Inland Empire

Canal Plus
David Lynch/United States-Poland-France 2006

As can happen with David Lynch movies, we may ask ourselves, “how did we get here?” Or rather, “how did she get there?” And maybe even “how did she become her?” A myriad of translations and transformations surface and details tend to further mystify instead of reveal. With Lynch’s latest film, Inland Empire – rather than some power, some aura, or some unidentifiable and intangible being that is passed through and possesses multiple characters – the shifts occur mostly within one female body, played with honesty and rigor by Laura Dern.

While I have a special distaste for the term tour-de-force, I would like to apply it here to Dern’s performance in the sense that her’s is truly a turn, a play, an expedition of intensity. Lynch has been quoted as saying that Dern’s display is Oscar material, but I wonder how this industry award could begin to legitimate her performance.

Even with such praise, however, Inland Empire is definitely not for everyone. It is perhaps mostly to be appreciated by serious Lynch initiates. Shot entirely on digital video with multiple cameras running constantly, the idea of coverage becomes an understatement and results in, well, a very long and at times tedious movie. In a sense, the film’s format follows its mode of production: the next day’s shooting being inspired by what footage came from the previous day. As characters, and in particular Dern’s Nikki and Justin Theroux’s Devon, move through space(s) and time(s) that quickly begin to collapse, the layers become increasingly complicated as an almost infinite amount of add-ons are possible. It seems like an editing nightmare and an endless project.

I’d like to think of Inland Empire as an experiment, a testing of the digital water for Lynch. While I wouldn’t want to imagine some of his earlier works, like Blue Velvet (1986) or Eraserhead (1977), without the grain and saturation only possible with film stock, the looseness and subversive nature of Inland Empire lends itself entirely to the digital medium where its artifacts evoke that empty space and psychological questioning apparent in all of Lynch’s work.

© 2006 Mia Ferm. All rights reserved.

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