David Lynch and company began production on his follow-up to Mulholland Dr. on the auteur’s words, “I’m writing as I go,” and “I don’t know what I’m doing.” Giving his actors’ only a few pages each day and with no direction home, the film (Lynch’s first feature shot in digital) took between (depending on the source) two to three years to complete. What results is a film that can only be described as, well, “Lynchian”—whatever that really means.
INLAND EMPIRE is a work of art drenched in hypnotic blues and blinding whites, noirish corridors and luxurious mansions, deafening screeches and droned hums. This is David Lynch’s textured digital nightmare about A Woman in Trouble.
The Woman (whether as actress Nikki Grace or cinematic counterpart Susan) is the spectacular Laura Dern. We’re first introduced to Dern as Nikki, who as prophesized by a strange visitor (Grace Zabriskie), lands the lead in the film production of On High in Blue Tomorrows, to be directed by Kingsley Stewart (Irons) and co-star Devon Berk (Theoroux, who had a role in Mulholland). During a rehearsal on Stage 4, an phantasmal incident occurs that forces Kingsley to reveal the doomed fate of the film, which is cursed in a way that’s as if Hitchcock tangoed with Don Quixote.
The shooting of the picture encompasses the first third of INLAND EMPIRE, which also projects a sitcom (backed by a haunting laugh track) starring rabbits, that is at once, an attack on Hollywood and just a narrow corridor in this labyrinthine tale. And then Nikki starts to become Susan, her character in Blue Tomorrows, which the story takes full advantage of through extended film-within-a-film segments that are pillared by the looking glass.
At a running time 20 seconds shy of three hours, Lynch allows himself to momentarily disintegrate through elongated monologues, shots that linger as if he forgot to yell “Cut!” and a middle act that provides a hundred keys to one padlock. But it’s this middle act that Lynch disciples have waited five years for. It’s filled with every bizarrity in his book, and even some from its discarded chapters: a room of nine women that break into ‘The Loco-Motion’ quicker than a snap, a man with crooked glasses known as Mr. K, and a murder plot in Poland—not to mention the rabbits.
The characters, fictitious or real, human or rabbit, somehow co-exist. People (and now Leporidae) seem to speak an alternative prose in the Lynch universe, spouting lines as if written by the lovechild of Poe and Kafka. Dern, of the entire cast (including frequenter Harry Dean Stanton), has made this unique tongue her second language. And for her mastery, David Lynch campaigned vigorously to win his leading lady an Oscar nomination…with a live cow on Hollywood Boulevard, no less. Pure Lynchian.
Ballerina (12:21) is a dreamy piece starring a ballerina dancing to the film’s score.
Lynch 2 (30:10) is an utterly fascinating look at Lynch behind the scenes coping with mounting frustrations, constructing set pieces (which can be traced to his love of art), and directing his cast/crew. This is the kind of intimate Making Of… featurette that goes missing from far too many DVDs. An insightful watch.
Quinoa (20:04): Julia who? Here, David Lynch runs through the step-by-step process of serving up one of his favorite meals, quinoa. As he waits, Lynch has a cigarette, a glass of red wine, and chats sugar water, frog moths, and introducing a woman to Coca-Cola. While you may never want to know exactly how to make quinoa, you’ll at least learn how much sea salt to add if Jeopardy! ever calls.
Stories (41:38): Similar to the “Stories” featurette on the Eraserhead DVD, Lynch flies solo in this lengthy piece to discuss his love of digital, the “horrifying joke” of watching movies on phones, and so, so much more. For die-hard Lynch fans only.
And Trailers and Stills.