inland empire (2006)
Getting lost isn't something you know is happening, it's something realized. Sometimes we don't know we were lost until we find our way, or someone finds us. Such is the case with INLAND EMPIRE, David Lynch's digital void of sound and color, an experience we barely realize we were lost in, until we find our way out and the lights come up.
To truly express how I feel about the film is going to take some doing. It's the type of film that transcends a gut-feeling such as "liking" or disliking" what you're seeing, and moves into a question of depth. This film gets you deeper than most other films. Once it's in you, it stays there and continues to grow. One critic quoted Lynch's own line from Blue Velvet, saying that INLAND EMPIRE "puts its disease in you". That's as accurate as you're going to get. So many times, I've heard my film professors and older film fans in general speak of a paradigm-shifting event in their cinematic lives; that one film that forever changed the way they look at movies. Films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and 8 1/2, even Lynch's own Eraserhead are always described by saying "wow ... the first time we saw that ... we didn't know what to do with it, no one had ever seen anything like it". That's how I feel I'll speak of this film 30 years down the road; it's unsettling in the fact that it defies everything you thought it would be. Now, I'm a huge Lynch fan, I've seen every one of his feature films, I've seen both seasons of his TV series Twin Peaks, I've even seen all of his college short films, and I STILL wasn't prepared for this. It blind-sides you and then dances all through your head leaving muddy footprints behind, but all the while you can't shake the urge to dance along with it. Lynch truly freed himself of all pretenses and allowed his mind to just flow the ideas out, this film is a stream of consciousness like no other. One of this big reasons for this was his simple choice of what to shoot on. Whereas all of his films so far have been on ... well ... film, he downgraded this time to cheap, consumer grade Digital Video with a $3,000 Sony PD-150 camera and $5, hour-long MiniDV tapes. Yes, this is the exact same equipment I use when making my own shorts, so to see images that resembled my own projected on that screen was as fascinating as the substance within the film itself. Lynch has explained his love for digital video because of the ease of shooting and the length of takes that one can use. (in one interview he described doing 40-minute takes, although I can't imagine why, none of individual shots or scenes last very long at all.) It's fantastic to see this done and really opens up my own filmmaking possibilities. But, enough of all this praise, let's get down to the nitty gritty; you're probably sitting there wondering what this flick is all about, right? Well, keep wondering, I know I am. Just kidding, I'll help you out as much as I can. Actually, the first hour or so of this three hour head trip is all but a little too straightforward. After being treated to a short intro involving Naomi Watts in a giant rabbit suit (oh, I forgot to mention, please hold your questions until after the review) We're introduced to our ring master for all the insanity, Laura Dern. Dern's performance is just great as she plays a number of main character, how many I can't quite be sure. 3? 4? Anyhow, She's an aging actress who takes a role in a new film that's being directed by Jeremy Irons, but slowly the film begins to resemble her own life. That's the point where the narrative folds in on itself and for the next two hours you'd better hang on or get lost in the nightmare.
There's an interesting scene which takes place about halfway through this wanderer's trip through Hell. It involves one of Dern's characters burning a hole in a piece of silk and peering through it to view the folds of silk on the other side. Why not just look at the silk, you ask? Because filtering our perception of something through many different layers and mediums is a large part of the INLAND EMPIRE puzzle. This scene may or may not hold the key to the entire viewing experience. Or, maybe it doesn't, maybe the key to the experience is seeded in Grace Zabrieski's brief, but important, appearance at the beginning of the film when she spins us a tale of how "evil was born". Dern's movie set becomes a-different-incarnation-of-Dern's house and then back again. Characters appear oddly familiar, with only our feeling of deja vu remaining to hint that they may have been in the film earlier, who can be sure? Multiple instances of home-repair tools crop up and seem to hold an eerie significance. In his classic Lynchian tradition, we are given the means to follow objects when characters and plot lines (the things we usually hang onto during a film) are taken away from us and cannot be trusted. Just as in the deceptive and shadowy LA world of Mulholland Dr., we're once again taken into a shape-shifting Hollywood that defies our need for logic. The places this film travels are more "Hollywood" (such as the walk-of-fame) and also far less 'Hollywood" (muddy woods with bare trees? a tiny village in Poland?) than anything we saw in that film. Indeed, Mulholland Dr. looks like it has all the complexities of a children's book when put next to this film. Lynch gives us an evil and eerie feeling like never before, in fact, what one reviewer said of his multiple experiences with the film really rang true to me. He described that seeing it for the first time, the whole thing seemed downright evil and very mean-spirited, however, his second time through, the film seemed almost playful and revealed a sense of humor that was never apparent. This reminds me very much of my first two viewings of Mulholland Dr.; at first it seemed like Lynch had delved into the muck only to surface with a disturbing look at a dream factory that turned into a nightmare. I can remember for weeks one of the only things I would remark about the film was Lynch's skill at keeping a constant tone of foreboding terror with his masterful use of perspective shots, and his genius at upsetting our expectations by swapping the characters. My second time through, however, everything changed. Mulholland Dr. became a film to love and care about, it took me through so many emotional ups and downs, I couldn't believe it, and I have a feeling that's how it will be with this film. Lynch is truly one of the most visionary directors who ever lived, and most certainly one of the only people on the planet today that still gives credit to artistry is film. By the end of the film, you're no more privy to what has occurred than when it began, but you are irrevocably changed and Lynch's artistry is the cause. When the credits rolled, I was exhausted, I knew I had just witnessed something that would hopefully change cinema forever, and I wasn't too sure that Dern was "the woman in trouble" after all. That's about it. The Rabbits, silk, domineering husbands, battered wives, locomotion-dancing whores, big-lipped bums, red lamps, low-lit hallways, snowy streets, lighters, ketchup stains and screwdrivers will all work themselves out in due time. For now, INLAND EMPIRE is a masterpiece and worth many many hours of viewing if you're willing to take the time.
Also, for now, that time I mentioned will include driving time. In order to keep his film in one surreal piece, Lynch didn't let any studio touch it and has been trying to distribute the film himself since mid-December, hence my having to wait until March and drive 3 hours just to see it. Hopefully it will be out on DVD soon, although I hate the idea of so many people being denied the opportunity to see this on the big screen. Oh well, I suppose I shouldn't worry; this film ins't going anywhere anytime soon. I feel privileged that I was able to see it first run, I'll sure as hell never forget it. I encourage you to check it out, as well as all of Lynch's work, they'll change the way you look at movies, and if Lynch has his way, your own life too.