Let's get this out of the way right here, right now: I'm not a huge David Lynch fan. While I feel the man is a phenomenal artist who creates sensational visuals to accompany a fleet of complex characters, his films never hit that special spot for me, if you know what I mean. That being said, life-long Lynch fans should feast on his latest effort; a three-hour long experimental epic called Inland Empire.
To give you a small example of how odd this film is, its press materials included an assortment of still photographs (actor bios printed on the backs of each one) and a very brief synopsis (if you can call it that) which read, "A story of a mystery ... A mystery inside worlds within worlds ... Unfolding around a woman ... A woman in love and in trouble." Welcome to a David Lynch film -- next stop, Bizarro Land.
Inland Empire was born out of a 14-page monologue, single-spaced, that Lynch wrote and subsequently filmed (using a digital Sony PD-150 camera) on a set built in the back of his house. For the next two and a half years, Lynch gradually wrote more scenes, using the time in between to shoot each one. Luckily enough, StudioCanal was there to help finance the project, and all it took was one phone call from Lynch in which he told them, "I don't know what I'm doing and I'm shooting on DV." The result: a darkly disturbing (and often trippy) journey deep inside the mind of a woman stranded somewhere between life and death, immersed in the worlds of several different people who may or may not all be the same individual.
The film's story revolves around Nikki (as played by Laura Dern in one of the greatest roles of her career), a once popular actress who's married and holed up in a huge mansion. Upon receiving news that she's landed a role in a new film called On High and Blue Tomorrows, Nikki is ecstatic and eager to return to the profession that she adores. Once on set, however, things slowly begin to spiral out of control, beginning with an announcement from the film's director (Jeremy Irons) that Nikki and her co-star Devon (Justin Theroux) are, in fact, shooting a remake. The original film, based on a Polish folktale and titled 4/7, was never completed due to the fact that its two main actors were murdered. From this point on, Lynch opts to ingest the blue pill in an attempt to see just how far the rabbit hole takes him.
Soon, Nikki can't distinguish between her own life and that of her character's (named Sue). An adulterous affair with her co-star on screen turns into one behind the scenes. Two people from very different worlds become one -- and that's when the Polish folks show up. Early on, a Polish prostitute is seen weeping in front of a television whose screen broadcasts a sitcom starring three adults dressed as rabbits (which may or may not be an extension of Lynch's 2002 film Rabbits), complete with a laugh-track tossed around some very dramatic dialogue. Throughout the film, different characters show up on the television screen (and in this sitcom) which appears to be some sort of porthole linking reality and what's perceived to be reality. We're to assume the Polish connection ties into the origins of the cursed film Nikki is shooting, though this is a David Lynch film which means nothing is cut and dry -- the images and these characters are whatever (or whoever) we want them to be.
Inland Empire also marks Lynch's first feature-length film shot entirely on DV, a format he insists will soon replace film which, in his mind, "is completely dead." Though the picure is a bit home video-ish at times, DV allows Lynch the freedom to do what he does best: shoot everything and anything without restrictions. For those who aren't big Lynch fanatics, Inland Empire is an impossible film to sit through. You'll most certainly want to stand up at some point (probably ten minutes in) and scream, "What the hell is going on!?" So, do yourself a favor and stay far, far away. However, fans of the director will have a blast dissecting each scene, returning for repeat visits until they gradually uncover the brilliantly detailed messages and themes found within each frame.