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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Deciphering Inland Empire

Inland Empire (2006, David Lynch): Rating 8/10

We see hazy images. Then two figures appear but their faces are blurred. They talk in some foreign language but the subtitles allude to the relationship between the man and the woman – customer and prostitute. The black and white film gives way to colour as the young prostitute awakes alone in a hotel room. She watches images flash on the tv in front of her – 3 adults in rabbit suits are engaged in mundane dialogue in a sitcom of sorts. Everytime when one of the women in the rabbit suit speaks some meaningless lines, one hears canned laughter from a non-existent audience.

We are thoroughly confused. But after a few more images, a narrative of sorts is finally formed – a linear story indicates that Laura Dern is playing a wealthy actress (Nikki) in anticipation of a big role. Her supposed neighbour tells Nikki that tomorrow she will get the role and what Nikki will be doing when she learns the news. And just like that, we jump a day advance in time. From that point on, we have left one time field and are moving in another time plane. It is about 30 minutes into the film that we learn the foreign language spoken at the start of the film is Polish and that is when things start to make sense. We might be able to link everything from the start of the film upto this point, but another time jump throws things into more confusion.

Worm holes, time travel, multiple characters, dreams, imagination, Lynch’s subconscious mind and Laura Dern’s magnificent face which stretches to whatever emotion is required of her. How does one begin to explain something that one does not understand? Put simply this movie feels like the essence of Mulholland Drive drugged with the time travel element from Lost Highway with a tiny dash of bizarre from Twin Peaks. It is complicated but never dull or boring. Yes it is inaccessible and makes Mulholland Drive look like a straight forward film. In Mulholland Drive drive, we could clearly draw a line between the dream and reality. But in Inland Empire we are dealing with multiple versions of dreams and reality which are further complicated by the aspect of time and space. Laura Dern appears to exist in both dream and real state in one space-time field (streets of Hollywood) while another version of her character appears in Poland working the streets. However, the young prostitute at the start of film might be the real character whose imagined life is being lived by Laura Dern.

Near the film’s end, the happy music and brightly lit images indicate that Laura Dern’s character is finally coming out of the wilderness back home. We also see two realities reduce to a single truth as Laura Dern’s character and the young prostitute merge into one. In addition, the film also starts unwinding from the different time planes back to a point of origin. But one can’t help wonder if there is single thread which connects all the images or we are dealing with separate abstract images? Given how the film was shot without a script, there is plenty of room for interpretation. A simple analysis I feel is that this is a movie which is like hyperlinks on the internet – we jump from one link to another and so on. Eventually, near the end of the movie, we are simply hitting the ‘back’ arrow on the browser and are returned to our starting page. Along the way, we find related links and stories but they are all different. Or the movie is reels projected across David Lynch’s mind acted out by Laura Dern whose face is a guide to what we should be looking for.

Either way, this is a tough film to judge. One can only react to it – like, dislike or confusion. There are plenty of scenes which demand a reaction, be it fear, tension, anger or even tranquility. I didn’t react with the same enthusiasm as I did for Mulholland Drive but overall I found Inland Empire to be an engaging and satisfying way to spend three hours. After the afternoon screening, it was strange to walk out into the sunlight and the dull real world!

3 comments:

Heidi B said...

I got confused just reading your summary but I wouldn't expect anything else when reading something from David Lynch.
I can't wait to see it.

Heidi B said...

I finally saw this movie the other day and now your summary makes sense but that is one of the most confusing movies I have ever seen! I didn't watch it in one sitting, and I honestly don't think I could have. I am glad I rented it and I totally understand why this didn't have the cinematic draw of Mullholland Drive. I am not saying I didn't like it but this is a movie I will need to see again before making a fair judgment. I just wish it wasn't so long.

Sachin G. said...

If there was ever a movie that needed chapters on a DVD, this was it. But like Mulholland Drive, I believe the DVD is just one continuous film?

I don't think anyone can truly understand what this movie is. We can all get different elements out of it. Mulholland Drive still had enough to decipher it but Inland Empire has multiple layers which at times seem at odds with each other.

Did the cigarette holes in the paper represent worm holes through which time shifts occurred? Were they a clue or something that just happenned to be shot like that? I think in the next few months, I will try to see this film again to get a better handle on it.