For over two years David Lynch shot scenes for his self-financed experiment ‘Inland Empire’ (2006). He did this without having a finished script, thereby ensuring him of almost total creative freedom. But is this unfiltered Lynch an improvement?
The first thing that you notice is the image quality. Lynch has said goodbye to celluloid and prefers to shoot in digital video nowadays. Therefore Inland Empire was shot with a standard definition consumer camera. As a result the film simply looks ugly. Colors are often washed out, focus is sometimes accidentally lost, close-ups distort faces, the overall image is smudgy and the camera handling is wobbly.
But the picture quality shouldn’t stand in the way of a great film. It just makes it a little harder to like or get in the mood of the piece, Inland Empire however has other ways to alienate its audience.
Inland Empire is the least accessible film of Lynch, making it even harder to crack than his brilliant but baffling debut Eraserhead (1976). The three hour film starts with the actress Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) who gets the part for a big Hollywood production. But during filming she learns that the film is in fact a remake of a German film that was never completed because of the brutal murder of the two lead actors.
For the first hour Inland Empire is intriguing. The film within a film works nicely and just like Nikki you’re constantly wondering if she’s playing her part or if she’s loosing grip on reality. Then the film jumps tracks and for the next two hours you’re confronted with seemingly random scenes with a Polish cast in presumably Poland. Although Dern is there she seems to play a completely different character. The same goes for her husband (Peter J. Lucas).
In the end the main focus, if you can call it that, shifts back to the Nikki from the first hour. It quickly moves away again when Nikki is apparently a prostitute vomiting blood on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But then a camera appears and she seems to be still performing in the film, or is she? Unfortunately by then I long stopped caring, no matter how much Dern throws into the role.
The film is not supposed to be a coherent whole. It deals with the feeling of loss (I had to look that up) and instead uses oddly linked stories to complement each other. My main problem with this is that it feels so much less effective than in his earlier work.
‘Lost Highway’ (2001) dealt with loss and infidelity too and there the story changed gears drastically halfway as well. But the ending tied it together in a fascinating and tragic way. ‘Mulholland Drive’ (1997) deals with an actress who looses her grip on reality too. Here the narrative offers enough clues to hang on. For ‘Inland Empire’ I got the feeling that there was no deeper layer, that in the end it was just Lynch copying and indulging himself.