France/Poland/USA. Drama/Fantasy/Mystery. 172 minutes. Written and Directed by David Lynch. Starring Laura Dern, Justin Theroux, Jeremy Irons, Harry Dean Stanton, Grace Zabriskie. Cinematography by David Lynch. Edited by David Lynch. Art Direction by Christina Ann Wilson. Set Decoration by Melanie Rein. Costume Design by Karen Baird, Heidi Bivens. Produced by David Lynch and Mary Sweeney.
27 February 2009
One of the things I’ve always loved about film, even when I was too young to comprehend it, was the fact that while watching a movie, you are never quite sure what you experience. Not only because the medium is so young, but also because it’s so complex and filled with variation endless posibilites for artistic expression. A novel has got language as it’s primary tool, a stage act is largely built on acting and setting, by definition staging something. But we can’t grasp the tools of a movie, and I don’t think we ever will. It’s an invention that is greater than our human mind, and this is what is so extrordinary with the artform. True, music is in essance probably the only artform more magical but then again, a movie contains music, and language, and acting. You get my point I’m sure. I’ve always been annoyed when people describe film to be a ”visual” medium, I feel that’s really giving it unfair limitations. Paintings and picture art is a visual medium. But film embodies an insane amount of things. For instance, film is definitely an auditive medium. Any horror movie will tell you that sound is just as important as image.
Or, to get to the point, any David Lynch movie. Few other directors have such a transparent talent when it comes to freak you out. He is like the dream master, and he will make your subconscious go jittery just by filming a road sign (e.g.Mulholland Drive). When at his best, he really is the post-surrealist that his most devoted fans hail him as. But it is not until now, with the monstrous achievement that is Inland Empire, that I can agree with them. His obvious style was set in stone already in his debut, the quite unforgettable Eraserhead(1978), but since then, I think, it has never been that easy. His most notorious and famously bizarre films – Blue Velvet (1986), Lost Highway (1997) andMulholland Drive (2001) – just didn’t fully do it for me. Filled with great scenes and obvious suspense and visual eye candy as they were, I felt they were essentially hokey – basically, they had too much plot. Lynch’s toying around with the noir genre is not moronic or anything, but in the end it’s not something to waste so many movies on. Especially Lost Highway really comes of as a fairly… messy misfire. In Eraserhead Lynch followed his artistic vision into perfection. But if the storyteller leads me someplace, that’s where I will follow. And if there’s no point, there’s just no point, no matter how fascinating the layers are and how beautiful the images may be. But, as I’ve said, Inland Empire is the ultimate Lynch movie.
In his trademark-cryptic statement, Lynch said that the movie is simply about ”a woman in love and in danger”. But I actually don’t think there’s anything else to understand this time. That’s right, no blue boxes or magic keys, no identity crisis in broad daylight, no weird midgets and no storylines with dead-ends. This movie is just a dead-on, no nonsense ride down the barrel of a shotgun loaded with dream powder. Shot on flat and chunky standard definition digital video, this nearly three hour long fare shows the actress Nikki (Laura Dern) running through different places and situations, even different countries being at least two different people. All we can gather for sure, at least ostensibly, is that she is constantly in miserable love and, it seems, on the run. Sometimes chased. Sometimes chasing something else. All is illusive. Added to this, there’s a Polish ”sub-plot”, a girl in a hotel room and a couple of rabbits in a stale, to put it mildly, sitcom.
True, roughly one hour is devoted to setting the score up – Nikki is an actress that gets a role in a movie which, as it turns out, is reputedly jinxed; the guys who tried to do the movie previously ended up with the two main actors dead. Apparently, there is something ”inside the movie” and soon we aren’t sure what is rehearsal, what is shooting, what is Nikki and what is Sue, her character. And pretty soon after that, we don’t know what’s going on at all, and every bit of the viewer’s orientation is lost. Lynch sets this up totally brilliant, fluently the movie exits the conscious world and enters the dream sphere where most of the movie take place. Many elements are trademark Lynchism; for instance, we have an obvious duality theme going, a woman in jeopardy and a red lamp. But whereas his previous movies could give you the feeling of being remakes of a remake of a remake, Inland Empire is, barely, the fully grown individual that has become of the Eraserhead infant. These images will stick with any viewer, even those who aren’t familiar with Lynch and go insane, because they go straight for your subconscious. It is very, very much, in fact it is as close as you’ll ever get to that of an authentic dream. A screwdriver is mentioned in fatal circumstances and is, much later, picked up. The sex of a lifetime is interrupted by scary, intimate alienation. And somebody is watching in the dark. A close lover is standing in a room with his wife and is acting as if you’re a total stranger. A door leads to a yard in a different country. A stain of ketchup on a shirt is a pool of blood and we don’t even know why but we just know it. Nobody is standing naked in front of a crowd, but it’s all that’s really missing.
Furthermore, a word must be said about Laura Dern’s performance. I know it has been reported by many, but there’s really only one way to describe her:fucking astonishing. Dern is raging on, full throttle, in this movie with the wildest mood swings possible, yet with a crystal clear presence that doesn’t ever sway. Not once. And given what she goes through, and given there’s no real telling exactly what that is, that is really something. She is not going for any intellectual hints, she is burning through the register of characterisation with gut instinct, deep down into the core of the most real of feelings. It is hate, sadness, anger, bitterness, love, fear, panic, it’s on the max, the swings are extreme and she hits every beat. She is the main cog in the power machinery, what truly makes the movie exhausting but exhilaratingly so. I also get the feeling that she is the first actress ever to consistently portray Lynch’s idea of the dual personality character to the fullest. It is truly haunting.
In talking about this movie, I probably wouldn’t be satisfied until I do a scene by scene analysis. But that would be pointless, since I am pretty sure that every single person who sees this film will have a considerably different experience. True, a view is always more or less subjective but no psyche is alike and whereas I’m disturbed and fascinated by some of the images in this film, I’m sure there are people who truly will be haunted in their own dreams by some of the things in this movie. I could say it’s a movie about acting. I could say it’s an interpretations of the dreams and nightmares of an actress. Many things suggest that it’s totally a movie about female victimization. You could write a list matching the length of film these 172 minutes amount to, all with suggestions and interpitations. So with that said, I’m really not sure exactly what more I can say about it. Only that it’s one of the most vital attempts to make proper cinema I’ve seen this decade, arguably David Lynch’s best film (at least by far, I’d say, the best ”lynchian” movie) and a surreal night time ride I recommend to every human being with an active brain, hiding fears and desires that just waits to be stirred around.
Footnote: Is this highly favourable review not suggesting an even higher rating? Give me a few solemn revisits, when I’ve got another three focused hours to spare, and I’ll let you know. Chances are good.