Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Film as nonsequitur

By Edward Copeland
As the lights came up and the credits began to roll at the end of INLAND EMPIRE, another audience member asked me, "Do you have any idea what that was supposed to be about?" "No," I replied, "but neither did Lynch."

Part of the fun of Lynch as a filmmaker has always been those odd moments that come out of nowhere, but usually they come with a story engine of some sort that pushes the viewer along at the same time. (For example, I recently re-watched Wild at Heart, which consists almost entirely of those sort of moments but which works because the digressions such as Crispin Glover's Cousin Dell occur within the framework of the larger story of Sailor and Lula's road trip.)

Unfortunately, INLAND EMPIRE consists only of those moments and while there are certainly great images and sequences, it ends up being a long, tedious exercise. The slim thread most of the film dangles from concerns an actress (Laura Dern) who is about to begin shooting a film called "On High in Blue Tomorrows" with a notorious lothario of a co-star (Justin Theroux) and a noted director (Jeremy Irons). Only, the filmmakers are surprised to learn that what they thought was an original script is a remake of a never-completed film, a film cut short when the leads were murdered.

Following that, the line is blurred repeatedly: Are we watching the movie, the making of the movie or Dern's real life? For me, the answer is that it just doesn't matter since none of them end up being particularly interesting. Frank N. Furter sang in Rocky Horror, "A mental mind fuck would be nice" but sometimes they are nicer than others.

INLAND EMPIRE is the first time David Lynch reminded me, of all people, of Woody Allen, though not in any literal way. It seems that Lynch, like Woody, keeps repeating himself, serving up leftovers from both his own previous works and from others. The rabbits resemble the one from Donnie Darko while they seem to exist in a strange sitcom land that reminded me of Natural Born Killers, which is never a good thing.

Lynch regular Grace Zabriskie shows up early to relay the story of a boy who went through a door, cast a reflection and created evil, which seems straight out of the Black Lodge playbook of Twin Peaks. There even are requisite shots of red curtains. Oh and lamps — lots of lamps. Extras on the DVDs of Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart both contain stories about how Lynch would suddenly run off and build a lamp for a scene and I fully expect there will be another such story on INLAND EMPIRE's eventual DVD release.

Once again, the setting of INLAND EMPIRE, as in Mulholland Dr., circles Hollywood specifically, much as Lost Highway revolved around Los Angeles. Lynch doesn't seem stuck in the land of dreams you have while you are asleep but in the land of dreammakers: "Stars make dreams, dreams make stars," William H. Macy's announcer says in an out-of-nowhere cameo. Lynch seems lost in Hollywood just as Allen keeps coming back to murder and magic.

Still, despite the tedium and pointlessness, Lynch still has the power to create striking images and moments, particularly using sound, to snap the viewer back to attention. For all the talk I'd heard about particularly muddy images in this film shot on digital video, aside from the opening, I found most of the images to be quite crisp. Just when you're ready to drift into your own thoughts, a room full of women (maybe prostitutes?) start performing Little Eva's "The Locomotion." You hear the familiar sounds of electricity and sparks only to see that in this case it's really a squirt of ketchup.

Dern bravely marches on with her performance, even though it's hard to create a character in a universe of ephemera. When one of her incarnations says that men don't always reveals themselves until later when you learn who they really are, you have to wonder if Lynch is talking about himself.

At one point, Mary Steenburgen wanders into the film and she and Dern both seem puzzled as to why she's there. (In another Woody Allen shoutout, in a bizarre way it reminded me of the black sperm in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid to Ask wondering how he got there.)

Then, there are the rabbits. One of the rabbits, keeps telling another rabbit that she's going to find out. I hope if she does, she tells me.

It's a true disappointment. I loved Mulholland Dr., but there was some sort of coherence lurking beneath the weirdness. My views on Blue Velvet change with each viewing, but I think about it. Wild at Heart really is just a bizarre riff on The Wizard of Oz, but it's fun to recall. I didn't care much for Lost Highway, but I thought about things within it afterward and wouldn't rule out watching it again. Of course, my love of Twin Peaks knows few bounds (Actually, that's not true. Don't care for Fire Walk With Me much).

With INLAND EMPIRE, it evaporates the moment you see it. Little has lingered and my only thoughts have been how you can spend three hours doing essentially nothing. After reading Lynch's book Catching the Big Fish, and learning of his intuitive nature and how he would never do DVD commentaries because he doesn't want to tell people what they've experienced, it's understandable how this lumbering time-waster earned praise. People fill in the blanks with whatever they want. I did the same and my blanks runneth over with boredom and frustration.

