Inland Empire Reviews
Plot: After taking the lead in a new movie "On High in Blue Tomorrow's", Hollywood star Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) learns the script was actually filmed once before as a Polish film named "47". Her director (Jeremy Irons) informs her that the film may have been cursed as it was based on an old Gypsy folktale and led to the murder of its previous actors. Believing this to be true, Nikki's imagination takes over as she struggles with her own identity and unable to tell the difference between her new role and reality.
Known for his inventiveness and wicked sense of humour, there was a time, in Lynch's career that he adopted a particular approach to his storytelling that involved surrealism and dream logic. These approaches initially featured sparingly but they arguably became more prominent with Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me or, to a greater extent, Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive with particular attention to symbolism and metamorphosis. INLAND EMPIRE has much in common with the latter two and as difficult and perplexing as these films were, they still had answers to be found within - with some effort, their puzzles could be solved. INLAND EMPIRE, on the other hand, is a very different beast and probably the most challenging film in Lynch's oeuvre. I have to put my hands up and admit defeat. I couldn't entirely grasp what Lynch was going for here. I have ideas but eventually I had to make peace with the film and just go along with the mystery and the confusion and revel in Lynch's mastery at mood and composition.
At 3 hours long it's quite the commitment and demands the utmost concentration. This is an unforgiving film experience that will not accept anything less than a viewers full commitment and if you're not up for that, then forget it. I'd also add that this is a film that's strictly for Lynch enthusiasts. Naysayers and doubters need not apply.
Lynch's decision to shoot in low-grade digital video may put many viewers off and it has often been said that the film isn't aesthetically pleasing. It can often look grainy and out of focus but, personally, I thought his intention here was a masterstroke. It allows him to utilise his low-lighting mood and gives the film a more personal vibe with the events and characters feeling much more authentic. So much so, that it only adds to what is already a deeply disturbing and unsettling experience.
It's been admitted by Lynch that he began this movie as an experiment and over the period of three years he would film certain scenes and images before constructing a narrative. Shooting began when he didn't have a script in place but the more he shot, the more the film grew and his ideas merged into something. Many, if not all, viewers will still wonder what he has came up with as this is a film that's so abstract and surreal that it could easily be written off as self-indulgent and pretentious. You could also say, that certain scenes and events don't make sense at all and Lynch is throwing what he can at the screen just to see what sticks. There's no doubt that it's a difficult film to determine meaning from but I also find it difficult to accept that it's accidental. There's a spiritual and existential angle to the film which may or may not be about our main character being in a state of purgatory and going through some form of spiritual cleansing. There's a central theme that can just about be grasped but trying to make sense of the Rabbits sitcom (with out-of-synch laugh tracks), the prostitutes dancing The Locomotion or crazy clown faces are just some of the more bizarre inclusions.
The first hour is actually fairly coherent and easy to follow but it's in the second third that the narrative changes perspective and, quite frankly, baffles the shit the out of you. It's very difficult to keep up but this is because the time frame and the characters shift and you're left unsure as to what and whom is doing what and unable to tell the difference between fantasy and reality. At one point Dern even utters the words... "I don't know what was before or after. I don't know what happened first and it's kinda laid a mindfuck on me". Not only will you identify with this feeling but it's a reminder on how the film should be viewed. Any chance of piecing the mystery together has to be done by shuffling the events and characters and approaching the film from a non-linear perspective.
Lynch has often toyed with alternate realities, dream states and doppelgänger's and INLAND EMPIRE feels very much like the evil twin to Mulholland Drive. They share similar themes and commentaries on the nature of Hollywood and stardom but for as dark and disturbing as Mulholland Drive was, INLAND EMPIRE takes it much further. This is a truly nightmarish depiction of fractured psyche's and shattered dreams.
Like Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive, Laura Dern is front and centre and delivers an outstanding central performance. This an actress I've had a few questions about over time but there really isn't any fault in her superlative work here. She has to play around with several roles and she's entirely committed and convincing in all of them. That said, even Dern and the rest of the cast admitted that they had no idea what the film itself is about. Maybe that's the point. Lynch did, after all, admit that it was an experiment and maybe the fault lies with the viewer for thinking otherwise. In this case, I just accepted the journey as the reward.
One of the most challenging and exhausting films I've ever seen. Whether or not you make sense of it, doesn't take away from the fact that you've witnessed an artist at work and been thrust into an intriguing mystery that has the utmost refusal to be solved. If this proves to be Lynch's last film (and I sincerely hope it's not) then he bows out with the ultimate head-fuck. He's most definitely an acquired taste. If you don't like him?... You should acquire some taste.
Yes, since Eraserhead David Lynch had been pushing the narrative and formal boundaries of film language, and even if he has classics under his belt like Blue Velvet and Mulholland Dr., or overlooked gems like Wild at Heart and Lost Highway, Inland Empire still feels as his cinematic testament. I'm not saying it is "better", just that it feels as the most pure representation of his artistic voice.
