Wednesday, 9 May 2007
Inland Empire (2007) dir. David Lynch
Starring: Laura Dern, Jeremy Irons, Justin Theroux
Seeing “Inland Empire” at Toronto’s Royal Cinema was a Grindhouse-like experience. A 3-hour independently produced and distributed experimental epic film from David Lynch – shot on crappy prosumer DV camera no less. And it’s a marvel and a showcase of what a talented artist can do with the simplest of tools accessible to any independent filmmaker.
David Lynch is the purveyor of some the most surreal, experimental and terrifying films ever to make it to multiplex cinemas. His films are visually arresting and use the palette of cinema to greater advantage than any other filmmaker. And so, when word got out David Lynch was going digital and making a film, shot off and on over the course a year many, including myself, were intrigued what he was up to. And the overwhelming consensus is that Lynch has succeeded in adding another artistic masterpiece to his already impressive oeuvre of great films.
Explaining the plot is a challenge, but I’ll try. The first third of the film is relatively straight-forward. Laura Dern (Nikki), a struggling actress, gets her big break with a feature film directed by Kingsley Stewart (Jeremy Irons). Her leading man is Bill Side (Justin Theroux) who has a reputation for hooking up with her female co-stars. Susan is married to a gangster heavy and so Bill's friends are worried he might succumb to his desires and court Susan. Then it’s revealed the film has a curse on it. In one of many creepy scenes, Jeremy Irons’ character describes to Nikki and Bill the first attempt to make the film in Poland. Before the film was finished the main actors were brutally murdered. When production starts Nikki and her character Susan seem to split into two separate people, reality morphs into dreams and so begins the roundabout journey of each of them to find their way out of the rabbit hole. The final 2 thirds of the film is one surreal scene after another, with the occasional breath of air of reality before plunging back in for more Lynch-craziness.
The film is needlessly three hours, but rarely was I bored. Admittedly I was tired and I actually did take a nap for 15 mins or so. But when I woke up it was as if I didn’t miss a beat. Most people will be turned off by the complete disregard of plot in the final 2 hours, but as with “Mulholland Drive” and “Lost Highway,” not matter how fucked up things get Lynch manages to provide closure to his audience. The ending of the film book-ends a scene in the beginning, and so, we are saved the sudden cut to black. Perhaps its contradictory, but in the end, the film doesn’t make any sense, but I was certainly more than satisfied.
Laura Dern exposes herself in ways reminiscent of Emily Watson in “Breaking the Waves.” Lynch frames her closeups with harsh macro lenses of his DV camera inches away from her face. Dern’s disregard for her “Hollywood” image is admirable, and the range of emotion she sustains for the three hours is also remarkable. Compare this performance to Helen Mirren’s and… well… its no contest. As a side note, David Lynch, himself, sat on a folding chair accompanied by a cow for 2 weeks at a busy Hollywood intersection, holding a “For Your Consideration” banner for Laura Dern.
Lynch uses his customary arsenal of scare tactics to creep us out. The camera creeps and crawls to examine the depths of the darkest corners of our imaginations. Ample amounts of doppelgangers, flickering light bulbs, monotonous music, dancing goddesses, and dead-pan absurdist humour are present. His sound design is top notch as usual, recycling the fear of dread from echoy and rumbling ambient soundscapes. His soundtrack choices include an eclectic mix of Beck, Etta James and Nina Simone. At one point, after a discussion about “tits” a group of large-breasted women perform a musical dance sequence to the song ‘Locomotion’. It had me in trance, that I was singing it in my head all the way home.
Do the results of his new-found technical freedom manifest itself on the audience? I don’t think so. The film certainly looks different that “Lost Highway” or “Mullholland Drive”, but it feels exactly the same. The fact is, after 20 minutes the digitalness disappears and soon you’re just watching a movie. All three films are of the same Lynchian universe and it’s evident that no matter what medium Lynch chooses, he will make it his own. Enjoy.
PS. As I said seeing the film in a theatre is a must-see experience. The final credits provide perhaps the most enjoyment of all. Not a single person left during the final credits. And it’s an experience unto itself.