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Tell me about the rabbits, David. Inland Empire was the longest and most tedious 3 hours I’ve ever sat through. In fact, it raises the bar on boring, finally topping Tarkovsky’s Solaris. The video camerawork wasn’t the problem. I agree that it looked better than I’d heard. The problem is a complete and utterly solipsistic senselessness. I won’t call it dreamlike. Even dreams make sense as they’re happening. I think I dozed a little during the middle parts. I hope my snoring didn’t bother anyone. I’ve heard some critics say that the darkness lurking around the edges of the frame enabled them to project their own imaginings. I could put myself in a cardboard box that admitted no light and it would be more entertaining and probably more frightening. At least in Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr. there were some kind of logical hooks to follow before those films fucked your mind. Here, save for a few fleeting occasions, there is nothing. Maybe if we could read Dorothy’s last name on the Hollywood walk of fame it would all fit into place and make perfect sense; the key that unlocks the riddle. But if I had to explain what this film is about I’ll just go ahead and spin the wheel and say it’s about David Lynch’s obsession with lamps. Lynch has lost his way here, there’s no longer any connection with an audience. Ouch!
your thoughts here, just reaffirm why i am not interested in watching this film.
I don't want to become the Edward Copeland On Film Philistine (the ECOFilistine), so I'm gonna shut up about how much I hated Inland Empire. Instead, I'll point out with this link that David Lynch is out of his goddamn mind.
I'm still waiting for someone to show up who will defend it, but no one has arrived yet.
Dig it: there's not a riddle to unlock. There's not a secret narrative hiding beneath obfuscating waves of cute non sequitur. INLAND EMPIRE is not in code, it is not a rebus, it's not a game. And neither were LOST HIGHWAY, MULHOLLAND DR. or, really, TWIN PEAKS, though the clue-analyzing, timeline-building, detail-fixated have wasted much ink, screenspace and breath on reducing them to screw-brained Encyclopedia Brown adventures. There's nothing wrong with affinity for narrative film, but when regarding Lynch's films, their resemblance to mystery story traditions can hew your reading - and basic engagement with the movie - if you follow that path too literally. After it is all said and done, did any diligent clue-spotting, flow-chart making TWIN PEAKS fan "figure out" who killed Laura Palmer? Maybe by coincidence, but does that matter? Or is the real question "who was Laura Palmer?" "How could this happen in our town?" "Is evil something you are, or something you do?"

No one can swoop in and make you un-bored with INLAND EMPIRE, of course, but should you ever feel compelled to watch it again, some notes: this is the story of an actress exploring a character, the wrong turns she makes, and boulevards of pleasure and pain that artists traverse. It's very much a film about the creative process, and the special job of actors in particular; how they build a character, from empathy and understanding from their own experience, and then have to live there for awhile. This is the story of INLAND EMPIRE.

What does that do to the Self? What does it do to the artist to plunge into darkness while making a film? Do binary approaches to our "good" and "bad" sides have any real meaning when trying to understand ourselves or others? These are the meditations of INLAND EMPIRE.

Linked spaces. Microcosms and macrocosms. Texture, shapes and light. The difference between power and empowerment, knowing and understanding. The balance of will and surrender. Finding your way. These are the things INLAND EMPIRE is "about".
It doesn't matter to me what it's about. I couldn't tell you really what Mulholland Dr. was about, but I loved it and it held my interest. INLAND EMPIRE did not. It only elicited yawns from me, not interest.
I came out of it longing for the narrative simplicity of DUNE. 'Nuff said (well, by me anyway...).
I have not heard too many people mention the Polish neighbor who shows up at the beginning and end of the film and relates the Polish fable about the evil boy who opens the door and casts reflections; and something about the good? girl.
Laura Dern enters so many doors during the film and receives these reflections. At the end the woman who says silencio at end of Mullholand Dr. says, I think, 'soon.'
Although I do not agree with any one from this blog on the evaluation of INLAND EMPIRE, I think that the person who seems to like it the most--Chris Stangl--is also the one who gives it the greatest disservice by, if you will, "excavating a mountain of its gold and loading it with pyrite!" Interpretation of a work of art is a hollow-out process when the interpreter is digging for content (themes, substance, underlying/latent), rather than assessing and describing the form.

Cory B.
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