Stars: Laura Dern, Justin Theroux, Jeremy Irons
Admittance to Lynch fans only
I remember when I watched Inland Empire for the first time. You could say that I was something of a David Lynch virgin as I had only seen The Elephant Man, Wild At Heart and Mulholland Drive. I have since devoured everything and anything he’s put his hands on from his earliest short film, Six Men Getting Sick to his bizarre animated series, Dumbland. Inland Empire is definitely jumping into the deep end though if you’ve only seen a handful of Lynch’s stuff, so I was either going to sink or swim. Luckily for me I sat there completely spellbound throughout the hefty 180 minute acid trip and was left completely shaken by what I had just seen. It was the film which turned me from a fan and into a super-fan.
This isn’t the normal reaction to Inland Empire though. Even the most die-hard Lynch fans find massive fault with it and I can completely understand this viewpoint. This is a film which defies description. Some people liken it to David Lynch shooting random crap on a cheap digital camcorder, but I think it’s important to approach the film as you would with a piece of art or music. It’s a feeling and you either get it or you don’t. I could write an essay about how Cher’s ‘Believe’ is the best song of all time but if you hear it and don’t like it then nothing’s going to change your mind. Inland Empire is not something you can casually stick on and watch whilst playing on your phone, it’s a film which requires your absolute fullest attention. Your eyes can’t afford to leave the screen otherwise the magic will be ruined. Forget everything you know about coherent plots and movies, this is something which you have to truly immerse yourself and get lost in.
It has that lucid dream-like quality to it just like Mulholland Dr, but this time even more so. If Mulholland Drive was a dream captured on camera, then Inland Empire is a full-blown nightmare. It made me feel as if I was turning insane (in a good way). If David Lynch aimed to get his audience in the same twisted mind-set as his protagonist then he certainly succeeded. The film was a total mind funk from start to finish. I have never taken drugs before, but this is what I would imagine a ‘bad trip’ feels like. It’s exactly like experiencing a dream because dreams feel like they’re going on forever when you’re in them, yet when you wake up you can only remember bits and pieces. Inland Empire is three hours long and yet I find it difficult to recall most scenes. It feels like it’s going on forever when you’re watching it and not long at all, all at the same time. It’s the closest you will ever come to experiencing a dream whilst awake.
You could argue that Inland Empire does lack a strong plot. Whilst Mulholland Drive by no means has a coherent and linear narrative, there is still a strong sense of a plot and a lot of it is open to deep analysis and interpretation. However, Inland Empire will have you utterly bemused right from the black and white opening which sees a blurred-faced Polish girl interacting in a hotel room. That’s not to say that there is no plot though, I just wouldn’t worry about it too much on the first viewing, just go with the flow and let the madness wash over you. It somehow manages to be grossly unwatchable, yet utterly hypnotic. I remember first watching the film and thinking that this is either the worst film of all time, or the greatest.
Most people don’t class Inland Empire as a horror film, however it’s one of the very scariest films I have ever seen and I don’t scare easily! The look of the film is very early Lars Von Trier, as it was shot on a digital camera, which adds a very raw and real edge to the film. It feels like you’re experiencing a nightmare first-hand. There are some very claustrophobic moments where the camera is right up to the actor’s face and some moments which will chill you to the core. If you jumped at the Winkie’s Diner scene in Mulholland Drive then wait until you see Laura Dern’s face in this (no offence to Laura, you’ll see what I mean).
Talking of Laura Dern, what a performance she gives in this! If the film was more accessible then people would be calling this a performance for the ages and she would’ve rightly won the Academy Award. It’s also important to note that Dern wasn’t even given a complete script so she was as in the dark as us in regards to what the heck is going on. David would write the film as the shoot was going on and give Laura a freshly written page of script each day. I’d also like to mention the extraordinary music used in the film which adds the unsettling atmosphere. Composed by Marek Zebrowski and Lynch himself, some of it is reminiscent of The Shining and a piece of music from The Shining is even used at one point which is delightful.
If you’re going to watch Inland Empire then it’s important to do it right. Set aside three hours at night time and make sure there are zero distractions. Put your kids and partner to bed, make sure you’re comfortable and switch your phone off. Make sure you have a sizable TV with good sound, pop in the disc, press play and do not take your eyes off the screen. If you follow these tips then you should find yourself feeling lost in a nightmarish labyrinth that will seemingly never end. It’s not always a pleasant experience, but it’s certainly like nothing you’ll ever see again. In some ways, Inland Empire is the epitome of David Lynch’s gorgeous filmography.