Essays, Movies, Personal Lens

Confronting the Suffering and Salvation of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

(Content Warning: This essay contains discussions of child abuse, including references to physical violence and sexual abuse.)

I have the double-edged fortune and curse to have only hazy memories of the physical and emotional abuse I suffered in early childhood. I vaguely remember some of the events, but usually as an observer, a phantom outside my body watching it happen. I’ve succeeded recently in remembering the fear, which had calcified into denial over the years. My earliest memories of my abuser that I can access now are giant walls of fear, memories I had denied the existence of for years because of the often gentle and jocular demeanor he’d developed in the years since.

I was fortunate, I told myself, that I’d only been struck, beaten, verbally flayed and excoriated in my earliest years, where the memories were foggy and vague and supposedly couldn’t cause me direct violence. I ignored the fact that harsh tones or raised voices from others produced physical sensations of deep pain and bruising in my body; I ignored the continued low-level buzzing fear I felt around my abuser almost all the time; I ignored the way he could make me sob by clenching his teeth. I ignored my own anger, the pervasive instinct to attack anything or anyone who wronged me, the bile-producing sinkhole in my heart.

Eventually, I had to confront it. I had to dig down into the fog, searching for some truth and clarity, and I came to the unshakeable conclusion that the abuse I suffered will be affecting my soul for my entire life. It molded a key, primal part of my being. Only by staring into the fog do I have any hope of making it through.

Unlike Laura Palmer, I have no distinct memories of being sexually abused. I carry around enough dysfunction in that area of my life, and dissociated through so much of my early childhood, that I can’t conclusively rule it out, but I also have no concrete evidence to believe that was the case. Regardless, as an abuse victim, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me took on the power and gravity of a religious experience. The protagonist is an abuse victim who denies, who plays it cool, who casually puts herself in dangerous situations, who gets angry, who screams. Her abuser should be a kind caretaker, and mind-breakingly enough he often is, enough that Laura sees his abusive behavior as the work of a malicious spirit, horrified to find out the abuse is being carried out by her father.

The last act of Fire Walk With Me is essentially a passion play, and I’m definitely not the first person to see it that way. It’s easy for abuse survivors to see Laura Palmer as a saintlike or even Christlike figure, someone to identify with, feel deeply for, and look up to, all at the same time. I think this is the case because she’s so realistic, and her feelings are so keenly felt, but at the same time, the show and film highly mythologize her. It’s hard to imagine that a film about the repeated sexual assault and ultimate murder of a teenage girl could have much of a spiritual dimension, but Fire Walk With Me transcends the gut-punch of its premise, and the supposed limitations of its connections as a companion to a dense and complex television show, to zero in on Laura Palmer’s heart. And in her heart, I found mine.

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