The City of Absurdity   INLAND EMPIRE


Inspired and incomprehensible, a Russian doll of a film

By Geoffrey Macnab, The Guardian, September 7, 2006

David Lynch's latest opus is a Russian doll of a film with stories inside stories inside stories. But coming in at three hours long, made in Poland and Hollywood, the digitally-shot film is inspired and incomprehensible by turns.

Laura Dern (who also co-produced) stars as an actress who has just landed a part in a new film. What the producers have neglected to tell her is that the movie is a remake and that the two original leads were murdered. Now, history looks set to repeat itself.

Narrative coherence has never been much of a concern for Lynch. Here, disconcertingly, there are sequences (not explained at all) involving a family on stage in rabbit heads as well as a murky sub-plot about eastern European prostitutes. Hollywood myth and Polish Gypsy folk tale clash head-on with startling but very uneven effect. The director deliberately blurs the lines and so we are never quite sure whether we are watching the film-within-the-film (being directed by Jeremy Irons) or the film about the film-within-the-film.

In among the non-sequiturs, Lynch fans will find plenty to relish. As he has shown in films from Eraserhead to Lost Highway, he is a master at cranking up the tension and making his audience feel a queasy sense of impending doom. The soundtrack crackles with jarring, eerie noises. There are sweaty close-ups, shots in blurred black and white, and jumpy cuts.

Between times, there are celebrity cameos from old Lynch chums and plenty of his morbid humour. Harry Dean Stanton has a wonderful walk-on part as an old-time Hollywood exec who shamelessly sponges from associates. Grace Zabriskie is terrifying in a Cruella De Vil-like fashion as Dern's neighbour.

Two hours in, you begin to realise it is pointless trying to unravel the mysteries of the plot. The best way to enjoy the film is to succumb to its warped, dream-like logic. Thankfully, the estimable Dern, in her third feature with Lynch after Blue Velvet and Wild At Heart, holds Inland Empire together as the one character with any emotional depth. In some scenes, she plays a well-bred actress, in others a foul-mouthed street whore. Lynch puts her through the wringer. She is terrorised and stabbed with a screwdriver, but never loses poise or conviction.

Film festival organisers yesterday gave Lynch, 60, the lifetime achievement Golden Lion award for a career which has included The Elephant Man and the Twin Peaks TV series.

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© Mike Hartmann