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I have to say first off, that I am a huge fan of David Lynch. I've seen everything he's done: features, shorts, commercials, docs, animation, and read all the interviews I can get my hands on. So, last night was like Christmas Eve for me, the anticipation of the first David Lynch film in 6 years. This is going to be a good couple of days for me, I saw the new Lynch film today, and on Tuesday the Arcade fire's new album comes out.
Where to start, there are so many places to start. I will try not to spoil anything from the movie, yet since I'm not even quite sure yet what happened in it, I'm not sure how that's possible, but there are some sequences in this film that are best left to surprise.
I have seen a lot of strange, odd, fringe-type, avant-garde films. But I have not seen anything like INLAND EMPIRE (spelled in all-caps). The only thing I can easily compare it to is early Jodorowksy. And it definitely has the energy of something like Fando y Lis. The film's look, on prosumer DV, reminded me a bit of Lars Von Trier's work in the late '90's, but as the film went on I soon remembered the Von Trier is not even in the same ballpark with Lynch. There are feelings, moods, and images that Lynch allows us to discover, on an emotional and psychic level, like no one else. This is the most violent, visceral, and frightening film he's made to date, and the DV's poor quality gives us some amazing built in ambiance. As always, the sound design for this film is incredible. I saw it at the Tower and thought their bass system was going to blow.
This is his most frightening film. Not in the creepy Lost Highway way, but there is some genuinely scary stuff in this. The film has such a palpable atmosphere that it makes us wait, and wait, but also aware that something horrific is just around the corner.
And while the film descends to what is essentially a living hell, Lynch takes us to a higher place at the end that we haven't gone before in his world, a sort of antithesis to his Red Lodge. Some, critics remarked on how nice it was to see Lynch's sense of humor. Though, I think his sense of humor has always been an essential part of his work, and he never really has taken himself that seriously. He's at top form here, and it's shocking that he wrote the script as he went, in part because of the dialogue, and secondly because of the structure, which I'll get to in a bit, and some pretty funny moments.
Part of the great energy that this film exudes is that I'm positive that Lynch was parodying him self at times. There are a few characters, an out of place lumberjack, and Harry Dean Stanton, who I love to see work, who really don't do anything but riff on characters that David Lynch normally has present in his work. There are red curtains, wigs, rabbit suits, and the typical Lynch motifs, in fact there are a few suggestions that this takes place in the world of Twin Peaks. Like all of his great work, there is a scene set to a pop song that is just brilliant. I mean it was joyfully delicious.
The structure itself is not meant to be figured out, and at times David Lynch throws out banana peels to those that may try to connect things, including at least one fake ending that makes it seem like Lynch is giving us all sorts of straight answers, and then, well you'll have to see it. The film is to be understood on an emotional level, with the images and sounds conveying some deep, and abstract emotions. If you try to follow the structure you'll see that everything connects back to itself in a figure 8. Artaud would have loved this film. I couldn't tell you what the actual plot of the film was, but I can tell you that I understood on a gut level. Lynch almost feels preachy, but I'm not sure what the sermon is.
Laura Dern is magnificent in the film, which she co-produced, as in Jeremy Irons, in his first Lynch film, in a supporting role. Justin Theroux is OK, he's not great but he isn't in it long enough to be distracting. After about 15 minutes I got used to the DV, and there are scenes in the film that look amazing, I mean for a DV cam they get some very pretty shots. There are two scenes I would have paid good money to see Lynch direct, and I could tell that he had a lot of fun with this. It is unprecedented that nearly 30 years after he released something as groundbreaking as Eraserhead, that Lynch would still be the standard-bearer for the cutting edge of film. INLAND EMPIRE goes places that no other feature film has gone, language wise, and on an emotional level. After seeing INLAND EMPIRE, I hope Lynch makes another film fast, I can't wait six more years. No one else is making anything like this (Either it's all technique and no emotion, or emotion and no technique as far as avant-garde cinema goes) Lynch can craft both. If this is the future of film, I will be a happy man.
Oh, and yes the film is three-hours long, and it does take a while to get started (which I can understand for deception's sake) which is the only major weakness of the film. But after that it goes by real quick, and at the end you've gone on a singular and harrowing, emotional journey.