What the heck is happening? What the heck is happening?
The question played like a broken record in my head. Watching Inland Empiremade me dizzy with confusion. Even after the movie is over, I was still puzzled. It’s not that I’m surprised; it is a David Lynch movie after all. It’s just that I thought I may have figured out how to unlock his movie. I was totally sucked in by Mulholland Drive, his prior masterpiece. I don’t know why his latest delirium didn’t click and open my mind.
The star of Inland Empire is Laura Dern in a multiple-character role. At one point, she plays Nikki Grace, a married actress about to star in a film rumored to be cursed. The film, titled On High in Blue Tomorrow, is sort-of a remake. The original film didn’t finish production because the lead actors were murdered. Indeed, strange things start to happen when the “remake” is filmed. Nikki thinks it’s uncharacteristic of her to pull such an act. That’s what happens in the movie, not in real life.
But ah, reality begins to imitate art. Maybe Nikki’s character inhabited the actress, instead of the other way around. At least, that’s how I saw it. There’s a brilliantly executed scene where Nikki and Devon ask each other out to dinner. The dialogue doesn’t seem convincing, as if they were being fed scripted lines. I love how they pause between lines, unsure why they say what they say.
David Lynch takes it further and blurs the line between fact and fiction beyond recognition. He screws with your head, intentionally piecing scenes together that do not make sense. Eventually, you give up in figuring out the movie and after that, you even stop working out the individual scenes. The screenplay is that challenging and incoherent. This is a film where a viewer has no sense of control whatsoever. There are so few things to grasp, as you rapidly fall, fall, fall into Lynch’s dark, deep, and scattered fantasy. Think of it as venturing on a dream or a nightmare, but dimmer and more perplexing.
Honestly, I would’ve gone along with the disconcerting ride, if only the movie had been more mesmerizing and absorbing. The film spends too much time in dark passages and poorly-lit rooms. I also couldn’t overlook the crude cinematography, even if I’m well aware the film is a nightmare of sorts. But there are intriguing shots and ideas to behold: the “bunny” people, girly tramps in a dance routine, the attack of beaming flashlights, and a bloody vomit in Hollywood Boulevard. It’s just too bad the film couldn’t hold my attention. Nearing a running time of three hours, it’s too lengthy for its own good. It could’ve gone on and on. I don’t mind getting lost in Inland Empire, but I don’t want to get stuck in it, get stuck in it, get stuck in it for too long.
Laura Dern, Jeremy Irons, Harry Dean Stanton, Justin Theroux, Scott Coffey, Grace Zabriskie, and Diane Ladd
Rated R for language, some violence and sexuality/nudity