Yesterday I went into Manhattan to go see David Lynch’s new movie INLAND EMPIRE. He’s self-released it, so it’s only in a few American theatres and only for a short time.
It’s an extremely satisfying movie, although not easy to sit through. I saw it described somewhere as a book end to Mulholland Drive, which I still think is his masterpiece and one of my all-time favorite movies.
It’s hard to compare the new one with that movie, as it’s a very different story (or set of stories), and a completely different visual style, not the least of which is due to its being shot on a consumer-level digital video camera rather than on film. For example, I realized after I walked out of the theatre that with the exception of the first few minutes of the movie and the closing credits, there was virtually no natural light during the other three or so hours. It’s 90% shot in underlit interiors or night time exterior scenes. The other 10% is overexposed daylight exteriors. Like his other movies, sound, music and strong color choices all contribute to an effective whole. Who else can use these elements to so effectively make something as innocuous as a bedroom lamp seem menacing?
The story (or interwoven stories) includes a range of locales, events and themes, many of them carryovers from other Lynch works: a cursed film remake; Polish Gypsies, curses and underworld figures; the seamy underbelly of Hollywood; street people; anachronistic elements, such as a 30s radio announcer; doors, alleys and stairways to other worlds; and a banal sitcom starring anthropomorphic rabbits. At the center of it all is a woman (several women, actually) who is in big, big trouble.
Lynch also knows how to get good performances out of his actors. Laura Dern was astonishing, morphing into four (five?) distinct characters. And, although she’s in almost every shot, she doesn’t even have any lines in the last 45 or so minutes of the movie, but you can’t take your eyes off of her. I’d like to see Julia Roberts pull that off.
I won’t give any spoilers, but I will say that what made the movie hard to sit through was its relentlous feeling of dread. The entire movie is an extended nightmare, with Dern’s situation going from bad to worse. And you’re right alongside her during her ordeal, and the way she is directed, we are empathetic participants, wanting to reach into the screen and help her, not passive voyeurs to the spectacle.
He’s also used some of his most frightening imagery in this movie, using distorted visuals to achieve a painterly effect not unlike Francis Bacon paintings (he has cited Bacon as an influence). One frame contains a shocking, distorted image of Dern’s face that will haunt many viewers.
Anyway, there’s my highbrow review. I eagerly await Lynch’s movies because I enjoy getting lost in his strange world every few years, so I was glad to be able to catch this one in the theatre rather than having to rely on DVD to see it. He’s also one of the few directors I can think of who so fully exploits and combines sound design and music with visuals.
Here are some favorite David Lynch quotes — and one reason why I’ve stopped believing that his movies have some secret “key” to unlocking what they supposedly really mean. I do believe him when he says that they are to be experienced not unlike you experience a piece of abstract art, with your interpretation unfolding however it does (and no single interpretation being the ‘right’ one). That doesn’t necessarily mean that his films make no sense. They can, but the sense they make is more a process of realizing how the recursive narratives and overlapping/morphing characters fit together into a larger thematic structure, and not so much about making linear sense of everything and everyone.
I don’t think that people accept the fact that life doesn’t make sense. I think it makes people terribly uncomfortable.
I love child things because there’s so much mystery when you’re a child. When you’re a child, something as simple as a tree doesn’t make sense. You see it in the distance and it looks small, but as you go closer, it seems to grow — you haven’t got a handle on the rules when you’re a child. We think we understand the rules when we become adults but what we really experienced is a narrowing of the imagination.
– David Lynch