So, on Saturday I picked up David Lynch's last movie, Inland Empire on DVD.
And I watched it last night.
Where to begin?
OK, so like much of Lynch's recent output, Inland Empire is baffling, beautiful, hypnotic and frustrating, all at once. It begins for the first hour to make a sort of sense. Laura Dern plays a actress who takes on a new role in a movie that promises to boost her fading cache in Hollywood. She then learns that said movie is actually a remake of a Polish film that never got finished when the lead stars were killed.
After an hour of thinking, yep, I'm with you, I'm following this fine, I'm really
gonna follow this Lynch movie, Inland Empire goes batshit crazy.
I've read explanations of Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, and going back to those movies, I can can sort of see the thread of (I'm reluctant to say) logic upon the repeated viweing. There are similar themes to those recent Lynch movies running through Inland Empire: the splitting of personalities/identities; the wilful use of dream logic and the repetition of events in different contexts. But that in mind, this movie defies definition. Like a dream, walls appear behind scene after scene, so that you're left with no clear way out of the maze.
At times, Dern appears to be the character in the movie she's making, a whore, a battered wife, an actress, and even a time traveller of sorts. And similarly to Naomi Watt's character in Mulholland Drive, who travels to another self via a box midway through the film, Dern seems to be transported White Rabbit-like through a cigarette burned hole in some silk underwear.
There's a sit-com with three figures with rabbit heads (which again implies that White Rabbit theory), the usual Lynchinan tropes and motifs of guttering electricity, strobing lights and bizarre characters speaking portentous nonsense, and his ability (like no other)to make an otherwise prosaic American front room simply reek
of dread. There's also a posse of LA prostitutes who at one point do a line-dance to The Locomotion (and rather well, I might add), some Polish trafficking characters, and the sense that as a viewer, you are part of the mystery - there are certain points where characters turn to the screen implying that something is expected of you.
After having a post-viewing look on various sites that try to tease apart the conundrum of Inland Empire, I can see glimpses of what appear to be a fairly cogent explanation, but I think part of the charm of Lynch is that it's all subjective and it's not all supposed to make sense. The journey is more important than the destination.
So, Inland Empire. Did I like it?
Yes. I think I was more prepared for what was to unfold after the (now realtively straight-forward) narrative twists of Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway. It's a little too long, but I can forgive Lynch the indulgence of it for the basic fact that there is no-one
who makes movies like this. He is utterly unique, and to be celebrated for the fact. Inland Empire is
hypnotic, polyvalent, unsettling and maddening, and even if you find Lynch's lack of narrative cohesion frustrating, you have
to keep going back to his movies, time after time for a reason you can't quite define.
It's also Lynch's first foray into the world of DV - shot on a Sony PD-150 and edited on Apple's Final Cut Pro. I'd thought that DV might undermine that lush sense of classic 35mm 'celluloid' that his previous movies have, but the crispness of the image manages to seem somehow more
Lynchian, if anything.
So what's Inland Empire about? All of the above and a bit more besides. It's still running around in my head now, and I feel like I want to return to it at some point to unravel it some more. Which, I guess is as good a recommendation as anyone could give.
But as one witty poster on a Guardian forum put it when asked what Inland Empire was about: '...three hours. And one hour too many.'