Thursday, January 28, 2010

Inland Empire (2007)

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

David Lynch's Inland Empire (Limited Edition Two-Disc Set)Lost Highway [VHS]Lost Highway


jeremythecritic said...

Excellent review of a film I tried once to get through but just couldn't (and this is coming from someone who loved Southland Tales). I think you have to be in a certain mindset to watch it, which I wasn't at the time, so I'm looking forward to giving it another go at some point.

Really like most of Lynch's stuff even though it's depressing and I sometimes question if he's just being weird for the sake of it. But at least he has ideas and the films are always visually and narratively interesting. You said it all- this movie is really, really challenging.

Franco Macabro said...

I like challenging movies. I know this movie goes into incomprehensible territory, but I love it because Lynch does it in that mysterious beautiful to look at way. And some scenes just get so tense, and just plain weird.

Like that scene where Laura Derns neighbor, the fortune teller walks in and starts telling her everything that is going to happen to her, freaky. It reminded me of that scene in Mullholand Dr. when that old fortune teller comes into the apartment saying that something was wrong here....freaky.

Thanks for commeting and stopping by jeremy!

Franco Macabro said...

And I agree, you have to be in a mind set to watch this kind of movie. I remember seeing it in two days, stopped half way once, and kept right on the next day. It lasts three hours! I guess this flick is for when your in the mood for seeing something weird and unsettling, when your tired of every other hollywood movie and want to take a detour to the darkside.

Bob Ignizio said...

Great review. Your analysis of what this movie is about makes as much sense as anything.

As you point out, this is Lynch completely unfiltered and unfettered. That results in some great moments, but as a whole it just didn't come together for me. Maybe someday I'll watch this again and see if I like it better the second time around, but it's a daunting prospect.

Finally, Lynch was absolutely right about Dern deserving an Oscar nomination for her performance here. She goes through so many different emotions and personas, and is never less than convincing even when the movie is going off the rails.

Franco Macabro said...

@Bob: Yeah, it feels disjointed at times, some instances where greek to me, which is the only reason why I went one point down and didnt give it a five. But Im a fan of Lynch, and I enjoy that strange vibe.

It certainly isnt an easy movie to watch, kind of like it isnt easy to watch and Alejandro Jodorowsky movie, but still, you watch it all the way to the end even if you dont fully grasp the whole thing. Im pulled in by the artistic merits of films like these, could be cause Im an artist myself, so I identify with the fact that not all art has to be quantifiable. Art is sometimes abstract, but carries a lot of feeling and meaning with it.

@the poster with the oriental looking letters, sorry I couldnt reply to your post, I cant read in your language. But I did get "good mind, good find", thanks for commenting anyways!

Reina said...

I say we give it another watch!

Franco Macabro said...

I agree!

I Like Horror Movies said...

Bravo man, way to make an honest effort in fully exploring one of the Lynch films! After Lost Highway, I have decided that as much as I love Twin Peaks and respect Eraserhead, I am just not a Lynch fan. I dont know that I could really give this one a try without becoming frustrated and regretting wasting my time. I was sad as I traded Lost Highway in after only a single view, but I didnt want to risk watching it a second time and getting more pissed and disappointed. Judging by your thoughts on the film, I would be out on Inland just as well, though I am still oddly intrigued by Mullholland Dr

Franco Macabro said...

Okay, heres my advice man. Don't watch Inland Empire, if you didn't like Lost Highway, then you wont like Inland. They can both be frustrating film, but a Lynch fan will enjoy it anyway. Cause usually, thats what Lynch fans enjoy about his films.

But don't let Mullholand Dr. pass my friend! If theres a Lynch film you should watch, its that one! Its got supernatural element to it, its film noir, its weird, its eye candy, I mean colors jump off the screen! Plus, the mystery is ever evolving.

Mulholland Dr. is weird, but not unbearably weird like Lost Hihgway or Inland. Mullholand will suck you in man, if you don't like Mullholand Dr., then defenetly give up on Lynchs weird films.

He did make two semi normal films, though they still got his strange vibe to them: Lynchs version of Dune, which I have always loved, even when I knew nothing of Lynch, and its an excellent sci-fi flick.

And then theres the Elephant Man, his most straight forward movie. Its a heart wrenching tale, I never thought Lynch could make my eyes water...that movie will get to you.

He did another "normal" one called The Straight Story, but I haven't watched it. I like Lynchs weird and surreal films, though who knows, maybe Ill enjoy The Straight Story.

Maybe I should do a blog entry on Lynchs films.

Phantom of Pulp said...

Great take on INLAND. The original version was around 5 hours.

I distributed the film for Lynch's company (Absurda), so I have a coal face perspective on how it was received.

Die-hard Lynch fans went for it, but many were a little disappointed. Many on the fence fell off the fence once they'd seen it.

The film was shot on a PD-150, a digital camera (DV-CAM) that wasn't even true 16:9. It was bumped up to 35mm and reformatted.

I am/was a big Lynch fan, and found INLAND a bit too incoherent (even for Lynch). My favorites of his are LOST HIGHWAY, ERASERHEAD, THE ELEPHANT MAN, THE STRAIGHT STORY, and BLUE VELVET.

The doco, LYNCH, which I also distributed for Absurda, is a worthwhile supplement to INLAND and I'd recommend it.

Really enjoyed your take on the film.

For mine, the reformatting and introduction of grain worked in its favor. The theatrical print is much more textured and interesting than the digital version (on DVD).

Franco Macabro said...

Cool, you distributed Lynch's film.

I agree about INLAND not being a good place for a new Lynch fan or those who are on the fence about him. Its just too out there. But if you know what Lynch is about, then you will probably like it, which is what happened to me.

I recognized its incoherent nature, but dug it non the less.

I will be checking out that LYNCH documentary, didnt know it was around! Thanks a lot for the suggestion Phantom!


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