Inland Empire is a meditation on the medium itself, a deconstruction of identity and art. It is Lynch's Persona or 8 1/2 or The Holy Mountain, not only for the clear self-refleciton that permeates the film, but also because, in the vein of those classics, it is his most vulnerable and disjointed. Virtually indecipherable on a narrative level and overwhelming on a sensory level.
You can build academic works around the use of the digital format and its significance as a distancing element from the "cinematic feel", or about the correlation between his Rabbits characters and the polish sequences. Essays can be written about that enthralling credits sequence. Lynch's celebration of his art, brought to new dimension after his reveal that he is no longer making movies. But all of that would be making a disservice to Inland Empire. Trying to explain the unexplainable. Putting to paper the intangible.
Watching this film feels like the Club Silencio sequence in Mulholland Dr., when one is totally enthralled not by the fact that everything is an illusion, but for the fact that the illusion is so powerful the boundaries become indistinguishable. All that is left to do is to look through, all the way through, until you find yourself falling through the hole and into the shifting patterns you see on the other side.
A really unique way of filming, using a digital camera of questionable quality. A really unique way of writing, giving actors new scripts each day, apparently channeling some Godard. And a narrative so twisted and surreal it makes Eraserhead look like Inception.
The plot, or maybe plots, or maybe even more precisely the complete lack of plot, earns its reputation for being extremely experimental. I think I have a pretty good idea of the main themes that are being explored but I'm not entirely sure how they are meant to reacted to.
*Spoilers for those who haven't seen it, I would definitely recommend watching the movie first before reading about it's contents*
For me I feel like the movie is exploring the fragility of modern domestic life, and the different ways sexual liberation, and to a certain extent sexual abuse and human sex trafficking, have effected "traditional" family structures. There are also some very meta elements portraying how media portrays relationships and how a person's expectations can be shaped by what they see in fiction.
All of Lynch's signature tropes only work when he writes compelling and interesting characters so we the audience can at least engage in that side of the film which act as an anchor while we navigate whatever fucked up dream like web he's spinning in his movies. Unfortunately, Inland Empire has zilch, zero, none which removes any mystique or artistic integrity of the piece and makes the picture feel weird for the sake of being weird. Not to mention, the camcorder footage makes it feel like a 16 year olds attempt at making a David Lynch movie. I get it's cheaper but my god it doesn't half make everything look cheap. Laura Dern is uncontrollably committed to Lynch's material which is admirable but doesn't serve the picture as the material itself is incomprehensible and feels almost like self-parody in many places. Maybe I wouldn't be so disappointed as well if it was 90 mins or even 120 mins... But this was 3 hours... a long, long, three hours. But at least I can say i've seen it now... Whatever that means.
Being shot in digital, it is not as visually appealing as most of David Lynch's films are and, yet, in spite of some moments of annoying clumsiness, the digital environment offers a rather disturbing tone.
This film also channels the usual fantasy/reality Lynch blend into a different manner. One which doesn't prioritize layers. If in films such as Mulholland Dr. or Lost highway, one can get a sense of which layer is the main one(even if they do go hand in hand to develop a singurlar story), here, the layers are set side by side and it is very difficult to tell which one generated the other(s).
Having said this, I see INLAND EMPIRE as a chamber of mirrors in which the same image reflects in different ways.
Again, the different narratives make sense on their own and you can even tie them together. But you can do that in different ways and this one of the reasons for which INLAND EMPIRE is - or can be - confusing.
Also, INLAND EMPIRE features plenty of horror elements and some interesting Polish touches.
However, this David Lynch film has its share of minuses. First of all, the Laura Dern monologues become exhausting, after a certain point on. Yes, they are strongly acted, but they bring to little to the whole material. Also, INLAND EMPIRE is too fragmented for its own good and features too many self-contained scenes. Yes, this might have worked better had the film had not felt that short on narrative. Many of those scenes were, indeed, lovely, but in a film with so many layers, one might expect more narrative. And the most amusing thing is that some of the deleted scenes would have been very useful.
David Lynch relies alot on subtraction, but in INLAND EMPIRE too much has been subtracted, leaving a film that is interesting to watch and talk about, but that never seems to come out as a whole.
Overall, INLAND EMPIRE is ambitious, even if, sometimes, annoyingly self-referential, and provides Lynch fans plenty of things to chew on, but, on the other hand, it doesn't have the impact of some of Lynch's previous offerings.
I can't make up my mind on whether this film is an interesting failure or a good experimental flick with some minuses, but somehow, it works the same way.
I am giving this 3 out of 5, but only because RT "insists" on this, because I don't think a rating system applies this David Lynch flick.