NEW ON DVD
David Lynch crafts a gloriously dizzying, complex cinematic world that takes several viewings to truly appreciate
When you give yourself over to the heightened surrealism of director David Lynch, rest assured that the man knows exactly what he's doing.
Just remember to clear yourself of all expectations of what movie-going is all about.
From the creator of such singular films as "Blue Velvet," "Wild at Heart," "Lost Highway" and "Mulholland Drive" comes "Inland Empire," Lynch's most artistically pure piece of cinema since his 1978 feature debut "Eraserhead."
While "Inland Empire" was best experienced in a darkened theater during its initial release (it was screened at the Hawaii International Film's Festival Spring Showcase this year), the next best thing is watching the limited-edition two-disc DVD set in an equally dark -- and very quiet -- room.
Lynch wants his audience totally involved, so much so that the DVD helps set the brightness, contrast and color on your "home entertainment center." The bigger the screen, the better, and ditto the quality of your sound system. Lynch not only has a painterly eye for color and composition, but he's probably one of the best sound designers around. From a barely audible wisp of wind ratcheted up to excruciating screams, and music ranging from Little Eva's 1960s dance hit "The Locomotion," to the emotional intensity of Polish composer Krysztof Penderecki's works, and finally the emotional release of Nina Simone's "Sinnerman," the soundtrack of "Inland Empire" is as rich as its nightmarish visuals.
The multilevel, non-linear story tells of an actress (Laura Dern) who realizes that her life and the life of the movie character she's playing are intertwining in disturbing ways. And we, the audience, are along for the ride in all its glorious existential dread, nonsense and disorientation. Along the way, we confront alternate universes of a movie set and a Polish town, humans dressed as rabbits on the set of a sitcom (based on Lynch's Web-only 2002 series "Rabbits") and just about anything else that Lynch can come up with.
Lynch financed "Inland Empire" himself and spent two years shooting on low-definition digital video cameras -- a format he swears will be the only one he'll use in the future. The video uses available light, giving a softer patina to his images.
At more than three hours, the film can be boring and indulgent at times. But those moments just set you up for the inexorable march to an unsettling climax. Along the way are some absolutely terrifying moments. (Lynch is unsurpassed in his ability to make shadows in the most banal house settings so palpably frightening.)
Lynch has always gotten career-defining performances from his lead actresses, like Sheryl Lee in "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me" and Naomi Watts in "Mulholland Drive." The same can be said for Dern, who also co-produced "Inland Empire." Her steady, multifaceted performance is the one constant linchpin in this masterwork.
On the second DVD in the set, Lynch speaks candidly about the making of the film. Behind-the-scenes footage shows him in full creative mode, not only working with his cast but even helping with props and art direction. Add 90 minutes of unused footage, a short dream-like film, "Ballerina" (some of it incorporated into "Inland Empire"), and a great segment of Lynch cooking up a simple meal based on the protein-rich South American grain quinoa, and it all makes for quite a special package.
Still, "Inland Empire" is Lynch's most polarizing work, even among casual fans. If you're a wholehearted fan like me, it's a buy. If you've at least "enjoyed" any of his previous films, it's worth renting. But be warned: You'll probably need to see it a couple of times for a more enriching experience.
Take into consideration this quote from the Aitareya Upanishad that Lynch used to introduce his film and contained in his latest book, "Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness and Creativity":
"We are like the spider.
We weave our life and then move along
We are like the dreamer
who dreams and then lives in the dream.
This is true for the entire universe."