Inland Empire

Inland Empire

Film review by: Witney Seibold



 “I can’t tell if it’s yesterday or tomorrow, and it’s a real mindfuck.” 

                                                -Laura Dern in “Inland Empire


            Inland Empire,” more than any of David Lynch’s pervious films, is like a dream. Lynch finally got to work on “Inland Empire” the way he likes: without schedules… without a completed script at the outset… thinking of one short, stand-alone scene one night, then asking game star Laura Dern to come over the next day so they can shoot it together on his new digital camera, largely on Lynch’s own property. He then added some cogent bookend material, added some of shorts from his website, and released a three-hour surreal epic into the world. He hasn’t assembled a film like this since his debut feature “Eraserhead” which took five years to complete, and grew as Lynch got more ideas about where he wanted the film to go.


            In case it wasn’t clear throughout his career of hard-edged, surreal psychosexual dramas and organically Martian interpretations of 1950s Americana, “Inland Empire” cements the fact that David Lynch doesn’t really live in the same world as the rest of us.


            Inland Empire” is obviously about acting, and David Lynch clearly admires what actors do: sublimate their own personalities, and perhaps risk a loss of identity, all for the sake of an unseen audience that exists in a darkened abstract form somewhere inside the actor’s mind. But “Inland Empire” is no simple playful treatise. It is a black and confusing and gorgeously asymmetrical meditation on acting, on-set relationships, celebrity, filmmaking, prostitution (in all its forms), abuse (from husbands, audiences, co-workers, filmmakers), and the ancient instinct humans have toward storytelling in general.


            Or something.


            David Lynch loves a good mystery. So much so, that he will not give you a solution. Every door he opens within his mysteries, merely open into deeper mysteries. Why spoil a good mystery by making it about a solution? Why not just be eternally lost in an inconclusive universe, making it about the mystery? I can admire trying to sustain that.


            What can I tell you about the story? After an introduction short involving rabbit people on a sitcom set, and a creepy snuff-esque sex film with the actors’ faces fuzzed out and their Polish dialogue creepily subtitled, we meet our leads: Laura Dern plays Nikki Grace, an actress trying to hold on to her fading fame. She takes on a film with director Kingsley Stewart (Jeremy Irons) and co-star Devon Burke (Justin Theroux). They work fairly well together, and Nikki begins to flirt with Devon a bit. One day, Kingsley ominously intones that the film they are working on, called “On High in Blue Tomorrows,” is actually a remake of an uncompleted Polish film. Uncompleted because the previous production saw the deaths of the actors and crew. “They found something inside the story,” he says cryptically. Then Nikki wanders into the set, opens a door which should only be a prop, and enters.


            Dern then seems to have become her character from the film. But also is occasionally an abused housewife living in Irvine or thereabouts. But then she’s also a Polish streetwalker from time to time. And perhaps also an abused American streetwalker. She drifts from one identity to the next with no warning or logic, except maybe dreamlogic. We meet some other threatening characters, all of which could be extensions of Nikki’s (or perhaps even Dern’s own) mind.


            Inland Empire” is a challenging film to say the least, and potentially completely alienating. I can’t say I enjoyed it; I did not feel exhilaration or joy leaving the theater. I did, however, savor the feeling of being lost in the labyrinth. The maze that is “Inland Empire” will hurt or help you, but enigmatic mysteries of it will have an impact.


            Dern is not only game in her several roles, but does an amazing acting job stringing together a palpable and emotionally ragged throughline for the audience. She really does sacrifice herself for us.


            Lynch shot “Inland Empire” entirely on a digital camera, and while this lends an immediate gritty quality to the film, I will miss the celluloid days of “Lost Highway,” perhaps one of the more beautifully photographed films. Lynch, who loves the way films looks (“It’s beautiful”), and agrees that the most amazing things can be done with light, has now called film a “dinosaur” and looks forward to the quick digital filming that seems more conducive to his abstract improvisational style.

             Will you like “Inland Empire?” If you’re already a Lynch fan, you will. If not, you will be lost, but you may love it.

Published in: on September 20, 2007 at 9:18 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. New eBook reveals David Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE. Old World Politics, New World Prophecy: Understanding David Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE available now at and Here is the link:

  2. New eBook reveals David Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE. Old World Politics, New World Prophecy: Understanding David Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE. Available now at and Here is the link:

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