Writer-director David Lynch’s “Inland Empire” is the best movie I’ll probably never watch again, or at the very least, not for a long time so the slow passing of time will later reveal new things in the fragmentary blur that Lynch produced here.
Named after the metropolitan region in Southern California, “Inland Empire” tells the story of a Hollywood production crew remaking a Polish film that was never completed under rumors that the two leads were murdered on set.
Echoing the superstition of the Macbethian curse (don’t say the name of the play whilst in a theatre lest the production be cursed) and maneuvering between themes of infidelity and psychosexuality, Lynch implements a befuddling cinematic concoction of reality vs. dreams, suggesting that the curse may, in fact, be real but he welcomingly never confirms its legitimacy either.
Lynch returns to the creeping themes he explored in “Mulholland Drive” and “Twin Peaks,” chiefly his apparent disdain for Hollywood and how it chews up and spits out every artist that has the misfortune of wishing to survive in the underbelly of Los Angeles’ film scene.
Lynch’s regular cast member actress Laura Dern plays one such character wrestling with Hollywood anxiety. Dern plays as Nikki Grace, an already successful — yet clearly troubled and disenchanted — actress who has been offered the lead role in the supposedly cursed film. Yet, as the production of the film moves along, Dern’s character slowly descends into madness, leaving the audience, like her character, not fully knowing what is going on.
Oddly enough, the film presents itself as a series of short films that accentuate the central feature film with Dern’s protagonist as the prevailing subject.
These little side dishes to the main entree are at once baffling and seemingly detached from everything else, and the film carries on as if a visualized stream of consciousness. Monotone, anthropomorphic rabbits perform to a laugh track as if in a twisted sitcom, while Polish-speaking characters tied to human trafficking and a group of prostitutes gossip and dance about. The film is a proper hodgepodge of the bizarre.
Lynch has assembled a large cast of players here, the supporting players including Jeremy Irons, Justin Theroux and Harry Dean Stanton. Naomi Watts, William H. Macy and Terry Crews make surprise appearances as well. I name them here as I’m mostly just baffled that so many actors signed on for this amorphic, deliberately oblique story; however, many are regulars for Lynch’s work.
Despite the hallucinatory brilliance here, my leading objection to “Inland Empire” is that it simply looks visually unappealing. The film has some unsightly framing, and the hideous low-resolution digital video camera that Lynch chose to work with does not at all help the fuzzy composition.
Some have argued the low-fi look of the film strengthens Lynch’s tone and anti-narrative, and in some respects, I can agree to that, but I’d be fooling myself if I were trying to convince myself that this is a film pleasing to the eye.
On the other end of the spectrum, my leading commendation comes in through Lynch’s orchestration of the dream logic matched with the truly disturbing. One of my favorite shots is a spotlighted Dern slowly walking toward the camera with a terrifying expression on her face. These disturbing sequences are supported with a droning score, making for an absolutely unnerving viewing experience — I noticed my heart drumming loudly in my chest on more than one occasion.
The film is so continually perplexing and discombobulating that it is almost impossible not to be — for its colossal three-hour runtime — incessantly entranced by what is going on in the anti-narrative, dream logic construct that only Lynch could compose.
Conversely, I can see how absolutely irritating this film could be to others, and I would imagine that I may have found this film utterly reprehensible and aloof had I found myself on a particularly indifferent day.
“Inland Empire” is a one-of-a-kind film that makes “Twin Peaks” look like child’s play in comparison. It’s a film that will certainly not work for some, but as a chimeric descent into nightmarish territory, I cannot think of a film that does it better. 8.6/10