“A woman in touble” is the tagline for Inland Empire, not an unusual occurence for a Lynch film, even less surprising is that the trouble comes from within and without. Laura Dern is the woman, an actress about to be granted the role in the remake of a Polish film that may be cursed. She gradually disappears further and further into her character and reality and fiction (and a sitcom with rabbits) become blurred. She sees herself in different times, changes accents, homes, families, meets troupes of prostitutes and clowns, snarls, spits, screams, fucks and falls through a nightmare of L.A and worse.
There is no structure, willfully so. It jolts and judders along, pleased with itself and the confusion it sows.Filmed entirely in grainy DV for a neo-real, hauntingly fuzzy feel, plagued with innappropriate jump cuts and lingering fades. Filled with stark imagery and genuine shocks, Inland Empire delights and infuriates in nearly equal measures. What tips the scales in it’s favour is an imagination to rival Lynch’s best and plenty of scenes that will remain long in the memory. A rehearsal scene that ends in terror, Dern contorting her face into every emotion and running at the camera in slow motion, a silent interrogation filled with sexual abuse and tall tales all showcase Lynch at his best and most anarchic. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else attempting this and even harder to imagine following them. A scene where Dern is stabbed on Hollywood Boulevard, over the stars tells us all we need to know about Lynch’s feelings on the industry.
Shadow and light (the building blocks of cinema) are at war constantly here. Men leap out of shadows like werewolves, women are bathed in pools of innocent light. People (and rabbits) project shadows that appear to have a life of their own, dancing to a pulse of a different, more unsettling movie. There is a strong Kubrick feel to proceedings, The Shining is referenced heavily and obviously, 2001 gets a more oblique nod. The Cook, The Thief, His wife and Her Lover must be considered an influence with it’s set within a set in reality and overblown performances, whilst Cassevetes work is felt heavily in the grim Americana on display.
Inland Empire is at best at war with itself and at worst second guessing it’s target audience into oblivion. Is it Lynch being Lynch but even more so or would it benefit from even a nominal structure being forced upon it? Would this film have even got made if it wasn’t one Mr. Lynch doing the asking? Does it matter? Should we applaud a director unafraid of his own legacy, able to twist and confound his audience like a master or should we rail against the pretensions of a man purposely setting out to be obtuse? By posing these questions Inland IEmpire more than justifies it’s existence even as it holds it’s secrets close, pretending that answers are possible when the exact opposite is more likely.
“We are like the spider. We weave our life and then move along in it. We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives in the dream. This is true for the entire universe.” – a quote from Brihadanyaka Upanishad was how Lynch himself tried to explain Inland Empire. That’s pretty good.