Inland Empire

Director: David Lynch

Some studios take out expensive full page ads in Variety or plaster the faces of actors on Hollywood billboards in order to remind members of the Academy to nominate the people involved in movies during Oscar season. David Lynch prefers to use cows. It’s been widely reported that after his three hour experimental opus Inland Empire wrapped he became a one-man public relations machine on behalf of Laura Dern, literally taking his method to the street by standing on the corners with a cow and a dream. Although she didn’t receive the nomination, it has to be the most eccentric campaign ever created and we’d expect nothing less of Lynch. While I’m not sure whether Dern should be offended or flattered that a cow was involved, one thing is for certain and that is his affection for Dern and likewise her trust in the director which explains her involvement in the frustrating yet intoxicating Inland Empire. Another postmodern nightmare that should endear him to his fans, Empire made me take a step backwards as I’d always been on the fence regarding Lynch but was blown away by Mulholland Drive. Of course, as established—he’s not one to play by the rules but I wasn’t sure just how off the deep end he’d go with this rambling and incoherent but beautiful work. We’re never quite sure exactly what’s happeneing—we believe it’s about Nikki Grace (Dern), a married blonde actress who takes a role on a film that she later learns may be cursed after discovering it’s a remake of a doomed incomplete Polish production that found the two leads dead. She begins to let her imagine run away with her while simultaneously becoming attracted to costar Justin Theroux. After a bizarre opening, the first hour of the film is compelling and even easy to decipher but that’s when Lynch reminds us once again he’s running the show and takes us further into the nightmares and dreamscapes of his subconscious mind with a meandering hybrid of fantasy and horror involving a carnivalesque stable of freaks and people living on the fringes of society—life sized rabbits living out a domestic drama in front of what appears to be a live studio television audience, hookers who enjoy doing the locomotion, a scary old woman, lots of Polish speakers, and a film crew. Co-produced by Dern who inspired the title of the piece after sharing that her husband musician Ben Harper is from the area nicknamed that, the film co-stars Jeremy Irons, Harry Dean Stanton, Diane Ladd, William H. Macy, Julia Ormond, Mary Steenburgen and also utilizes the involvement of Nastassja Kinski, Laura Harring and Naomi Watts. Lynch, who told Joe Huang at the AFI Dallas Film Festival that the film’s “episodes” were never supposed to be edited together for a feature but were rather just film short stories he wrote and shot on digital video, earned a Special Award from both the Venice Film Festival and also the 2007 National Society of Film Critics Awards for what they called his “labyrinthine Inland Empire, a magnificent and maddening experiment with digital video possibilities.” Overall a film to be experienced rather than sincerely admired such as Mulholland or his other works, Inland Empire’s three hour running time is daunting indeed but for those ready to take the journey, go ahead and follow along and try your best to keep up.