Inland Empire

Inland Empire

I saw Inland Empire last night. It was definitely worth seeing, though it’s a much more sprawling and anti-narrative film than I had hoped. My friend Simon, with whom I saw it, made the good point that Lynch seems to be at his best when he’s tethered to the “problem” of reaching a broader audience, since his two best pieces of work, we agree, are Twin Peaks (before he gave up on the show, and to some extent, after he returned to pick up the pieces) and Mulholland Drive. Both are made-for-TV products, though MH never made it there; this means that Lynch has to balance his tendency to let loose the entropic forces with the need to lure people in. The effect of this is that we, or I, care more about the characters in those works than in his others, as I know more about them and have a greater sense of who they are. In Inland Empire, the characters, good or bad (or “good” or “bad” or “good?” or “bad?”) are all sketch-like; we hardly meet them at all before they turn into shadows and reflections, or perhaps refracted versions of themselves. For Lynch, this may be the point; none of the first characters we meet in the film have discernible human faces. And then the movie goes from there….

As I said, it’s still worth seeing, but ultimately a disappointment for me. I love the feeling, in a David Lynch movie, where everything suddenly plunges forward into the chute of chaos and disorder, and we’re left clawing at what we remember from earlier scenes to give the fleeting images some kind of meaning. I’ve always thought of this as strongly analogous to music, in the breakdown of literal meaning into referential meaning. The life we see in the “calm” portions of Lynch’s stories become fodder for their seemingly more true reflections on the other side of the perceptive divide; in other words, he shows us the world as we know it only so that we have a reference point for his revelation of the world as it truly is. The problem with Inland Empire is that we do not get this reference point. The Lynchian plunge happens fairly early in the film, and as we claw for meaning on our way down, we find little to hold on to.

Around half of the dialogue in the film is in Polish, and some part of the plot (I couldn’t give it away if I tried) takes place in Poland. Fittingly, Lynch uses music by Penderecki and Lutoslawski (more than the former than the latter, unfortunately), in addition to the usual Lynch musical fare, perhaps as an homage to the Polish sensibility, or something like that. Strangely, the reference winds up being more sideways, to Stanley Kubrick’s films that use Penderecki scores, particularly The Shining. There are some amazing musical moments in Inland Empire, including one where the idea of building tension through music is deconstructed, thoroughly and (not surprisingly) bizarrely. It comes near the end of the film, as if to say, “now the final parameter is in play as an object of deconstruction – because you weren’t really noticing the music, anyway, were you?” For musicians and composers, it’s a nice touch – a sort of strange shout out.

12/29/06