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Inland Empire

Inland Empire (2006) - Lynch

The Polish woman

The Set-up? Fading movie star Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) gets a dream job that will catapult her back into the Hollywood firmament; every actress knows there's just something about playing the trashy hooker role that is like catnip for all those wrinkled, old white men who give out the Oscars.

The film quickly ramps up the tension. Immediately, the so called friendly visit from the new neighbor seemed to suggest all those old B movies where a creepy foreign accent was a good indication your next door neighbor---if not actually sharing a direct bloodline with a blood sucker or a lycanthrope---at the very least, had the icky nocturnal hobby of grave robbing. But unlike those old black and white films; Lynch omits the two other staples: the dramatic lighting and scary organ music. He simply uses a convex lens to suggest the horror genre ... that and her ominous gypsy warning. Dern is in the same scene, but she is shot with another lens that places her in a more realistic realm.

Nikki Grace's husband is a major player in the industry and a powerful man but is insanely jealous about the sacred bounds of matrimony. Her new co-star, Devon Berk is a notorious Hollywood lothario. At the table read, the director Kingsley Stewart (Jeremy Irons) tells them he has just discovered the screenplay is a actually a remake from an old German film called Four Seven. The film was never finished and production abandoned because some people were killed. Which of course, is a roundabout way of telling them the actors who originally played their parts were murdered: since on a movie production, everyone is replaceable, except of course, the movie stars.

There's a huge component of the wackiness and make believe of the Hollywood dream factory. The average movie career at the top only lasts about 5 years, so after a brief period of flying high; you begin to drop inch by inch into obscurity. The Inland Empire? And the horrible thing is, the accountants can monitor and track your shrinking commercial value with each disappearing penny. Kingsley Stewart's trusty right hand man, Freddie Howard has trouble making his rent money and he's cadging money covertly from the people on set ... this will be his last job.

At the table read when they crack open the screenplay. Devon quickly turns to Nikki and gushes that she'll be up the task because she's a genius; but the thing of it is, she actually is a great actress. She falls into character almost immediately, and Susie Blue (her character) literally materializes behind them in the darkened sound stage.

The film script is interesting. It already seems to suggest a story with two different time periods: a de Sirkian melodrama in the fifties about a married woman who has an affair, and the contemporary tragedy of Susie Blue. The film was based on an old polish folk tale about marital infidelity, so we can assume---given the time period, it will have unforgiving and have brutal consequences for the woman.

Dislikes? The fudges. If one sat at the kitchen table and stared at the floor tiles, with a little imagination you can make out anything there: from simple geometric shapes; pyramids and rectangles; to objects and maybe even a family of fluffy bunny rabbits trapped in a sit-com. Your mind will seek to order any randomness and chaos quite naturally. So there's enough legitimate similarities and connections in the film to form an synopsis you care to find there. A pointing finger means someone has just been hypnotized. When Dern speaks with a twang, she's Susie Blue in a movie scene. But given the dream logic of the film, Lynch doesn't supply enough information to verify your interpretation.

So. what's it all about?

The short answer ... rather than a haunted house or a serial killer on the loose, the screenplay is haunted.

With film you are creating entire imaginary worlds; breathing life into formless characters and resurrecting them from a page is interesting. But by not completing this process, you're going into the entirely lynchian realm where you leave these characters trapped and suffering in a kind of netherworld. The original actress from the first production created the character: the woman who now remains trapped eternally in room 47. Nikki Grace, with her fearlessness as an actress to go into all the nooks and crannies of this character---however foreboding, succeeds in finding her in that dark labyrinth and secures the film it's happy ending ... well, I gave it a try.

"Inland Empire" easily delivers on the scares and the things that go bump in the night. The sound design is great. With his new digital camera and it's great mobility; Lynch seems as giddy as a beach bum with his learner's permit and a new dune buggy---hot rodding all the way to hell and back again. Laura Dern's face can look movie star gorgeous to trailer trash grim and every variation in between; there are scenes where Lynch allows only the expressions on her face carry the story.

And the ending, in addition to finishing up the film in a wonderfully boisterous and rousing fashion, this suggests yet another lynchian idea: that of a version of the Hollywood actors old folks home where tragic movie heroines, after all their celluloid suffering, attain a kind of grace and come to sip tea (or gin) in the lobby and live on peacefully for all eternity.