Inland Empire Burlesque
September 4, 2007 Leave a comment
“I was watching everything go around me as I was standing in the middle. Watching it like in a dark theater before they bring the lights up.” – Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) INLAND EMPIRE
I was surprised when I got the latest David Lynch film (released on DVD August 25th) from Netflix to see on the envelope that it was 172 minutes. Now, I’ve had a ‘love/WTF?’ relationship with the films of Lynch for a long time so I was a bit ambivalent about spending nearly 3 hours with Lynch’s particular brand of operatic weirdness. It turned out to be more than that of course, because I re-watched many parts in a futile attempt to really understand what exactly was going on. As many critics have said really understanding it is not the point. It’s supposed to wash over you or something like that. So let’s let it wash:
INLAND EMPIRE (Dir. David Lynch, 2006)
Writing about a David Lynch film can be one of the most intimidating tasks a critic can have. No straight plot description or analysis can be made and working out character motives or the real from the imaginary will leave one’s mind tangled up in Jungian knots. But I’ll roll up my sleeves and at least put on the table what I could decipher.
One narrative thread emerges early on out of the chaotic kaleidoscope of dream like imagery. It involves Lynch regular Laura Dern as an actress who accepts a part in what she and fellow actor Justin Theroux are told is a remake of a never completed Polish film named 47 – not completed that is because the two leads were murdered. After that premise is established the film disintegrates, or melts rather, into an endless seemingly random series of dream-like sequences.
In arguably the most abstract film-within-a-film in history the actors and the film itself become one another and the entire thing turns inside out and back again. Oh, and throw in a living room set with people with large rabbit heads with a laugh track and then another room with 60’s décor in which 9 casually dressed women (models/prostitutes?) who after some simplistic girls-talk break out into a spontaneous but still choreographed dance and lip synch number to “The Loco-motion”. Oh yeah – there are also scenes interspersed from what looks like a orange-hued Foreign film. Whew! That’s the best I can do!
Dern (who co-produced) does probably her best work here and that’s saying a lot for a project that mostly appears to require her to run around re-interpreting Munch’s painting ‘The Scream’ in every actor variation there is again and again. Grotesque Fellini-esque extreme close-ups dominate, non-sensical soundbites seep in from every corner of the screen (“it had something to do with the telling of time” somebody says at one point – uh, thanks) and while it was filmed on digital video the film nicely lives up to Lynch’s previous aesthetics. One can not casually watch INLAND EMPIRE – that would be like casually visiting somebody in prison.
So when the question comes down to whether I liked or disliked it, well trying to figure that out feels like deciding whether to give “thumbs-up or thumps-down” * to a Rorshach test. I can only say I found parts of it intensely absorbing and I cared about what was happening even if I didn’t always ‘get’ what was happening. Still it was a bit much and perhaps should have been edited down a tad. Of course though, that would probably be like cropping sections out of a Jackson Pollack painting.
* “Thumbs up-thumbs down” is a registered trademark of Disney-ABC Domestic Television.
Okay! So while we are on the subject let’s take a look at :
THE DAVID LYNCH REPARATORY COMPANY ROLL CALL
Frances Bay – BLUE VELVET (1986), WILD AT HEART (1990), TWIN PEAKS : FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992) : Also episodes of Twin Peaks (1990).
Laura Dern – BLUE VELVET(1986), WILD AT HEART(1990), INLAND EMPIRE (2006)
David Patrick Kelly – WILD AT HEART (1990), TWIN PEAKS : FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992) : Also (again) episodes of Twin Peaks.
Diane Ladd – WILD AT HEART, INLAND EMPIRE : Film fun fact – Ladd who is Laura Dern’s real life mother has played Dern’s mother in 4 movies. WILD AT HEART was the best of them in my book (or on my blog).
David Lynch himself – Starting out in one of his short films THE AMPUTEE in 1974 playing an “unable and scared nurse” (IMDb) Lynch has not quite been a Hitchcockian cameo player but has shown up from time to time. In DUNE he made an uncredited appearance as “Spice worker”, he played FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole in the ill-fated TWIN PEAKS : FIRE WALK WITH ME (Cole was a character he played in 6 episodes of the original TV series Twin Peaks), and though he cut himself out of LOST HIGHWAY he had shot some scenes of himself which he would have been credited as “Morgue Attendant”. How fitting.
Kyle MacLachlan – DUNE (1984), BLUE VELVET (1986), TWIN PEAKS : FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992) Sure he’s known these days for toiling in television on shows like Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives after years of commercial movie dreck like THE FLINTSTONES and (gulp) SHOWGIRLS but back in the day MacLachlan was Lynch’s alter ego go-to guy. Especially with the Twin Peaks TV series which peaked (pun intended) long before the prequel-styled movie. I guess that’s when Lynch’s and MacLachlan’s association peaked as well. Sigh, those days will never be again.
Jack Nance – ERASERHEAD (1977) , DUNE (1984), BLUE VELVET (1986), WILD AT HEART (1990), TWIN PEAKS : FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992), LOST HIGHWAY (1997) : One of Lynch’s most valued players – Nance played the lead in Lynch’s first full length feature ERASERHEAD and had a part in everything including many episodes of Twin Peaks TV series until his death in ’96. His last film was LOST HIGHWAY.
Justin Theroux – MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001),INLAND EMPIRE – According to Wikipedia “some think he has taken the place of Kyle MacLachlan as director David Lynch’s doppelgänger/Protagonist” but yet again there’s that dreaded  – damn you non-source referencing Wikipedia contributors!