Wednesday, December 06, 2006

INLAND EMPIRE - Movie Review


“Ooh baby, I hear how you spend night-time:
Wrapped like candy in a blue blue neon glow.
Fade away and radiate.
Fade away and radiate.”

No, we are not SHOUTING, the genius madman David Lynch who is behind the wheel of this hellride into various stages of madness requests that the title of his latest flick be in all capitals. And being that we are officially fans of Mr. Lynch, we will obey his request. But, what is “INLAND EMPIRE” about?

If you can tell us, you are lying. This is a film wherein the lead actors, the remarkably strong Laura Dern and the incredibly hot Justin Theroux were handed their dialogue at the beginning of each shooting day. This is a film that Mr. Lynch acknowledges publicly as an experiment: in style, in medium (a spare and grainy video as opposed to film), in temperament and most of all in a complete lack of a coherent storyline.

“Ooh baby, watchful lines
vibrate soft in brainwave time.
Silver pictures move so slow.
Golden tubes faintly glow.”

What we do know is that an actress named Nikki played by Laura Dern in the bravest performance of the year is visited by a woman claiming to be her new neighbor. This woman is portrayed by longtime Lynch muse, Grace Zabriskie in the most restrained over the top manner. She is absolutely brilliant in her clipped pseudo Polish accent and quivering gaze. Apparently, Nikki is up for a role in a new film, which her mystery lady assures her she already has. As Nikki grows increasingly and understandably upset about the strange and menacing ranting of this gatecrasher – the neighbor suddenly points across the room to a settee where she claims Nikki will be sitting when she finds out the good news.

And so we switch into a world that may or may not be comprehensible to the audience, the characters, the actors nor the auteur himself. By now, you are probably wondering why on earth you should be contemplating spending your hard earned pennies on watching a film that appears by all accounts to be indecipherable.

Two reasons. David Lynch and Laura Dern.

Since David Lynch burst upon the scene with his Oscar nominated film adaptation of the tortured life of “The Elephant Man”, his career has been one of the most discussed and dissected of all film directors. His fans are passionate in their devotion to his work. His enemies, equally so. And in the past quarter century he has produced some of the most daring, audacious, entrancing, erotic, terrifying and complicated films we have ever seen.

He deservedly racked up two further Best Director Oscar nominations for his work on “Blue Velvet” and “Mulholland Dr.”. But even those rapturously decadent forays into the deep dark underbelly of American Dreams pale in comparison with this three hour arthouse triumph.

And we do think the film is a triumph. A triumph for Laura Dern in keeping her head above the maelstrom and her skirt on tight during the films most blustering moments. A triumph to for Mr. Lynch for being able to portray the ridiculous, the bizarre, the completely unintelligible in a thought provoking and entertaining fashion.

“Electric faces seem to merge.
Hidden voices mock your words.
Fade away, radiate.
Fade away and radiate.

Beams become my dream.
My dream is on the screen.
The beams become my dream.
My dream is on the screen.”

And yes, the film is indeed entertaining. What film involving a monologue in broken English from a Japanese street urchin involving a tale concerning a friend of hers who is suffering from a perforated vagina that leads into her intestine and somehow relates to her pet monkey wouldn’t be entertaining? No, we don’t know either. But we do know that if you watch this film and find yourselves questioning the wisdom of inserting a recurring motif of a family of rabbit people who seem to inhabit a sitcom from far beyond our minds eye, well then you fail to realize that Mr. Lynch does indeed have a sense of humor.

Oh, it may be a warped one. But at least the man deserves the extremely rare cinematic title of “visionary”. In this, he does indeed traverse a similar dream terrain made legendary by the likes of Federico Fellini, Luis Buñuel, Jean Vigo and Robert Bresson. Those masters also recognized the powers of dreamlike imagery and non-structured narratives. Well, we could argue until the cows come home whether or not their films lacked structure. For every flittering, seemingly nonsensical image that cascades across the screen resonates deeply within the finest works from these maestros.

And David Lynch’s latest is no exception. There are moments within “INLAND EMPIRE” that are gorgeous in their hypnotic power. Some terrifying on a level that would embarrass every young director helming those gorefests that seem so popular with audiences. The point is this: if film is a visual medium, some films deserve to thrive within that definition.

As the film within the film begins to consume the lives of the protagonists, with side leaps into a Lodz ghetto prostitution ring, the seedy underbelly of Hollywood Boulevard and the boob tube bunnies we found ourselves completely riveted by the macabre, twisted, silly, revolving and distraught world depicted before our disbelieving eyes.

Fellow wanderers within this dreamscape include Oscar winning actors Mary Steenburgen and Jeremy Irons, 90's "It Girl" Julia Ormond, the very great character actor Harry Dean Stanton and Laura Dern's own talented momma, the three time Oscar nominee Miss Diane Ladd.

As our guide through the maelstrom, Laura Dern deserves special mention for her complete conviction. Rarely has an actress been called upon to anchor such a free flowing cinematic experience and succeeded so completely. As her character, or rather characters descend further into the hellish landscape she manages to ground the film in believability by the sheer force of her talent. It is a utterly selfless performance made great by her restraint and skill. Take note, Academy voters, you ignored Naomi Watts for her brilliant turn in “Mulholland Dr.”, don’t fuck this one up!

Just don’t ask us what the Rabbit people are meant to represent. Only Lynch could hope to understand their significance. And clearly he loves them. And you know what? We do as well. So why not venture out on a celluloid limb with David and Laura. We’ll venture a guess that more than a few of you will come away discussing this film for quite some time. We’re still thinking about it ourselves. And in the final analysis, that may be the biggest compliment a filmmaker could hope for. Bless you all!

“Dusty frames that still arrive
Die in nineteen fifty-five.
Fade away and radiate.
Fade away and radiate.

The beam becomes my dream.
My dream is on the screen.
Fade away and radiate.
Fade away and radiate.
Fade away and radiate.
Fade away and radiate.”
- lyrics by Blondie from “Fade Away and Radiate

Note: The lyrics to the vintage Blondie song quoted throughout our review have absolutely nothing to do with “INLAND EMPIRE” . . . or do they? BWA-HA-HA-HA-HA!!!!

Written & Directed by David Lynch

Laura Dern as Nikki / Sue
Jeremy Irons as Kingsley
Harry Dean Stanton as Freddie
Justin Theroux as Devon / Billy
Grace Zabriskie as Neighbor
Diane Ladd as Telehostess
Julia Ormond as Wandering Woman #1
Scott Coffey as Jack Rabbit
Laura Harring as Jane / Herself
Nastassja Kinski as Woman on Couch
William H. Macy as Announcer
Naomi Watts as Female Rabbit
Mary Steenburgen as Wandering Woman #2

Film Editing by David Lynch
Art Direction by Christy Wilson & Wojciech Wolniak
Set Decoration by Melanie Rein
Costume Design by Karen Baird & Heidi Bivens



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