Inland Empire (2006)

Inland Empire reviewStarring Laura Dern, Jeremy Irons, Justin Theroux

Directed by David Lynch

There simply aren’t enough adjectives in the English language to properly describe David Lynch’s Inland Empire. But here are a few that instantly spring to mind:

Offbeat. Terrifying. Mesmerizing. Pretentious. Self-indulgent. Fascinating. Dull. Wonderful. Aggravating. Creepy. Bizarre.

Yea, I think “bizarre” pretty much covers it.

That may seem like a no-brainer. We’re talking Lynch here. But this epic mind-bender is the director’s most experimental film yet. Yes, even moreso than Eraserhead. In fact, it’s all so unbelievably warped that I can’t even begin to give a plot description. That would be like writing the synopsis for a Picasso. So here’s the gospel according to IMDB:

“Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) is a Hollywood actress on the brink of landing a star role in movie called On High In Blue Tomorrows. But a disturbing visit from a new “neighbor” (Grace Zabruski) fills Nikki with fear. The neighbor warns that someone will be brutally murdered in the movie, even though there isn’t a murder in the script. Nikki then receives a call from her agent and is told she has booked the lead role. Production begins and the director (Jeremy Irons) tells Nikki that it is in fact a remake of a film that was never finished. The original was plagued by a “curse” which resulted in the lead actors being murdered. In the frightening scenes that follow, the line between “reality” and illusion becomes increasingly blurred as Nikki suffers confusion and finds herself trapped in a nightmarish world she desperately needs to escape.”

That’s about as well as you can describe this one.

Whether or not you enjoy Inland Empire really depends on just how big a Lynch fan you are. This is a seemingly never-ending trek through the Black Lodge of ole David’s brain. If you enjoy spending 172 minutes in a non-linear world of rambling characters, rabbit-humanoids, and psychedelic freak-outs, then this is just what the doctor ordered. But if you have even the slightest aversion to the art house, you’d do well to stay far, far away. Some will be enraptured. Most will find it unwatchable. At the end of the day, this enigma of a film is guaranteed to elicit the strongest reactions possible.

The biggest set-back is of course the running time. Even some die-hard fans will have trouble spending three whole hours with this disjointed experimental narrative. Empire also sees the director converting to hand-held digital cameras which produce cheap grainy images, many of them out of focus. It almost feels like Lynch ran around as a one-man crew, filming random scenes on the fly throughout Hollywood.

But even with the cheap digi look, the mood is unmistakably Lynchian. The man may not be considered a genre director, but his imagination produces things that are scarier than anything found in straight-up horror. Images like “Twin Peaks”’ killer Bob and Blue Velvet’s Frank Booth weren’t just terrifying, they became permanently etched into your subconscious. Naturally, the best parts of Inland Empire travel through the corridors of Lynch’s nightmares. And they are horrifying sights to be sure.

I’m a devout Lynch fan. I worship at the man’s feet and consider him one of the best living artists. That said, for the first half, for the first time in my life, I actually found myself disliking a David Lynch film. I was bored with the disjointed narrative, the plodding script, and the out-of-focus camera work. But something happened around the ninety minute mark: I succumbed. As events grew darker and more surreal, I found myself more immersed in his world much like I did with his prior films. By the time the lights came up, I found myself left with a wide variety of emotions; satisfied yet drained.

Maybe that was Lynch’s intention. Then again, there may be no intention. Inland Empire doesn’t open itself to analysis in the same way that films like Mullholland Drive, Lost Highway, and Eraserhead did. It’s simply Lynch’s brain on tap; a movie every bit as intriguing as it is inaccessible. It’s arguably the filmmaker’s most flawed work (at least since Dune), but it remains an oddly-shaped diamond in his offbeat career.

Of course, in the end, this entire review is just one view of the painting. Do yourself a favor and don’t listen to me. Don’t listen to anyone else either. Step into the gallery and judge for yourself.

3 1/2 out of 5

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Steve Barton

You're such an inspiration for the ways that I will never, ever choose to be.

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