David Lynch's wonderful Inland Empire is due to be released on DVD on 20th August. The 2-disc special edition is rumoured to contain up to 90 minutes of deleted scenes. I've been wanting to write a review of IE for months, but it was a forbidding prospect. It would be unforgiveable to reduce such a complex work of art to mere words, the temptation would be to expand upon it, but translating the movie into the verbal realm, even if the tribute were of biblical proportions, would still seem unforgiveably reductive. A saxophone solo from an intinerant musician, or perhaps an elongated groan from a performance artist, would constitute an equally effective tribute. Extemporisation is the only option. As Jim Emerson said on RogerEbert.com:
"Inland Empire" opens and contracts in your imagination while you watch it -- and you're still watching it well after it's left the screen. It's a long but thoroughly absorbing three hours (perhaps necessary for a movie that continually readjusts perceptions of time), but I feel like it's not over yet. It's still playing in my head, like a downloaded compressed file that's expanding and installing itself in my brain.Nevertheless, here are a few disparate, loosely-connected, poorly-constructed thoughts on why I love it so much:
Inland Empire is an experience. It's Lynch's most experimental movie since Eraserhead and, in my opinion, his greatest work to date.
I love aspects of every David Lynch movie, with the exception of the turgid sci-fi epic Dune, but rarely have these great moments, scenes and ideas combined to constitute a coherent whole (though, I guess, coherence isn't really the point with Lynch). I love the way he uses sound and his affinity for music, I love his "painterly" compositional style and I love the way he eschews conventional narrative and linear plot development in favour of a more impressionistic "dream-logic." I also like the way in which the identities of his characters fragment and, often, fuse with eachother and the way in which time seems to fold in on itself during his movies, leaving the audience adrift, without a map and with very few clues, lost in Lynch's rich and strange multiverse.
Nevertheless, I was often frustrated by the more whimsical, sentimental, faux-naive aspects of Lynch's work (evident in Twin Peaks, Wild at Heart and the majority of Mulholland Dr.) I always thought Lynch had the potential to create a true surrealist masterpiece, but felt that his tendency to leaven his uncompromising vision, and the intensity of his insight into the human condition, with self-consciously "wacky" humour and cloying sentiment undermined his credentials as, potentially, the most gifted and challenging artist working within the medium of film. Much as I adored and admired Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Wild at Heart, Blue Velvet and Mulholland Dr., there were always clumsy interludes, heavy-handed humour that fell flat, irrelevant and inconsequential plot strands that went nowhere, kitsch indulgences, scenes where Lynch seemed to be parodying himself and sentimental, pseudo-moralistic subtext. Though undeniably brilliant, Mulholland Dr. was, structurally, a mess: understandably so as it began as a pilot for a tv series that was never made (it was rejected by the US tv network ABC) and Lynch grafted the last third of the movie on to his tv pilot at a later date, after securing funding from the French studio Canal Plus.
~Despite his pedigree and reputation, Lynch is far too much of a maverick to secure significant funding and, perhaps most importantly, final cut, from within the conservative, risk-averse Hollywood system: I suspect financial imperatives, flexibility and creative control were critical factors in his decision to switch to DV on IE. ~
However, I thought MD really kicked into gear from Naomi Watts' pivotal, and brilliant, "audition" scene onwards. What started out as a predictable, if cryptically told, tale of a naive neophyte being chewed up and spat out by the Hollywood system (a metaphor for Lynch himself, no doubt), metamorphosed into a much more impressionistic odyssey into the dark heart of Hollywood. It was this last third of MD and my, hitherto, favourite Lynch movie, Lost Highway (a virtually uncategorisable, but genuinely scary movie ~ "horror noir"?) that made me think that Lynch was capable of being a truly unique and subversive influence in contemporary cinema.
Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr. seem like basic arithmetic compared to the quantum physics of Inland Empire.
Inland Empire (Lynch insists on referring to it as "INLAND EMPIRE", but I think that's just another ironic affectation: Lynch works his magic incrementally, by stealth ~ unlike his character (Agent Gordon Cole) in Twin Peaks, he doesn't need to shout) is the movie I've been waiting for Lynch to make for the last 20 years. It's surreal, scary, impressionistic, intuitive, labyrinthine, erotic, entrancing, exhilirating, enigmatic, frustrating, confusing, disturbing, terrifying...it makes no sense, yet it seems to resonate coherently several layers beneath the sophisticated, and perhaps obfuscatory, Apollonian constructs of language and culture, deep within the Dionysian subconscious.
