Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Outside the Gates of 'INLAND EMPIRE'

There's a moment in David Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE where it seems like the director is sympathizing with his mostly confused audience: one of Laura Dern's characters is telling her story to a silent therapist and says 'I don't know what happened first, and it's kind of laid a mindfuck on me.' This line works on many levels: not only does it describe what the audience is experiencing at this point of the movie, but it also references an oft-quoted description of Lynch's movies: mindfuck. INLAND EMPIRE is so often frustrating and inaccessible that indeed my own mind may have been a victim of a Lynchian fucking -- I could have sworn this Dern line included a remark about not knowing about the future, but a Google search only contained quotes of what I printed above. It doesn't surprise me, as there's so little structure and narrative to INLAND EMPIRE that it's hard to recall the movie as a whole, only individual moments.

While Dern's character experienced a mindfuck, and many of Lynch's movies so enjoyably fuck with the viewer's mind, I can only describe my experience with INLAND EMPIRE as a mind-assgrab: it's only mildly offensive and rarely arousing, and the grabber gains only minimal enjoyment from it. David Lynch said during the making of this film that even he wasn't sure what it was going to be about, but rather 'I have this feeling that because all things are unified, this idea over here in that room will somehow relate to that idea over there in the pink room.' This is rather disconcerting for the viewer, because many movies require deep thinking and multiple viewings -- but if you're not sure there's actually something there, what's the point? In some ways, knowing that Laura Dern wasn't quite sure about the movie's meaning made feel better about not understanding it myself; but it also made me question just why it was made and/or released. Dern's apparent ignorance about the movie also speaks greatly about the actress' ability an d Lynch's talents, because her performance is the highlight of INLAND EMPIRE (and maybe her career).

INLAND EMPIRE is a claustrophobic experience for a viewer, because you have no clue where you are, and no sense of where you're going. I knew going in that it had a 170-minute running time, but I found it difficult to keep track of time during the movie because the scenes jump between delicately slow and maddeningly quick. If there was a redeeming aspect of
INLAND EMPIRE, it's that it physically puts you into a dream-like state -- constantly questioning where you are and what you're seeing. Lots of movies feel like dreams, but this is the only one I can think of that actually feels like a dream (do I have you in la-la land yet?). There are moments where beauty emerges out of bewilderment: a roomful of stunning hookers who transform from gleeful bullshitting to synchronized dance in an instant, an eerie scene on a movie set that hints at a temporal causality loop and the infamous family of rabbits that look somewhat like donkeys. In between these scenes are moments that draw you in because they hint at an actual narrative or plot, and you start to think about where it's going next.

I waited quite awhile before writing this because I wanted to think about the positive opinions I had read. Chris Stangl called it his favorite movie of 2006 and the always-keen Ed Gonzales gave it four stars -- what was I missing? I wanted to chalk it up to the fact that although I enjoy Lynch movies, I have also not seen them all, and some reviews hinted at belonging to a broader narrative that Lynch's movies have been building to. I also usually find myself defending the so-called 'confusing' movies such as Eyes Wide Shut and Syriana, which can sometimes be attributed to viewers not willing to give the effort needed to understand them. With INLAND EMPIRE, I never got the sense that there was something waiting to be discovered, and some of that may be due to the quotes from Lynch and Dern.

Exacerbating this sense is the fact that INLAND EMPIRE is not all that fun to look at. Beyond its digital video medium (which I kind of liked), the main problem is that the film is filled with jarring close-ups and angles which puts you right inside the life of someone you don't really want to meet (a seemingly useless late scene focusing on a grotesque conversation between homeless people is a chief offender of this). The next time Lynch makes a movie, I hope he knows what it's going to be.


Edward Copeland said...

You weren't missing a thing. I finally saw INLAND EMPIRE last weekend and wrote about it. I'm generally a Lynch fun, but I found it to be a long, tedious bore and so far only one commenter has defended it.

Anonymous said...

can anyone tell me where i can get this movie, i want to see it so bad. does someone have a copy they can make me, please i wanna see it bad.