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Movie Review: Inland Empire

Inland Empire
Written and directed by David Lynch
Studio Canal

It’s amazing I didn’t hear more about David Lynch’s new movie up until its release.  Usually, a new Lynch film has all sorts of buzz around it, good or bad, because he’s a respected filmmaker with a cult following.  The director is known for his abstract, nearly impossible-to-solve plots; his TV show (and subsequent film) Twin Peaks serves as a model for serial television shows who want to keep a constant What The Fuck? factor going to keep people watching to see what happens next; however, that show also became a model for shows to avoid as the WTF? factor became overbearing with no real answers.

Whether it’s Blue Velvet, Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, or some other crazy hallucinogenic puzzle, one thing you usually can come out of a Lynch film saying is, “I have no idea what just happened…but damn it was entertaining.”  For the first time in awhile, Lynch has made a movie that I not only don’t get, but was absolute torture to sit through.  And it’s three hours.

I wondered if this was the point.  There was a nagging possibility that Lynch was fucking with me.  Filmmakers like Lars von Trier and Michael Haneke, just name a couple, have made a living on the film cults and the critics who pretend to enjoy this kind of stuff by playing on an audience’s expectations, as if this kind of active involvement in the movie’s life makes the movie itself great.  Let me put it to you this way: I could film a two-hour movie showing a locked treasure chest just sitting there, the entire duration, maybe with someone trying various keys to open it (or hell: not doing anything) and at the end have someone throw that treasure chest in a landfill, never knowing what was inside, and I would get a critic that would say, “His film brilliantly feeds on an audience’s expectation…just when you think the treasure chest is going to be opened or something is going to happen…he masterfully pulls the rug out from under you!”

In Inland Empire, we begin with, what else, abstract images; a woman and a man entering an apartment about to do the dirty, but their faces are concealed by some sort of vaseline camera trick or post-production effect; a trio of people in bunny costumes having a conversation completely in non-sequiter, complete with occasional laugh track.  Then the movie introduces us to struggling actress Nikki (Laura Dern, who I feel is giving a great performance for nothing), who gets a part in a movie called On High in Blue Tomorrows, co-starring Devon (Justin Theroux) and directed by Kingsley (Jeremy Irons). 

This is your typical Lynch set-up: have something the audience can latch on to before getting really weird; and boy, does this get weird.  At first, you might think the movie-within-a-movie is getting confused with “real life.”  But then there’s all sorts of disconnected scenes; one kind of Nikki with a pack of whores discussing their lives, another kind of Nikki talking about her bastard husband to some stranger, several scenes of subtitled nonsense with none of the main characters.  Sometimes the disconnected stuff later connects to something else, just not in any meaningful way.  Just when I thought I was getting it, like maybe Nikki carries all of her past roles with her (not to mention real-life past experiences) and she’s a damaged person because of it, something else comes into play that derailed any theory I might have formed.

Even if I’m completely right about Nikki overdosing on the teachings of Lee Strasberg, the “figuring out” of the movie’s puzzle doesn’t make it entertaining.  In fact, the movie is quite boring much of the time, which in three hours is an unforgivable sin.  Like I mentioned earlier, even if I came out of a Lynch film completely dazed as to what went on, I at least wanted to watch what happened because the movie was entertaining despite being incoherent.  Here, I was just trying to get my money’s worth; it was a bad gamble.


Comment from Reel Fanatic
Time: December 6, 2006, 10:40 pm

Thanks for the heads up on this one, Chris … Like you said, I probably won’t be able to see this one until DVD, and it sounds like a real downer .. But I’ve seen every Lynch movie so far, so I’ll give it a chance anyway, whenever I get to

Comment from Jonathan Watkins
Time: December 6, 2006, 11:17 pm

I think I believe you’re probably right about this by the simple fact you can right a comprehensible review about it. Where Lynch films might be hard to watch, they’re even more of a bitch to review mostly for the things you mentioned. Nice review; I look forward to completely agreeing with you when I check it out. Like Reel, I never miss a Lynch film; this can’t be worse than Dune though, can it?

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