Wildly imaginative to some, infuriating to others, surrealist David Lynch is back with his most uncompromising movie since Eraserhead. If you didn’t like his previous films, you’ll hate this. If you’re a fan or if you’re just open to a whole new cinema experience, go for it…all three hours of it.
Nicki Grace (Laura Dern) is a beautiful blond Hollywood star who lands the leading role in a Hollywood movie which is a remake of an apparently cursed Polish original. Nicki’s personal life gets tied up with her performance and the characters from the Polish film and it becomes increasingly difficult, no impossible, to disentangle what is real, what is in her mind or what is in the movie that she’s making. We don’t even know for sure if she really is a Hollywood star who lands a leading role in a Hollywood movie. Well, what do you expect? This is a David Lynch film.
San Francisco Chronicle: “A free-fall plunge through David Lynch’s imagination, a curious and often astonishing place. The film is dazzling and bewildering in equal measure.”
Empire: “This is more a pop-art challenge than an ordeal, an experiment in comprehension that will surprise many who think that a movie needs a clear narrative to make sense.”
The Independent: “The only thing I could tell for sure about this mind-boggling fugue is that I didn’t like it, at all.”
David Lynch: “It’s about a woman in trouble and it’s a mystery, and that’s all I want to say about it.”
If you like your movies to have a good clear storyline with a proper ending that ties up all the plot lines then this film is not for you.
If you need to know what’s going on all the time and what the film is “about” then this is not for you either.
David Lynch just isn’t that kinda guy.
A long-term enthusiast for transcendental meditation, a life long surrealist and natural rebel, David Lynch just isn’t interested in making films with a clear narrative. Life is just not like that. It is complicated and confusing, he believes, and any art form that tries to document the human experience needs to be complicated and, yes, confusing too.
Inland Empire is a remarkably original work even coming from today’s most unconventional director but it demands that you meet it on its own terms by opening your mind to a view of experience where dreams and subconscious thought are on an equal footing with perceived reality.
It is not nearly as difficult to watch though as that might imply. Lynch is still a master director using all those old-fashioned techniques like suspense, surprise, mystery, excitement and horror. Once you’ve stopped trying to work out the plot, the film grabs you by the throat throughout its full three hours.
It is his first film to use Digital Video instead of film and, whereas it loses some of the cinematic beauty of Blue Velvet or Mulholland Drive, it has given him a freedom to experiment in a way that he has not tried since his early and boldly inventive Eraserhead.
The beautifully lit set pieces are every bit as gorgeous as their celluloid predecessors but the new format enables him to mix in home movie style sequences, surrealistic burnt out shots and daringly out of focus close-ups which occur glaringly just when you think you’re watching a complete scene from the Hollywood movie. Then he cuts to cheap TV studio lighting for the bizarre theatrical scenes with three hominoid rabbits whose inconsequential remarks bring inappropriate bursts of canned audience laughter. Lynch has found a new and versatile toy here and says that he will no longer use film for motion pictures.
He took two and a half years to shoot it and confesses to writing the script in small sections just before they were shot without any real idea about what was going to happen next.
This makes Laura Dern’s astounding performance even more extraordinary as she had no idea how her character was going to develop. Whether as the sensitive working actress Nikki Grace whose elegant world is unravelling before her eyes, or in her role as the sultry Southern belle, Susan Blue, in the movie within the movie whose character transforms into a battered prostitute and a small town housewife from the ramshackle Los Angeles suburb of Inland Empire, Laura Dern gives a studied performance mixing internalised subtlety with extreme physicality. She is truly outstanding.
There are some excellent performances from other Lynch regulars too. Harry Dean Stanton is the withered, downtrodden but sinister director’s assistant and Grace Zabriskie’s nutty old lady has a similarly dark side. Justin Theroux, these days, Lynch’s favourite leading man, is a classic Lynchian open-eyed innocent so it is a pity that his role evaporates half way through the film.
Jeremy Irons is perfectly and wittily cast as the honey-tongued English movie director whose insincerity and superficiality keep him blissfully unaware of the undercurrents threatening to drown the whole project.
Inland Empire is a brave movie that plays on in your mind long after you leave the cinema. So, even if you didn’t know what was going on half the time, the movie will make you question how you experience the world. There’s a whole lot more to it than meets the eye.
Laura Dern, Jeremy Irons, Justin Theroux, Harry Dean Stanton