Inland Empire is completely unlike anything else I've ever seen (or, I should say, experienced: it is truly synaesthetic art, not merely a visual stimulant). If the last third of Mulholland Dr. was an exercise in disorientation, following an ostensibly conventional introduction, then Inland Empire starts by depositing us in an unfamiliar location, stripped of any reassuringly recognisable landmarks, forgoes any preliminary pretence of orientation and propels us, blindfold, into a series of ever-more alien landscapes. I won't even attempt to summarise the plot, but, in general terms, Inland Empire is a movie about the process of making (or rather re-making) a "cursed" movie based on a Polish gypsy folk tale. The remake ("On High in Blue Tomorrows"), the original, the supernatural folk tale, the participants' "real" identities and the identities of the characters they play and the identities (and roles) of the participants in the original movie (and even the "meta-movie", "Inland Empire") fuse to confusing and bemusing effect.
Time, like narrative, doesn't unfold in a conventional linear fashion in Inland Empire, characters and identities conflate confusingly. Like a William Burroughs novel, Inland Empire is a chaotic kaleidoscope of cut-ups, fold-ins, wild extemporisations, impressionistic elaborations and surreal non-sequitors.
At least a quarter of the movie is in Polish and, on the most recent occasion that I saw it (I've seen it 3 times now), the cinema, accidentally, showed a print without the English subtitles. I felt genuinely sorry for those who were sitting through the movie for the first time, labouring under the understandable misapprehension that Lynch had simply decided to make sections of the 3-hour-long movie even more incomprehensible by decreeing that the characters should converse in, defiantly un-subtitled, Polish (if I remember rightly, he pulled a similar stunt in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, by including a long scene, at the "Bang Bang Bar", in which the dialogue was rendered almost completely inaudible by loud music, and he only included, much-needed, subtitles in a later print, or perhaps only on the subsequent DVD release, so, it was, at least, plausible that the unwary might have thought that Lynch had omitted the subtitles in IE by design).
Anyway, suffice to say, Inland Empire is a truly unique experience. The way in which Lynch merges and melts scenes into subsequent scenes is amazing. Early on in the movie, he, quite derivatively, uses a trick that the Monty Python first used back in the 70s ~ the one where a character is watching a show on tv, the camera glides "into" the tv and the tv show itself becomes the dominant narrative for a while before fusing with the "meta"-narrative to produce a new synthetic narrative, but that's just the starting point: there are scenes that literally seem to bleed into the next and others that seamlessly segue into the subsequent scene primarily through judicious mixing and editing of sound and music rather than image (sometimes accompanying dissonant visual juxtapositions) or sometimes the visual transition is smooth, but the soundtrack provides a jarring, ironic counterpoint.
The grainy, murky "texture" of DV seems to be conducive to Lynch's surealist flourishes. In IE, the medium is an accessory to Lynch's misdirection: it conceals more than it reveals ~ the shadows seem more ominous and amorphous. Ill-defined shapes seem to shift in a more supernatural way and a ghostly residue of the previous scene often seems to linger, and eventually, dissipate after the transition to the next scene. In Inland Empire, DV is used to both ugly and beautiful effect, but, it seems to me, that's wholly consistent with Lynch's dualistic modus operandi.
I don't want to prioritise any particular scene or try to rationalise a defiantly irrational plot, but the ending of Inland Empire is wonderful. It's light, playful and uplifting and it contrasts beautifully (some might say inexplicably) with the dark, foreboding tone of the rest of the movie. Without giving too much away for those who haven't seen it, it's a cool musical routine to a Nina Simone song ("Sinnerman") and Lynch even drops characters/ideas from Mulholland Dr. & Twin Peaks into the mix.
That final scene in IE is probably the loosest, funkiest thing he's ever done and it ends the movie on an audaciously upbeat note. It's a bit like The Exorcist ending with a song and dance routine, though, needless to say, there are moments throughout the movie where Lynch leavens the intensity of his vision with characteristically idiosyncratic humour and surreal musical interludes, but the context is always so unremittingly sinister that those "lighter" moments are eviscerated of their conventional significance, like the ironic laughter track attached to a bleak, ominous "sitcom" (featuring humans dressed as rabbits) that the movie keeps "sampling"/segueing into.
The ending betrays a genuine lightness of touch/beguiling sweetness though. While it could certainly be interpreted as an ironic comment on cinematic happy endings, it feels authentic and, almost, recontextualises the rest of the movie, though there are so many different layers to this movie that it would be unwise to attribute any greater level of "authenticity" to any individual scene than any other. Nevertheless, it's a cathartic moment and you end up leaving the cinema with a feeling of exhilarating release from a nightmarish journey.