Fire Walk with Me: Trauma, Catharsis and the Fantasy of Fantastical Kinship

This post was contributed by Louise Smith, a student on Birkbeck’s MA Creative Writing.

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Andrew Asibong and Hannah Eaton outside 43 Gordon Square during the fire alarm.

In a coincidence David Lynch would appreciate, Andrew Asibong and Hannah Eaton’s screening of the director’s seminal 1992 film Twin Peaks, Fire Walk With Me, was interrupted by a fire alarm at 43 Gordon Square. It was an amusing and unpredictable start to a Q and A, which focused on Lynch’s groundbreaking treatment of incest trauma and the influence he’s had on their own creative work.

Eaton’s graphic novel, Naming Monsters, was inspired by Lynch’s feminist treatment of the female body. Victim, Laura Palmer’s subjectivity, is central to the film’s power, creating a narrative that rejects judgment in favor of an empathy for the incest survivor’s quest; the battle to reform an identity obliterated by abuse trauma. Asibong said his novel, Mameluke Bath, was influenced by the film’s supernatural elements because, “Evil can only be represented in fantasy, the only form that’s possible is quite ridiculous.”

These feminist and genre-bending elements probably account for the film’s hostile reception at Cannes. Audiences booed and American critics were scathing, although The Washington Post’s Rita Kempley, whilst missing the point that artistic truth requires aesthetic vision at least acknowledged the film’s power, describing it as, “a perversely moving, profoundly self-indulgent prequel.”

But the cliché’ that time heals all wounds must ring true for Lynch since his savaging twenty years ago. Fire Walk With Me has a unique surreal vision that portrays the lonely nightmare of incest by merging fantasy and reality, relocating the monsters in the mind to the world outside. His aesthetic which mixes comedy, teen pop-culture and small town American Gothic not only influenced Eaton and Asibong but a whole generation of TV and film makers, from the producers of Northern Exposure and Six Feet Under to the Cohen Brothers.

Lynchian tropes that were considered self-indulgent are now the aesthetic mainstream. However, his many imitators have not achieved the mystical power of Fire Walk With Me, or replayed it’s central disturbing message, that the journey towards truth is a paradox, a horrifying ride where salvation can become merely the epilogue to destruction. As Alfred Hitchcock another genius auteur once said, “Reality is something that none of us can really stand.” Those who care to look can anticipate the re-release on DVD of Fire Walk With Me (with previously deleted footage) later this summer.

A podcast of the event is now available.

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