Director: David Lynch.
Screenplay: David Lynch.
Starring: Laura Dern, Justin Theroux, Jeremy Irons, Harry Dean Stanton, Julia Ormond, Mary Steenburgen, Grace Zabriskie, Peter J. Lucas, Karolina Gruszka, Jan Hencz, Krzysztof Majchrzak, Ian Abercrombie, Jerry Stahl, Diane Ladd, William H. Macy, Jordan Ladd, Kat Turner, Kristen Kerr, Terry Crews, Nastassja Kinski, Scott Coffey, Laura Harring, Naomi Watts.

“I figured one day I’d just wake up and and find out what the hell yesterday was all about. I’m not too keen on thinkin’ about tommorow. And today’s slipping by”

A dream of dark and troubling things” is how Lynch himself described his directorial debut Eraserhead in 1977. It’s fitting then that his first and (so far) last film share similarities with this description. In fact, this is probably the most coherent thing you can take from INLAND EMPIRE (Lynch insists the title is capitalised). Even the marketing executives had no idea how to promote the film and, in the end, decided to punt it with the vaguest of taglines: A woman in trouble. The rest is basically up to the individual viewer. But make no mistake, INLAND EMPIRE lands you squarely in Lynchland. 

Plot: After taking the lead in a new movie “On High in Blue Tomorrow’s“, Hollywood star Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) learns the script was actually filmed once before as a Polish film named “47“. Her director (Jeremy Irons) informs her that the film may have been cursed as it was based on an old Gypsy folktale and led to the murder of its previous actors. Believing this to be true, Nikki’s imagination takes over as she struggles with her own identity and unable to tell the difference between her new role and reality.

Known for his inventiveness and wicked sense of humour, there was a time in Lynch’s career that he adopted a particular approach to his storytelling that involved surrealism and dream logic. These approaches initially featured sparingly but they arguably became more prominent with Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me in 1992 or, to a greater extent, Lost Highway (1997) and Mulholland Drive (2001) with particular attention to symbolism and metamorphosis. INLAND EMPIRE has much in common with the latter two, L.A. Noirs, and as difficult and perplexing as these films were, they still had answers to be found within – with some effort, their puzzles could be solved. INLAND EMPIRE, on the other hand, is a very different beast and probably the most challenging film in Lynch’s oeuvre. I have to put my hands up and admit defeat; I didn’t entirely understand what Lynch was going for here. I have ideas but eventually I had to make peace with the film and just go along with the mystery and the confusion and revel in Lynch’s mastery at mood and composition.

At 3 hours long it’s quite the commitment and demands the utmost concentration. This is an unforgiving film experience that will not accept anything less than a viewers full commitment and if you’re not up for that, then forget it. I’d also add that this is a film that’s strictly for Lynch enthusiasts. Naysayers and doubters need not apply.

Lynch’s decision to shoot in low-grade digital video may put many viewers off and it has often been said that the film isn’t aesthetically pleasing. It can often look grainy and out of focus but, personally, I thought his intention here was a masterstroke. It allows him to utilise his low-lighting mood and gives the film a more personal vibe with the events and characters feeling much more authentic. So much so, that it only adds to what is already a deeply disturbing and unsettling experience.

It’s been admitted by Lynch that he began this movie as an experiment and over the period of three years he would film certain scenes and images before constructing a narrative. Shooting began when he didn’t have a script in place but the more he shot, the more the film grew and his ideas merged into something. Many, if not all, viewers will still wonder what he has came up with as this is a film that’s so abstract and surreal that it could easily be written off as self-indulgent and pretentious. You could also say, that certain scenes and events don’t make sense at all and Lynch is throwing what he can at the screen just to see what sticks. There’s no doubt that it’s a difficult film to determine meaning from but I also find it difficult to accept that it’s accidental. There’s a spiritual and existential angle to the film which may or may not be about our main character being in a state of purgatory and going through some form of spiritual cleansing. There’s a central theme that can just about be grasped but trying to make sense of the Rabbits sitcom (with out-of-synch laugh tracks), the prostitutes dancing The Locomotion or crazy clown faces are just some of the more bizarre inclusions.

The first hour is actually fairly coherent and easy to follow but it’s in the second third that the narrative changes perspective and, quite frankly, baffles the shit the out of you. It’s very difficult to keep up but this is because the time frame and the characters shift and you’re left unsure as to what and whom is doing what and unable to tell the difference between fantasy and reality. At one point Dern even utters the words… “I don’t know what was before or after. I don’t know what happened first and it’s kinda laid a mindfuck on me”. Not only will you identify with this feeling but it’s a reminder on how the film should be viewed. Any chance of piecing the mystery together has to be done by shuffling the events and characters and approaching the film from a non-linear perspective.

Lynch has often toyed with alternate realities, dream states and doppelgänger’s and INLAND EMPIRE feels very much like the evil twin to Mulholland Drive. They share similar themes and commentaries on the nature of Hollywood and stardom but for as dark and disturbing as Mulholland Drive is, INLAND EMPIRE takes it much further. This is a truly horrific and nightmarish depiction of fractured psyche’s and shattered dreams.

