Title: Inland Empire (2007)
Director: David Lynch
Cast: Laura Dern, Jeremy Irons, Justin Theroux, Harry Dean Stanton, Diane Ladd, William H. Macy, Mary Steenburgen, Nastassja Kinski
David Lynch along witn many other artful directors (like Terry Gilliam) are having a hard time getting their movies made in todays Hollywood. It's not easy for a director like Lynch to get funding or distribution deals for films that are so surreal, so hard to describe and define. Producers and Hollywood executives only want to invest in films that they know will make them millions of dollars for sure, they aren't interested in art. No place for anything too weird or too strange. They are interested in money. Studios want their movies to have some sort of coherence, logic and if at all possible, something that's easy for audiences to digest. Not something that they have to try and use their brains to decipher. Cant say I blame them, after all, they are investing millions of dollars. But where does that leave art films? Films that dont necessarily subscribe themselve to logic or rules on how to make a movie? Theres very little room for films like this, which is why we dont see a hell of a lot of them. Which is why a geniuses like David Lynch have to make their films independently of the hollywood system. Problem is that after these self produced indy projects are made, no studio wants to market them. They dont know how to sell them. This is the reason why well respected film directors like Lynch have to go and promote themselves on the street to try and get somebody to notice their new film. If I remember correctly, Lynch actually went out on the streets of Hollywood California accompanied by a cow and a sign that showed a picture of Laura Dern in Inland Empire and words that read "for your consideration" and "without cheese, there would be no Inland Empire ". Terry Gilliam has also been seen on the streets with a sign that read "will direct for food". Its sad but true. I like the idea of a director like Lynch going out on his own and trying to make movies his way, without any studio interference. Trying to get his films out there into the world on their own buck. So, what was the result of Lynch making Inland Empire on his own terms, without any studios interfering with his creative process?
Lynch catching the bigger fish
The film is about an actress named Nikki Grace, she's ultra famous and rich and she's a celebrity. She's also on the verge of starting to work in a new film project. Problem is that after she commits to working on the project and meets with the director and costars she finds out that the film they are making (entitled On High in Blue Tomorrows) is in fact a remake of a film (called 47) that was actually never finished because the films main stars where murdered before the film could be completed. Now director Kingsley Stewart (played by Jeremy Irons) is interested in remaking this film and actually finishing it. The problem is that Nikki thinks this project will also be cursed and that somehow, she and her co-star Devon Berk will somehow end up dead as well. Will the curse fulfill itself? Are the stars of this movie doomed to die a horrible death before they finish filming the movie?
So as you can see from that plot outline above, the movie is set in mystery, which as some of you may know is a David Lynch staple. Its something he always does in his movies. There's always something we don't know, a mystery which slowly but surely unfolds before us in the darkest most intriguing way possible. And this is not the only Lynchian thing we get in this film. This movie is Lynch unfiltered, pure David Lynch without any restraints at all. As if the floodgates of Lynch's mind were suddenly open! You better be ready for the onslaught of crazyness that will ensue! But Im getting ahead of myself. First I want to talk about what sets this film apart from previous David Lynch films. For starters this film has a different style all together. Lynch's films are always carefully shot and lit in a certain way, every light source, every chair, every room, every curtain, looks exactly the way that Lynch wants it to look. Inland Empire has a very raw look to it; less refined then his previous films. A lot has to do with the way he shot the film. You see, this is Lynchs first film shot entirely on digital video, so it has that rawness that shooting in digital brings to a project. I hate to compare a Lynch film to an action film, but it feels like Lynch has been influenced by the new wave of documentary style films (which is not so new anymore) like The Bourne Identity, The Blair Witch Project or The Wrestler. You know, the kind of film that feels as if someone shot it with a hand held camara. So that's what makes this film different from the rest. An augmented sense of reality. Lots of handheld shots, lots of close ups, and a lots of natural light. Lighting in Lynch films is something crucial to the mood of the piece. On this one he does have his distinctive lighting style, but as I mentioned before its less refined, more in the moment, more natural.
And that goes perfectly with the type of film Lynch was going for. He didn't have a finished script when he started making this movie. He wrote as he went along, and this gives the movie a feeling of improvisation all through out. But hang on right there, don't think that this movie doesn't have something to say or is just aimlessly wandering about, cause thats not the case. At first glance you might get the impression that Lynch has lost it, that this film makes no sense whatsoever, but it in fact does. This film is like an amalgamation of many of Lynch's favorite themes. Lets see, it has that really dark grimy aura and look of Eraserhead. Blue Velvet introduced us to the unforgettable and incredibly evil character of Frank Booth (played by Dennis Hopper) who got his kicks from physically abusing women, an element that is also shown in Inland Empire through the character of Nikki's husband, who is constantly hitting and abusing her. We also get the crazy chics out of control element seen in Twin Peaks with Nikki's friends, a group of prostitutes that live the wild life. It also has elements from Lost Highway with characters who have double personality and people shifting from one person to another from time to time. But the film that this one is most similar to in more ways then one is Mullholand Drive. First off, the film makes a major comment on the realities of filmmaking. How hard it is to make a film, how tricky and back stabbing the industry can be, how unglamorous the life of some actors and crew members can be. Much like Mullholand Drive, this is a movie in which Lynch poors all his frustrations and anger about the film industry and vents them all out through his script, through his film. And it shows. Some of the situations feel very real and genuine and you can tell that Lynch is mirroring himself in many of the situations. Aside from that, Inland Empire is also sprinkled with your typical David Lynch images and situations, beautifully lit rooms, supernatural undertones, double personalities, people who can communicate with the dead and who can see the future and just good old fashioned weirdness.
