David Lynch's Inland Empire Review
by Marty Wurst
January 18, 2007
David Lynch films are not for everyone. Inland Empire feels like a David Lynch film made for David Lynch fans. You get everything you'd expect from his new film - bizarre imagery, intense close-ups, red curtains, moody lighting, and a soundtrack that consists of spaceship drones and hums and a single angelic voice. You even get a random dance number to a popular oldie. These have become David Lynch standards. Yet Inland Empire is his most challenging film since Eraserhead.
Laura Dern (a regular of Lynch films) plays Nikki Grace, an actress who has just landed a leading role in a film called, "On High In Blue Tomorrows" whish is based on a Polish gypsy folk tale. Her co-star is Devon Berk, played by Justin Theroux, who knows he shouldn't get involved with his married acting partner but just can't help himself. The director is played by Jeremy Irons who has complete faith in his actors and at first avoids telling them the truth about this cursed film until a strange incident startles them on set. It turns out that this film is actually a remake to a Polish version that was never finished because the leading actors were murdered. The actors have an affair (on-screen and off) and start having a hard time differentiating their characters from real life - even going as far as calling each other by their character's names in bed. They also start reciting dialogue from their own corny script.
That's about as coherent as it gets.
I can't pinpoint the exact moment where I was whisked away into Lynch's brain and the story became a side-note, but two and a half hours later I was thoroughly confused and yet entranced by every minute of this film. You either go for the ride or you fight it and I did my best to go with it.
You get meaty monologues, a family of donkeys playing out a sitcom - complete with a laugh-track, a group of dancing prostitutes, random Polish characters (perhaps the original actors or the basis of the gypsy folk-tale?) unexpected jolts of horror, a pop number by Beck, a memorable exchange on Hollywood Blvd between three homeless people, a psychologist that barely speaks a word, and Harry Dean Stanton as the director's assistant hitting up cast and crew for change. We follow Laura Dern everywhere through rough terrain and she's Alice in WonderHell, battling inner demons, her over-protective husband and ultimately herself. For what I don't know, it was my first time trying to grasp this movie.
The only thing predictable about this film is how confusing it turned out to be, but I like to think that Laura Dern disappears inside her own head, somewhere between herself and her film character and never finds her way out. The performance is riveting and sad - she really made the journey fascinating.
Lynch has shot this film on digital video and although ugly at first, it grew on me and I think it finds its own beauty. I was so accustomed to Lynch's crisp and vivid colors in movies like Blue Velvet, that the change was off-putting at first, but it does work for this film. The lighting in this film is extraordinary, too.
I was so torn about how to rate this film because I was so confused yet fascinated at the same time. The movie does move at a snail's pace, but that didn't bother me at all. Inland Empire is one heck of a journey without a roadmap, but it was fun jumping into the unknown and I think the biggest compliment I can give this film is that I want to see it again! Laura Dern is amazing in a fearless chameleon-like performance, which is worth the price of admission alone. If you can't stand watching a movie and not knowing what the hell is going on then maybe this one is not for you - because it will drive you crazy. Lynch fans - rejoice!