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Inland Empire (2006)

Laura Dern and Justin Theroux in Inland Empire.

By Bryan Nixon.

David Lynch’s latest dream-like film Inland Empire (2006), a three-hour experimental epic that resembles a house of mirrors, is certainly his most ambitious and abstract. The director of daring masterworks such as Blue Velvet (1986) has pieced together yet another film that cannot be analyzed in terms of a typical narrative structure. To clarify further  this claim, David Lynch did not have a completed screenplay before filming commenced. As an alternative, he gathered actors together and filmed individual scenes immediately after imagining them. With this film, Lynch relied entirely on his subconscious to make decisions. Miraculously, every scene fuses together seamlessly while, at the same time, falling apart through the seams.

If one were to attempt to recite a plot synopsis, Inland Empire is roughly about an actress on the comeback named Nikki, played by Laura Dern in the performance of a lifetime that is above and beyond Oscar-worthiness, who literally loses herself in the role of Susan during the filming of the supposedly cursed On High in Blue Tomorrows. As Susan, Laura Dern commits adultery with Justin Theroux’s Billy and thus becomes pregnant, mingles with prostitutes who instead are possibly representational of Billy’s ex-girlfriends, and delivers an extensive monologue comprised of disquieting accounts. Infidelity, and being tortured by it and its consequences, seems to be a major theme of Inland Empire. One can also conclude that the film is about an actress who becomes unconditionally committed to her role. This amount of commitment is something excruciatingly personal and, in the bizarre Lynchian way, beautiful. Or is it just the curse that has taken control? Moreover, a noteworthy aspect is that David Lynch exploits the aforementioned prostitutes, gathered on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at a key scene, to express subliminally his feelings concerning Hollywood and how women are wrongfully treated. This, in one form or another, is something that Lynch continues to return to in his work. David Lynch may come across as a pervert due to how he may explicitly portray women in his films, but he is one of the few working American directors who honestly tries to dig deeper into and gain a greater awareness of the mysterious feminine soul. These tangled interpretations only scratch the surface of Inland Empire, however. Delving any deeper involves and requires one’s own personal experience.

Aside from the unique nonlinear storyline and the prominent presence of Laura Dern, the most noticeable success of this film lies in Lynch’s labyrinth of haunting imagery. The dim black-and-white opening sequence photographs a Polish-speaking man and woman, whose heads are blurred, in a hotel room. The subsequent scene involves three clothed rabbits, played by actors in costume, living in a house, conversing in rearranged dialogue, and mocking sitcoms by way of a provided laugh track. Inland Empire features lights that often flicker or wave around in search of something hidden in the darkest of places. Ominous lamps and dismal hallways litter the cinematography throughout, as well. Lynch’s choice of featuring extreme close-ups of the faces of some of the actors adds a strange sense of claustrophobia. In fact, Laura Dern’s aura is most arresting when she uses intense, horrific facial expressions instead of dialogue to communicate whatever it may be that her character is going through. The most memorable and frightening image from the film is Laura Dern’s banshee clown face projected onto the face of a dying man called the Phantom.

The DVD of Inland Empire contains over three hours of special features, most of which provide a greater understanding of the man behind the film. One of the highlights include “Ballerina,” which is an experimental short film of a ballerina dancing to some eerie music. A few seconds of this short can be spotted in one of the final shots of Inland Empire. “Lynch 2” is an intimate, fascinating, and often hilarious documentary about the making of Inland Empire. Lynch is an inspirational hoot while he directs the actors, gives commands to the crew, fiddles around with an assortment of objects on the set while being crafty, and writes out scenes as they materialize in his head. In “Stories,” David Lynch discusses the origins of the film, digital recording, editing, experimentation, intuition, and his extreme dislike of the viewing of his films on a telephone, among other things. As for the creative process, he says that, “a lot of ideas come from music,” and that “meditation takes you within to the… infinite, immortal, eternal ocean of knowingness and… you enliven it and it grows.” Additionally, there is over an hour of deleted scenes, some of which linger in moments as opposed to steadily progressing, that are inspired by some intriguing shots and thoughts but ultimately add little to Inland Empire itself. Lynch was right to cut the film to a meditative three hours.

Inland Empire is a collage of varied sounds, images, and performances, Laura Dern’s anchoring as the film’s heartbeat, that construct a wide range of shifting emotions for the viewer for the duration of the downward spiral. Unfortunately, many will find the film to be too confusing, too self-indulgent, and at least an hour too long. But in any case, Inland Empire is an expansion of themes and visual and narrative ideas previously explored by Lynch in Lost Highway (1997) and Mulholland Drive (2001), whilst encompassing the novelty and impact of Eraserhead (1977). David Lynch has driven audiences down many different roads that most filmmakers would be too frightened to navigate, and it seems that all roads lead to Inland Empire.

Bryan Nixon is currently a film studies major at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

 

Film & DVD Details

Director David Lynch

Screenplay David Lynch

Producers David Lynch, Mary Sweeney

Director of Photography David Lynch

Film Editing David Lynch

Costumes Karen Baird, Heidi Bivens

With Laura Dern (Nikki Grace/Susan Blue), Jeremy Irons (Kingsley Stewart), Justin Theroux (Devon Berk/Billy Side), Harry Dean Stanton (Freddie Howard), Diane Ladd (Marilyn Levens), Krzysztof Majchrzak (Phantom)

Runtime 179 minutes

DVD

USA, 2007

Produced and distributed by RYKO (region 1)

Aspect Ratio 1.78:1

Extras “More Things That Happened,” a collection of deleted scenes. “Ballerina,” a 12 minute experimental short. “Quinoa,” an instruction of cooking the dish by David Lynch. “Stories.” “Lynch 2,” a 30 minute documentary. Theatrical trailers (3). Stills Gallery (73).

