Inland Empire

(David Lynch, France/Poland/USA, 2006)


In-Viewing Notes from the 1st Day of the 1st Month of the 11th Year


In the free-floating fictional universe of Inland Empire, interdictions (such as “don’t fuck my/his wife”) have a determining role in injecting a strange kind of attenuated intrigue.


A story of adultery is projected onto Nikki (Laura Dern) and Devon (Justin Theroux) – or Sue/Billy in the film-within – from all sides, amidst many other projected stories. All narrative is a curse wished upon the subject, a rumour that sticks, a prefigured destiny that one comes to fulfil despite oneself.


All behaviour is in excess, slipping out of bodies and roles. Thus the quiet hysteria of the Self. Laughter is always mad and sinister in Lynch.


And always this laboratory of the self (actresses playing roles, etc.) – and the dispositif of a making-of, with its usual ambiguities of reality-status – plus in-between stages like script readings (cf. Marguerite Duras’ Le Camion, 1977).


All moods/ambiences are in a state of being acted out, projected. Deixis gone crazy.


TV’s role in the film is to be the embodiment of this deixis: the weird rabbits sitcom with its inappropriate laugh track; the entertainment show host, with her cryptic innuendos (the mode of much of the dialogue here).


As always in Lynch, it’s a case of Gothic sexual communion. And this is totally where the Self comes apart in madness. In its longed-for moment of fusion. In the place of fusion, there is only ever violation, loss of control, rape, prostitution. Sad Laura Palmer (Twin Peaks), Eternal Lost Girl.


How Lynch loves the Gothic generators: fear, paranoia, sex-terror, the dark spaces … and always the figure of the woman (actress) coming unglued in her identity. The scary horror-moment of strangers revealed as present in the room.


Locus of the Gothic in particular places or sites: the room, the stage, the corner, the spot where something has happened/will happen/is forever happening: these three temporalities of narrative. Memories of finding oneself on a stage, but without knowing the lines, in Luis Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972).


The digital format (like TV in Twin Peaks) comes to enhance these spaces that are just there for real, into which the fiction, the characters, are seemingly dropped. “This is the street”.


In Lynchian découpage, a fascinating play on off-spaces, camera placements and shifted POVs (including the camera’s POV), quite rigorous and logical, without seeming mechanical or too systematic. See the early scene with the mysterious neighbour indicating “Where she’ll be tomorrow”, cueing a transition – always beckoning to another space, “in the other room”, on micro and macro levels.


Weird audio “sum-up” drop-ins … that don’t of course effectively sum up anything.


Complications start around the 50-minute mark: the moment where Nikki’s double walks in on her own rehearsal scene. Mind-game loops, splits.


Lots of stuff happening that one can not easily fit into any unfolding plot-universe. At least not without many, many close-analytical viewings. (See Life’s Work of Cristina Álvarez López.)


A friend has previously asked me, sotto voce, the grand, quizzical question: “It’s all a put-on by Lynch, don’t you think?”


From the Moviefone website: “Themes – Americans Abroad, Woman In Jeopardy, Dangerous Attraction, Filmmaking”. Inevitable reductive synopsis: “An actress gets deeper into her role”. Blablabla.


Curious role of lighting: there is seemingly both no light and nothing but light! A very Philippe Grandrieux opening section.


Quite great soundtrack of drones, thrumming, etc. – the static crackling, like the needle in a groove (like an old film print, too). Turn that noise up to 11!


The film’s overall style is a dialectic between distorted close-ups and static inscriptions of place.


At least in a large-scale Lynchian dispositif like this one, every embedded piece is conceived and delivered with total conviction (eg., the scenes from the film-within). There are no mere place-filler scenes or levels, as in so much convoluted meta-narrative or hypertextual digital art (one bit standing for “documentary”, another bit standing for “fiction”, etc.) …


Keeps looping back to initial/primal Lost Girl (Karolina Gruszka) watching snow-TV.


The nine-girl gaggle – allows the introduction of various musical bits. Nine whores?


The title is finally mentioned two hours in.


The screwdriver self-murder: Black Swan (2010).


Mind-game movies are so often about the revelation of either or both murder or suicide, often in reversible/interchangeable relation (Inception [2010] does that too, but uses a final happy-family revelation.) Remember Abel Ferrara’s The Blackout (1997), which has both.


A strange international co-production – which actually isn’t!


Filmed over 2 years or so (the Malick/Linklater/Kubrick/Khrzhanovsky/etc. dream: to film in the rhythm of life, developmentally, eternally).


Wear the watch: Bill & Ted!


Confession soliloquy to ugly guy (cop?) – with her in Southern character?


Affinities with 1970s Jacques Rivette: circulation and floating of narrative & meaning …


Ringing phones: the famous link between “communicating story vessels”. Sergio Leone, Raúl Ruiz.


Explores all sorts of linkages between levels and events: montage, superimposition, various sonic associations (those train sounds!).


The daylight of the finale is pretty stunning.


David Lynch and The (notion of the) Scene. Fundamental to his vision.

MORE Lynch: Mulholland Drive, Lumière and Company, The Straight Story, Lost Highway

See also: Outside / Twin Peaks (2015)

© Adrian Martin 1 January 2011

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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