Monday, February 15, 2010


(2006) ...Dir. David Lynch

I do not envy David Lynch. Yes, he is an absolute genius. Yes, he has made some of the most incredible films of all time. And yes, he is a transcendental meditation aficionado. (That last bit isn't just for bonus points. Lynch insists that TM has become an indispensable part of his creative process.) But the stuff that comes out of his head has a tendency to be both frightening and bewildering (at first blush, anyway). Yet Lynch is somehow able to make it all comprehensible.

Bizarre and terrifying thoughts and ideas, I can handle. I expect all of us experience moments of shock/fright/fascination at the strange thoughts which occasionally pop into our heads. But while most people shake off such notions, dismissing them as flukes of the human mind, David Lynch goes the other way. He explores the apparent quirks of the mind, derives their origins and meanings, then makes sense of them!

It is remarkable to think that one could dive so deeply into his own consciousness--scouring its deepest and darkest cavities--and not lose his mind entirely. Not only does Lynch retain his sanity, he goes one better. Molding practically inconceivable concepts into story and sound and image, he creates beautiful, often unsettling pieces of art capable of sincerely communicating the incommunicable.

Again, I do not envy Lynch. His filmmaking prowess is awe-inspiring, of course, but I have no interest in even imagining how a mind like his must work. I doubt I'd come out alive.

Which brings me to INLAND EMPIRE (FINALLY, I know!) I've seen the film exactly one time, at the Neptune Theatre, with my dad and Megaen Paladin. I remember very vividly watching the film, despite not remembering the details of the film itself quite so well. The fact that I remember the actual watching of a particular film would be a lot less noteworthy if the film in question wasn't partly about film-watching (good luck sorting out this sentence, by the way). INLAND EMPIRE is also about film-making, Hollywood, technology, reality, time, getting lost, being a woman, and many, many other things. In true David Lynch fashion, the vast majority of the film is highly surreal. Out of context, almost every scene seems unrelated to the scene which precedes it and the scene which follows it. (I expect some would claim that it's all nonsense in context, too.) Characters regularly walk through doors or down hallways only to emerge into an apparently different reality from the one they previously occupied. If you're familiar at all with David Lynch, you already know there's no way to explain any of what happens in the movie and expect it to make any sort of sense.

This is where I tell you that INLAND EMPIRE makes a whole lot of sense to me. For all the surreality and mind-boggling content, I understand this movie. This is where you think me a crazy person, or a liar, or a pretentious asshole (or maybe a bit of each). Movies like this don't work for everyone. In fact, they probably don't work for a lot of people. And when a movie like INLAND EMPIRE misses a person completely, that person is going to have a very difficult time believing anyone who claims to "get it". I've been that person on numerous occasions, for films far simpler than this one--I speak from experience here. But when I tell you that INLAND EMPIRE works for me, I'm not making it up. I can't explain how or why it works, it just does.

The fact that I can spend nearly three hours staring at a screen in a darkened room without so much as a clue about the relationship between one scene and the next, then leave the theatre with a clear idea of what the film is about blows my mind. When I called David Lynch an "absolute genius" in the opening paragraph, I sincerely meant it. Normal people can't do this kind of thing.

If I wasn't playing favorites with this whole countdown, INLAND EMPIRE would almost certainly crack the Top 3. Having seen it just one time, more than three years ago, though, it sits at #6. But it's quite a movie, folks. It refreshingly assumes at least a modicum of open-minded effort on the viewer's part, too, so if you're not into giving a bit of yourself to a movie, you may as well just skip it.

[I'm going to try to keep this short, in the interest of making it to bed by 6am, but I must at least mention INLAND EMPIRE's relationship to Lynch's 2001 film Mulholland Drive. In many ways, they're almost the same film. INLAND EMPIRE's tagline--"A Woman in Trouble"--could be slapped onto Mulholland Drive and fit like a glove. But Lynch is the sort of filmmaker who could make the "same movie" for the rest of his life and each subsequent version would be as fresh as the first.

The interplay between INLAND EMPIRE and Mulholland Drive is of particular interest to film nerds like myself, however, as Mulholland Drive was shot on film and INLAND EMPIRE was shot digitally. Considered together, the two films serve as a fascinating examination and reflection of the continuing evolution of filmmaking as digital technology further encroaches upon the cinematic tradition that is film stock. As the only two films Lynch made during the past decade, Mulholland Drive and INLAND EMPIRE sort of bookend (metaphorically, not chronologically) a decade which brought digital filmmaking to industry-altering heights.

Anyway, a lot of people, when making their Decade Lists, made the decision to consider Mulholland Drive and INLAND EMPIRE together. I had to separate them, as INLAND EMPIRE was far more accessible to me than Mulholland Drive was. I owe it to myself to re-watch both. So many movies, so little time, though.]

In 2000, Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg made this incredible short film called Camera. I include it here because it, too, engages the Digital vs. Film discussion. In less than seven minutes, it says a great deal. Consider it a taste of the sort of dialogue embarked upon by Mulholland Drive and INLAND EMPIRE. Consider it also an amazing film in its own right.

Missed my 6am target bedtime. Sheeooot.

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