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    inland empire

    I'm a passionate fan of David Lynch's work, so I was excited when his new film, Inland Empire, finally made it out into theatres. (For a while I feared it wasn't going to make it here: US distributors depressingly took a pass on it, and Lynch ended up having to distributing it himself, another instance for the "why the US film industry sucks" file.)

    But anyway. It got to Chicago and I went to go see it, and I had a great time. It resists being easily written about—Jonathan Rosenbaum's four-star Reader review aptly begins with the line: "David Lynch's first digital video, almost three hours long, resists synopsizing more than anything else he's done"—but I thought I'd jot down a brief record of my impressions here nevertheless.

    It's definitely a companion piece to Mulholland Dr. (2001) and Lost Highway (1997). These three, taken together, are what I think of as Lynch's "California films," and they essentially function as three different riffs on identical thematic material: filmmaking, acting, disjunctive shifts in identity, narrative displacement, power, evil. If you liked those other ones, you'll likely enjoy this one, if you didn't, you won't.

    That said, trying to engage in the game of ordering the films in terms of which are "better" or "worse" than the others is tricky. It's possible, maybe, to say that Mulholland Dr. is a more refined take on the themes than the other two, although I feel, frankly, like the underrated Lost Highway is the most elegantly structured of the three (it's also the one with the shortest running time).

    Certainly, in terms of "elegance," Inland Empire's narrative ranks dead last. It sprawls and drifts and takes indulgent turns and doesn't exactly earn each second of its 172-minute run-time. But that said, it's also the most ambitious take on the themes. Spoilers follow (sort of / not really). If Highway and Mulholland Dr. deal essentially with one person's slippage between two basically distinct ontological states, Inland Empire ups the ante exponentially. First off, it adds characters: there are two other women who Laura Dern seems to switch places with at points, and the "plot" of the movie, such as it is, seems to have recurred to different people in at least three different places and times. (This is an especially effective addition, I feel: the persistence of a particular menacing strangeness as a recurrent pattern through time and space ramps up the feelings of both sinister purpose and inevitability: it takes on the status of the universe trying futilely to work out some particularly diabolical flaw in itself.)

    In addition, the film ups the number of slippages: Dern slips between at least three distinct ontological states (not counting the two people she switches places with that I mentioned above), and she passes through at least four distinct universes: one is essentially recognizable as our own; one is the world of On High in Blue Tomorrows, a film-within-the-film, in which Dern is performing but which seems, at times, to become reality; one is a strange limbo house in which characters seem to reside in a kind of timeless storage (essentially a return of the Black Lodge); and one is a flattened-out sitcom universe (featuring, uh, rabbits). Multiply it all together and you've got, what, something like twenty different alternate worlds jumbling into one another? At $9.75 it's a steal.

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    Monday, February 12, 2007
    10:45 AM


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