Why is it David Lynch’s most important film?

30 years after its arrival on cinema screens, Twin Peaks: Fire walk with me has earned its place among the fundamental works of David Lynch’s filmography.

Quite the contrary than at the time of its premiere, managing to agree, for the most part (except for specific cases, such as the visionary gaze of Jorge Costa), both the critics who attended his screening at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival, like the public and fans of the original television series, who did not find in it what had apparently dazzled them at first.

The negative and furious response to a work that Lynch did to return to a universe that he did not want to leave (motivated above all by the drift of the serial and his progressive disinterest in it) and recount what was left off-screen in the television work (Laura Palmer’s character), can be understood for several reasons.

behind the failure

The vast majority of the fans of Twin Peaks they did not know the cinematographic works of David Lynch; and the series, being broadcast by a generalist channel like ABC, he avoided the more lurid and surreal aspects of his previous work. Furthermore, the proposal of Twin Peaks: Fire walk with me He was anything but accommodating fan base more conservative and traditionalist.

Something more complicated is to understand the obtuse gaze of the majority of specialized critics of the time, surely motivated by the feeling that the minority filmmaker who had dazzled the cinephile with blue velvet and provoked a schism rarely seen by awarding the Palme d’Or to a work as polarizing as Wild Heart it had become apparent fodder for the mainstream. That is to say, they awaited him with sharp claws, wishing for his fall, even though the film was the most desired event of that 1992 Cannes.

But surely the cause of that fire walk with me was misunderstood at the time of its release was the ignorance of Lynch’s first film work, eraser head A surreal, cryptic and experimental work, premiered in 1976 and popularized in midnight sessions and film clubs whose imprint had been diluted in the successive contributions of the filmmaker throughout the 80s.

Gallery: the delusional filming of 'Eraserhead'

Whether they were proposals closer to the Hollywood studio system (the acclaimed vintage biopic that was The elephant Man and the defenestrated adaptation of the work of Frank Herbert, Dune) or the two independent works that earned him his status as a cult author, blue velvet Y Wild Heart.

These last two, films that, of course, are found within the set of key works to configure the lynchian, but that, like the Twin Peaks television original, diluted the more experimental, abstract and anti-narrative elements of eraser head or his first short films (The Grandmother, The Alphabet).

Back to ‘Eraserhead’

Twin Peaks: Fire walk with me returned Lynch to those past times, leaving aside both the structured and linear narrative of his work from the 80s and a surrealism that arose from the contrast between the everyday and the bizarre. If you had been a fan of Lynch since blue velvet, the viewing of the prequel/sequel of Twin Peaks caused a short circuit in the system.

First, because Lynch emptied the universe of Twin Peaks of its most popular and superficial forms. Of a Angelo Badalamenti luminous and melancholic to a soundscape where the dark corners of the story peeked out in the ominous notes of the composer; from a town where darkness was glimpsed in an apparently idyllic setting to one where what was suggested (the incestuous plot and Laura Palmer’s process of emotional and personal degradation) was made explicit.

And above all, from a more or less linear plot, where each episode corresponded to a day in the town, to a narrative structure where time, the real and the dreamed were filtered in an organic and unstructured way on the celluloid, where the industrial and synthetic drowned out the apparent lyrics of his previous work.

David Lynch: the parallel universes of a creator of parallel universes

Elements all of them that came from eraser head and that he would continue in his extra-cinematographic works in parallel to his introduction in the Hollywood industry; artifacts that, from stylized forms and an apparently conventional and linear narrative, would infect the forms of classic Hollywood until the explosion that would mean Fire walk with me. Turning point of his cinematography, fusion of his experimental work and his postmodern version of the Hollywood mannerism of the 50s and starting point of the evolution of his later work.

Narrative structures in psychogenic fugue

The first lynchian revolution in fire walk with me it is the division of the story into two absolutely differentiated parts, tonally and stylistically. An evolution that was already seen in the Twin Peaks television (from the pilot episode to the dream of the red room, from there to the first episode of the second season, its seventh installment and revelation of the murderer of Laura Palmer and from there the season finale of its second season) and that here explodes into a thousand pieces.

A first half that serves as a negative reflection of the Twin Peaks original, in that Deer Meadow where they find the plastic-wrapped corpse of Teresa Banks (first victim of Laura Palmer’s killer) where all the elements of the serial and the town that gives it its name (the cafeteria, the police station) are replaced by negative doppelgangers, reinterpretation of those beings that agent Cooper would face in the end of the second season).

