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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 14.29%
Average: 8.57%
Pretty Bad: 5.71%
Total Crap: 2.86%

2 reviews, 23 user ratings

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Inland Empire
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by Rob Gonsalves

5 stars

I’ve never put much stock in dream-interpretation books — the ones that tell you a dream about your teeth falling out means you’re insecure. They may be accurate, for all I know — but to me, dreams should be experienced and felt, not subjected to cold waking logic. So I hesitate to put David Lynch’s new identity-crisis horror epic 'INLAND EMPIRE' (yes, all caps) on the autopsy table and scrutinize its guts.

Lynch has spoken of the creative process — how he “gets his ideas” — as “catching the big fish,” and this is his biggest fish yet; you swim around alongside it and on top of it and inside it for three hours, and you come out a bit dazed and confused, seeing everything as Lynch does for a while, focusing on mundane objects and noticing their texture. INLAND EMPIRE reboots your head.

The “plot” can be whisked away in a sentence: An actress (Laura Dern) is filming a remake of a cursed, unfinished Polish movie that got derailed by the murders of its lead actors, and she finds herself re-enacting the film’s story by falling in love with her co-star (Justin Theroux). But this is like saying that Lynch’s Twin Peaks was “about” who killed Laura Palmer. Lynch begins with a mystery — an ear found in a field, a videotape arriving at your door — and then collects odds (very odd) and ends to put all around it, like an artist gluing found objects into a collage. Lynch is an all-around artist, keeping his hand in painting and music and photography and sculpture when he’s not making movies, though his best movies, including this one, combine all those media.

It’s clear by now that, whatever else she does (and she’s been great in other movies like Citizen Ruth), Laura Dern was put here to be Lynch’s avatar, the ideal mix of innocence and depravity. Dern is the prettiest, most surprising fish Lynch ever caught — or, rather, a lure for his idea-fish. Mid-film, she has a lengthy monologue — at that point, it’s up for grabs what character she’s playing, if any — that comes from the nightside of human experience, the world of Frank Booth and Leland Palmer, the grubby under-the-rock “reality” that fascinates Lynch at the same time he works to transcend it. Dern knocks herself out whichever reality she’s in; whichever universe she occupies becomes hers, and Lynch’s digital-video camera isolates her at her most vulnerable, finding beauty in ugliness and vice versa.

Aside from that, Lynch fills the three hours (which fly by — it’s not the endurance test you might expect, provided that you’re attuned to Lynch’s style) with divertissements that have thrown various Internet message boards into orgies of theorizing. There are women (whores? angels?) who launch into a song-and-dance number set to “The Locomotion”; this is preceded by the sound of a train. (Lynch’s use of aural effects, as always, is impeccable; watch this with a good sound system or even headphones if possible.) Various characters speak solemn Polish to each other, referring to events just outside the narrative. Actors like Julia Ormond, Mary Steenburgen, Grace Zabriskie (filmed in tight close-up, her cheekbones linking her with the Radiator Lady from Eraserhead), and William H. Macy drop in more or less inscrutably (Macy is on for all of twenty seconds).

At first, you can tell the difference between Dern's movie-within-the-movie (a potboiler called On High in Blue Tomorrows, directed by a flaccidly pompous Brit played by Jeremy Irons) and the movie surrounding it: the Blue Tomorrows footage is lazily composed, blandly un-Lynchian, and then, when Dern's character starts feeling the desires of the woman she's playing in the scene, Lynch takes over and the camerawork becomes invasive, vertiginous. In time, though, the movie-within-movie conceit falls away and we seem to be watching the original Polish story Blue Tomorrows is based on, sometimes in Poland and sometimes enacted in a Hollywood slum. What may baffle and irritate some about INLAND EMPIRE isn't that it has no story; it's that it seems to have three or four different incomplete stories shuffled together, commenting on and echoing each other.

