Being a big David Lynch fan, I'm pleased I finally got round to watching INLAND EMPIRE tonight. Now I've managed all 3 hours of it, I can succinctly review it in one word:
True to form, it's a real brain-melter. And is, I would say, his most fractured film to date. Prologue aside, it's pretty straightforward for a while, then just goes completely bananas. Lynch alumni Laura Dern plays Nikki, an actress hired to play the female lead in a film that is revealed to be a remake of an unfinished Polish film. It wasn't finished because the two leads were murdered, and the film itself was believed to be cursed. A nice set-up that adds to the strong horror element running throughout the movie like mould in blue cheese. The first properly weird thing that happens is Nikki starts to think she's her character, Susan...after that, things rapidly spiral out of control. Sort of. It's a little bit more 'circling the drain' cinema than 'headlong plummet into fear' filmmaking.
Several realities play out side-by-side and intertwine...or do they? Rabbit-headed people appear in a dingy sitcom, waiting for someone to show up. Polish actors/characters echo scenes from elsewhere in the film itself. Other people reference events yet to happen. People from one reality appear in another, but are contained in the same story. There's the story of Nikki filming the remake; of her character Sue's life outside the remake; the story of the original production; and the characters from that as they were/would be if they were also real. Those are the clearest arcs evident in INLAND EMPIRE, though they are by now means the only ones.
The main feeling I got from INLAND EMPIRE is one of hearing someone tell the punchline to someone else's joke. Part of the fun with David Lynch (who often employs dream logic in his work) is figuring out not what something means, but rather if it does actually mean anything. Maybe the rabbit people are linked to the recurring statement about a person who "looks after animals", or they're a reference to Alice in Wonderland (not my opinion, that). Or quite possibly they don't mean anything, and he just put them in to screw with the audience.
What is fairly obvious though, is his recurring theme of dual-identity and, as with Mulholland Drive, a treatise on the price of fame. And not since Eraserhead has Lynch created something that more closely resembles a work of art than a film, nor anything with quite so much horror in it, and I guess that's saying something. In much the same way as SOUTHLAND TALES appears to be Richard Kelly sticking his fingers up at the mainstream and what people expected from him, INLAND EMPIRE could well be Lynch pulling his pants down and pissing all over any pretenders to his throne. The languid pace and the fact it's shot on digital video (which looks bloody awful/naff/cheap/like a student film most of the time) are really the only faults with it.
Thankfully once again the score/soundtrack is absolutely spot-on, with ominous drones, midnight jazz, blasts of discordant orchestral noise and creepy ambient effects. I was actually reminded of Chris Morris' work, particularly JAM, and also Michael Haneke's HIDDEN - this latter comparison sprang to mind when I realised that I didn't realise if what I was watching was the film or not, but actually a film within a film.
Despite these comparisons, INLAND EMPIRE is definitely a David Lynch film, and it's hard to imagine who else could or would make anything quite like it. Likewise, it's hard to imagine anyone who isn't already a fan or at least familiar with his work enjoying INLAND EMPIRE, although a friend of mine tonight fitted exactly into this pigeon-hole and experienced the film as a trial by fire. Whether or not they've been mentally scarred by the ordeal remains to be seen, but it's certainly given them something to think about ;) Honestly, if this film can convert someone to liking Lynch, then it's pretty much a given they'll enjoy his other films - "If you can hack THAT then THIS will be a piece of cake to watch and understand". A piece of delicious dream cake filled with jazz.