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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.

The Package
     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.

The Story
     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 prop house.
     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?

The Direction
     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 fastest.
     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.

Vital Statistics 

Studio Canal 

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