Mentally exhausted is the first word to comes to mind to describe my state of being at the moment. I just finished my first David Lynch film for this blog, and it was a bit of a doozy. I’m a big fan of David Lynch and his movies, as I’ve stated countless times on this blog. Mulholland Drive was simply one of the best films of the 2000’s much like Blue Velvet was for the 1980’s. There are few (if any) directors on Earth who are capable of combining sheer mind screw and non-linear storytelling into such grandiose pieces of art as David Lynch. His debut picture, Eraserhead, still remains (even with its bare semblance of a plot) one of the most disturbing and artful films that I’ve ever seen. I just finished his most recent film, 2006’s Inland Empire, and it is by far the most difficult of Lynch’s films to watch because the viewer will spend three hours on a psychological roller-coaster ride through the disturbing mind of David Lynch and not get much in the way of plot to ease the travels. While it is not for everyone (or even 90% of people), if you can make this journey, it will be worth the trip.
It is an exercise in futility to try and explain the plot of Inland Empire as it is quite secondary to the style, themes, and imagery of the film, but here goes. Laura Dern plays married actress Nikki Grace who has been cast as the lead actress in the newest film of director Kingsley (Jeremy Irons). Her co-star is the rakish Deven (Justin Theroux). Nikki ends up sleeping with Deven but you are unable to tell if this is part of the film or really happening (or all in Nikki’s mind). While the film starts out with plenty of weirdness, at the end of the first act, one just has to give up on the whole grasping the film thing and just go along for the ride because trying to keep up with the psychological head trip that is the film will just cause the viewer to have an aneurysm.
As always, Lynch’s camerawork is superb. This is the first Lynch film I’ve reviewed for this blog, but I’ve seen plenty of his movies before this. Having seen a couple of Federico Fellini’s pictures sine this blog began, I was struck with an incredible bit of awe in just how Fellini-esque Lynch can be at times. While Lynch is undoubtedly one of the most unique and original brains in the industry, I can definitely see more of his inspirations now that my knowledge of cinema has grown. Much of the camera work is meant to be disorienting to add to the viewers level of confusion from the already fuzzy plot, and it works marvelously. Not only is the camera work intentionally disorienting and all over the place, it can be extremely terrifying. Not since Eraserhead has a film disturbed me on such a deep and confusingly unexplainable level. The mind of David Lynch is not a place that I would wish to stay for too long, and Inland Empire drops you straight into his subconscious for three hours of pure bewilderment and terror.
Laura Dern is simply stellar in this role. I’d be willing to go ahead and say that this is the second best female performance on this blog, only trailing Natalie Portman in Black Swan. By playing an actress that I believe gets intensely caught up in her own role with a steadily declining mental state, Laura Dern channels so many different levels of emotion and energy that it’s a wonder she didn’t end up like her character, Nikki. Dern plays around four or five distinct roles in the film, which are all unique and vastly different creations. Yet she brings more talent and character to each of those parts, then most actresses can give to characters who have stories that make sense. While I thought she had done a good job in Blue Velvet, I was not prepared for her acting tour-de-force in this role. It’s a sin she wasn’t at least nominated for an Oscar for this part. It’s easily her finest.
David Lynch is notorious for refusing to offer explanations for his films. He wishes to simply let them stand on their own merits and doesn’t want to detract from the viewer’s pleasure of extracting their own meanings from the films. So, any time someone tries to analyze and state definitively what a Lynch film is about, they are basically full of shit. Even though I felt Mulholland Drive was fairly straight forward, my own interpretation of the film is simply that. It’s my opinion. I believe that Inland Empire is about an actress with an already fragile mental state who simply loses all grips on reality when she accepts the film role that ultimately consumes her. Very much in the vein of Mulholland Drive and especially Lost Highway, it’s an incredibly psychological and distinctly dream-like journey through Nikki’s conscious. David Lynch wrote the film as they were shooting it. So, while the beginning scenes were being shot, he didn’t necessarily know where the film would go next. This lends the film its ethereal and dream-like structure which makes it so incredibly unique.
Most films are like popcorn. You watch them, and fifteen minutes later they’re gone. The best films are different. Long after they’re over, you will spend hours and hours analyzing them in your head and trying to make sense of what you just saw. While David Lynch practically forces you to spend hours analyzing his films because he’s never going to explain them for you, mind screw isn’t the only way to achieve this goal. However, David Lynch turned mind screw into an art form that he is the undisputed master of. This should not be the first David Lynch film you watch. Start with Blue Velvet and then go to Mulholland Drive. You can then watch this, Eraserhead, or Lost Highway in any particular order you prefer. However, you need an entry level course in the craziness that is David Lynch before you can even begin to approach this film. If you need films with sane plots and things like resolution or climaxes, this is not for you. However, if you have even the slightest appreciation of art-house cinema and are familiar with the works of David Lynch, this is must watch.
Final Score: A