Friday, November 9, 2007


If you are—as I am—a David Lynch devotee, you’ll understand when I say that sometimes, to even attempt a brief synopsis of his films is sheer folly. Well, Inland Empire is one of those times.
The best I can say is, Nikki Grace (Lynch collaborator and co-producer Laura Dern) is an actress poised for a career-defining role, via the project On High in Blue Tomorrows, directed by Kingsley Stewart (Jeremy Irons).

Now, since this is a Lynch film, this is hardly the only thing Inland Empire is about. Lynch’s latest is a three-hour odyssey that twists its way deep into one of the director’s labyrinthine cinematic constructs where the terms “time” and “linear narrative” are meaningless.
All things Lynchian are here: the odd tangents in conversation; characters moving and dancing backwards; the eerie, unsettling soundscapes; the set-up from his bizarre sitcom Rabbits; the dream logic; the strobes; the beautiful women. All these and more keep us company as the film’s narrative slips and slides across the screen in that peculiar, surreal hopscotch way that is vintage Lynch.

Inland Empire is also a chance to spend time with some great performers, from more past Lynch collaborators—Twin Peaks’ Grace Zabriskie, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me’s Harry Dean Stanton, Mulholland Drive’s Justin Theroux, and Wild At Heart’s Diane Ladd (also Dern’s mother)—to newcomers to the Lynch universe like Cabin Fever’s Jordan Ladd and a nearly unrecognizable Julia Ormond. (There are also some great, but brief cameos that I’ll keep under my hat for your maximum, delighted surprise.)

Additionally, this is, hands down, one of the scariest horror movies I’ve seen in many a moon.
That could be an odd statement, but if you consider that many of Lynch’s feature films function like art house horror movies—they expertly rivet the audience to a place of pure dread and foreboding, without resorting to masked killers, long-haired contortionist ghosts, or psychopathic torturers—I think it’s a fair assessment.
The fact that Inland Empire can, in some sections, both scare and unsettle, while in others, move emotionally, is testament to Lynch’s artistry and genius (and Dern’s amazing turn).

The beauty of a storyteller like David Lynch is that, I know I can give him my hand and my complete trust, certain that no matter how dark things become, no matter how strange and uncertain the turns the tale takes get, that the end point will always be a place where things will make some sort of bizarre sense.
The feeling I get with Lynch is that he will always take my hand and allow my fingers to feel the edges of the narrative, and from there, give me enough to intuit the story he is telling, to feel the tale’s geography so I can fathom it in its entirety and make of it what I will.
As clumsy as my attempts are to convey my feelings of a Lynchian experience, film critic Michael Atkinson puts it in these terms, “[Inland Empire is] one of the rare films that teaches you—obliquely—how to watch it.”
I think Atkinson’s sentiment is the same thing I was talking about, but put in his words, and I think it’s a common characteristic of all of Lynch’s films. It’s all in there, hidden in the shadows of the creepy, surreal bits, all there for us to find, so long as we’re alert, and aware, and willing to look towards the dark for the answers.

Watching Inland Empire is like stepping through a massive cobweb. Walking away, you still feel the strands and shreds clinging to you, and try as you might, your mind still tells you they’re there, on your skin, even after you’ve frantically brushed yourself off.
Actually, the best of Lynch’s ouevre can leave you with that feeling. The fact that Inland Empire is a three-hour mainline of Lynchian sensibilities just makes it stand out all the more.

Now, given that one of Inland Empire’s backdrops is the equally surreal world of Hollywood film-making, it cannot help but recall Mulholland Drive. But there are also elements and flourishes that hearken back to Lost Highway, as well as Satoshi Kon’s brilliant anime mindf*ck, Perfect Blue.
If you loved any (or all) of the above, chances are, you’ll love Inland Empire too.

Parting shot: And if you thought Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko and Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever cast rabbits in a sinister light, well think again…

Parting shot 2: This is the first film Lynch chose to shoot on digital, and the results are just as visually arresting as his previous works.

(Inland Empire OS and UK quad courtesy of; DVD cover art of Limited Edition Two-Disc Set courtesy of; image courtesy of

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