INLAND EMPIRE (2006)

Filed under: — Arjan Welles on October 16th, 2006 01:10:57 am

Personally, I think David Lynch is one of the most interesting of current filmmakers. The past couple of years, Lynch spent specializing in learning to work with his new toy, a digital video camera (abbreviated as DV), he extensively used for experimentation on his website. Last year, at the Cannes Film Festival, Lynch announced he had been working on a new film, starring Laura Dern en Jeremy Irons, for almost two years. It was supposed to be about a woman in trouble. A description being just as vague as the last thirty minutes of his previous film Mulholland Dr. Last Monday, I had the good fortune of attending a special screening of INLAND EMPIRE (as his latest three hour DV piece is called) in the company of the master himself and leads Laura Dern and Justin Theroux. Let me tell you: INLAND EMPIREin its entirety is just as wonderfully vague as the last act of Mulholland Dr. or the disturbing Eraserhead.

It is hard to explain the plot of most Lynch films. Usually, you don’t get past describing some snippets. Basically, INLAND EMPIRE is what Lynch promised us a year ago. It is a frame-story about an actress called Nikki (Dern) who is on the verge of getting accepted for a new role in a film called On High in Blue Tomorrows, directed by Kingsley (played by Jeremy Irons) en co-starring Devon (Theroux). During the rehearsing process, Kingsley explains his actors they are about to perform in a remake of an unfinished and cursed film called 4/7. Both of its leads got murdered. This film was based on a Polish Gypsy folk tale. From that moment on, the film gets just as weird and impenetrable as its prologue, starring a Polish prostitute watching a sit-com starring actors in bunny suits and with an audience that bursts into laughter at random moments. Now, how alienating is that?

Most of Lynch’s films deal with different dimensions and realities; actors portraying several characters or several characters turning out to be one and the same person. Besides these concepts, there is a thin line between dreams and reality in most of Lynch’s films and a strong emphasis on esoterism. Sometimes even his fascination for Transcidential Meditation creeps into his work. Most of Mulholland Dr. can be considered a dream and in Lost Highway characters seem to co-exist and coincide. The vague transition from dream to reality and back is not only present in the productions aforementioned, but also in his first film Eraserhead and Blue Velvet.

Basically, INLAND EMPIRE, goes back to the overly experimental director in the days of Eraserhead and his short films (recently released on DVD in region 1). Most interestingly, Lynch chose a directing and screenwriting method reminiscent to Twin Peaks, albeit taken into extremes. Lynch had no clear idea of what Inland Empire would become and started shooting without a script. He wrote the scenes while shooting the film, a technique partially used for Twin Peaks also, not knowing how it would end up. In the Q&A, Lynch explained at a certain time of his three-year production period things fell into place and sometimes this did not occur up until the editing process. It places the narration to the background and is a selection of impressions and gusts of ideas.

Now, the DV approach may take a while to get used to. To the untrained eye, it may look rather cheap. Some porn may have been shot with better quality. Concluding Lynch went for the cheap approach does Inland Empire great injustice. Not only did DV allow Lynch to have great artistic freedom, it also is an extremely honest medium. Although the shots have been lighted and rendered, it shows the actors in complete honesty and nakedness. There is not much you can hide with DV and Lynch uses this property wisely and with great craftsmanship. He dares to show his actors in an unequalled sense of honesty yet dignity at the same time. To Lynch celluloid is dead and DV is the future.

Some people claimed Mulholland Dr. had an arbitrary form of chaos that was way too easy to get away with. A closer look teaches us, this so-called chaos is thoroughly well thought and organized. The last scenes of Mulholland Dr. also serves as a way of Lynch rebelling against the licked Hollywood productions that give us happy endings and rounded-off storylines. Film is the laziest form of art. A book provides us with (visual) fantasies and so do radio plays or even a canvas. Films merely fill in everything: visuals, sounds, dialogues, surroundings. Besides touch and smell/taste, it serves every sense. The two most import senses, I daresay. Especially commercial productions make sure you don’t have to think or feel much if you don’t want to. Trying to explain Mulholland Dr. without ending up with loose ends is impossible. And that is a revelation and so much fun at the very same time. The specific writing and production process clashes with the thought of Inland Empire‘s structure being organized and well thought. The spontaneity of its origin is not capable of allowing any form of preconceived structure. Finding that in Inland Empire would be impossible and just as insane as its fragmented storylines.

INLAND EMPIRE is all of the last part of Mulholland Dr., combined with the artistry and the inscrutability of Eraserhead. Lynch has developed a visual language of his own, allowing you to feel insecure, dazed and emotional. The film is a tough ride. It is a three-hour mindfuck, full of an incredible craving of wanting to understand, when it is impossible to do so; to stay on the euphemist side. If understanding is what you’re after, you won’t enjoy this. You’ll probably even hate is to the bones. If you want an actress who doesn’t know if she is starring in her own life or a movie (within a movie) or a bunch of sexy Lynchian women bursting into dancing and lip-synching The Locomotion you are definitely in the right place. Inland Empire deserves several looks, and I can assure you: you will probably never completely get it. So don’t try to. It is attractive in its own hysterical and confusing way and pretty much a three-hour trip. There is a strong reference, not only to Eraserhead and Lost Highway, but also to some of the short films, especially Rabbits, also starring people in bunny suits.

After Blue Velvet and Wild Heart Dern’s lead performance is another revelation, since she is able to shift between emotions within a scene and in the three years in the making, her progress and growth is really showing off. The fact she wasn’t quite sure what she was doing at the time of shooting, serves her screwed up and confused character well. For the viewer this creates intimacy and involvement. Jeremy Irons’s role, however, is disappointingly small yet outstanding and Theroux is a good supporting actor, without the impact of his part in Mulholland Dr., but with an interesting edge. There are even small cameos for William H. Macy, Dern’s mother Diane Ladd (who also co-starred with her daughter in Wild at Heart), Mulholland Dr.’s Laura Harring, Natassja Kinski (watch the credits) and the voice of Naomi Watts. Don’t get this film, just enjoy it.

rating: 9

Directed by: David Lynch
Starring: Laura Dern, Justin Theroux, Jeremy Irons, Harry Dean Staunton
Runtime: 179’
Release Dates: The Netherlands: 29 March 2007

author picture Arjan Welles (213 posts)
Arjan Welles - law graduate. I work at a bank, I work as a film critic for Dutch and English media. My favorite directors are David Lynch, David Fincher, Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino. I love arthouse over blockbusters.

1 Comment

  • Are you looking for understanding where none is intended? Sometimes, and espescially with Lynch, What you see and feel when the images and sound wash over you is all that the artist intended. Don’t go looking for subtext in a world of hallucinitory sounds and images… just enjoy or feel repelled by the feelings they evoke… as the artist intended.

    Comment by Batty — Mon January 8, 2007 @ 23:50

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