14 August 2007 | WriterDave
Dreams of a Dying Empire
Taking the murderous jealous husband theme of "Lost Highway" and melding it into the dreams of a tortured actress theme of "Mulholland Drive," David Lynch fluidly immerses his recurring dark fantasies into a story revolving around a Polish-Gypsy legend and a cursed movie production and delivers his most experimental film since "Eraserhead" with his epic three-hour "Inland Empire."
The most experimental part of this is Lynch's use of a hand-held digital camera to shoot the entire film. While I personally prefer the deep texture of film over the superficial sharpness of digital, much of Lynch's trademarks translate surprisingly well to the new medium. Lynch's hyper manipulation of lighting, fading in and out of absolute darkness, super close-ups, transposing of images over one another, and making some scenes literally dissolve into the next frame, all come across sharp and artistically satisfying. There are points, however, where Lynch so repeatedly shows Laura Dern walking down dark hallways and dimly lit staircases into moody savagely lit rooms decked out with weird lamps that I half expect the director's next project to be a home decor line for the film-noir enthusiast.
There will be those who wish to discuss the plot of "Inland Empire" and insist on figuring it all out. Upon first viewing, I decided to simply enjoy the ride. At three hours, there's lots of filler involving chatty and dancing prostitutes (who play the role of a post-modern Greek chorus and at one point do a rendition of "The Locomotion" that is both horrifying and hilarious), a sitcom staring talking rabbits, and some sort of complex story involving a Polish carnival, while inter-spliced into the madness is a wicked little psychological thriller about an actress who literally gets lost in her new role. The best morsels are the interwoven scenes of Laura Dern (beat-up, harrowing, and with a cool Southern drawl) waxing poetically in monologue fashion about her tragic love life to a man (presumably a therapist) and some beautifully shot scenes that take place on a dark snow-covered street in 19th century Poland that seem to have been exorcised from a completely different and dreadfully thrilling film. Lynch, however, gives many clues for those wanting to dissect the piece: 9:45, room number 47, a magic watch (similar to the ring from "Twin Peaks: FWWM "), the "LB" tattooed on Dern's hand, the letters "AXXONN" appearing repeatedly on walls and doorways, Grace Zabriskie's bizarre telling of an "old tale" when we first meet Laura Dern's character, and perhaps secrets hidden in the dialogue of the prostitutes, the rabbits, and Harry Dean Stanton. The film is so long, and so jumbled, however, that I think it's better to digest it as is, unlike "Mulholland Drive" which was exhilarating to examine "between the scenes."
Lynch, forever in love with Hollywood as a city of dreams, is again master of the disembodied scene. Like Naomi Watt's mesmerizing audition scene in "Mulholland Drive" (which in no small non-ironic way launched Watt's career into the stratosphere) there's a killer line-reading about thirty minutes into the "Inland Empire" where you don't really care what Laura Dern is talking about or what film she is in, it's just you watching her playing an actress getting totally lost in her lines, and it's beautiful. Lynch's masterful juxtapositions of the profane with the profound, light with dark, beauty with pure terror, no matter what non-linear incomprehensible way they are presented, are true cinematic treats to experience for those willing to open their minds to the ocean of possibilities.