 

Director David Lynch

Screenplay David Lynch

Producers David Lynch, Mary Sweeney

Director of Photography David Lynch

Film Editing David Lynch

Costumes Karen Baird, Heidi Bivens

With Laura Dern (Nikki Grace/Susan Blue), Jeremy Irons (Kingsley Stewart), Justin Theroux (Devon Berk/Billy Side), Harry Dean Stanton (Freddie Howard), Diane Ladd (Marilyn Levens), Krzysztof Majchrzak (Phantom)

Runtime 179 minutes

DVD

USA 2007

Produced and distributed by RYKO (region 1)

Aspect Ratio 1.78:1

Extras “More Things That Happened,” a collection of deleted scenes. “Ballerina,” a 12 minute experimental short. “Quinoa,” an instruction of cooking the dish by David Lynch. “Stories.” “Lynch 2,” a 30 minute documentary. Theatrical trailers (3). Stills Gallery (73).

David Lynch’s latest dream-like film Inland Empire (2006), a three-hour experimental epic that resembles a house of mirrors, is certainly his most ambitious and abstract. The director of daring masterworks such as Blue Velvet (1986) has pieced together yet another film that cannot be analyzed in terms of a typical narrative structure. To clarify further this claim, David Lynch did not have a completed screenplay before filming commenced. As an alternative, he gathered actors together and filmed individual scenes immediately after imagining them. With this film, Lynch relied entirely on his subconscious to make decisions. Miraculously, every scene fuses together seamlessly while, at the same time, falling apart through the seams.

If one were to attempt to recite a plot synopsis, Inland Empire is roughly about an actress on the comeback named Nikki, played by Laura Dern in the performance of a lifetime that is above and beyond Oscar-worthiness, who literally loses herself in the role of Susan during the filming of the supposedly cursed On High in Blue Tomorrows. As Susan, Laura Dern commits adultery with Justin Theroux’s Billy and thus becomes pregnant, mingles with prostitutes who instead are possibly representational of Billy’s ex-girlfriends, and delivers an extensive monologue comprised of disquieting accounts. Infidelity, and being tortured by it and its consequences, seems to be a major theme of Inland Empire. One can also conclude that the film is about an actress who becomes unconditionally committed to her role. This amount of commitment is something excruciatingly personal and, in the bizarre Lynchian way, beautiful. Or is it just the curse that has taken control? Moreover, a noteworthy aspect is that David Lynch exploits the aforementioned prostitutes, gathered on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at a key scene, to express subliminally his feelings concerning Hollywood and how women are wrongfully treated. This, in one form or another, is something that Lynch continues to return to in his work. David Lynch may come across as a pervert due to how he may explicitly portray women in his films, but he is one of the few working American directors who honestly tries to dig deeper into and gain a greater awareness of the mysterious feminine soul. These tangled interpretations only scratch the surface of Inland Empire, however. Delving any deeper involves and requires one’s own personal experience.

Aside from the unique nonlinear storyline and the prominent presence of Laura Dern, the most noticeable success of this film lies in Lynch’s labyrinth of haunting imagery. The dim black-and-white opening sequence photographs a Polish-speaking man and woman, whose heads are blurred, in a hotel room. The subsequent scene involves three clothed rabbits, played by actors in costume, living in a house, conversing in rearranged dialogue, and mocking sitcoms by way of a provided laugh track. Inland Empire features lights that often flicker or wave around in search of something hidden in the darkest of places. Ominous lamps and dismal hallways litter the cinematography throughout, as well. Lynch’s choice of featuring extreme close-ups of the faces of some of the actors adds a strange sense of claustrophobia. In fact, Laura Dern’s aura is most arresting when she uses intense, horrific facial expressions instead of dialogue to communicate whatever it may be that her character is going through. The most memorable and frightening image from the film is Laura Dern’s banshee clown face projected onto the face of a dying man called the Phantom.

The DVD of Inland Empire contains over three hours of special features, most of which provide a greater understanding of the man behind the film. One of the highlights include “Ballerina,” which is an experimental short film of a ballerina dancing to some eerie music. A few seconds of this short can be spotted in one of the final shots of Inland Empire. “Lynch 2” is an intimate, fascinating, and often hilarious documentary about the making of Inland Empire. Lynch is an inspirational hoot while he directs the actors, gives commands to the crew, fiddles around with an assortment of objects on the set while being crafty, and writes out scenes as they materialize in his head. In “Stories,” David Lynch discusses the origins of the film, digital recording, editing, experimentation, intuition, and his extreme dislike of the viewing of his films on a telephone, among other things. As for the creative process, he says that, “a lot of ideas come from music,” and that “meditation takes you within to the… infinite, immortal, eternal ocean of knowingness and… you enliven it and it grows.” Additionally, there is over an hour of deleted scenes, some of which linger in moments as opposed to steadily progressing, that are inspired by some intriguing shots and thoughts but ultimately add little to Inland Empire itself. Lynch was right to cut the film to a meditative three hours.

Inland Empire is a collage of varied sounds, images, and performances, Laura Dern’s anchoring as the film’s heartbeat, that construct a wide range of shifting emotions for the viewer for the duration of the downward spiral. Unfortunately, many will find the film to be too confusing, too self-indulgent, and at least an hour too long. But in any case, Inland Empire is an expansion of themes and visual and narrative ideas previously explored by Lynch in Lost Highway (1997) and Mulholland Drive (2001), whilst encompassing the novelty and impact of Eraserhead (1977). David Lynch has driven audiences down many different roads that most filmmakers would be too frightened to navigate, and it seems that all roads lead to Inland Empire.

Contributor details

Bryan Nixon is currently a film studies major at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

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