A Wicked Dream that Seizes the Heart
How do you review someone else’s bad dream? One Sunday morning at the New York Film Festival, insomniacs and hardcore cinephiles assembled to see David Lynch’s first movie in five years. His latest plumbing of the unconscious is three hours long and his first to be shot on digital video, but not the first featuring Laura Dern (Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart), shifting identities, and creepy characters doing truly creepy things. There's a spooky Russian neighbor who mumbles veiled threats into the fish eye lens, and then William H. Macy announces: “Hollywood, California, where stars make dreams and dreams make stars!”
David Lynch and Laura Dern on the set of Inland Empire© Studio Canal
The movies that made Lynch a star featured healthy helpings of weirdness, but they were usually couched in a solid, discernible narrative. INLAND EMPIRE (Lynch insists on an the all-caps spelling) barely gestures in the direction of an obvious story--Justin Theroux and Jeremy Irons deliver some hesitant exposition about a movie with a history of murder, but before you can quite get your head around the premise, things get much weirder than even the delirious third act of Mulholland Drive: a suburban BBQ party is overrun by Eastern European carnies, a Kafkaesque interrogator listens to Laura Dern’s curse-word peppered confessions, a gaggle of hookers dances the locomotion, and blood is vomited up on the Walk of Fame.
INLAND EMPIRE is so Lynchian that it often appears to veer into self-parody, but somehow this works for the movie; like the unmotivated laugh track of the recurring sitcom where everybody wears a rabbit mask, the audience can never be quite sure what's meant as a joke and what's dead serious. INLAND EMPIRE is in turn maddeningly absurd, haunting, and bizzarely funny (such as Harry Dean Stanton's monologue about his "damn landlord.")
Some of the shivers are all too real, and I'll admit that the film contained moments of subconscious recognition that frightened me to the core. At the end of INLAND EMPIRE, prostitutes lip-synch Nina Simone’s “Sinner Man” while a pet monkey frolicks and a man in a red wool cap saws a log. I have no idea what it means, but I'm glad that as unique a visionary as Lynch can still get funding (in Europe) to make exactly the movie he wants. A fertile and overwhelming work of art.