Thursday, April 29, 2010

Archive: "Inland Empire" (2006)

David Lynch is one of the most original, daring, controversial, and aggravating directors of our time. What makes his films so great, or at least the two I've seen and adored, is that in making movies, he is absolutely uncompromising. Lynch's latest film, "Inland Empire," may be his most self-indulgent piece of work yet. He has been passionately at work with this movie since he released "Eraserhead;" this is David Lynch's film, and yet again, he makes zero compromises. He takes control of the screen for an exasperating 3 hours, taking viewers on a long and elaborate journey that weaves in and out of itself. This is captivating stuff and only the type of thing capable of being dished out from David Lynch, a talented director who isn't afraid of taking risks.

"Inland Empire" is like "Mulholland Drive"'s evil step sister. Both films have similar themes including the darker side of Hollywood and the resulting mental breakdowns. Both movies are long, nonlinear narratives that play with your mind and your expectations on what's to come next. If you thought "Mulholland Drive" was a head-scratcher, this latest film proves you haven't yet seen what Lynch can do. Don't let this turn you off from seeing it, however, because if you made the effort for "Mulholland Drive" (as I did), then you already know whether or not you're the type of person who wants to see "Inland Empire." That's a good thing, too, because it's literally impossible to describe on paper.

The entire film was shot on a small digital camera, which gives the authentic look of an experimental film. Lynch falls in love with the look of this; everything looks blurred, smeary, and unevenly textured. He uses this technique to his advantage by making a lit-up strip of Hollywood Blvd. seem just as dark and ominous as a dimly lit passage. "Inland Empire" unfolds in a somewhat digital world to begin with. Everything is everywhere all at once with different realities colliding with one another as time and space become completely irrelevant. Events transpire from one parallel place to another and observers appear in multiple places at once. This is a digital dimension where nothing is at all what it seems. As one of the characters in the movie states, "I suppose if it was 9:45, I would think it is after midnight." Within "Inland Empire," no character knows if it's today or two days from now, or if tomorrow is any different than yesterday.

A woman actress named Nikki (Laura Dern) is hired to play the part of Sue Blue in a movie entitled "On High in Blue Tomorrows." It is directed by a man known as Kingsley (Jeremy Irons), and it co-stars an actor named Devon (Justin Theroux) as the character of Billy Side. Nikki and Devon discover that the script is a remake of a film that never got completed because both of the leads got murdered. Supposedly there is something wrong inside the story itself that causes this to happen, and we soon find out that the script and real life fuse together into one indistinguishable mix. An actual plot summary is laughable to attempt, and so, that is all I have. Something goes horribly wrong during the filming, and before we know it, we're sent off in multiple directions in a web of separate story lines and seemingly non-related sequences.

As the tag line in the poster states, the movie is about "A Woman in Trouble," plain and simple. The multiple story lines that unfold relate to each other in sometimes more obvious ways than others as their connections become either closer together or more spread apart. Why is there a Polish folk tale parallel to the main storyline? Why is there a surreal sitcom with large rabbits (one of which is voiced by Naomi Watts)? Both of these strange side plots have connections with each other and also amongst the core plot; the trouble is just figuring out exactly how. My advice is to just hang on and don't give up because it's all still very intriguing and intoxicating. It's a movie that takes place in a world of gangsters, gypsies, whores, and plenty of other unique characters. It includes the dreaded dark hallways, the dingy back alleyways, the steep stairwells, the illicit affair, the gun in a drawer, the bedroom sex scene, and other dramatic moments from either noir thrillers or soapy romances. There are cases of mistaken identity and persistent lapses in reality as the line between that and what's real is blurred to no end.

Yes, it's a long three hours, but it's a fully engrossing three hours, as well. The movie really could not be any shorter simply due to the number of perspectives there are and the way in which these are presented. At one point, it becomes a movie within a movie within a movie. Echoes of repeated dialogue permeate throughout each scene, along with different symbols and related images and locations that are constantly recurring. Individual scenes are repeated throughout the movie, presented in different levels of importance and magnification. The entire movie is an elaborate jigsaw puzzle with differently sized pieces fitting into the whole picture in their own way. These pieces work alone and are purposely devoid of any linking ties to create an intentionally disjointed experience. "Inland Empire" is filled with haunting images, hypnotic conversations, and other sequences that are deeply terrifying, bizarrely humorous, and overall exhilarating.

David Lynch has already campaigned for an Oscar nomination for Laura Dern, and with very good reason. She gives a towering performance that's sometimes mind-blowing in the intensity she has. She plays an utterly tormented actress; at one point she sees herself on a big screen acting out a scene she just rehearsed, but then that screen jumps to what she's doing right now as if she's still acting in the film. Another moment consists of her face distorting into some horrible clown face with blood dripping from the mouth, representing the mess she has become; it's any actress' worst nightmare. An Oscar nod for Laura Dern would actually be perfect not only for her, but it would also be the best and most reasonable way for "Inland Empire" to reach out to a more mainstream audience.

Now don't go thinking I understand "Inland Empire" because, just like everybody else, I don't. Just like "Mulholland Drive," this is the type of movie you see again and again because you literally have to. It drags you in and does not let go even once the credits roll. It expands and collapses within your mind while you're watching it, and even once it's over, you're still watching it; you replay everything back through your mind, trying to unravel the mystery. This is what makes David Lynch's films so rewarding. He doesn't simply hand you the solution you crave, but rather, he makes you work for it. Your best option is to make peace with the deliberate confusion and just enjoy the ride.

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