Caution: Spoilers Abound!
Saturday night I finally made my way over to the IFC Center in the West Village to see the highly anticipated Inland Empire, David Lynch’s newest film since the mysteriously amazing Mulholland Drive. The atmosphere in IFC was that of an audience inside a theatre readying themselves to see a play rather than a movie. My friend and I sat inside the café (we arrived forty-five minutes early) and before we knew it, suddenly there was a line to get inside the theatre. We rushed to get in queue.
IFC of course, is not your regular theatre. The people that go to see movies there, presumably, are not your regular movie-goers. Generally, people that go to see David Lynch movies are not regular people, either.
I have to say that the audience was rather chatty during the previews, but once the titles came on, you could have heard a pin drop. I have never, in my entire life, been in a movie-theatre audience that was so quiet and respectful of the film onscreen.
David Lynch is an experience, to say the least. My friends and I refer to him as “the fiber of cinema.” You go see Lynch just like you read Henry James or eat spinach: it’s good for you. Well, not necessarily “good” but in the end, you’ve grown as a person. I have to say that Inland Empire is the least linear film I’ve seen, possibly ever, next to Le Chien Andalou. “But none of Lynch’s films are linear!” you might say. Well, believe me, Inland Empire is the least so.
The film’s tagline is, “A Woman in Trouble,” and damn, is this an understatement. Nikki Grace, played by the ever malleable Laura Dern, is an actress preparing for her next film. In a scene that rivals that of Oedipus Rex, a neighbor comes to congratulate Nikki on her new role, asking if there will be murder, and making various other assertions, “a girl went outside and got lost” and terrifyingly funny facial expressions. This woman turns out to know what she’s talking about, and as Nikki gets further into her film role, and into her co-star, Justin “my perfect man” Theroux, things get ugly. Things get really ugly.
So here’s my take on the whole thing. Lynch is, in my opinion, a feminist. Mulholland Drive attempts to make some sort of commentary about what happens to innocent young actresses when they come to Hollywood expecting to make it big: they turn into lesbian heroin addicts that end up blowing their brains out and rotting where they last laid their heads. Most of these things are motivated by the fact that their very gorgeous actress girlfriends are taken advantage of by their sleazy directors and hearts get broken. It’s a mess, really.
Inland Empire makes some of the same claims. Nikki literally gets lost in an alley way while filming a scene for her movie. Her journey includes a new house with her white trash husband and friends, a gaggle of (prostitute) girls that function as a Greek chorus of sorts, and, of course, there’s the whole other narrative going on about Russian women and the men that beat them.
After Nikki gets stabbed in the chest with a screwdriver by her co-star’s wife (in real life? In the film?) and coughs up more blood than I’ve ever seen anyone cough up in a movie, and dies—she’s seemingly resurrected in that “it’s all a movie” scene where the camera pulls back and she gets up. But, it’s not over yet—this is David Lynch. Nikki does some more wandering, blows the bad guy’s head off, and finds the Russian girl that’s been watching the whole time on a TV with static and sometimes, human sized bunny rabbits. They kiss (again, this is Lynch) and somehow everything’s okay.
I don’t presume to know what any of this means, but I have a feeling it has something to do with Hollywood and acting in general, the idea that you can “lose” yourself in a part. It’s my understanding that the Russian girl is the “part” Nikki’s playing, and in the end, when they finally find each other, and Nikki kisses her, she transfers the part back to the real girl, and then the real girl is reunited with her family and the world is in harmony. Meanwhile, the actress, bloodied and dirtied, returns to her life, changed, but in one piece.
That’s my bit of wisdom.
My friend, the next night, at a party said that she “hated” the movie and felt like it was “just pretentious bullshit.” As much as I’d like to believe that David Lynch is just some dilettante like me, trying to make high art out of a few inventive ideas, I just can’t. I really do believe that he’s functioning on some higher level, and if I spent enough time trying to decode these movies I might actually achieve a solid explanation. But of course, that’s not what his films are meant for. As he said in the introduction to the movie, “I don’t like to explain things. I’ll tell you how the film was made, but what it’s about—that’s for you to figure out.”
After three hours of Laura Dern failing about in torturous agony, I felt like I had been through a war. We headed over to bar, where for a few minutes, being in the company of frat boys felt somewhat comforting. But not for long. And that’s why I love David Lynch.