Like Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive, Laura Dern is front and centre and delivers an outstanding central performance. This an actress I’ve had a few questions about over time but there really isn’t any fault in her superlative work here. She has to play around with several roles and she’s entirely committed and convincing in all of them. That said, even Dern and the rest of the cast admitted that they had no idea what the film itself is about. Maybe that’s the point. Lynch did, after all, admit that it was an experiment and maybe the fault lies with the viewer for thinking otherwise. In this case, I just accepted the journey as the reward.

One of the most challenging and exhausting films I’ve ever seen. Whether or not you make sense of it, doesn’t take away from the fact that you’ve witnessed an artist at work and been thrust into an intriguing mystery that has the utmost refusal to be solved. If this proves to be Lynch’s last film (and I sincerely hope it’s not) then he bows out with the ultimate head-fuck. Lynch is most definitely an acquired taste and if you don’t like him?… You should acquire some taste.

Mark Walker

Trivia: Despite Lynch claiming he is now done with filmmaking, he did admit to Twin Peaks season 3 being shot like an 18 hour film that just happens to be split into episodes.


18 Responses to “INLAND EMPIRE”

  1. One day, I’m going to have to try this. Heard so much about it, with varying degrees of exasperation toward the film, and know I’d have to commit to it to get through. Thanks for the review, Mark.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s an exhausting film, Michael. I remember liking it when I first it saw many years ago but I understood next to nothing about it. I liked it much more on a revisit and even with that I can’t quite piece it altogether. It’s very complex and the 3 hr running time really takes it out of you. That said, I think it’s a stunning film.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent review Mark. I had actually rewatched Inland Empire a couple of weeks back in a theatrical revival alongside More Things That Happened and all four episodes of Rabbits. In many ways I do think Inland Empire is the ultimate Lynch film, taking the psychotic horror of Twin Peaks and Eraserhead with surreal narrative of Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive to its greatest extent.

    A friend of mine told me she couldn’t get into the movie because she found the blurry cinematography, alongside the cryptic plot, too disorienting to watch, and although I understand her view, the complexity and dreaminess enchants me and gets me lost with the picture. A masterpiece in my opinion.

    Speaking of Twin Peaks, have you caught the new seasons yet? I’ve loved the new episodes thus far, but they remind me more of Inland Empire than the original episodes. I think that is for the better, since Lynch is a much different filmmaker now than he was back in 1990.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Charles, I knew I’d probably hear from you when this post went up. 😉

      I’d agree with you on your first point. This is the film that captures all things Lynchian. Everything he’d been doing over his career seemed to come to a head here. It’s vastly more complex than Mulholland and Lost Highway but does share similar themes.

      I too, get lost in the whole thing and think it’s an absolutely stunning piece of work. The digital video approach really worked for me. It might not have looked as sharp as Lynch’s previous films but it brought its own beauty.

      Yeah, all caught up with the new Twin Peaks. I’m really enjoying it, man. And the first few episodes remind me of Inland Empire too. Very confusing stuff and I don’t know where it’s headed yet but I noticed some of the old TP humour creeping in here and there. It could yet turn out to Lynch’s masterwork.

      Liked by 1 person

      • While I do really the new season of Twin Peaks, I’m surprised Showtime picked it up, since I doubt more casual fans of the show will be able to pick up on the more surreal and experimental narrative style. Yet I’m thrilled that Lynch is working on something new.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s great seeing Lynch do his thing but, yeah, why Showtime green lit it is a big surprise. As odd as the original TP was, this third season is really out there. I ain’t complaining, though. I think it’s marvellous.

        I can’t help but savour it as I’m getting the strongest of hints that it’s the last we may see of Lynch’s work onscreen.

        Liked by 1 person

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  4. One of these days, I’m going to try and watch this film. It’s one I mean to watch, but then other movies come up and I forget. Appreciate your reminder.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Nice review Mark, have you been watching the new Twin Peaks?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Lloyd. It’s a hard film to review as it’s just so darn perplexing. I’m still not entirely sure what it’s all about.

      I have been watching the new Twin Peaks and I’m absolutely loving it. Lynch has chosen a new direction altogether but I think it works wonderfully.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I never watched the show but unfortunately know a lot of what’s coming because I saw Fire Walk With Me years ago late at night. So now I’m watching the original and the new one an episode at a time. I must say one is busier and more high drama but I’m enjoying both. I’m hoping to see Coop return triumphant in the end but that’s not Lynch’s style.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve been a huge fan of the show since the 90’s, Lloyd. Needless to say, I’ve been very excited with the arrival of the new season. It’s certainly a different take on the quirkiness of the first two seasons and more in tune with Fire Walk With Me. Lynch is my favourite director, though, and I trust that he’ll do what he feels is right. I also admire that he doesn’t really care what people think. He never compromises his vision.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I agree with everything you wrote, it’s certainly good to have him back.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s great to have him back. I just hope that he’s here to stay. I don’t think I’m quite ready for Lynch to retire yet.

        Liked by 1 person

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