Movie Review: INLAND EMPIRE

Confession: I like the weird stuff when it comes to film. It’s probably because when I was a young gun with ambitions of being a filmmaker, the directors I looked up to were individuals whose creations often veered off the beaten path. And that’s certainly the case with David Lynch’s work. Lynch’s films are many things, but there’s one thing you can’t accuse them of being, and that’s “conventional.” As many mainstream directors play “catch up” to the ideas Lynch has been working with since the 1970s, he’s moved beyond them in style and substance.

Since “Lost Highway,” Lynch has been fascinated with the idea of fusing time, space, and identity into a fugue-like experience. “Mulholland Drive” continued the exploration of psychic disconnect in the story of a jilted lover who has been chewed up and spat out of the Hollywood film industry. Throughout all three films, Lynch has also turned the spotlight on the various levels of oppression women suffer in a world controlled by men.

When I was in film school (mid 80s) there was a very long discussion in a class I was taking on the whether Lynch was some kind of sadistic misogynist, since his film “Blue Velvet” depicted women either as objects to be raped, beaten, verbally abused, or adored as pure virginal icons of goodness. Nothing was really resolved in the class, but the conversation continued after class among the Lynch lovers (like me) who thought many had misread the film and only saw the violent images for what they conveyed in the most obvious way.

If you’re a person who loves films when they are structured in what has become a standard narrative with three acts, a plot-point that spins the story into a different direction, and an eventual resolution to the central conflict (i.e., drama), then you’re not going to like INLAND EMPIRE and would be best advised to stay away.

Explaining the film is almost a fool’s errand because it’s a film with a non-linear structure where characters become other characters from one scene to the next. But if an attempt were to be made to explain the film, I would go beyond Lynch’s stock answer (i.e., “A woman in trouble”) to say that this film is about the interior experience of women when their lives are in the control of another. Those “women” happen to be played by one women (Laura Dern) whose primary vocation is an actress who confuses the role she playing with her actual life. Dern also plays a kind of white-trash housewife who lives in the Inland Empire region of the Los Angles area (i.e., Ontario, San Bernardino and Riverside). And, toward the end of the film, she also plays a street prostitute.

After a rather dreamy and disjointed introduction that involves a Polish prostitute (not played by Dern) and her “John” we are given a clue as to what the kind of journey we are going to go on when Dern’s character is visited by a neighbor who tells her many odd things over a cup of coffee (Hey, it’s a Lynch film! Did you think there would be an absence of coffee?). The things Dern’s neighbor tells her could be ramblings of a crazy lady, but they turn out to be the dominant themes in the film. The first thing she tells Dern is that she’s going to get a part in the film she’s auditioned for (which she does). This tells us that time and space are going to be altered and what appears to be “today” is actually “tomorrow.” Then, she tells her two “tales” that are cryptic, but give us clues as to what is going to happen later in the film. One “tale” is about a boy who is born and eventually opens a door to the whole world. But while in the world, something happens and evil is also born and follows the boy wherever he goes. The second “tale” is a variation of the story and is about a girl who is in a marketplace and gets lost in a side alley. In order for her to find her way back she must go through many back alleys.

Like a jazz composition, INLAND EMPIRE states its theme at the outset, solos through the middle section going this way and that, and then closes with an altered form of the initial theme. What Dern’s neighbor states at the outset appears throughout the film in various forms. Dern is often going through portholes that lead her from one existence to another. And the men in the film often have a two-ness to them where their evil shadow is not far behind them. However, these are the most obvious themes in the film, and there are many more scenes and images in this 3+ hour film that will be hashed over by Lynch fans for years to come.

One thing is for certain: this film is not easy to sit through. The themes explored are disturbing, and sometimes the film gets bogged down in scenes that could have been omitted without sacrificing the integrity of the film. However, to watch Laura Dern act in this film is just amazing. She pulls off multiple roles and isn’t afraid to explore many dark and not-so-dark sides of the human psyche. She didn’t get nominated for an Academy Award for her work in INLAND EMPIRE (Despite the fact that Lynch personally tried to get her nominated), and it’s a shame because her performance in the film is what many actors long to do, but few have the talent to pull off.

Chance are that you won’t be able to see this film in a theatre “near you,” since it’s in very limited release. However, the DVD will be released in June, so if your interest level is still there this summer, you can have an early dinner and settle in for one of the most original American feature filmmakers working today.
Here’s the French trailer:

An interview with Lynch (Watch his hand wave about!):


Angelo Badlamenti has scored (or contributed music to) every David Lynch film since Blue Velet. The first piece is from the film “Lost Highway” and really sets the tone for the movie. The music is straight 4/4 time, until the extended sax “freak out.”

Listen to “Red Bats With Teeth” HERE

The next piece comes at the beginning of “Mulholland Drive” and sets up the rosy scenario of the protagonist “Betty” winning a Jitterbug contest before the film starts. Lynch, in his usual “things aren’t what they appear to be,” lulls us into a false sense of reality (with this piece setting the tone) before taking us down the rabbit hole later in the film.

Listen to “Jitterbug” HERE

–PK

Comments are closed.