(2006) dir. David Lynch
David Lynch has long been one of those divisive directors, not politically, or morally, but really around pretension and comprehension. From his earliest days with his uber cult film Eraserhead (1977) through to his strange and beautiful Mulholland Dr. (2001), he’s really cultivated a “love him or hate him” persona and body of work. Maybe there are some in betweeners out there, but I’d have to say, as I think has been said, that Inland Empire is only for those who are on the “love him” side of things. For people who need closure, need to understand what is going on, need answers to questions, can’t deal with weird rabbits on television, or any number of open-ended images, narrative tropes, and general loose ends, this film is going to be a bit of a challenge.
I think that may be true for some more solid Lynch fans as well. For me, I think it was pretty brilliant.
Like Mulholland Dr., Inland Empire is also very much about Los Angeles, more specifically Hollywood itself, the film process, the film industry, the whole mechanism of Hollywood, but also its inhabitants. Also, like Mulholland Dr., it’s a mystery of a narrative, with recurring motifs and imagery, duplicate roles or double identities of actresses like a heavy duty deja vu. It’s hardly a film that one can take in entirely in one viewing. And there are aspects of the narrative that, as in Mulholland Dr., people will be scratching their heads and trying to analyze down to an “actual” story, the one that people imagine is beneath the storytelling, the things that really happened, looking for the key to unlock the specifics. This worked for Mulholland Dr., people were talking about it all the time, trying to figure it out. This one seems less friendly to that sort of urge for closure.
Interestingly, it ends on an upbeat note. Is that a spoiler? Does that happen in David Lynch films?
Since Lost Highway (1997), Lynch has been very interested in doppelgangers or dual personae, the person who is always split between two or more realities (or perhaps two or more dreamworlds). In Lost Highway, the split splits the film. Bill Pullman becomes Balthazar Getty for some reason and Patricia Arquette is two people, too. The split and duplicity in Mulholland Dr., which despite the fact that I keep mentioning it and remembering to have liked it quite well, can’t actually recall enough about the narrative to fully make a comment, the split happened to both Naomi Watts and Laura Harring. In Inland Empire, it’s Laura Dern’s turn to split and comeback, share roles with previous actors, echo constantly back and forth through narrative turn after narrative turn.
Lynch plays with landscape. Doors open into new space after new space, they end up in a place they were before that was somewhere else. The landscape, when not interior to the film set, is Los Angeles, which I read recently is key to the title of the film. The Inland Empire is, as I have read, an area “east of Los Angeles”, but echoes back within the space of the film. Maybe a better knowledge of L.A. geography would pay off in this analysis. The rooms and buildings are of an older time, a period of Hollywood’s heyday but eventually spill out on to the famed crossroad of Hollywood and Vine quite explicitly. Do I get what is going on here completely? Hell no.
Shot on digital video, the film has an amazing look. It’s as if Lynch rediscovered the camera and what it could do. He uses all sorts of fade-ins and fade-outs, lighting techniques, framings, and controls the aesthetics to a “T”. It’s quite beautiful, actually. Very much so. If there is one film that I regret not having seen on the big screen upon its release in recent years, this one tops the list.
The film contains some of Lynch’s strange asides, humor, and actors. It’s nice to know that Harry Dean Stanton is still alive. He started life as an old man. He looks virtually the same as he did in the early 1970’s. Kind of like Dick Clark.
I found the film quite stunning. The cinematography and the flowing, spooky, frightening dream just pulled me along. I committed to it, wafted along. I had been afraid to see it for its length (nearly 3 hours) and its pace (slow), but in reality, I was really fairly rapt. Lynch is a mixed bag for me in some ways, but I think that he’s actually perhaps has made his best film here. I think he’s brilliant, and while his films are often flawed (to me), his vision is completely unique. His world, his obsessions, his fascinations are mesmerizing and challenging. And while I could not decipher the entirety of the narrative here for you even if I wanted to, I have to say, that is not what I necessarily need from a film.