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Inland Empire


#345 - Inland Empire
David Lynch, 2006



An actress is employed to star in a Hollywood remake of a Polish film that was never finished due to its supposedly cursed nature resulting in the deaths of its leads.

Though that logline might suggest some degree of coherence when it comes to telling a story, it quickly becomes one of many loose plot threads that is swallowed up by the nightmarish pit of cinematic quicksand that is Inland Empire. Running about three hours in length, it shows an incredible disregard for conventionally straightforward narratives even by Lynch's notoriously incomprehensible standards and packs out its running time with all manner of vignettes that barely share the slightest of connections. A lot of it is carried by the type of strong acting ensemble common to your typical Lynch film. Frequent Lynch collaborator Laura Dern proves to be a great protagonist that cycles through a variety of emotions and truly puts her all into a character that is constantly thrust into all sorts of bizarre situations that are tolerable at best and horrifying at worst. There are plenty of good actors scattered throughout the film, but of particular note are Jeremy Irons as a film director, Justin Theroux as Dern's co-star and the inimitable Harry Dean Stanton as a worn-out producer.

Given how much his other films invoke dreamlike states to inspire both wonder and fear, it's not surprisingly that eventually Lynch would just throw caution to the wind and create a film that maintained that same uncertain vibe for a full feature film. His use of incredibly shaky and choppy digital camerawork only adds to the disorienting nature of the film, while the sound design meant that seeing this in a theatre was a thoroughly unsettling and glorious experience. When the film's not looking like an amateur film writ large, it indulges in the sort of sensory abuse that will definitely not endear this film to the sensitive. Flashing lights, harsh drones on the soundtrack, jump scares...they are all used sparingly enough so that I kept expecting every scene to play out like the diner scene from Mulholland Drive. To maintain that level of tension throughout a three-hour film that occasionally veered into Lynch's trademark sense of off-beat humour (often involving some jabs at the filmmaking process) is an amazing feat.

Watching Inland Empire definitely felt like a gamble due to its intimidating reputation and relatively extreme running time, but fortunately it appealed to my sensibilities without necessarily patronising them either. It combines everything that makes Lynch such a distinctive director, and though I don't think it's going to become my favourite Lynch, it's still an extremely impressive experience thanks to its great cast (especially Dern, delivering what might be the best performance of her career) and powerful realisation of Lynch's most idiosyncratic filmmaking talents. Considering how Lynch hasn't directed a feature-length film since this one, one might wonder if he deliberately intended this to be his final proper film. At least that seems to be a more reassuring possibility than the idea that he is working on a film that manages to outdo this one. If I were to see such a film, my brain would probably melt and I might actually be okay with that.