A couple of weeks ago, I went to see David Lynch’s 1992 film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. If you haven’t heard of it, the film is a prequel to Lynch’s short-lived TV show Twin Peaks, the second and final season of which came out the year before the movie. I’d watched the show, but I hadn’t seen the movie, so I snatched up tickets when I saw that the Cameo cinema in Edinburgh was showing it.
I also bought tickets for three friends. I’m not sure why, I knew they’d probably hate it.
It’s quite a difficult film to love, and here’s why. You’d imagine, understandably, that the reason someone would make a prequel for their TV show would be to clear up some of the unexplained events, and answer a few of the questions left after the finale. That was never going to happen with FWWM. Instead, what fans of the TV series got was 134 minutes of water-muddying, forehead-wrinkling absurdity.
A white horse appears in a woman’s bedroom, then disappears. David Bowie pops up for a few minutes as a demonic FBI agent who may or may not exist, then he disappears and is never referenced again. Entire plot lines appear and then disappear, too – the first half-hour follows a murder investigation which has only the most tenuous link to the TV series, and which ends abruptly just as more familiar characters are introduced.
When it was screened at Cannes in 1992, the film was booed loudly. Quentin Tarantino, whose films owe a lot to Lynch in terms of style and tone, vowed never to watch another one of his films after FWWM since he had “disappeared so far up his own ass”.
And those were people who had probably watched the TV series. My friends hadn’t. They didn’t even get the satisfaction of seeing characters they recognised after half an hour. The film is bewildering enough for people who’ve seen the show; for those who haven’t, it might as well be a Mexican soap opera. It looks like complete madness.
The weekend after the Cameo’s screening, the first two episodes of the new series of Twin Peaks were shown – a full quarter-century after the movie came out, and 11 years after Lynch’s last major creative production.
We’re four episodes into the new series now, and it is wonderful to have the madness back.
If it wasn’t a little more high-definition and the cast wasn’t a little more wrinkled, it would seem as if no time at all had passed since we last visited Twin Peaks. The tone is exactly the same – there’s the same unsettling silence, and the same strange line delivery. People pause and stare and smile and creep.
While referential and deferential to the original two series, the Return (as it is billed in the listings) manages to avoid being too samey. There are a few more bums and boobs, for one thing. For another, it expands out beyond the titular town of Twin Peaks to places like Las Vegas and New York, where a student is being paid to watch a large, empty glass box that is surrounded by cameras.
There’s a new crowd of characters, too, which helps to keep the once-youthful show from becoming stale due to the return of a bunch of middle-aged actors. There are several impressive cameos, but Lynch is careful not to use them gratuitously. Instead, their public personas are used to add a fascinating extra dimension to their characters.
One of the highlights of the most recent episode was an absurdly hilarious scene in which Michael Cera appeared in motorcycle leathers and a Wild One-style tilted cap to lecture about his love of the open road to a local sheriff. Erstwhile Lynch leading lady Naomi Watts has an interesting role as the wife of one of the main character’s doppelgangers (that’s right, one of), and she provides the same form of eerily jarring performance as she did in Mulholland Drive.
We live in what has widely been referred to as a golden age of television – rightly so, in my opinion. Viewers living today are able to look forward to new episodes of Game of Thrones, of Fargo, of House of Cards, and I bet we’ll miss that in the future. It’s a bit like being able to look forward to a new album by The Beatles or Hendrix.
Yet, even in the midst of this greatness, the new Twin Peaks manages to provide something like relief. This is largely thanks to its complete disregard for the things these other shows consider vital: congruity, sense, the law of cause and effect. In his fantastic article from 1995, ‘David Lynch keeps his head’, David Foster Wallace words this perfectly:
“If you will keep in mind the outrageous kinds of moral manipulation we suffer at the hands of most contemporary directors, it will be easier to convince you that something in Lynch’s own clinically detached filmmaking is not only refreshing but redemptive. It’s not that Lynch is somehow ‘above’ being manipulative, it’s more like he’s just not interested.”
You’ll find that most shows on television and streaming end with some form of comeuppance for the villain or success for the hero – character continuity and plot be damned. Twin Peaks offers an alternative.
It is a show that displays blatantly the evil of the mundane and the malleability of morality; in other words, an honest show. It doesn’t depict good winning over evil, or even evil winning over good. Instead, good mixes with evil in the minds of people who can’t do anything about it. It’s grim, but it’s real. Odd for a show about demonic possession and dream worlds, but there you go.
The same clinical detachment that Wallace diagnoses causes many people to dislike Lynch’s work quite intensely. He has a precise vision of what he wants his movies (and TV shows) to look like, and he writes, films and edits them so as to adhere to that vision as closely as possible. The most important thing to him is creating a product that is satisfying to him; the audience is secondary. Wallace calls this his “rather sociopathic lack of interest in our approval”.
Happily, since Lynch is a genius, the product is often interesting and enjoyable for us too. But it can also be a bit too bizarre for its own good – as was the case with Fire Walk With Me. You should never expect an apology from David Lynch, though. Instead, he’ll just go off and create something that’ll make you change your mind about him again. This new series, incidentally, strikes the balance just right.
The metaphor for exploring Lynch’s work is scuba diving. You can stay up on land and breathe the air there, but if you decide to put in the effort and get underwater, you’ll discover something spectacular.
A world similar to ours in many ways, but slightly off: where you can draw connections between some things, but most of it goes gloriously unexplained. Some folk become uncomfortable and never want to do it again; some prefer to stay dry for their entire lives, and that’s fine – there’s enough to explore above the surface.
There is a certain liberation to losing comfort, though. It allows us to be honest with ourselves about what titillates us and what disgusts us, and why. Believe me, you’ll be asking yourself those questions throughout the new series.
It’s nice to have Twin Peaks back – the world’s a less dull place with David Lynch in it.
Watch the new series of Twin Peaks on Sky Atlantic, Sky Go and Now TV.