Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), David Lynch
The tragedy of Cinema is that we are looking through a one-way mirror at a world that is unreachable, that is blind and alone.
I have never seen a film where the screen has felt so thin, the story so immediate and raw as it does in Fire Walk With Me. The screen, though, is still too thick to smash, too thick to allow us to intervene.
Since the beginning of film, there have been depictions of abused and exploited women, such as Kenji Mizoguchi's Oharu or Robert Bresson's Mouchette. I find those depictions to be somewhat withdrawn. The character is little more than a doll in a cardboard house beaten by an outsized hand. Their sorrow is cathartic and our emotions are easily washed away with tears. There is a tasteful distance, a slow pan, and eyes ultimately turned away.
In Fire Walk With Me there is intense horror and staggering beauty but neither is fetishized. And Lynch never turns away. He shows us what others imply, and shows it unsparingly. He shows what we want to see, not out of titillation or the promise of retribution, but out of sympathy. The world abandons Laura but we do not. We must not.
What makes Laura's story so powerful is that the abuse she suffers at the hands of her father has not only withered her soul but poisoned it. She has turned to prostitution and become a drug addict. She is selfish and cruel. What's more, she is always aware of what has befallen her:
"Your Laura disappeared...it's just me now"
The angel in the painting on her bedroom wall, watching over her, vanishes too. She fears that she cannot be saved. She fears that she cannot be loved and is beyond redemption. We are shown the destruction of all that is good in a person:
"The tender boughs of innocence burn first, and the wind rises, and then all goodness is in jeopardy"
The high drama of this premise is handled with great subtlety by Lynch and actress Sheryl Lee, who plays Laura Palmer. They give her so much life and such basic humanity. We have become accustomed to praising acting performances that remain 'performance'. Lee's performance is perfect; manipulative, childlike, fearful and devilish in one consistent, always believable, character.
When her end finally comes her angel is waiting for her. Disbelieving joy convulses out of her. It is the first time she has been happy for years.
The film ends on a freeze frame of her smiling face, just as every episode of Twin Peaks concluded on her beaming high-school portrait. Only this time the image that was once a cliched symbol of a corrupted innocent, of a good girl gone bad, of a suburban town with dirty secrets, has been brought to life and reconstructed. Laura is no longer a mere object around which the TV show's weird and farcical storylines revolved. The closing image is no longer a lie. The pain and the happiness is real.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is true horror - in other words, hurt and the fear of hurt. It has a love for the character that is beguiling and bewitching. It is a wonderful film.