“What time is it?”: ‘Inland Empire’ Review

Posted in Screening Room by - February 02, 2018
“What time is it?”: ‘Inland Empire’ Review

Inland Empire bears a lot of the classic David Lynch trademarks; including the dream sequences, abstract surrealism, and a multi-layered narrative that is very noir-y but unfortunately, in this case, it is too much of those elements in one. Shot after his critically acclaimed Mulholland Dr. and featuring a mysterious story about, as the slogan of the film indicates, a woman in trouble this is Lynch at his most unhinged and nightmarish since probably Eraserhead but at the same time it also feels like all those ideas never gels together for something special or memorable despite an incredible performance by longtime Lynch regular, Laura Dern.

Its main story concerns an actress in Hollywood that begins to notice that things start happening as soon as she gets deeper and deeper into her role and character and by things happening I mean that it gets progressively weirder and weirder. That’s about as much of a basic idea of what Inland Empire is about because a lot of the film, I would say the majority, is concerned with throwing plot out the window and letting you experience Nikki’s nightmarish descent into madness as a relentlessly surreal environment that always blurs the line between what is real and what is a dream. Lynch has always been interested in dreams and how cinema can be a great outlet for exploring how dreams affect characters and places but whereas the dreams have a direct effect on the characters in something like Mulholland or Lost Highway in Inland Empire it just feels very superficial to what’s happening and not something that is concerned at all with exploring character. It never achieves the same level of emotional impact that he’s had in something like Blue Velvet or even Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.

On a purely technical level the way that Inland Empire is shot and composed, Lynch shot it himself, and while there’s a rebellious nature in the way that it looks, it just detracts from the overall experience. Because so much of the film is based on visuals, Lynch’s films since Eraserhead have looked breathtaking and beautiful, but with Inland Empire, the rawness of the digital video doesn’t stack up against the immaculately composed framing of something like The Elephant Man or Mulholland. Inland Empire is the pure creation, and a madly ambitious effort from Lynch that even it doesn’t quite stick the landing is an admirable yet frustrating experience. One has to admire the audacity to make so much of the film completely his own to the point that he’s also the editor, co-composer, and writer.  Even with its large ensemble cast that includes Jeremy Irons, Justin Theroux, Diane Ladd and many more Inland Empire is a fascinating experiment that is nonetheless incredibly frustrating.

Inland Empire has sequences that rank as some of Lynch’s most surreal and frightening visuals, but it also has a jarring visual style, a sequence involving rabbits that is genius, a borderline abstract and overly complicated plot and a mesmerizing performance from Laura Dern that is award worthy. Frustrating yet daring Inland Empire is purely for Lynch aficionados.

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He is an avid movie fan and loves to write about movies perhaps a little too much. He also considers Casino Royale to be the best James Bond film ever made and he's ready to defend at any moment.

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