David Lynch’s latest film, Inland Empire
, ranks among his finest cinematic achievements. Lynch made the decision not to compromise his vision at considerable cost to popularity and public appeal. His earlier films such as 1986's Blue Velvet
and 1990’s Wild at Heart
demonstrated a willingness to entertain, as did his simultaneous television venture Twin Peaks
, but then something happened.
A Jungian analyst friend of mine attended a two day (eight hours per day) seminar discussing Blue Velvet. They ran out of time.
As Lynch turned Twin Peaks over to other writers and directors, it deteriorated and ended. Lynch turned around the time he produced the 1992 Twin Peaks prequel, Fire Walk with Me
, the last Lynch film a viewer could watch with a regular lens.
By 1997, Lynch had broken from the bonds of established film making and entered new terrain, producing Lost Highway
to shed darkness from a new angle of fragmented references and disjointed scenes. His audience dwindled dramatically, and he didn’t care.
Lynch then turned his new instrument on Hollywood itself. Instead of the insects raging beneath the bright green grass and white picket fences of Lumberton in BV, we tear under the glitzy fabric of the film industry in Mulholland Drive
, clearly a thematic prequel and appetizer before the masterpiece, Inland Empire.
A seasoned practitioner with decades of transcendental meditation, Lynch has ventured into terrain few traverse. TP featured a forest with a gateway marked by a circle of Sycamore trees leading to a different reality. LH radicalized the fragmentation and MD created a recursive loop, pointing the camera at a mirror, showing a camera looking into a mirror showing a camera looking into a mirror, "Now it’s dark."
Inland Empire raises the bar by factors impossible to express with mathematics, a multi-dimensional leap to the brilliant construct of a film about a film about a woman watching a film about two films about actors in a film where the viewer must distinguish which film is being watched as a psychological onion of an actress is peeled away layer after layer during a descent into blurring boundaries and an eroding concept of self, self-respect, and dignity.
David Lynch knows borders and boundaries, and Inland Empire allows a viewer to literally experience the erasure of borders between competing realities that reminds some of us of a place few people go
where high octane psycho-spiritual states produce thoughts, emotions, and sensations that function by different rules. In such a place and state, what answers the question, "Who am I?"
IE is a film about the collapse of private space, the disintegration of the psychological boundary between what is inside of us (thoughts/feelings/personality) that we keep private and what we make available, i.e. observable to others. In a psycho-verse without such boundaries, where all see everything about all, any intentional communication would be utterly meaningless. But all is not black and white, and the transition involves a journey for main character Sue (or is it Nikki?) as her consciousness is de-territorialized.
Too important to leave less than perfectly clear, I risk over-explaining with the notion of sitting in an audience before a stand up comedian. With 100 people in the audience, everyone laughs, and you are invisible. Drop to 10 in the audience. Now imagine yourself as the only watcher. Different for both performer and audience, no? Now, extend this direction to where everything about the comedian, thoughts, feelings, fantasies, secrets, are laid bare before you, and your thoughts, feelings, fantasies are equally bare before the comedian. Now, put the 100 people back, everyone laid just as bare.
The film begins with a Polish woman prostituting herself in a hotel, saying, "Where am I? I’m afraid. I’m afraid."
The man gone, she sits crying in bed, watching a television, the first of many gateways into other realities. Down the rabbit hole she goes to the transcendent Rabbitverse above multiple realities in a 60’s style sit-com stage with a laughing audience.
One of the rabbits hears something, and rises to see Powerful Polish man approached by Polish Filmmaker, seeking "an opening."
We enter the show within a show as famous actress Nikki Grace receives a visit from an interesting and apparently very informed neighbor who tells a tale, A little boy went out to play, when he opened his door he saw the world. As he passed through the doorway, he caused a reflection. Evil was born. Evil was born, and followed the boy.
Another version: A little girl went off to play, lost in the marketplace, as if half born. Then, not through the marketplace you see that don’t you, but through the act behind the marketplace. This is the way to the past.
The market place. Marketing what? What does an actress market? As she acts before the camera, what product is she providing? Tits and ass? Is that all? Not in any cinema worth watching. In a smarter world, Laura Dern would have won an Academy Award for delivering one of the finest performances in the history of cinema. She is that good. Actually, she is better than that good.
I suppose if it was 9:45, I think it was after midnight.
