INLAND EMPIRE: Mal and I went to see David Lynch's Inland Empire at the Plaza Theater this evening, and I all I can say is "holy shit." This movie is so out on the edge of reality that it makes the edge disappear. It's a fever-dream, LSD trip and psychotic break wrapped in tacky paper and a used bow and handed to you with a twisted smile. At one point in the film, Laura Dern (who I now realize was criminally left off the Best Actress nominee list, because this is the role of a lifetime) says she met a guy who "laid a total mind fuck on me." That about sums up Inland Empire -- a 172 minute mind fuck, but one you can't stop thinking about.

The tag line for the film is "A Woman In Trouble." You must first decide which woman is in trouble: the crying Polish woman watching television (including giant talking rabbits voiced by Noami Watts and Laura Herring from Mulholland Drive) or Niki Grace (Dern), a Hollywood actress on the verge of a big comeback in a film called On High in Blue Tomorrows.

Before she gets the part, Niki is visited by a strange Polish woman (Lynch stalwart Grace Zabriskie) who gives "clues" setting the stage for the rest of the "story." The woman tells Niki an old fairytale about a boy who saw his reflection when he left his house one day and it somehow opened a door for evil to follow him. She also tells a variation on the tale about a girl who is confronted by evil in an alley behind a market place. There's also some mumbo jumbo about the bending of time and space. Niki looks across the room and sees herself the next day, celebrating her winning of the role in the film. The film is being directed by Kingsley Stewart (Jeremy Irons) and her costar is the horny Devon Berk (Justin Theroux), who has a reputation for bedding all his co-stars. Niki's jealous husband -- who seems to be of Polish descent -- warns Devon of dire consequences if he tries to seduce his wife.

While having a table read of the script, Kinsley reveals that On High in Blue Tomorrows was originally filmed in Poland, but that both of the lead actors were murdered and the film was never completed. We see Niki and Devon filming scenes as their characters Sue and Billy. Ultimately, Niki and Devon wind up in bed...or are they in character as Sue and Billy? It's here that the film leaves narrative coherence and flies freely into alternate reality.

To say the next two hours make any kind of logical sense would be a lie. The last thing that is remotely clear is that Niki's mind has fractured. She has become Sue and another woman who is an even tougher version of Sue, a foul-mouthed hooker abandoned by her carny husband after their son died, who lives in what seems to be the area of south LA known as the "inland empire." There is an absurd Greek chorus of hookers who line dance to "The Loco-motion", scary rooms with sinister lamps (yes, sinister), scenes from the Polish production of the film that was scrapped, and much inter-cutting back to the crying woman watching the rabbits and Niki/Sue on her television. There's a slew of cameos: Mary Steenburgen, Julia Ormond and William H. Macy, not to mention the re-teaming of Harry Dean Stanton and Natassja Kinski, who memorably starred in Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas. There's a vague nod to that film, since it is about a man who lost his memory and a woman who disappeared and started a new life as a hooker. Hmmm...

Laura Dern's bravura performance holds all this together. The scene where she is stabbed in the stomach on Hollywood Boulevard by a vengeful hooker (or is it Devon/Billy's jealous wife?) is one of the rawest performances I've ever scene. Her 16 minute monologue as the "other Sue" about all her run in's with abusive men and how she's emasculated them is a brilliant mash-up of scripted writing and improv. Lynch filmed Inland Empire on high-grade digital video, which adds a documentary-style raggedness to the proceedings, especially when blown up to 35mm for theater screenings. All the old Lynch tricks are here: classic pop music, red velvet curtains, dancing monkeys, men sawing logs and fantastic cups of coffee. Inland Empire plays both like a culmination of all his previous work and a homage of sorts.

By the end of the third hour, there's almost an explanation for what's been happening, but Lynch can't leave well enough alone. Niki/Sue/Other Sue might not even really exist at all outside the crying Polish woman's television. The Polish woman may also be the actress who was playing Sue in the version that was never completed. Your guess is as good as anyone elses. Lynch will never discuss his metaphors and meanings, always stating the "narrative is on the screen." Whatever you do, stay through the closing credits as Dern transforms into Sandy, the character she played in Lynch's Blue Velvet and the hookers dance to a storming version of Nina Simone's "Sinnerman."

My hat's off to Lynch for having the balls to make such an uncompromising film. Despite its flaws, this might possibly be the ultimate art film. It's both brave and waaaaay crazy. I just might go sit through it again.

Comments

rae said…
Hey Collin - hope you've been well! I've never been a huge Lynch fan though he DID direct one of my favorite and little known movies called The Straight Story - but Dern is a favorite of mine and I just may have to suck it up based your blog post. So, thank you - I didn't even know about this film.
Collin said…
I loved The Straight Story! I actually saw it in London one rainy afternoon and was stunned that it was a David Lynch film. It's so simple, direct and heartbreaking. Inland Empire really is like nothing I've ever seen before. You will look at your watch a time or two, but I think Lynch wants you to do that, as well. There are a number of references about time and checking watches in the movie.
Looking forward to IE Collin. I never miss a Lynch film. The Straight Story is an emotionally charged gem, a beautiful story, but my favoirte of his works is Mulholland Dr.
Anonymous said…
David Lynch's movies have always been hit or miss for me. I liked Mulholland Dr. and Blue Velvet, but i thought Lost Highway made no sense and was just stupid. Haven't seen all of Twin Peaks but its pretty cool so far. I'll probably see this on DVD. That way i can fastforward thru all the crap.

GAV
Ivy said…
David Lynch won't let you fastforward his DVDs. :-)

Can't wait to see Inland Empire, Collin! Sounds ├╝ber-cool. Pity it has such a limited release at the moment. Maybe I'll catch a screening when I visit London next month.
Clare said…
I've only seen one David Lynch movie and that was Mulholland Drive. It was really confusing but I enjoyed it and it made a great talking point afterwards with everyone trying to debate what it actually all meant :).
Collin said…
Sadly, Lynch got funding for the film from StudioCanal, but couldn't find a distributor for Inland Empire, so he's been doing it himself. I don't begin to know how this works, but it certainly can't be easy. Again, my hat's off to Lynch for his dedication to this film.
Ivy said…
Collin, did the fact it was shot on DV instead of film affect your viewing experience at all?
Collin said…
When I heard this one done on digital video, I was expecting to have that old videotaped sitcom look, so I was pleasently surprised to see that high-def digital video looks more like film. I think it enhanced the picture, especially in the rawness of some of the material shot on the streets of LA and in Poland. One thing it did was make the darkness look even darker, which I know must have pleased Lynch no end.

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