(Apologies in advance for another of these review posts, but I need to practice coz I've been asked to write for a zine that a mate of mine & some people in Coventry are setting up, so I need to practice.)
Finally got round to watching INLAND EMPIRE today. Well, it's something different to do on a Sunday morning isn't it? I've been spending most of the day since trying to work out what I actually think of it. See, on the one hand it seems to be a natural progression from and successor to Lost Highway & Mulholland Drive, on the other hand it seems to be a step backwards to Eraserhead style Lynch. This is what confuses me most about the film, not the fact that it's a confusing head-fuck of a film in itself because that's just to be expected. What confuses me is the question of whether this is an evolution or a devolution for David Lynch.
Stylistically it starts in much the same way as Mulholland Drive did. Actress in Hollywood has some scenes of deliberately awkwardly acted dialogue with seemingly random people. In Lynch films more than any other director, the opening scenes are very much about setting the film up. Not just in the situations of the film, but in the style of the film itself. This is especially true with INLAND EMPIRE due to it being completly filmed in digital, which would make for a very disconcerting first 20 minutes or so, but seeing as the film in general is anyway, this works in his favour. The awkward dialogue, the general narrative that is kept from us so much that it almost seems not to exist, the fact that you have to accomodate to a Lynch film in general makes accomodating to an uncommon style of filming just one more thing to adjust to, and it's easier to do so because of this.
The most laugh out loud hilarious moment comes about 20 minutes in with the butler celebrating some news. Genius, and proof if it were needed, that Lynch does have a sense of humour.
One of the things David Lynch does best is to get you caught up and comfortable/used to his world that he creates and then totally flip it on it's head and leave you thinking "What the fuck?!?!". In this film he does it twice. The main confusion comes in between these two moments as for over an hour and a half this film becomes a collection of what seem to be random scenes with no narative or central structure at all. Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) seems just to go through a dreamworld of scenes and situations and almost randomly come out the other end. This is what's confusing. What is David Lynch trying to do here exactly? Is this an advancement of the two-worlds-coliding themes of Lost Highway & Mulholland Drive, or is it an attempt to return to the simple unknown of Eraserhead? Even then though, at least Eraserhead had an obvious structure to it, but then maybe that's the point. Maybe we're simply supposed to be experiencing this unknown world as Nikki is herself, as confused and unsure as she is, and as she starts to accept her surroundings and become part of it, we get caught up in this bizarre otherworld and stop questioning it, choosing instead to simply go along for the ride. It was only after the film had finished that I started to question it.
This may be redundant writing anyway. With Mulholland Drive I found that after repeated viewings I started to understand what was going on, as more details fit into place and things I had missed or not understood the significance of the first time round became apparent. The striking thing is that although INLAND EMPIRE is very much a David Lynch film, it is in a way very different to his other films in that he hasn't really taken us on quite that much of a random headfuck journey before. There's always been a clear sense of plot progression which there really doesn't seem to be with this film. In many ways it seems to be a work of art rather than a film. Is that the point? Are we not even necessarily supposed to be able to follow it? Is it deliberatly pushing aside the main ideas of what a film is and is instead a work of pure artistic expression?
Maybe the fact that INLAND EMPIRE leaves us with a lot more fundamental questions than any of his other films is proof that this is an evolutionary step for David Lynch. Maybe that's the whole point. Whatever the answers are there are 2 things that are made very clear.
1. David Lynch absolutely loves digital film. You get the sense watching this that his vision of INLAND EMPIRE would not have been as fulfilled with old style film. The fluidity and length of the film (There is no way he would have been able to make this a 3 hour film if it weren't for digital. The time it would have taken to set up and film would have been ridiculous.) alone seem to testify to that.
2. Laura Dern is an excellent actress. She handles everything thrown at her and totally makes the films bizarre situations human and believable.
Right. Sorry about that.