“Um…what’s it about?”
We’re at LACMA. David Lynch’s new and nearly impenetrable film, Inland Empire, has just finished a three hour onslaught. Many of us are blinking our way back into the conscious world. The man who was next to me–who squirmed and gasped through the entire film–is gone. I don’t know if he left the building or went insane. Lynch is onstage, along with Laura Dern for a brief Q&A.
The only thing he can tell us, he says, waving his fingers in his characteristic style, is that “it’s about a woman in trouble.”
Trouble indeed. Looking at the reviews that have begun to emerge around the blogosphere, it appears that this new film, shot entirely on low-res digital video, people aren’t quite sure what to make of this new one. Whereas Mulholland Drive gave us that perfect Lynchian balance of narrative and nightmare, this one plunges without hesitation into a dream world so dense and obscure that I’m willing to bet it’ll serve as the source for scores of dissertations.
Having passed the Mulholland Drive exam with flying colors, I was almost recklessly confident going into David Lynch’s newest dreamscape, Inland Empire: primed to follow the story as it splintered, reformed, folded back in on itself, and splintered again; prepared for the notion that all identity is mutable and all reality approximate. Three hours later, I barely knew my name, let alone what had happened in the movie. Inland Empire is way, way beyond my powers of ratiocination. It’s the higher math.
Inland Empire does tell a story. There’s an actress (played by Laura Dern, who also gets co-producing credit.) She wins a role in film. The script for the film may carry a curse.
And that’s it. I think. The rest is a bizarre, surreal journey through the mind of a woman. Is it the actress? Is it a prostitute living on the streets of Hollywood? Is it a simple woman married to a mysterious Polish man? And what’s with the rabbits?
I love it, though it’s about as difficult as they come. Those who like to climb about on narrative threads will find themselves frustrated. Who are those Polish men? Why did that woman disappear? What’s with all the gorgeous dancers? These are dream images. The only way to understand them is to try NOT to understand them. Let go of the desire to impose order on the parade and let it mill about. Let your unconscious deal with it. That’s how I survived.
And when the final scenes unfold I find myself realizing that the Lynch has somehow managed to achieve perfect closure. How? I don’t know. In fact, I can’t even really tell you how the film ends. I just know that it ends perfectly.
Afterwards, my friend Maria, who’s about as big a Lynch-head as I know, laments the film. She feels disappointed, let down. She hates digital video and she wishes he had been more focused. But she also admits that she felt the same way about Mulholland Drive when she first saw it, and Lost Highway before. And now she thinks they’re among his very best.
She’ll come around.