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I'm not gonna sit here and pretend to understand everything that happened in David Lynch's most recent film, Inland Empire, which was recently released on DVD. But I will tell you that I enjoyed just about every minute of its hefty three-hour running time. Lynch's trademark twisting of image, time, and minds floats along beautifully and fascinatingly throughout the film, with equal elements of the surreal Eraserhead and the reality and identity-shifting Lost Highway. As Laura Dern's character says about two-thirds of the way through, "I don't know what happened first, and it's kinda laid a mind-fuck on me."
Dern plays Nikki Grace, an actress who gets a part in a film directed by Kingsley Stewart (Jeremy Irons) and co-starring the actor Devon Berk (Justin Theroux). The film-within-a-film is a remake of a Polish movie called 47, production on which was halted after the death of its two leads. Theroux is slimy and oozing in his role as an arrogant Hollywood star, and he sets his sights on seducing Dern. She receives a sinister warning from an old Polish woman before filming begins, one which perhaps she should have heeded. Two major elements of the story involve a crying woman watching a bizarre rabbit sitcom on television, incredibly eerie with its disembodied voices and laugh track, and a Polish melodrama unfolding either simultaneously or in an alternate world as the Hollywood production proceeds. Soon, Grace slips completely into her role, essentially becoming her character, Susan Blue, after entering a door marked with strange lettering. What is the reality here? Is it the Polish story? The bunnies? The white-trash life of Susan Blue?
There's a truly ominous tone present throughout the film. Lynch's excellent sound design is responsible for this (listening on headphones is highly recommended!), from shrill screams that pierce the silence to the use of Beck's "Black Tambourine" over a sleazy Hollywood-and-Vine hooker set piece. A dance number pops up in the middle, as a group of attractive girls somehow affiliated with Blue shimmy to "The Loco-Motion." For all these disparate and borderline silly elements, Lynch's true talent has always been the ability to render seemingly disjointed images and ideas into something believably unbelievable. One trusts, maybe naively, that there is a method behind the madness. You can't help but search for links and meanings within the story, but I think it's safe to say that they exist.
Inland Empire was shot entirely on DV, but the camera-work is relatively smooth and the color-scheme lush. This isn't some (intentionally) amateur Blair Witch Project-style production. The DVD release is a double-disc set, including features that may shed more light on the film for the curious viewer. Ninety minutes of deleted scenes and "More Things That Happened (Additional Character Experiences)" may provide extra material to help decipher the enigma. There are also some behind-the-scenes featurettes and a short film called Ballerina, as well as interviews with Lynch and Dern, who was also a producer.
The blurred-out edges of the frame and faces at the start of the film are tantalizing and stylish, a microcosm of the bigger search for answers that takes place over the course of this film. But make no mistake, it never feels like Lynch's intention is to mystify and baffle. On the contrary, his films, with the exception of the occasional misstep (Dune), come across as an honest vision from a wonderfully off-kilter director. This is Lynch the artist, Lynch the provocateur, and Lynch the maddening aesthete. SEE ALSO: www.inlandempirecinema.com
SEE ALSO: www.studiocanal.com
Jonah Flicker writes, lives, drinks, eats, and consumes music in New York, via Los Angeles. He once received a fortune in a fortune cookie that stated the following: "Soon, a visitor shall delight you." He's still waiting.
See other articles by Jonah Flicker.
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