The cast is like a wet freaking dream my friends. Laura Dern is a David Lynch veteran having been in four of his films now. Here she returns to Lynch's dark universe giving a damn fine performance which Lynch tried to promote for an Oscar. To no avail. Still, I agree with Lynch, her portrayal of a battered woman trying to escape her violent relationship was Oscar worhty. Laura Dern really went down some dark paths with her character. And by dark I don't mean just dark and gloomy, nope, her character really looses it at one point, and the movie kind of turns into a nightmare, almost like a horror film which is something common in Lynch films, where suddenly you feel like you are watching a horror film. You switch from Nikkis life to the movie shes making, and then there comes a point where you dont know if your watching Nikkis life or the movie shes making, and Nikki looses it, she doesnt know whats real or whats not anymore! That's where Laura Dern went with her character and a fine performance it was. I was really happy to see Justin Theroux back in a Lynch film, his performance in Mullholand Drive was one of the coolest things about it and Im just happy to see him in a film again. We get a slew of cameos in this movie with every one from William H Macy to Nastassja Kinski making some sort of collaboration. It was cool to see all these familiar faces pop up all through out the film. It seems everyone wanted to jump into the David Lynch band wagon this time around, no one wanted to be left out.
So what was this film really about? Whats the underlying theme in this film? Well aside from Lynchs comments on how frustrating Hollywood can be, this movie tackles some issues that have always concerned Lynch. Mainly, women suffering because of the violent and abusive men in their lives. That's always been a reoccurring theme in many Lynch films (most notably in Blue Velvet) where women suffer horribly at the hands of maniacs. And how hard it sometimes is for women to break free of that violence in their lives, how hard it is sometimes for them to break ties with the men that cause them so much pain and suffering. But this movie goes a bit further then that. In one scene we see a young woman (who has obviously suffered abuse) crying as she watches the tv screen. Through out the film we are led to believe that she is watching the movie that we are watching, and shes crying like a baby because she can obviously identify with what she is seeing. Much like you or I would cry if we see a film that is about something that we can identify with, a movie that speaks about something we are living through. We also see a scene in which Laura Dern walks into an empty theater and she sees herself playing the character of the abused woman, telling her tale. With this I think Lynch is trying to tell women that he is talking about them, talking about their situations and that they shouldn't just see a movie, but learn from it, and do something about what's happening to them. Film is a mirror image of our society, and I think that this is what Lynch was trying to address with this movie. How he is mirroring a decease that's afflicting our society, and how we should see ourselves in his films. Lynch has always shown great appreciation for females in his films, they are constantly the central characters of his films. In this sense he is similar to Fellini. Which would explain why he constantly talks about the horrors of phisically hurting one. But that's just my take on it and I could be wrong. Or you could see something else in it, cause that's how Lynch films work. They often times mean different things to different people which is a great thing about them.
Battered women just dont have any fun
On the downside, I do think that only a Lynch fan can enjoy this film. If you have never seen a David Lynch film and suddenly plunge yourself into this one, good luck my friend, you are going to feel very lost! Then again, you might like this kind of film. I leave it entirely up to you. But it would be good going into this film with a small idea of what Lynch is about. It would certainly help. Or maybe you can just enjoy the film for what it is. David Lynch sustaining the "mystery" vibe for as long as he can. He loves asking questions, and not giving answers! If you like the feeling of being lost, not fully getting it, but feeling, then indulge on this the strangest of David Lynch's films. And thats saying a lot!
So that's my take on Inland Empire . On the negative side I will say that I wish the movie had more of a closure to it. As it is, towards the ending the film sort of looses its momentum and doesn't know where to go. So it just kind of ends and that's it. It leaves a couple of storylines hanging in the air, with no resolution in sight. Also, some of the images are way too surreal and out there for anybody to grasp. What about those bunnies? What about that circus guy who could disappear and hypnotize people? There were a lot of scenes that really did seem to come out of nowhere and you see them, they look beautiful, but will ultimately leave you feeling like you don't know what the hell you just saw and what the hell it has to do with the rest of the film. So be ready for some scenes that will test your logic. Also, the film is long (3 hours long to be exact) and really takes its time to tell its tale. It has a pace which you have to get used to, its in no hurry to tell its story. You will watch the story unfold very slowly. If your one of those people who cant take a slow paced film that very slowly unravels itself, then don't even bother. This is a Lynch film after all, weirdness is part of the package, and Ive only seen the film one time. Im sure upon repeated viewings things will start making more sense. That's one thing I love about Lynchs movies. How we have to try and figure them out like some sort of puzzle. So that's that, get ready cause this is Lynch raw and unfiltered. This is pure Lynch, and with something to say. Pay attention and you just might "get it", in your own way of course.
Rating: 4 out of 5