And, here we are. Ten features, ten entries on the film work of David Lynch. Will he ever direct another? Only time will, I suppose–but it will most likely be a minimum of a decade, between his last official release (this month’s subject) and his next. With the announcement of David mounting a new “Twin Peaks” series for the Showtime network, at the very least we will see something from the eccentric director by 2016. In the meantime. “Inland Empire” remains the only film on his resume in the over 13 years since the release of 2001’s “Mulholland Dr.”. There’s certainly a lot of it…Lynch’s “final” movie clocks in just seconds short of a full three hours. And some of it is in Polish. Plus, there are six-foot tall talking rabbits in human clothing. As Lynch veteran Laura Dern reportedly told a confused producer during production, “Yeah, you’re working on a David Lynch movie, dude…just sit back and enjoy the ride.”
And I kind of enjoy this ride. But, truth be told…I simply haven’t cracked the nut of “Inland Empire” yet. I’ve never seen this one in an actual theater–in fact, my first “ride” with this was late 2007, almost a full year after its extremely limited official release. My only other viewing was my recent revisit for this review—a full seven years later. I’m certain I’ll burrow in again, because I give Lynch my utmost patience and respect. I’m simply just not there yet with “Inland Empire”. I need more time. Some folks will use that as the argument against Lynch, and I’ll admit that this one should be their case study, if they choose to take that adversarial path. The jury is still out for me however. I’ll cast an official verdict when I’m finished here, but I fully expect “Inland Empire” to move on to the appellate court!
The usually tight-lipped Lynch, once responded to a question about “Inland Empire”, by saying it was about “a woman in trouble, and it’s a mystery”. That was all he deemed appropriate to divulge. I’m pretty certain that Nikki Grace (a fantastic Laura Dern) is our “lady in turmoil”, but some could claim I’m guessing wrong, because I can easily present another subject for consideration. But it doesn’t matter, because it’s clearly Dern’s film, and it’s obvious Nikki is not having an “easy” time. Ms. Grace is a big actress making a comeback, and she’s giddy with delight upon receiving the lead role in “On High in Blue Tomorrows”. It promises to put her career back on track, but almost immediately things become complicated–and even sinister. In fact, sitting on set with her male co-star Devon Berk (“Mulholland Dr.” carryover, Justin Theroux), they are informed by their director (a sly Jeremy Irons as Kingsley Stewart) that they are actually attempting to remake a German feature that was deemed cursed, and therefore never completed. In addition, the original production was cancelled after both leads were murdered! Soon after this admission, various plot lines and time frames ensue, with either Ms. Dern’s Ms. Grace character, or her movie-within-a-movie role of “Sue Blue” guiding us through it all. And if you completely comprehend this particular ride down the Lynchian rabbit hole, you’re far sharper than me.
Sections of “Inland Empire” are absolutely fascinating, and Ms. Dern gives an incredible performance throughout. But I doubt most folks have ever seen anything quite like “Inland Empire”. It’s experimental in nature, it’s barely cohesive at times, plus it’s Lynch’s ugliest work since his “Eraserhead” debut. It was David’s first feature shot in digital video, and the often “muddy” visuals make for a disconcerting experience. It’s a disturbing movie, and often scary, and it sports Lynch’s usual myriad of avid supporters and unconvinced detractors. Boy, did I occasionally hate how it kept me groping and struggling through the “dark”. But then, I absolutely adored seeing Dern’s real life mother, Diane Ladd, as a talk show host–sixteen years after portraying Dern’s character of Lulu’s mother in “Wild at Heart”. And there’s “Twin Peaks” Grace Zabriskie, as a legend-spouting neighbor–plus is that Oscar-winner Mary Steenburgen as “Visitor #2”? And William H. Macy in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role of an announcer? Do my ears deceive me that two of the rabbit voices belong to “Mulholland Dr.” lovers Laura Harring and Naomi Watts? There really is no world, like Lynch world!
There’s no Angelo Badalamenti music in “Inland Empire”, and his compositions are missed. Instead, there is some work from two Polish composers, along with a collection of songs from a variety of performers–even Lynch himself supplied some of the music. Lynch reportedly shot the film without a complete screenplay, and would hand pages of fresh dialogue to his actors daily. It gives “Inland Empire” an improvisational feel, that sometimes works–and at other junctures struggles. Both Dern and Theroux are on record as stating that they couldn’t claim to know what the film is about, and that they would sometimes sit around on the set trying to figure out what was going on. Honestly, I can’t see anyone except devout Lynch loyalists and completests enduring this experiment. It’s dense and interesting, but highly frustrating as well. If you think you had difficulty with “Mulholland Dr.”…
So, I’m pleased to have zeroed in on David Lynch for this ten-part retrospective. Like my 18 chapter David Cronenberg chronicle before it, I feel it’s endowed me with a higher appreciation of the director, as well as a clearer picture of his shortcomings too. Currently, I’d have to say that “Inland Empire” is my least favorite of the Lynch canon, if only because I can’t fully grasp it, along with my enhanced regard for the much-maligned “Dune”. “Mulholland Dr.” and “Blue Velvet” remain my two top dogs, and my biggest surprise was the rocketing esteem for 1997’s “Lost Highway”. It never made more sense to me than it did with my latest viewing–which gives me great hope for eventually putting together the puzzle of this month’s subject. I can barely wait to travel “Lost Highway” again, whereas I’ll need some buffer time before a return trip to “Inland Empire”. However, when I go, you’ll be the first to hear. Thanks for following The Lynch Ledger…I hope you enjoyed the ride.
Grade: B (with a possible improved ranking, in the not-too-distant future!)