Analysis: Lynch’s “Inland Empire”

David Lynch’s deeply artful film, Inland Empire (2006), has been called a “nonlinear psychological horror-thriller,” in an attempt to nail this quivering gelatinous mass to the wall for those who may otherwise find themselves confused as to what mixed-bag genre they are witnessing flip, flash, float, and flicker across the screen. We share that POV not to deride this cinematic breakthrough, masterful in its, as we see it: filming of the inner-being of a late-in-career actress as she falls from self-doubt to self-hate, from creativity to madness, from love to loss of mind—from neurosis to flat-out psychosis. 

Such contrasts appear to reflect Lynch’s bondage to contradiction, to irreconcilable yet inescapable opposites. Lynch is a man who says “f**k” and “O my golly,” in the same sentence, who smokes cigarettes while cooking organic health food, a man who barks orders like a general one moment and washes dishes in the next, who displays great respect for elements of conventional moral character and yet seems to glorify infidelity, prostitution, self-mutilation, and murder. He publicly unveils conversations with his actors, yet whispers to them in front of the same camera. The movie can, therefore, easily be accepted as an examination of the way untamed “love” turns into something grotesque. Seen one after another, three movie trailers reveal this as the film’s purpose: to show that it is “strange what love does,” to show how beauty becomes so beastly. 

Inland Empire (IE), named after a region of Los Angeles, appears to also be an “in-other-words” experiment in visually telling an untellable story that has an un-tethered sense of Time and—necessarily, then—of Space. Lynch has explored this “lost soul” state of consciousness before. His films: Mulholland Drive (2001) and Lost Highway (1997), also set in Los Angeles, dissect the inner lives of two other archetypal creative performers who are better at living in their art than in their lives—a common dilemma for highly creative minds driven by visions of excellence, fame, and fortune on the one hand, and a desire for the normalcy associated with genuine intimacy on the other. Siskel and Ebert gave Lost Highway “two thumbs down,” which we feel was unwarranted for such a surreal masterpiece. This time, Ebert’s review is worth reading for clues to the crafting. 

The looseness of Lynch’s mooring in ordinary Time while immersed in his work is revealed backstage where we see him speak “out of time” to one of his people. He asks: “…what did we shoot tonight?” and recalls several shots but is puzzled about a certain shot—the most memorable—and when informed that it was among them, he says: “I remember it now, like as if it was yesterday.” One can interpret the statement as merely expressing sardonic humor, self-mocking and pretending to have lost a sense of linearity, but we see it as a rabbit’s-footprint just outside the portal into nonlinearity from within which he projects his inner movie out to where his mob can capture it on film. 

To fully grasp this indelible film, the viewer’s mind must cross-connect with Lynch within the realm of, to coin a term: surreality, which has the feel of a parallel universe but is actually the first dimension of Time, the astral plane of mysticism, the bottom of the rabbit hole where Lynch’s dark Saturnian humanoid hares reside in the state of pre-birthed non-being and not-doing, the place wherefrom Polish folktales sprout, the waiting room wherein the making of ordinary reality also has its origin. A clue to having successfully experienced making the link is to wake up from a nap with white paint (is it paint?) on your palm, then watch the “Lynch 2” material on disk two of the IE DVD where Lynch is smearing white paint (!) on a board with his bare hand (!!), and suddenly realize the force of Omniversal Oneness. Only with much soap and scrubbing was I able to wash it off.


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