To those who thought that Terry Gilliam's gothic frenzy Tideland was an auteur who had lost all restraint: In the words of Bachman-Turner Overdrive, you ain't seen nothing yet.
The notorious David Lynch
has always held a rather slippery grip on narrative construction and a rather absent grasp on convention. At last we left him, his surreal dreamscape was the city of L.A. and a pair of lesbian lovers who may or may not have broken up because of a brash film director, and that's just the peripheral story. Mulholland Drive was Lynch at his very best, using Los Angeles as a canvas to purge all his hallucinatory digressions and woozy dreams into a noir-tinged love story. Lynch now returns to L.A. once again for Inland Empire, a 180-minute, digitally-shot nightmare that culls together the absolute worst attributes of Lynch and his personal style. Article continues below
As per usual, a plot description is arduous. Laura Dern
plays an actress named Nikki, who is married to a rather dangerous man who spoils her but gets scary when it comes to other men. Despite a strange fortune foretold by a neighbor, Nikki agrees to star in On High in Blue Tomorrows, the latest film by Kingsley (Jeremy Irons
) that stars Devon (Justin Theroux
), a flirty hunk of a leading man. One day while on set, Nikki, who is playing Sue in the film, hears a noise that she goes to investigate with Devon.
And, as they say, this is where things get tricky. Lynch drops a giant anvil on the narrative skull of his film, sending us into a grainy labyrinth of dark hallways and unseemly-lighted households. Among other things, there are constant queries into whether Nikki and Sue are separate entities, an eccentric woman who wants to kill Nikki for no real reason and a twice revisited interrogation scene. Oh, and then there's the nuclear family with rabbit heads (voiced by Naomi Watts
and Scott Coffey
), the strippers/porn stars doing a choreographed dance to "The Locomotion" and Kingsley's assistant (Harry Dean Stanton
) who is constantly looking for spare change.
When approaching a Lynch film, with the exception of The Straight Story, you always prepare yourself for a tumultuous experience; this time he's really lost his bananas, and the grapefruits aren't looking too ripe either. Lynch has always kept a sort of concentration on his closed-lid fantasies, allowing them to play out, but within a certain outline that gives them a sense of purpose and mortality. Inland Empire has no such constructs nor does it seem to want to be viewed as anything but a lengthy blast of unending madness.
His newfound affinity for digital camerawork seems to be another focal point in this living migraine (Lynch himself announced that he will never return to film). Obsession with image can be diagnosed as the core, rotten element in Lynch's monstrosity; the dirty, dark digital work gives ugly a new definition. Sending his most trusted lieutenant, Dern, into this battlefield shows extreme faith, but Dern's performance can't breathe in such muddy waters. Lynch-heads will more than likely still enjoy, if not love, Inland's dystopic reverie, and maybe there's good reason to enjoy such defiance of convention, even if it seems like a never-ending trek down a murky hallway. Put it this way: Inland Empire defines the term "love it or hate it." You got two guesses as to where my feelings lie.