is what David Foster Wallace liked about Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Replace Laura Palmer with Mel Gibson, Lynch with Lickona, "roadhouse drunks" with "Russian model" and so on, you get the picture.
"And then Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, Lynch's theatrical 'prequel' to the TV series, and his biggest box-office bomb since Dune, committed a much worse offense. It sought to transform Laura Palmer from dramatic object to dramatic subject. As a dead person, Laura's existence on the television show had been entirely verbal, and it was fairly easy to conceive her as a schizoid black/white construct - Good by Day, Naughty by Night, etc. But the movie, in which Ms. Sheryl Lee as Laura is on-screen more or less constantly, attempts to present this multivalent system of objectified personas - plaid-skirted coed/bare-breasted roadhouse slut/tormented exorcism-candidate/molested daughter - as an integrated and living whole: these different identities were all, the movie tried to claim, the same person. In Fire Walk with Me, Laura was no longer 'an enigma' or 'the password to an inner sanctum of horror.' She now embodied, in full view, all the Dark Secrets that on the series had been the stuff of significant glances and delicious whispers.
This transformation of Laura from object/occasion to subject/person was actually the most morally ambitious thing a Lynch movie has ever tried to do - maybe an impossible thing, given the psychological context of the series and the fact that you had to be familiar with the series to make even marginal sense of the movie - and it required complex and contradictory and probably impossible things from Ms. Lee, who in my opinion deserved an Oscar nomination just for showing up and trying.
The novelist Steve Erickson, in a 1992 review of Fire Walk with Me, is one of the few critics who gave any indication of even trying to understand what the movie was trying to do: 'We always knew Laura was a wild girl, the homecoming femme fatale who was crazy for cocaine and fucked roadhouse drunks less for the money than the sheer depravity of it, but the movie is finally not so much interested in the titillation of that depravity as [in] her torment, depicted in a performance by Sheryl Lee so vixenish and demonic it's hard to know whether it's terrible or a tour de force. [But not trying too terribly hard, because now watch:] Her fit of the giggles over the body of a man whose head has just been blown off might be an act of innocence or damnation [get ready]: or both." Or both? Of course both. This is what Lynch is about in this movie: both innocence and damnation; both sinned-against and sinning. Laura Palmer in Fire Walk with Me is both "good" and "bad," and yet also neither: she's complex, contradictory, real. And we hate this possibility in movies; we hate this "both" shit. "Both" comes off as sloppy characterization, muddy filmmaking, lack of focus. At any rate, that's what we criticized and disliked Lynch's Laura's muddy bothness is that it required of us an empathetic confrontation with the exact same muddy bothness in ourselves..."Successfully subjectifying a man that everybody loves to hate (or did when it was relevant), is morally ambitious, and Lickona pulls it off wonderfully in his fictional story-in-script-form about the real life soured relationship between Joe Ezterhaus and Gibson during an attempt to make a movie about the Maccabean Revolt.
(DFW, A Supposedly Fun Thing That I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments)
NAOMI is in bed, reading on her iPad: Peter Boyer's "The Jesus war," a 2003 profile of Gibson published in The New Yorker shortly before the release of The Passion of the Christ. JOE comes out of the bathroom and climbs wearily in bed beside her.
NAOMI: Have you read this? It's amazing. Boyer got Mel to just lay it out there for everyone to see. Listen to this quote: "Imagine: There's a huge war raging, and it's over us! This is the weird thing. I don't understand it. We're a bunch of dickheads and idiots and failures and creeps. But we're called to be divine, we're called to be more than our nature would have us be. And those big realms that are warring and battling are going to manifest themselves very clearly, seemingly without reason, here - a realm that we can see. And you stick your head up and you get knocked."
JOE: Maybe that's what happened - he got knocked in the head.
NAOMI: Oh, shut up. I think it's amazing. It may be the first time "dickhead" has appeared in The New Yorker, and it's certainly the first time I've seen them print such a straightforward statement of faith.
JOE: Don't tell me you're getting sweet on him. After what he pulled tonight? I'm half-ready to leave right now, except Nick thinks the house is cool and wants to go surfing.
NAOMI: I don't know. He's sort of awful, but then, he's sort of humble about it. You haven't worked with people who were like that.
JOE: I don't know. He really believes; I'll give him that. But I think I liked that dirty pagan Paul Verhoeven better. He thought he was so God-damned clever, but I could see him coming a mile away. This guy - it's hard to tell.
NAOMI: I thought I was the one who was supposed to just have faith.
INTERIOR MEL'S CHAPEL - NIGHT
The room is dark except for the votive candles burning beneath the statue of Mary that we saw destroyed in the opening scene. It takes us a moment to realize that a figure is lying face-down on the floor in the aisle between the pews, his arms outstretched, his head pointing toward the gold tabernacle on the altar. We can hear the figure murmuring. Camera cuts to a close-up of his face in profile, forehead and nose pressed into the stone floor. It is MEL; he is praying in Latin.
MEL: ...Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen (SWITCHES TO ENGLISH) Please don't let me fuck this up. And please give Joe whatever it is he needs. Keep his vision clear; keep his arm strong and his hand steady. Help him to work for your glory, and shield him from the maelstrom. St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil...Gibson is portrayed as the man we know, a choleric type easily provoked to display his Babelasian strength and neuroses, but with the darker shades of a Rabelasian faith fleshed out via wrestling match with God.
In short, Surfing With Mel is about what it means to have adult faith, highlighting, as Flannery O'Connor says, that, “What people don't realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross." Gibson is a man on the cross: in one sense screwed through his relationship with religion...
FR. FUCHS: Do you know what he said his father told him? That Pope John Paul I died because a cardinal sat on his face until he suffocated. And that cardinal, naturally, was part of a liberal Jewish conspiracy to bring down the Church from within....and yet still trying to make it work, with his deep seated wounds and explosive habits of being. In Gibson we recognize ourselves: the numbers that have been done on us; the power and demands and difficult rewards of faith, even yet under-developed, perhaps deformed; and the grace that accompanies any proximity to God whatsoever, even a closeness mixed with violence.
Available for cheap as an Amazon Kindle Single, and in hardback for slightly more, well worth it, at Labora Editions.