Twin Peaks: Fire walk with me
Twin Peaks: Fire walk with me

In turn, and to curl the loop, Lynch returns us to Twin Peaks, emptying it of its most characteristic elements, showing us what television censorship does (hence that white noise with which it starts the tape and is blown up once end credits) wouldn’t let us watch. The darkness impregnated in an apparently idyllic town, the negative side of the apparently innocent protagonists we had met.

Above all, the revelation that the apparently fantastic component of the serial (the creation of Bob as a diabolical entity of Leland Palmer, emotional and sexual abuser and murderer of his daughter Laura) was a mental projection of both father and daughter so as not to have to deal, like ABC, with such a controversial and uncomfortable topic such as sexual abuse within the traditional family unit.

That revelation that the strange in the lynchian is a mere metaphor of a reality much more terrifying and not at all supernatural, plus the subdivision of the film structure into two halves, are the starting point for the evolution and maturation of the filmmaker’s style in what has come to be known as the trilogy of the mind: Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire.

The point of view as the backbone of the story

In these three films, the story is also fractured, like the minds of its protagonists, into two different halves. In lost road, with the mutation of Fred Madison to Pete Dayton; in Mulholland Drive, in its third act, where Betty transforms into Diane and Rita into Camille; or, taking it to paroxysm and a structure of Russian dolls, in Inland Empire when the character of Laura Dern he forks into three different personalities. Three protagonists to form a single story.

The revelation that those beings from elsewhere (be they Bob to Leland in Twin Peaks, mystery man for fred madison in lost road, Betty’s grandparents in Mulholland Drive or the character of Grace Zabriskie in Inland Empire) they are nothing more than fragments of a bifurcated and schizoid personality, serve us to reinterpret Lynch’s work from another prism, turning the Frank Booth of blue velvet in projection of the unconfessed desires of the apparently prudish Jeffrey Beaumont, like the Bobby Peru of Wild Heart is the negative reverse of Sailor Ripley.

These last two, works in which Lynch did not let us leave the world of the dream and the unilateral and partial point of view. Something that he begins to develop in Fire walk with me where the change in tone of the prequel is caused by a change in the narrator of the story. If the Twin Peaks The original was seen through the hypocritically naïve prism of repressed Agent Cooper, the cinematographic work was seen through the eyes of the desperate and abused Laura Palmer. Hence the contrast between the bright and the dark between both works.

Twin Peaks: Fire walk with me
Twin Peaks: Fire walk with me

A narrative and expressive resource that, once again, he will develop and perfect in his later work, revealing a world behind the curtain of the dreamed and reconfigured from subjective perspectives, such as the third acts of lost highway Y Mulholland Drive, where the end of the dream only brings as a reward a reality no longer distorted by minds in psychogenic flight.

It allows us once again to reinterpret and doubt the events narrated from daydreams where the sleeper and point of view from which we see the narration (either Jeffrey Beaumont in blue velvet or Lula Pace Fortune in Wild Heart) they never wake up. Something we do see in Fire walk with me, Lost highway either Mulholland Drive, deconstructing, knocking down and revealing that perverse and pernicious daydream.

A new Lynch for the 21st century

In addition to deconstructing, evolving and bringing to a paroxysm the narrative, themes and forms, past and future of the filmmaker, fire walk with me it is also the starting point for other fundamental elements to understand and enjoy Lynch’s artistic evolution.

It is the first film where the director begins to supervise the sound of his work, both in the mix and creation of its characteristic sound atmosphere, as well as in the soundtrack itself, composing the themes The Pink Room Y The Black Dog Runs at Night, germ of your Ghost of Love for Inland Empire and his two solo albums as a full artist: Crazy Clown Time (2011) and The Big Dream (2013).

Without forgetting that fire walk with me it was also a precursor to a distinctive element in understanding Lynch’s later cinema: the preponderance of the female gaze in her story, Laura Palmer being the first of them. Until now, the female figures in Lynch’s work remained mere projections of the desires and repressions of her male protagonists (Dorothy Valens in blue velvet or Lula in Wild Heart) but from fire walk with me the soulless icon and object of desire reveals a tragic, complex and profound figure. Something that she will repeat in her other two developments of the female psyche, the Betty/Diane of Mulholland Drive and the triple character played by Laura Dern in Inland Empire.

In short, the much battered and underestimated Twin Peaks: Fire walk with me has ended up becoming the vortex in which Lynch’s previous and subsequent work oscillates. A work where the filmmaker recovered his most cryptic and experimental cinema, combining it with his subsequent evolution during the 80s, not only to subvert that stage, but to take it to a higher, more complex and infinitely more exciting scale, giving rise to the most revolutionary, influential and masterful works of 21st century cinema.

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