There’s a lot of ominous mood, the usual fixation on electricity and smoke and static (an entire room seems to be lit to resemble a staticky TV screen at one point). Desolate rooms are illuminated by a single lamp casting cones of dirty light across the walls. Two homeless women discuss a bus route across the body of someone bleeding to death — are they heralds of an afterlife or ascension to grace? (Dern's actress character is named Nikki Grace; she plays another woman named Sue Blue.) The camera disappears into a cigarette-burn hole in silk, just like it did with the ear in Blue Velvet and John Merrick’s hood eyehole in The Elephant Man. A Polish woman watches bits of Lynch’s funny-scary Internet series Rabbits (three actors in bunny heads trading gnomic dialogue as the laugh track bursts irrelevantly) and weeps. It's an abstract jazz riff, it's a painting (the slightly pixellated DV images add a certain degraded texture of which Lynch is famously enamored), it's a monster movie and a musical and a psychodrama and an ellipsis made of black holes.

What does all this mean? Why try to impose meaning on it? Why not just buy the ticket and take the ride? Those who strain to provide the connective tissue for all of Lynch's digressions and images are, I think, trying to nail down a drop of mercury. They want to break the code, to master this material; but only one person can master it, and he ain't talkin'. Lynch has said that since life so seldom “makes sense,” people shouldn’t expect the same of art. That goes double for dreams, and INLAND EMPIRE is Lynch’s dream of, as he says, “a woman in trouble.” What will it mean to you? Well, that’s between you and you. I took it as an epic tone-poem about art vs. artifice, and how each informs and warps the other, but I also acknowledge there’s a lot more to it than that.

Essentially, once again, Lynch has gone fishin’. Either you go with him or you won’t.

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 08/26/07 03:32:51
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 San Francisco Independent Film Festival For more in the 2007 San Francisco Independent Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/21/17 Dave The most disturbing and upsetting of Lynch's films, an unsettling surreal masterpiece. 5 stars
3/18/16 Charles Tatum A boring mess 1 stars
6/16/15 stanley welles a fertile and overwhelming work of art 4 stars
5/13/13 Langano Love Lynch but I couldn't wrap my head around this one. 2 stars
9/11/12 Bennett A surrealist dream-plot caves in on its own dark poem and explodes into multiple universes. 5 stars
7/25/10 Yves master of film's most brilliant work of art, transcendent to the top! 5 stars
6/03/10 User Name Some will find Inland to be deep and seductive; others will find it pretentious and boring. 3 stars
5/27/10 Brady Amazing film. 5 stars
11/19/09 Artemis B Gone Let's all take a trip down the rabbit hole together on Mr Lynch's field trip! 5 stars
1/06/09 FrankNFurter Outrageously bizarre feast for the eyes.Like a dream tatooed on celluloid.Worth a look! 5 stars
2/06/08 Butt Lynch's insanity not withstanding, Laura Dern's performance makes this worth a look 4 stars
10/01/07 Indrid Cold Possibly his most uncompromising yet; highly disturbing, completely baffling. 4 stars
9/04/07 Jay K The crown jewel in the Lynch library. His previous works were just excercises. 5 stars
8/27/07 Adrian brilliant piece of cinema 5 stars
5/23/07 tanja insanely wonderful, an unsolveable riddle 4 stars
3/13/07 Heiko One of the most intense cinema experiences ever - slap in the face of mainstream cinema 5 stars
2/18/07 dmitry Lynch's best...saw it twice in two days 5 stars
2/18/07 Ole Man Bourbon Really entertaining for about an hour, then starts to drag. Already been done by DL, too. 3 stars
2/17/07 sully Beautiful & strange...could be his best 5 stars
2/10/07 Ivica The first Lynch I have found boring. There are too many brief scenes that could be left out 3 stars
1/29/07 Jim the Movie Freak best film of 2006 or 2007 depending on where you live 5 stars
12/31/06 mr.mike liked it - but as i have said i worship at his alter 4 stars
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  06-Dec-2006 (R)

  N/A (18)


Directed by
  David Lynch

Written by
  David Lynch

  Laura Dern
  Jeremy Irons
  Justin Theroux
  Harry Dean Stanton
  Grace Zabriskie
  Diane Ladd

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