Inland Empire

WARNING: overuse of metaphors ahead.

After seeing Mulholland Drive, I declared myself a David Lynch fan. I might have been overly hasty.

Let me explain. Mulholland Drive, like for instance Donnie Darko and to a lesser extent No Country For Old Men, is all about playing with our narrative expectations. From scene to scene the Hollywood style of continuity is obeyed: weird things may happen, but every scene leads to the next one and there seems to be an underlying "sense". However, in the end, they pull out the rug from under us: there is no "sense", there is no solution that will tie up the narrative strands in one neat bow.

(As an aside, this aspect is exactly what I hated about the celebrated Dutch book "the Darkroom of Damocles" by W.F. Hermans, which plays with our expectations in a similar way, but that was five or six years ago. I should reread it)

Inland Empire, in contrast, doesn't even try to fool you that there is any cohesion. It has a certain dream logic between scenes sometimes, true. But in dreams, everything seems logical, doesn't reveal its absurdity until you wake up and look back. In this film, everything is absurd from the get-go. Luckily, since this is Lynch, it's not like listening to someone recounting their dream -which is universally acknowledged to be dreadfully dull - but like being right inside of someone else's dream.

And a strange dream it is. I counted at least three, probably four different representations of Laura Dern's character. The one that fascinated me most is the cursing, crass one who tells her story to the private investigator, but all throughout the film it's great to see Lynch use her face as a canvas, doing anything he can think of with it, using make-up, distortions, and her great performance.

I enjoyed watching Inside Empire, not so much as a film but as an experience. In the end, though, I prefer the more ordered, more formally constructed puzzles. There are scenes featuring rabbits in this film, but I didn't even bother thinking about what they might mean, because I'm almost sure the answer is "nothing": they're probably just there as an idea, an image conceived of in a dream, without any significance. I like thinking of what Chigurh represents because there are so many possible answers, each of which can be defended. In that film, you can try to find the answer that fits the puzzle best, even if you know the puzzle is at best a Möbius strip with missing pieces. However, Inland Empire is like having a handful of pieces from half a dozen puzzles, and even the most dedicated puzzle fanatic wouldn't attempt that. I won't, in any case.

Lynch's subconscious is an intriguing place to dwell for a few hours, and I certainly don't regret my visit. Ultimately, though, this kind of film is too vague for me, too 'floaty', to translate a Dutch term literally, and my logical mind bristles.


Kaj said...

You're right to not attempt to solve this puzzle. In fact, I don't think one should think of this film as some sort of puzzle at all. The word experience is key here. There's no place for a logical mind here, or sense, or any sort of coherent meaning what the film is really about. It's a nightmare, to be experienced, not to be analysed, because that way lies madness. There are no puzzle pieces to be connected.

Personally, I'm not one for abstract art, but Inland Empire blew my mind, despite one too many lingering close-ups of a red lamp. I didn't find it to be that 'floaty' at all, although I can understand why another person might not agree.

If I was to make a list of best scenes like you did just recently, a lot of scenes from this film would make it, like the one with Grace Zabriskie, or the Loco-Motion, or the "death" scene, or the end credits. But I'm not sure this whole experience works as well on the small screen as it does on the big screen, when you can't press pause and go the bathroom or simply look away for a second or just catch a glimpse of the rest of the room in the corners of your eyes.

A completely unrelated sidemark: You should see [i]4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days[/i]. It's a good drama/thriller with a lot of great uncomfortable underlying tension. Not tension like 'what's gonna happen next', but more like 'what will this mean for the characters'.

Hedwig said...

I know that you're not supposed to analyze this...but being a thoroughly analytical and rather logical person, I have a hard time accepting that, I suppose, even when individual scenes - like some of those you mentioned - are great just as they exist.

I'm usually a cinema purist, and I regret not seeing this in the cinema. However Mike makes a good point that seeing this while home alone, without any other people around you to remind you of the real world you're in, has its advantages too. And I at least made sure the setup was good: pitch-black, sitting in a comfy chair with the screen about a meter away, and with the sound over the speakers.

Speaking of the sound: I really thought Lynch abused those low humming sounds here. I know one of the things he's known for is the sound design, but here I found it annoyingly noticeable, and too obviously manipulative. Any thoughts?

Kaj said...

I saw it in a press screening at the big screen in Pand Noord, as one of the few persons on the front row, with no one directly next to me. So, not much of a real world there.

I liked the sound design, I thought it really made parts of the film more intense than they had any right to be. The film wouldn't be as good without it.

On that side note in your blog: I'm not really a man of literature, especially when it comes to Dutch literature. But I loved Damocles, especially because of it's ambiguousness. :)

cjKennedy said...

I'm with you on being an analytical type person Hedwig... which is why I love it when a movie like Inland Empire so thoroughly trashes my ability to analyze that my intellectual defenses are shut down and the movie just washes over me.

I become an open, exposed, movie recepting nerve ending and it rules.

This was my #1 movie last year, yet it's not one of those litmus tests for me. Many people will hate this movie, and that's ok by me. It utterly defies explanation and I'm almost glad I wasn't writing movie reviews back then.

Weird that I just finished using "Möbius strip" in a review and so did you. I wasn't copying, I swear.

Hedwig said...

I suppose I might just not have been in the right mood for Inland Empire when I watched it, or maybe I was just too prepared for the weirdness that was to come. And I might have - yet again - sounded too negative in my review, I liked Inland Empire, just don't expect it in my top 5, certainly not in such a strong year.

One movie that did manage to get past my defenses, like you describe, is a movie that's much less out there. It's eligible for American 2007 lists, in fact, and I've already seen it on one: Les Amants Reguliers/Regular Lovers by Philippe Garrel. I saw it at the Rotterdam film festival in 2006. It's superficially about the same thing as (coincidentally enough) The Dreamers: Paris in 1968. However, it opens with an endless shot of an oddly quiet riot, and after a while you just stop looking for meaning or story and you start just going along with the great black and white images. That receptive, dreamy mood stayed with me throughout the film.

I did see that in a dark cinema, though. So maybe I just missed my shot with Inland Empire.

cjKennedy said...

A darkened movie theater helped with Inland Empire for sure.

But you know, I hope I didn't sound defensive. I'm not one of those jerks who needs everyone to share my opinion or judges everyone who doesn't.

I haven't seen Les Amants Reguliers, but now I think I ought to.

Glad to here you might give Youth a try. You read me right that it's not perfect and it's a bit of a mess at times, but damnit there's something about it...