“Through the hole in the silk”
David Lynch has made many “masterpieces” in his career. From the critically heralded Elephant Man, to the cult classic Blue Velvet, his debut surrealist nightmare Eraserhead, and the most recent headtrips, Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr., Lynch has always found a way to get into our psyches, grab a hold, and not let go until years after your viewing, if at all. With his latest film, Inland Empire, we are given his least accessible plot yet. As far as comprehending anything that is happening before your eyes, once you think you have a grip, he totally tosses your ideas out the window. Coherence, linear progression, or even characters staying the characters that they are at first will not be found here. Instead, Lynch has crafted his most viscerally rich tale of imagination and dream, once again exposing the underbelly of society and the human condition. People cannot be trusted and all will betray those they love. If we are to believe what transpires here, and your guilt and/or paranoia for finding how those around you have let you down won’t kill you, your manifestations of fully choreographed dance sequences involving your prostitute friends most certainly will.
If you are reading this hoping for some semblance of a plot summary, I think Lynch’s tagline description is all you need: this is a tale about “a woman in trouble.” Well, let us make that women in trouble, unless we can find a way to think all the different entities played by Karolina Gruszka and Laura Dern are in fact one and the same. The story starts out very well, much how the last couple films Lynch has created have. There is a strange visitor, played brilliantly by Grace Zabriske with a flawless Balkinish accent, who calls on our actress lead (Dern) to discuss her new role. Along with premonitions and cryptic talk about 9:45 and after midnight, and today and tomorrow, she relays a couple old stories, one about a man and another of a woman going to market and the alley behind. Not only do these stories end up occurring in some form later on, but the times themselves as well as the aspect of time alone play a strong role in all scenes. It is when the tomorrow our visitor speaks of starts to play out that we are thrust into the story as it struggles through scene changes, character swapping, and even to a soap opera starring people in rabbit suits, complete with canned applause and laughter.
What at first seems to be straightforward, a mirroring of adulterous lives between our actress Nikki and actor Devon with their fictional counterparts Sue and Billy, becomes so much more. It begins to unravel to the point where the audience can’t tell which reality is the true one, or if both are false while the truth lies in a third reality between a different Sue and Billy met by his wife Doris’ eventually finding out and wielding of a screwdriver for retribution. However, once it seems to be continuing nicely, complete with a fourth mirroring of the Polish actors involved in the original version of the movie they are shooting, everything changes as aspects become switched around. The screwdriver leaves Doris’ hands and enters those of one of Dern’s many incarnations. Her husband, as Nikki, becomes the husband of many different female roles and we have a strange voyeur played by Gruszka watching everything transpire on television. Finally, Dern ends up discovering everything is being played out on a movie theater screen, her life being shown for all, although it is she who is the lone viewer.
Eventually, I started to see the many references to Lynch’s past films. Whether they be literal, Zabriske’s acceptance of a drink with similar yet opposite reaction as that of Angelo Badalamenti in Mulholland Dr.; to common metaphor prop usage, the colored lamps, curtains, and prevalence of phones as communication between parallel realities; or even playing on the notions of certain interpretations that have been made of past films, Lost Highway being a complete dream by a man guilt stricken from killing his wife and a scene here where Dern’s character is dying and those watching start mentioning things that have been happening, as if explaining how the film has been a manifestation of what she heard as she died; the correlations are endless. It is almost like Lynch wanted his first foray into digital film to be one of rebirth, (I will say that while I was a bit annoyed from the soft focus and inferior look to filmstock, what he does with the medium is astonishing). Lynch is known for not explaining his films and never maintaining that there is one explanation to solve the puzzle. Maybe Inland Empire is his way of showing that the experience and visceral reaction is what he looks to accomplish. He wants to make his viewers think and find their own meaning from their own lives in what happens on the screen. In this way, Lynch seems to edit the film in a way to accommodate these interpretations and then, once one can be believed, he turns it around and asks another question. For every false answer comes three questions, and the labyrinth’s center just gets farther and farther away.
If I were to wager any kind of guess to the true meaning of this film, having just seen it with little time to flesh out each thread shown, it would be as follows. Inland Empire, to me, is a commentary on the state of Hollywood and the inferior films churning out from it. The general public goes and sees drivel and by allowing it to succeed, helps make certain more will be made. Answers don’t need to be spoonfed to the viewers, and actually they shouldn’t. I believe Lynch is calling out actors for facilitating this degradation in quality by calling them whores to the business. As Dern’s character falls from aristocratic success to poor housewife, with child from a different man, turning tricks on the street with her friends that she “remembers from somewhere,” we see the credibility drain as she becomes a whore for money. Harry Dean Stanton even asks multiple people for money, reminiscing about the time when he could sustain himself, while those around him just smile and give in. Dern continuously watches herself slowly fall apart as she cheats on her artistic interest with vanity. Her friends even say how if you have great cleavage, you are set for life because talent plays no role in success. It is only Gruszka’s lost girl watching television that sees the destruction occurring around her, crying at the horror of it all. Desperate to do something about it, she finally gets up and sees her husband and son come home to her. Hers is the only happiness, while all the other characters find themselves trapped inside the house of vanity, surrounded by the other whores, living their selfish lives without regard for the society they are doing a disservice to.
Inland Empire 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½
 Laura Dern in Inland Empire
 Laura Dern and Justin Theroux in Inland Empire
 A scene from Inland Empire