If was tomorrow, you wouldn’t even remember that you owe on an unpaid bill. If it was tomorrow, you would be sitting over there.
The journey begins.
Someone just got a part. Don’t be so sure who.
Jeremy Irons is terrific as the director, "This world we’re about to plunge into."
The film within the film, On High in Blue Tommorrows
, written by Lawrence Ashton, stars Nikki Grace as Susan and Devon Burke as Billy, but what we see on the screen blurs dramatically and effectively to where we find ourselves unclear what we are watching.
In Blue Tomorrows
, Susan and Billy have a steamy affair. What happens when actors and actresses get into their roles day after day? The feelings emoted for the camera have no residue? What character or integrity keeps the border intact? What is a border, anyway? Most dictionaries will tell you a border is the edge or boundary of something.
Nikki and Devlon meet with the director and sidekick Harry Dean Stanton (marvelous as always, a terrific artist) and read scene 35 (anything but meaningless), "Are you crying?"
"Are you sorry about last night?"
"Why are you crying?"
"I'm sorry, Billy. I'm so sorry. Oh, shit."
After an interruption, "What was that?" we learn On High in Blue Tomorrows
has a history. It’s a remake of an earlier film that was started but never finished. Based on a Polish gypsy folk tale with the German title "Vier Sieben" (German for "four seven"), the earlier film encountered trouble. Something happened before the film was finished. The director reveals to the two leads, "Well, they discovered something inside the story." The two leads were murdered
They discovered something inside the story?
Lynch takes IE into terrain perhaps new to cinema, a film aware that it is being watched, a film with an inherent grasp of the distinction between being watched in a theatre with many others, at home with a few, or alone. Watching the film with another individual makes one's skin crawl. Out of no where, we watch a short scene where a woman with a screwdriver stabbed under her skin confesses she has been hypnotized to kill someone.
Critics of the film that regard the first 50 minutes as the best see positively nothing. Up until the first real snap, the film (while odd) flows more or less like a regular film until Nikki, while filming a scene, breaks with a disturbing exclamation and smile, "Damn! This sounds like dialog from our script!"
The director yells, "What the bloody hell is going on?" and it's time to fasten the cerebral seat belt, or unfasten it. The adultery occurs, and at this point Lynch kicks in the afterburners and pushes the throttle forward of what is forward of forward.
Look at us and tell us if you’ve known us before.
There was this man I once knew.
Oh, shit, indeed. A prostitute announces, "This is the street."
Now IE rips reality and distills the border before the woman in the hotel in exquisite material that puts Nikki on top of herself looking simultaneously down and up. She has rung the bell that cannot be un-rung, and suddenly we find her with a new accent, pregnant, and poor. Who is this person putting on a watch and burning a cigarette through the space time fabric of reality? Are we watching Nikki, Susan, or someone else, and another border is crossed into the Polish world of 47
where the leads were murdered. What time is it?
Now, the woman in the hotel sees 47, Blue Tomorrows
, and the Rabbitverse. Still crying, she sees all except us as we watch her watch.
the lives of the actors merged with the lives the characters, both paths on screen and off leading to murder. The nature of the script puts two realities on a collision course, and we watch Nikki (or is it Sue, or is it someone else?) spiral down the space inside both circles. Oh, wait. Is Nikki, the rich, famous actress, real? Who is playing whom? Perhaps Nikki is merely an illusion, a famous actress envisioned by the imagination of a not so famous actress with a far less powerful husband, one who is good with animals.
Now the labyrinth begins as a fragmented psyche navigates the psycho-verse beneath the Rabbitverse. We see a Rabbit take a seat at a desk just before Sue enters a red curtained gateway (reminiscent of TP's gateway to the Black Lodge) and emerges as a foul speaking character (who is certainly NOT Nikki, who doesn't like such talk.) who visits AXXONN man (probably the Rabbit). Let's call her "poor Nikki", and whoever she is, she hasn't had the best of luck, "The ambulance guys, they say, 'What the fuck happened here?' I say, 'He come to a reapin' what he been sowin', that's what.' They say, 'Fucker's been sowing some heavy kinda shit.'"
Poor Nikki tells her infertile Polish husband that she is pregnant (oh, great) and continues to live with him while Sue hangs out with prostitutes but from a distance, observing them as the end of the path she finds herself walking, while poor Nikki tells the AXXONN man about her tragic life of losing a son, infidelity, and violence.
