vs Movie: Fire Walk With Me and The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer
Many critics regarded the film as either a bare-faced cash-grab designed to capitalise on the popularity of the defunct TV series, or a betrayal of the fans, due to its refusal to wrap up the show’s overhanging questions.
Of course, being booed at Cannes is not necessarily a sign of a film’s poor value: FWWM also shares this experience with Taxi Driver and Antonioni’s La Avventura. The film has also undergone a reappraisal in recent years, and is perceived by some cultural critics as a misunderstood Lynch classic. However, response to FWWM remains to this day extremely divided.
So I guess it’s time for me to declare my allegiance: dear reader, I am not a fan.
FWWM is certainly impactful; the Nerdist – correctly – describes it as impossible to forget. But for me, this descriptor is not a positive one.
FWWM (somewhat confusingly) begins with an investigation into the murder of Teresa Banks, a teenage waitress and sex worker in a town called Deer Meadow who is killed exactly the same way as Laura, but a year earlier. It is clear from the attitude of the local cops and their refusal to cooperate with the FBI that they don’t give a damn; as a ‘bad girl’, Teresa’s life has no value to them, and there is a sense of ‘who cares and what else could she expect’. It’s a harsh and victim-blaming (and depressingly realistic to many real-life murder cases) introduction to the world of the film, which colours everything that follows.
If the town of Deer Meadow is somewhat dystopian, Twin Peaks is of course its polar opposite; idyllic, folksy and down-home, where everyone knows each other and the cherry pie is sweet. Accordingly, the reaction to Laura Palmer’s death is also the opposite: everyone in the town is touched by it, horrified, clamouring to find out what happened to their sweet-faced homecoming queen.
But FWWM hinges on the fact that sweet-faced Laura Palmer was secretly engaging in the same behaviour as Teresa Banks – selling her body for sex, snorting coke in the school toilets: Twin Peaks’ good girl had a dark and dirty double life.
The juxtaposition of Teresa’s murder and Deer Meadow’s callous indifference with Laura’s death in the homespun town of Twin Peaks, serves to underscore how differently Laura might be perceived by the townsfolk if they knew about her secret behaviour. This may well be intended as a critique of the hypocrisy and double-standards that underlie the moral fabric of apple-pie America – but if this is the case, it delivers it in such a way that echoes the work of Hardy and von Trier, driving the point home with the victimisation of a female character, trapped by circumstance and the oppressive society that surrounds her.
Robbie Collin of the Telegraph argued that:
For the entirety of Twin Peaks’ TV run, Laura Palmer had been dead: a blonde, blue-eyed symbol of lost innocence, enshrined in the high-school portrait that gazed smilingly from the screen underneath the end credits of almost every episode…
By using FWWM to bring Laura Palmer back from the dead… suddenly she’s staring us down not as an abstraction of female purity, but as a real person, flesh and blood that’s yet to be rent and split.
While FWWM does place Laura at the centre of the narrative, I didn’t feel it rescued her from abstraction, but merely traded one type of abstraction for another: instead of the ‘homespun good girl’ she has become the Lynchian ‘girl in trouble’.
The film does explain her ‘trouble’ in a way that is not granted to poor Teresa Banks: since the age of 12, Laura has been systematically raped and abused by BOB, a demonic figure. This has undermined her sense of personal self-worth and caused her to seek both titillation and escape through drugs and sex. She has also recently discovered that BOB has been using the body of Leland, Laura’s own father, to commit her rapes. It’s worth noting that this explanation, according to the moral codes of our society, allow us to place her behaviour in a context that enables us to feel sympathy for Laura and her fate.
In the context of the events that have led to Laura’s degradation, the time-frame of FWWM – the seven days before her murder – is quite a tight shot. The action of the plot – a harrowing portrait of incest, drug abuse and a young woman torn apart by the trauma in her life – is unrelenting, and, to be honest, something of a grind as a viewer. Additionally, conciling the contradictions in the character and situation of Laura is a hard ask for an actress, and for me the result was a unbearably shrill, almost unwatchable performance from poor Sheryl Lee (which I don’t lay at her feet, by the way – what a tough gig).
I also feel that FWWM breaks one of the key laws of good storytelling – ‘show, don’t tell’. There is far too much telling and, curiously, much of it felt externalised; although Laura is the subject of the film, she feels like an object, as though the story isn’t being told in her own voice, but is being imposed on her. I came away from the film feeling repelled and brutalised myself – and not any closer to Laura.
