We Live Inside a Dream: TWIN PEAKS, FIRE WALK WITH ME

 

I spent the last two pieces on my Twin Peaks (Part I & Part II) grind discussing them more in terms of Lynch’s world-building and the background production fiascos. Let me switch gears a little here:

In Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, a film which should in all respects be revisited (this thankfully is happening now) and realized as an indispensable part of any 1990’s must-watch list, and considered a landmark in American horror cinema, Lynch recreates our childhoods: the parks, the homes, the coffee shops, the diners, the cars, the high school. But then, he turns them upside down and reveals what is hidden in the darkness of memory. The offputting strangeness that glides like mist in tranquil suburban Americana was the basis of Twin Peaks, and here it condenses itself into a full-blown storm of terror. Soon, everything starts to become unfamiliar. Your surroundings start to take different shapes. It is a staple of Lynchian cinema to take good ol’ down-home American pop and transport it somewhere we can’t really place. When you look at his films, they look like could be Norman Rockwell paintings, but they exert the sensations of a Man Ray. What sets this film apart from any others by Lynch is that it’s not self-contained. It’s a chapter to a greater saga.

In Fire Walk With Me, Lynch, for the first time, completes the circle on an all-encompassing mythos centering on a singular character. Unlike any other Lynch character, Laura Palmer has the dimensions of a past, present, and future. She exists both in the mortal and tangible sense, but also in the spiritual sense. Throughout the film, Laura is an unsolvable riddle. Her haunting by Killer BOB forms a narrative arc to the film and is at surface level the serviceable trope of a supernatural thriller. But nothing is what it actually is on screen in a Lynch film. Nothing represents its literal physical or even thematic form.

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There have been many speculations that the entirety of Twin Peaks is about living through and overcoming a childhood of abuse and trauma. While suburban neighborhoods are depicted in American cinema and television as the closest thing this country can provide to a working utopia, Lynch insists that each individual house encloses something sinister. Laura’s house is from the get-go, a place of trauma. That this trauma exists in the form of an evil manifestation with a name is merely narrative privilege. Laura was not a happy person. She did not have a happy childhood, and there were no amount of fresh cut lawns, cool cars, parks, and backyards that were going to turn that around. Laura is drawn towards darkness because she has nowhere else to turn.

One of the most peculiar moments exists in her conversation with James, where she self-sabotages her pleas to be saved by him repeatedly. Her responses wildly swing from love to hate to fear and ultimately hopelessness. “I love you James!”, she screams as she heads into the woods, leaving him at a traffic light glowing bright red (a recurring motif in the series). In that moment, it was clear Laura was going to die.

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This is not a spoiler: In the end, Lauran Palmer is murdered by the demon Killer BOB in an incredibly brutal and terrifying way, yet the notion that this was some sort of cathartic release is what makes Twin Peaks and Laura’s story such an absolute heartbreak. It is the origin story of a deeply tragic girl, and a precursor to her actual life. In many senses, the Red Room, and Laura’s existence beyond the realm of mortality is where her story truly takes form.

In the next and possibly final chapter of this series, I’ll spill out what I mean by this.

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Personal Shopper

 

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Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2017)

 

The triumph of Kristen Stewart’s highly-touted performance in Olivier Assayas’s Personal Shopper is both a result of great casting and Stewart’s pressure situation for having the film’s entire plot be dependent on her character’s emotional reactions to situations. Stewart plays Maureen, a “personal shopper” for an uppity French designer. Her monotonous job involves going from store to store picking out outfits that her boss wants for her next runway show. However the film’s meat comes from Maureen’s real reason for being in Paris… finding her dead brother’s ghost. Olivier blends the melodrama of familial relations with a supernatural thriller but the film maintains a fully character-centric focus. The plot chugs only as fast and as slow as Maureen wants it to, making Stewart the center of attention in virtually every moment of the film. This speed conditioning is manifested quite literally in the long sequence in which Maureen receives anonymous texts in riddles. Throughout these sequences our perception of “time” in the movie is dictated completely by the pace at which Maureen responds to the texts. Our emotions are dictated by her’s facial response to each one she receives and the wait-time between the anonymous texter’s responses. Assayas’s deliberate subversion of American horror film tropes also play directly into Stewart’s ability to act. Ghosts, sex, and murder are all siphoned through Stewart and the camera concentrates on her personal encounters with these instances more than the instances themselves.

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The ending sequences concludes with a line uttered by Maureen which explains Assayas’s entire approach to the film as a pedestal for Stewart and her character: “Is it you… or is it just me”. The phantom thumps a “yes”.