Illuminated by candles, an apparently 47 related Polish woman prays, "Cast out this wicked dream that has seized my heart." and we enter the 47 Poland street to hear a scream and see a murdered woman, apparently the actress of that film.
Poor Nikki finds out violently that her husband cannot have children. He beats her and leaves for the circus. Among these circus people is a man called "Crimp," able to hypnotize others against their will.
Through a studio doorway and clearly on a Blue Tomorrows
set, a very disoriented Sue confronts Billy, "Something's wrong, bad and wrong!"
The family in the opulent mansion is shocked. Sue asks, "Do you love me?" and we see that screwdriver lady plays Billy's wife in Blue Tomorrows
A disoriented woman visits poor Nikki asking for the man who "lives here" and talked about an unpaid bill that needs paying. She notes that person living next door is "Crimp." Poor Nikki visits Crimp's trailer. He emerges, a light bulb in his mouth. Intimidated, she picks up a screwdriver and retreats.
Sue passes through yet another portal onto the modern Hollywood streets. She looks at the prostitutes and laughs, "I'm a whore," and then mocking the Polish woman in the very first scene, she ridicules, "Where am I? I'm afraid!!" and laughs before becoming frightened. We jump to 47
, the Polish actress approaching Polish whores, "Hey, look at me, and tell me if you've known me before."
The whores ridicule her with laughter.
Poor Nikki continues to crash on the Hollywood streets, "Someone's going to fucking kill me."
She enters through the red curtain portal again to see Axxonn man, "I don't know what happened first, and it's kinda laying a mind fuck on me."
I figured one day I'd just wake up and find out out what the hell yesterday was all about. I'm not too keen on thinking about tomorrow, and today's slipping by."
After my son died, I went into a bad time. When I was watching everything go around me like I was standing in the middle, watching it like in a dark theater before they bring the lights up. I'm sitting there, wondering, how can this be?"
Sue leaves Axxonn and is stabbed in front of the prostitutes, who run screaming. Mortally wounded, she collapses on a Hollywood sidewalk between a homeless black woman and a Chinese woman with her boyfriend. The black lady notes, "You're dying, lady."
The Chinese woman relates the tale of Niko, a movie star wannabe who looks beautiful in her blonde wig, but she ends up on hard drugs and turning tricks until sustaining fatal "female" injuries, dying a penniless prostitute. Sue dies on the street as the homeless people watch. The black lady lights a lighter before Sue's face, "No more blue tomorrows" as she dies. Then the image draws back to reveal cameras, informing us we have been watching not IE, but Blue Tomorrows
. The other performers rise quickly, but the "dead" Sue, Nikki Grace, rises very slowly, and something is wrong.
The director chases after her, "You were wonderful."
She exits the studio into the television of the crying watcher and then enters a theater, seeing herself on the screen as the woman in Axxonn. She sees Axxonn man to her right and follows him up the stairs. She does not find him, but she finds a pistol and picks it up. She re-enters the labyrinth to encounter "Crimp" as if seeking, expecting him. She finds herself standing before a wooden door. On it are the numbers, "47" in gold.
Crimp comes at her. She shoots him repeatedly and he falls. She enters door 47 and shuts it behind her, now in the Rabbitverse and able to enter not only the television, but the room of the crying watcher. They hug. Sue evaporates, and the crying watcher leaves room 205 to join her husband and son.
Disheveled, tattered, but psychologically victorious and intact, Sue/Nikki stands on the Rabbit stage as the audience cheers.
Prostituting oneself does not have to involve sex. Both genders commit the act daily, and we have lots to sell besides our bodies. In the course of each day, many have opportunities to sell out. We back stab a friend. We betray a trust. We take advantage of another's weakness and justify ourselves. Inland Empire
cuts to the bone of selling out and the bankruptcy typically involved. Bought and sold politicians may have money and like to think of themselves as powerful, but what are they? Would you want to be Tom Delay? Would you like your son or daughter to have been the one that used the campaign tactics of Karl Rove? When one sells one's soul, the check obtained has a way of bouncing.
Laura Dern's final shot shows her looking at a triumphant version of herself, sitting contently in a blue dress, her dignity intact. Trust me, I would not invest what it took to write this entry if it did not have a lot to say.
The film ends with the one-legged woman who may or may not have killed someone when she was fifteen. She walks through the lobby of a fancy theater, looks around and remarks: