David Lynch's first film in five years, since Mulholland Drive (2001) is a fascinating, spectacular and gripping film about the dark side of Hollywood, doppelgangers and mistaken identities and the perception of reality. It is also epic in length and ambitions while at the same time infuriating and almost impenetrable. Shot on often-grainy video and with a running time just a minute short of three hours, “Inland Empire” is a twisted adult version of "Alice in Wonderland," that provides as many rewards as much as it feels as a “put on” by Lynch.
The first hour offers hints of a linear plot in which a movie actress Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) lands a role in a new romantic drama called On High in Blue Tomorrow. As it turns out the film has a gypsy curse on it, and a previous production -- never completed -- was shut down after the stars died. Nicky soon starts having an affair with her co-star Devon Berk (Justin Theroux), and begins losing track of her own identity, merging it with that of her character of On High in Blue Tomorrow.
Soon after the movie becomes a 2 hour maze switching from Nicky’s story to seemingly unconnected sequences, where she is either herself or the character from the movie she is supposed to be making or someone completely different. Throughout the film, Lynch intermittently cuts to a Polish hooker watching a television set in a hotel room, which plays a bizarre 50’s type of TV sitcom about people with rabbit heads exchanging existentialist dialogue set against a roaring, canned laugh track. Then a woman (Julia Ormond) is talking to what appears to be a policeman about having been hypnotized by a man in a bar and how she is going to murder someone with a screwdriver. Later the same woman ends with a screwdriver on her belly. Then a roomful of prostitutes breaks into rama-like rendition of "The Locomotion" that is as bizarre as is appropriate to the insanity of Lynch’s vision.
There are more musical interludes and plenty of dark and twisted madness to stock up a dozen other horror films. And as crazy as it all sounds it all builds up to make some a sort of weird sense. It is not that the film doesn't travel in random illogical fashion as much it is constantly opening up into variations and different interpretations of Nikki's story. For all the weird randomness offered all the pieces somehow converge.
Lynch's sound design, is as spectacular as it was in Eraserhead (1977). His control of volumes and pitches can make you jump out of your seat as in one shocking sequence in which Nikki comes tiptoing out of the shadows in the distance in a spotlight. As she picks up speed, she charges towards the camera while producing a horrifying shriek that will make anyone’s skin crawl. Lynch’s camera is always slipping away to discover new and strange textures in scenes that often verge on sheer artistic abstraction.
But what finally makes INLAND EMPIRE truly work is Laura Dern’s performance . She transcends an actor’s traditional role, and places herself side by side with the director as part of the grand vision of INLAND EMPIRE. Without Laura Dern, Lynch’s film would not work. She gives the film the continuity that it needs, with each one of her many subsequent character interpretations illuminating and adding depth with a wide range of emotions that build exponentially through the film. Dern's performance is a tour de force as she digs deeper into all of her various female characters with each new scene.
David Lynch’ s INLAND EMPIRE works with its own strange internal logic. There are many mysteries here, virtually impossible to solve in one sitting, but as frustrating as all of it may be, it also offers many wonderful cinematic rewards if you open up your mind enough an let it sweep you with its strange moods and artistry. The film literally ends with a bang –a musical number, by Nina Simone, full of guest stars that include Nastassja Kinski, Laura Elena Harring, Mary Steenburgen, Terry Crews, Diane Ladd, Grace Zabriskie, Julia Ormond and the voice of Naomi Watts.
One-of-a-kind American writer-director and artist. His low budget debut Eraserhead set the trends for his work: surreal, unnerving but with a unique sense of humour. After Mel Brooks offered him The Elephant Man, Dino De Laurentiis gave Lynch Dune to direct, but it was an unhappy experience for him.
Luckily, despite the failure of Dune, De Laurentiis was prepared to produce Lynch's script for Blue Velvet, which has since become regarded as a classic. He moved into television with Twin Peaks and On the Air, but it was with film that he was most comfortable: Cannes winner Wild at Heart, prequel/sequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, plot-twisting Lost Highway, the out of character but sweet-natured The Straight Story, the mysterious Mulholland Drive and the rambling, willfully obscure Inland Empire. His return to directing after a long gap with the revival of Twin Peaks on television was regarded as a triumph.