Latent Images
Why We’re Still Dreaming, Thirty Years Later: ‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me’
by Karenna Umscheid

I can still hear her scream. I can see her face, marked with dark lipstick, sluiced by tears. I can hear the distorted voices in the dream and the lodge. The glimmer of the green ring appears in my mind every time I blink. It’s all followed me for months now, since the first time I watched Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. 

Initially greeted with boos and jeers during its premiere at Cannes Film Festival, Fire Walk with Me has trudged its way to being an absolute cult classic. It was initially hated for how it opened more questions than it answered, especially following the cliffhanger season two finale of Twin Peaks. But the stars have turned and a time has presented itself for Fire Walk with Me to draw support and acclaim for what it is. Twin Peaks has never been a run-of-the-mill mystery to solve; it didn’t exist as a whodunit for viewers to pick up scraps each episode and fall into relief and understanding, for the killer to give in and deviously reveal his grand plot to the law enforcement agent who triumphantly cracked the case. The story is far more than the question of who is the victim and who is the villain. 

To see Laura Palmer in the flesh, walking to school as any teenage girl does, is earth-shattering. The corpse becomes the person, and it’s impossible not to impossible lend your heart to her. She’s a mess of a girl, her days and nights occupied by male attention and obsession; her reality as dark as her fantasy. Sheryl Lee’s performance is beyond anything else, creating a character so real it is painful to realize you cannot save Laura from her fate. And when the supernatural takes over in her story, as she screams “Fire walk with me!”, it feels like she has been released from safety and security, and fallen into an indeterminable void. 

The greatest trick Fire Walk with Me plays upon the audience is its allusions to the show itself – moments when the Twin Peaks theme settles over shots of the town, or when Kyle Maclachlan’s lovely face appears on screen. It’s a return to the comfort and established world of the show; the cute idiosyncrasies, silly subplots, and soapy moments of happiness. However, the darkness creeps in before we get a chance to take a breath. Just seeing Laura onscreen is a sudden reminder of the horrors she will soon go through in her final week. And the red room nightmares appear in daylight; Bob and the man from another place, among other menacing and unwelcome figures, all coexist in a warehouse-like space outside of the Black Lodge. It’s a menacing escape from a dreamlike realm into reality. Any chance at safety is gone, and only fear remains. 

Watching Laura’s nightmare unfold in a dark movie is, perhaps, one of the scariest things you can pay fifteen dollars to experience. I felt locked into my seat with the overwhelming urge to cover my eyes, but some malevolent force still kept me fixated on the screen. When the camera pans slowly across her bedroom, following her eye line, I’m nearly too terrified to see what she does. But the film itself is too arresting, and I cannot take my gaze off of it. Each dark turn is more and more horrifying, until she finally stands in the doorway, mirroring the painting in her room. Suddenly, this object that she has been given to place in her bedroom has blurred her barrier between nightmare and reality. Although she leaves her current realm soon after, the painting tells her she is about to enter somewhere new. Her house, her town, her life is all a maze with no escape route; there is only darkness, until she is gone for good. 

It’s impossible for me to discern whether Laura is truly at rest. She sees her angel and she weeps with joy, but she is still a soul trapped in the Black Lodge. A white horse appears to mark her departure from our plane of reality. She’s suspended between life and death, a Pacific Northwest Purgatory. The fate of Laura Palmer existed differently for the inhabitants of Twin Peaks on Earth, and the inhabitants of existences outside of it. She’s forever disrupted both worlds, not because of an innate supernatural prowess or a divine intervention labeling her some sort of chosen one, but because she simply chose to be strong. 

To quote Latent Images co-editor Matt Pifko, “The question was never Who Killed Laura Palmer, but rather, what do we do with unfathomable, indecipherable pain?” Laura’s death left a permanent void in Twin Peaks, and in the fabric of society. Twin Peaks became less of a town, and more of a bottomless pit of pain and sorrow. All we can do is miss her: we cannot save her and we cannot bring her back. She’s been missed ever since she turned up blue and wrapped in plastic on that fateful morning. Thirty years later, she is still missed so dearly. 

And she has made us dreamers. Some are complicit, some are guilty, some are simply innocents caught in the crosshairs. There was fire then, and there is fire now. We can’t escape the dream, and we will never fully understand it. Fire Walk with Me is a dangerous, enveloping mystery. An endless forest of questions, a world of blue. The dream never ends.