Inland Empire, 172 mins,
rating TBC, opening in cinemas on 21 June 2007.
By MICHELE ASPREY, Lawyer
(This is my review as published
in the November 2007 issue of The New South Wales Law Society
Inland Empire is David
Lynch’s latest film. Lynch is among the most European of the American
directors working today, and with each film he becomes more enigmatic.
If you saw Mulholland Dr
(2001), you’ll know what I mean. But that was just a warm-up for the
intricacies and tropes of Inland Empire.
Here, Lynch has abandoned any narrative through-line and instead
presents a series of images and vignettes that lead us through the
‘Inland Empire’ of his heroine’s mind – and his own. Free association
and travel through time and space replace more traditional film
In this, Lynch resembles the great non-linear storytellers of European
film. Watching Inland Empire recalls the surrealism of Luis
Buñuel, the eerie and foreboding moods of the best of Andrei
Tarkovsky’s films, and the relentlessness of Hungarian filmmaker
Béla Tarr. Lynch, like Krzysztof Kieslowski in The Double Life of Veronique
(1991), has lives merge into other lives, and suggests we may be
matched in some way with a double or twin who shares our thoughts and
It is a long film (just under 3 hours) but I found it riveting for all
of that time. It requires a willingness to surrender to Lynch’s mastery
of the medium. Usually this is easy, because his films – until now –
have mostly been luscious to look at: all those saturated blues and
reds, the beautiful, tortured women such as Isabella Rossellini,
Sherilyn Fenn, Naomi Watts, and all that lush, moody music.
The bad news is that Lynch has discovered digital video (but not the
high-definition kind). The lushness of his previous films has been
replaced by a murkier look. But of course ‘murky’ serves his aims very
well. Nothing is perfectly clear in a Lynch film. The muddy look is
deliberate, as is the lack of a traditional storyline. Lynch is going
for a more impressionistic effect visually. In terms of the narrative,
he has been quoted as saying ‘Life is very, very confusing, and so
films should be allowed to be, too.’ Be prepared: Lynch’s Mulholland Dr, Lost Highway (1997) and Eraserhead (1977) are as
straightforward as “how to” manuals compared to Inland Empire.
All that Lynch will say about the film is that it is about “A woman in
trouble”. Lynch favourite Laura Dern has the role of a lifetime,
playing actress Nikki Grace, but also several alter egos, including
Sue, a character in a film-within-a film, with the Lynchian name On High in Blue Tomorrows, plus a
foul mouthed abused woman, and possibly a prostitute.
As the film opens, Nikki, in her grand but rather funereal mansion,
receives a visit from a neighbour, Lynch regular Grace Zabriskie. She
tells Nikki that Nikki has already got the role in the film that she
was hoping for, that the story is based on an old Polish folk tale, and
that it will end in “brutal f****** murder”. Nikki then is transported
into the future (tomorrow), to pre-production on the film.
During filming, Nikki falls into an affair with her co-star, the
roguish Devon (Justin Theroux), just as her character in the film does.
Filming is interrupted by a stranger we don’t see, but later we learn
that this is Nikki, now trapped in the character of Sue in a house on
the film set. So far so good.
But another part of the film is set in Poland, where another woman is
in trouble. She watches TV – a sitcom about a family of rabbits dressed
as humans. This part seems to have no discernible explanation, but is
still weirdly compelling.
Throughout, Lynch explores his favourite issues. He’s one of the most
interesting directors of, and writers about, women – especially women
in Hollywood and the many ways they are used and abused there. Lynch’s
imagery is sometimes mysterious and often terrifying. He’s a modern
master of horror.
My advice? Treat it as a dream. Lie back, let the images wash over you,
then talk about it at dinner afterwards. And don’t miss the credit
sequence at the end. It’s almost the best part.