Monday, January 15, 2007

Inland Empire (Lynch, 2006)

An even more savage assault on the corruption and soul-sucking nature of Hollywood than Mulholland Dr., David Lynch’s Inland Empire is exhilarating filmmaking, giving the illusion of a nightmare run out of control, but holding together because it is meticulously constructed and clear about which pieces of its elaborate puzzle are important. The film’s basic storyline involves an actress who is cast in a remake of a film that no one knows because it was never completed. The original production is thought to have been cursed - and indeed, the actress begins to experience unusual occurrences before she even attends the first readthrough. A strange prophet arrives at her front door with cryptic information about both her present and her future – two states of being that will become increasingly difficult for her to distinguish between.

Complicating matters is that the film’s script seems to parallel her own life. Behind-the-scenes flirtations with the film’s lead actor get intertwined with the fictional tale of adultery being told in front of the camera and Lynch himself encourages the blurriness, creating a palpable sense of unease and disorientation. Further complicating matters is the fact that scenes from the original film (apparently shot in a foreign language) appear interspersed throughout, as well as a bizarre sitcom starring human-sized rabbits. Detractors may wish to point to the rabbits as meaningless strangeness; however, like a Shakespearean dumb show, they set the stage for what follows. A mistimed laugh track responds to non-existent punchlines and the players go through the motions like zombies. Why rabbits? Well, think to yourself … what activity is it that both rabbits and Hollywood actors are famous for really enjoying?

The film’s basic premise - a cursed film script – could be something right out of one of the recent flood of Japanese horror films like The Ring. However, Lynch is able to take the somewhat silly starting point and use it as an opportunity to create masterful riffs on the vampiric nature of Hollywood. Much like his heroine in Mulholland Dr. is eaten alive by the city of dreams, his central character in Inland Empire is put through a wringer, draining her personal emotion and putting it on camera so that it can become a commodity and having her personal life discussed luridly on a vacuous gossip program. From the very beginning of the film, Lynch makes a direct connection between Hollywood stardom and whoredom. When Dern’s character finds herself trapped in a small living room with a large group of young women, it is no accident that it is hard for us to tell whether they are intended to be hot up-and-coming movie starlets or streetwalking hookers. Deftly, Lynch accomplishes everything to which Christopher’s Guest’s For Your Consideration aspired and much, much more. In case we didn’t get the message, he places a critical scene – the closest we get to an explanation – at the corner of Hollywood and Vine. As Dern’s character reaches her lowest point, a homeless person draws a clear connection between the immediate pain being felt in the scene and the big-picture pain that awaits many actresses who are used for their sexuality and then discarded once they are no longer of use. Sometimes a screwdriver isn’t just a screwdriver.

It is a shame that Lynch’s reputation is for being an artist that is contemptuous of his audience and who is willing to string random bizarre images together just to confuse people. The truth is that few contemporary directors give their audiences more respect and few contemporary writers produce scripts so masterfully constructed. As you watch Inland Empire, there will definitely be moments that you cannot immediately digest or put into place. The trick is not to write these moments off as meaningless meandering. Hold them in the back of your mind and Lynch will be certain to offer space for the puzzle piece to fit later in the film. Every clue is repeated in a different context, allowing the viewer to make a meaningful connection in the space in between. Perhaps the only thing that Inland Empire lacks is a moment as emotionally resonant as the ‘silencio’ scene in Mulholland Dr. Nonetheless, Inland Empire is disturbing, funny, thrilling, witty and provocative and deserves to be considered amongst Lynch’s best work.



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