A myriad of perspectives in ‘Inland Empire’

Ally Melling

Credit: Ron Soltys

Watching a David Lynch film is not your normal trip to the movies. It requires patience and effort, but the rewards are always disturbing, beautiful and give a sense of accomplishment.

Now Lynch presents Inland Empire, his most ambitious endeavor into “intuitive cinema” yet.

Translation: It’s his most confusing film ever.

To give a plot summary here would be difficult, as Inland Empire really has no central storyline or consistency. Even the film’s tagline, “A woman in trouble,” is not only vague but could easily describe every other movie the author has made.

We’ll just say Laura Dern (Lynch’s golden girl from Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart) is the distressed woman with three different portrayals throughout the film. The Nikki Grace character is a wealthy actress who has just gotten a part in a movie that is revealed to be a remake of a cursed Polish movie never completed due to the murders of the leads. She and the infamous leading man, Devon Berk (Mulholland Dr.’s Justin Theroux) play lovers who cheat on their spouses. It is when the actors become lovers that the line between their lives and the fictional lives of their characters is totally thrown out the door.

In other realities or parts of the fictional film or even different psyches, Dern plays a lower class woman cheating on her husband with a married man. She is haunted by a handful of hookers who seem to represent her different emotions. But Inland Empire morphs even further to show Dern as an embittered, hickish prostitute who could arguably be the only “real” character Dern plays.

Anyone who’s seen a Lynch film knows the experience is like looking at a painting. Lynch never specifically says what his films are about, only that they’re meant to be interpreted and there are no wrong views.

The imagery in these scenes is pure Lynch. There are the red curtains and striped floors (a la Twin Peaks) and an awesome scene of the prostitutes dancing to “The Locomotion” (the latest addition to Lynch’s famously eerie pop-culture references). Throughout, there is also a mysterious girl watching a TV show that features giant rabbits dressed like people and making nonsensical statements to a laugh track (kindred to Lynch’s series Rabbits).

In a time when exploitation is making a mainstream comeback with the upcoming Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez project, Grindhouse, it almost seems as if Lynch may be exploiting himself in Inland Empire. All his trademarks combine with an overwhelming lack of sensible plot and seeming statements about media and Hollywood. The effect leaves the viewer angry but awestruck, a feeling that only lessens as the days go by.

Dern should be applauded for all her impressive performances in Inland Empire, because it obviously could not have been an easy task. She transforms in each persona from demure to crazed to hard with an awesome ease.

Keep a lookout for strange cameos from actors such as Jeremy Irons, Julia Ormond, William H. Macy and Diane Ladd. Besides Theroux, Mulholland Dr. fans can enjoy Naomi Watts and Laura Harring as rabbit voices.

Shooting on digital gives Inland Empire a grittier, more surreal look, but 179 minutes of Lynch’s nightmarish collage is trying to even the most devoted fan.

In short, if you’ve never watched a David Lynch film before, Inland Empire is not the place to start. But for those who have: Prepare for a whole new level of Lynchian self-indulgence that will haunt you.

Inland Empire

Starring Laura Dern, Jeremy Irons, Justin Theroux, Harry Dean Stanton

Directed by David Lynch

Distributed by Studio Canal

Rated R for language, some violence and sexuality/nudity

Stater rating (out of five):


Contact ALL correspondent Ally Melling at [email protected].