Review by Richard Goodwin
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES (2-DISC): Guardian Interview At The National Film Theatre With David Lynch; A Short Interview In London; ‘A Conversation With David Lynch’ By Mike Figgis; A Masterclass With David Lynch; Interview At The Cartier Foundation.
THE wizard of weird returns with another offering of a woman in trouble set in Hollywood, the land where dreams come true. Or should that be nightmares?
An actress on the slide Nikki (Laura Dern) is offered a part in a new film which could bring her back to the big time. A strange gypsy neighbor then shows up on her doorstep and warns her of an evil surrounding the project.
Once filming begins with co-star Justin Theroux, the director (Jeremy Irons) tells them that the film is, in fact, a remake of an old Polish film that was abandoned after the two leads were murdered.
We’re then plunged into planet Lynch – people change roles, time becomes distorted, increasingly bizarre characters appear and danger lurks around every corner.
The film jumps from present day to 1930’s Poland and back with wild abandon. Nikki begins hanging out with a group of prostitutes and there’s a recurring abstract scene involving talking rabbits, one voiced by Naomi Watts.
From here any attempt to explain the narrative of this film would be futile. It’s non-linear and a kind of dream logic appears to take over.
The film recalls Lynch’s previous effort Mulholland Drive in structure and its ability to confuse and develop mood. In fact, Inland Empire is like Mulholland Drive x10 with the intensity and air of menace almost unbearably sustained throughout its three hour running time.
Of course, all the standard Lynch trademarks are here. Flickering lights? Check. Red Curtains? Check. Static electricity? Check. Actually, the film couldn’t be more Lynchian unless it actually starred the man himself!
Inland Empire was shot entirely on high definition digital video – the first time Lynch has used this format (he now swears he will never use anything else again).
The director’s camera work is outstanding throughout and he uses the new format to its full potential creating some amazing images that will stay with you long after the film has finished.
What’s particularly startling is his use of extreme close-ups, which give the viewer an uncomfortable feeling almost like someone’s intruding on your personal space. The sound design is also fantastic as is typical in any Lynch film.
Despite all its technical achievements, though, it’s the performance of Laura Dern that really anchors the film. She is quite simply outstanding.
Watching the film develop, it seems as big a mystery as the plot as to why the Academy ignored this performance. Dern goes from sweet actress to battered wife to whore with an incredible conviction and her performance is at times staggering in its emotional complexity and intensity.
As for what the film’s about, I wouldn’t like to try and guess quite frankly, but certain themes and images do reoccur.
It’s shot through with jealousy and infidelity and self image is questioned throughout. Also, certain images and items keep appearing in different contexts, like a screwdriver and strange written symbols.
Certain phrases and images are repeated, giving you just that little bit of hope that you may be piecing it together – only for another twist to ruin your ideas!
Lynch has a heavy reliance on metaphor and there’s probably a multitude of meanings that could be right or may be red herrings. At times you almost question whether Lynch is parodying himself here and simply toying with us, the audience?
In the end, you’re better off just sitting back and allowing the film to wash over you rather that attempting to figure it out. Lynch has created a film that almost bypasses your rational mind and sinks straight into your subconscious.
It’s like someone has collected all your weirdest dreams and nightmares and shown them back to you over the course of three hours.
Inland Empire is bold, audacious and both technically and emotionally powerful. It’s right up there with the director’s best work.
It won’t have universal appeal and some people will be frustrated with the fractured narrative. If you’ve not liked Lynch before, then steer well clear.
But for the many Lynch fans out there, it’s a real treat. The day he stops making films will be a very sad one indeed.
Running time: 3hrs