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Empire Strikes Back

Empire Strikes Back

Damn you, David Lynch…as much as I tried to resist (which is not much), your Inland Empire has already infested my dreams, if in an appropriately roundabout way. Last night, I dreamed of an awkward, if slightly starstruck meeting between myself and Julia Ormond, who most certainly wouldn’t have been anywhere near my consciousness if she hadn’t appeared as the skittish mystery woman ( is there any other kind in Lynchland, really?) who, in one scene, seems to be confessing to a crime that she might have committed upon herself. (In a police station interrogation room, she claims to have killed a man with a screwdriver, only a moment later to reveal a screwdriver sticking out of a bloody hole in her own stomach….)

It’s just one of an endless spiral of sequences predicated completely on dream logic…scenes don’t really flow from one to the next so much as refer to one another with signifiers, motifs, and vague connections. Julia Ormond, whom one might recognize from her casual mid-Nineties flirtation with fame in such faint middlebrow memories as Sabrina and Legends of the Fall, was once full featured and lushly beautiful, while here she is dessicated, hollow—it’s just one of Lynch’s many surprises. “You remember Julia?” a friend (family member?) asked me by way of introduction last night. I nodded “Of course!” at the woman dressed in the decidedly un-Lynchian orange and yellow colored hat and dress in the middle of a mall food court. Our interaction from that point on is fuzzy now in the light of day…but I know that Lynch’s movie has done its trick on me, and it has continued to grow and evolve in my mind as well as my subconscious.

First impressions were: the video is gorgeously grim, never has darkness looked so rich, so full of possibilities; Laura Dern is phenomenally expressive, if a tad lost in Lynch’s labyrinth; it plays like a reversal of Mulholland Drive, in that it uses about 45 minutes of proper linear narrative (or as close as he gets to linear) and then launches into an unending dreamscape that repeats, flips, and wildly gesticulates for much of the running time; it can’t be judged by average narrative film standards.

So, three days later, what is Inland Empire? There’s no “waking up” from it, as though we become utterly trapped in its headspace of dissolved identities and missed connections. Regardless, Lynch has made something dazzlingly tactile from what is maddeningly inscrutable and opaque—you can almost reach out and touch the single light-sourced interiors, you can smell the musty rooms through which Dern wanders with no end. Though there’s no “back to reality,” the film still manages to resolve itself, if only spiritually. Ultimately, judging from Inland‘s last scenes, it could be a film about liberation, even emancipation—a young woman freed from the captivity of a bedroom, followed by a closing-credits musical lip-synch to Nina Simone’s “Sinner Man,” exuberantly performed by the film’s chorus of prostitutes and kept women. To put these things into words could never do them justice, as the experience, ever inexplicable, simply lodges in your heart—once you’re able to stop trying to psychoanalyze it. For all its impenetrability, and its lack of the aesthetic “refinement” that made Mulholland Drive one of the decade’s great works thus far, the experiment of Inland Empire might have produced Lynch’s most purely emotional film.

To read more about the film on the main site, click here.

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