By contrast, The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, a Twin Peaks novelisation published in 1990, tells the same story – but in my opinion, does so much more successfully.
Much of the reason for this is the same one that accompanies any declaration of ‘the book was better’ – it has a far broader canvas on which to present its story: the events depicted in Secret Diary actually begin all the way back in 1984, when Laura is 12 years old.
It also helps that Secret Diary (authored, incidentally, by Lynch’s daughter, Jennifer) is very well-written. The reader has plenty of time to get to know Laura as a fully-developed and believable person, and joins her journey from typical young girl (“I don’t suppose there is ever a time that parents stop being a constant source of embarrassment to their children. Mine are no exception”) to a desperate and ravaged young woman (“I felt like the school and the town were mocking me by making me homecoming queen. How could they not see how I was being swallowed up by pain, and then asking me to smile again and again?”).
Although Laura’s journey through the diary could be simplistically characterised as travelling from ‘innocence to degradation’, she is never portrayed in a simplistic or two-dimensional fashion. For example, ‘innocent’ does not mean non-sexual in Secret Diary. Right from the age of 12, Laura’s burgeoning sexuality is depicted realistically, positively and without judgement, which nicely separates this (normal) aspect of her from the sexual abuse she later suffers. In fact, even when Laura is engaging in destructive sexual behaviour in the latter stages of the book, she is always represented as the agent of her own sexuality, giving her more control than she is granted in either the TV series or the film.
The first mention of BOB appears on the second page of the diary, and the reader bears witness to the way the demon increasingly intrudes on Laura’s life, eroding her self-worth and indeed, her very self-possession. However, the book also shows arguments between Laura and BOB, and as mentioned before, grants her far more agency than her onscreen depictions, which means that even as her final end is tragic, it feels as though she is making active decisions – including her final decision of sacrificing herself to thwart Bob’s possession (which is not actually shown in the book, but in the film).
Secret Diary certainly isn’t the ‘soft option’ compared to FWWM; in fact, in many ways it takes you inside Laura’s life and abuse more immersively which makes it genuinely disturbing. This is illustrated by that fact that although it was a best-seller, its content was controversial to the point that some bookstores refused to carry it.
But for me, what distinguishes it from the film is that it presents Laura’s life and abuse with great empathy, allowing us to understand and know her as a fully-realised human being. This places her murder at the heart of the story in a way that both the film and the TV show do not – as a tragedy and a sad waste of a young woman’s life, not a two-dimensional ‘symbol of innocence’.
Amanda Lyons (@MrsMeows) is a Wellington-to-Melbourne expat with an inordinate fondness for Garfield and an abiding interest in what popular culture reveals about our social psyche. She blogs at Mrs Meows Says.
Enjoy Grant Buist’s livetweet of the film (click on the tweet and scroll down to read the whole sequence):
Approaching the end of #TwinPeaksRewatch with Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.
— Fitz Bunny ⭐️ (@Fitz_Bunny) May 14, 2017
Join the hashtag #TwinPeaksRewatch
15 Jan: Pilot: Starting at the start
22 Jan: Eps 1 and 2: Damn fine cup of coffee
27 Jan: Eps 3 and 4: Laughing at prayers
5 Feb: Eps 5 and 6: Invitation to Love
12 Feb: Ep 7*: Biting the bullet
19 Feb: Ep 8: We want to help you
26 Feb: Eps 9 and 10: Bury her deep enough
5 Mar: Eps 11 and 12: Sometimes the Can-Do Girls Can’t
12 Mar: Eps 13 and 14: Missoula, Montana
19 Mar: Eps 15 and 16: That gum you like
26 Mar: Eps 17 and 18: Blessed with certain gifts
2 Apr: Eps 19 and 20: Halfway through living it
9 Apr: Eps 21 and 22: And the hippie too
16 Apr: Eps 23 and 24: It’s a pretty simple town
23 Apr: Eps 25 and 26: Verses of the same song
30 Apr: Eps 27 and 28: Which way is the castle?
7 May: Ep 29**: Wow Bob wow
14 May: Fire Walk With Me***
21 May: NEW TWIN PEAKS!
* optional: The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer and The Autobiography of Dale Cooper books
** optional: The Secret History of Twin Peaks book
*** optional: The Missing Pieces