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December 6, 2006


Inland Empire: Nightmarish freakshow, with a happy ending

David Lynch and Laura Dern

I'm a fan of David Lynch movies. So when his new one comes out, and it's three hours long and was shot on DV and allegedly looks like crap, and he paid to distribute it himself because no one else would touch it, well, I'm pretty much going to go see it anyway.

Inland Empire may not be the greatest thing he's ever done (I'm aware that not everyone feels this way, but I adored Mulholland Drive) but like all good Lynch movies, it stands up proud, creepy, confusing, violent, frightening, and perverse. It also has what might be my favorite quality of David Lynch movies--they feel deeply personal (all those repetitive hang-ups seem like they reflect Lynch's own personal obsessions and weird fetishy neuroses) and coldly detached at the same time. And like Mulholland Drive, it demonstrates the psychological disintegration of a character by their moving from spacious, tasteful homes to seedy dumps.

Not light stuff, to be sure. But let me tell you: there is really a lot of hilarious freakiness in this movie, and the audience laughed a lot, when they weren't squirming. I don't want to give too much away about the characters or plot, such as it is, but the movie focuses on moviemaking and actors, and the bad things that can happen to them. Just like Mulholland Drive examined what can happen to young women that seek their Hollywood dreams (i.e. rise to fame, glamour and notoriety, then the slide into obscurity, betrayal, despair, and having to live in a tackily decorated bungalow), so Inland Empire looks at what can befall a movie star: fame and admiration, but also ill-advised affairs with slimeball co-stars, being perceived by the world as a cheap tramp, confusing your own identity with your character's, appearing in wretched sitcoms, being threatened by creepy men who seem to be everywhere, and totally self-destructing. Or acting as some kind of redemptive figure to lonely Polish girls. Look, I don't know, you'll have to go see it for yourself.

Anyway, there is a lot of fascinating stuff in here. It's weird and dark and impressionistic. The movie looks grainy and there are whole recurring subplots that I don't understand at all. Laura Dern is fantastic though, and gets to do way more interesting stuff than she did in either Blue Velvet or Wild at Heart, or any more normal movie she's ever been in. Lynch also breaks his usual all-white casting protocol (is Richard Pryor in Lost Highway the only real exception to this?) and gives a speech that I think appears in the dictionary under the entry for "Lynchian" to a young homeless Asian woman, who speaks in English, with subtitles, also in English.

But one of the coolest parts of the opening night screening was that Justin Theroux, one of the movie's stars, came out for a little talk after the show! Has has some great things to say about working with David Lynch, and I also personally think that Mr. Theroux is a smoking hot knockout, so it was extra exciting for me. Some interesting things that Justin Theroux had to say:

  • David Lynch really liked the process of having to sort of make up new stuff for Mulholland Drive that he didn't have any idea about when he started making it (it was originally going to be a TV series,) so he decided to make all of Inland Empire that way--he wrote a scene, gave it to the actors, then they shot it with no knowledge of what was going to come right before or after it in the final movie. Theroux thought this was fun and kept everybody "in the moment."
  • David Lynch is the most "unplugged" person in Hollywood that Justin Theroux has ever seen--like, he has no idea who Jim Carrey or Lindsay Lohan are.
  • Harry Dean Stanton was in WWII, got "blown off a battleship", and drinks two pint cartons of milk at lunch every day.
  • Justin Theroux didn't like making Miami Vice.

Also, the music in the movie is fantastic. Mostly classical stuff and scary strings performed by the Polish Symphony Orchestra, and also a rousing lip-synching of the wonderful "Sinnerman" by Nina Simone at the end. Which is an amazing song, but I'm not sure what it has to do with this movie. The last five minutes is like a meta David Lynch theme party, though, so I'm happy to just let him do whatever inexplicable thing he wants to do.

Inland Empire is only playing at the IFC Center in New York for now. It opens in other places next week. Manohla Dargis' review in the Times is really great.

categories: Movies
posted by amy at 10:59 PM | #

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