A Woman in Trouble

INLAND EMPIRE 

From the moment I learned of David Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE, I was adrift in a sea of anxiousness and anticipation.   Lynch, one of the premier auteurs of our time, has delighted us with a quirky and diverse filmography over the years.  He’s treated us to chilling stories about sadists and the dark side of suburban life in Blue Velvet.  He’s poked and prodded at our collective psyches with lucid dreamlike commentary on failure and loss (Mulholland Drive).  Lynch is an extraordinary director, one that can warm your heart with flowing charm, or stop your heart with sheer terror.

After an agonizing wait, I was finally able to see INLAND EMPIRE this past Friday night at small local theater in downtown Charleston that puts on two film festivals per year.  The stark black and white poster that looked pulled straight from the movie theaters of yesterday immediately caught my attention as we approached the tiny venue.  It read “David Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE” in massive letters, with the tagline of “A woman in trouble” appearing below.  The poster was beautiful in its monochromatic minimalism, so I decided to ask someone in charge if they would be willing to part with it.  It turns out they were, and for the low sum of $10, no less.  I was stunned to say the least, and instantly pulled out the Visa.

Finally, shortly after 9 PM the theater doors were opened– a healthy mix of film enthusiasts from all walks of life calmly filed into the theater, in all likelihood unsure of what it was they were about to witness.  INLAND EMPIRE is perhaps David Lynch’s most impenetrable work.  It is a film that refuses to adhere to the norms of conventional film.  Completely disjointed and utterly uncompromising, Lynch made no attempt with INLAND EMPIRE to grip the viewer using tight narrative.  No, this film is different.  The story, seemingly simple enough from the start, details a woman named Nikki (played by Laura Dern) trying to make it big in Hollywood by landing a part in a film alongside Tinseltown heartthrob Devon Grace (Justin Theroux).  They quickly learn that the film they’re supposedly destined for success in was actually in production at one point in the past, but there was a murder, resulting in the film never being completed.

That’s about as much as most people will be able to get out of the film storywise before Lynch begins to send the film into a massive black hole of surrealism featuring double identities, bizarre dreamlike abstraction, and gaps in the passage of time.  Lynch’s genius in the directorial chair shines brightly in INLAND EMPIRE.  Shot almost entirely with digital video hand cameras, the film takes on a very gritty, unique feel.  Characters are shot mainly in extreme closeups, heightening the claustrophobic and frighteningly intimate atmosphere that permeates INLAND EMPIRE.  David Lynch’s muse, Laura Dern, takes this concept and runs with it, making INLAND EMPIRE her film.  This is the best performance of Dern’s career hands down.  Whether she is trembling in fear at the sight of the horrors unfolding before her or discussing her sadistic side, Dern is supremely affecting and manages to captivate at every turn.

INLAND EMPIRE is a richly layered film with lots of repetition of themes and messages obscured so harshly that one begins to question if there was really even a message to begin with.  I’m not sure it was ever the intention of Lynch to allow the viewer to be able to wrap their head around everything that transpires in his latest film.  Somewhere in the midst of INLAND EMPIRE’s dense wall of psyche terror, one can surmise that perhaps Lynch is again taking Hollywood to task, opening up its belly and spewing its blackened innards all over the ground.  Maybe it is just that simple in the end.  Only David Lynch knows for sure.

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~ by theoberlander on May 13, 2007.

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