A David Lynch movie that makes his previous puzzlers
LOST HIGHWAY and MULHOLLAND DRIVE seem
downright coherent. INLAND EMPIRE is possibly Lynchís strangest, most
discordant feature ever, a sustained fever dream of a movie featuring a
career-best performance by Laura Dern.
This 2006 production was shot piecemeal over a five
year period by David Lynch, who for the first time used digital video, which he
now claims will be his one and only format of choice. INLAND EMPIRE also
incorporates footage from RABBITS, a sitcom created for Lynchís website
featuring MULHOLLAND DRIVEíS lead actors in rabbit costumes, and some
miscellaneous footage Lynch shot on location in Poland.
The net result is very likely Lynchís magnum opus, a
full three hours of undiluted surrealism with quite a few former Lynch cast
members onscreen. In addition to Dern, who appeared in BLUE VELVET and WILD AT
HEART, thereís also Dernís real-life mom Diane Ladd (also from WILD AT HEART),
Harry Dean Stanton, Justin Thereaux, Grace Zabriskie and many others.
It was released theatrically by Lynch himself through his company
Absurda, and performed as you might expect (that is to say, it didnít exactly
set the box office on fire). At least the film is now readily available on DVD
(together with LYNCH, a feature-length making-of doc), so you can experience
this perversely beautiful puzzler for yourself.
A forty-year-old blond actress is looking to make a
comeback in a melodramatic feature thatís apparently cursed. The film, directed
by an eccentric Englishman and starring a flirtatious young stud, was apparently
already begun by another crew and then abandoned due to some suspicious deaths.
On this new shoot weirdness is apparent from the start,
when during a rehearsal a disquieting noise is heard in the studio. A bit later
the actress starts up a romance with her costar and becomes trapped inside a
From there the womanís reality fractures entirely. She assumes at
least two separate identities, one as the dissatisfied wife of a Polish
immigrant and another as a fed-up prostitute. And then there are two more
strange women who somehow figure into the picture: a shifty brunette who turns
up in a police station after stabbing herself, and a sad call girl who watches
the actressís exploits on a TV monitorÖand who may actually be the
actress. Or maybe sheís dreaming her. Or vice-versa. And whatís up with those
nutty people in rabbit costumes who turn up periodically?
First off, this film, quite simply put, makes no sense. Anyone
claiming to understand it is almost surely lying, as it was in fact pieced
together from several different projects.
Yet it has a definite flow. It doesnít seem to know it lacks a linear
storyline, and possesses an absurd logic. That logic is one of dreams, and
INLAND EMPIRE is certainly one of the most potent dream films ever made. Like a
dream, itís impossible to adequately encompass or describe (the above plot
summary is a VERY abbreviated account), with an overriding symmetry that always
seems tantalizingly out of reach. Of course itís best not to take the
proceedings too seriously, as indicated by an impromptu ďLocomotionĒ dance
number that occurs in the middle of a key dramatic sequence, or the heroineís
climactic death scene, which is interrupted by a street womanís monologue about
her sister tearing a hole in her vagina.
As always, the sound mix is impeccable, with Lynch acting as his own
sound designer. Lynch also photographed and edited the film himself, and has
come up with a confoundingly beautiful something-or-other that, being a David
Lynch movie, also contains its share of disturbing and horrific moments.
As for the DV stock, it seems to have freed Lynch up
visually. His compositions are far less rigid and painterly than those of his
previous features; this is the first Lynch film to effectively utilize camera
movement and distorted lenses, and the editing is far livelier than usual. At a
full three hours this may be the longest of Lynchís films, but itís also the
And then thereís Laura Dern. As a fortyish actress
looking to make a comeback Dern is clearly playing a part with which she
identifies, but she actually plays at least three different roles, and is great
in all of them. It could be argued that itís really she who holds this loopy
production together. Dern should have received every 2006 acting award there
was--of course, she got none.
Director/Screenwriter/Cinematographer/Editor: David Lynch
Producers: Mary Sweeney, David Lynch
Cast: Laura Dern, Jeremy Irons, Julia Ormond, Justin Theroux, Harry Dean
Stanton, Grace Zabriskie, Karolina Gruszka, Diane Ladd