Sunday, January 14, 2007

Inland Empire (2006)

There is no way, no bloody way, that David Lynch's new id-dump can be parsed on one viewing. There's just too much going on. A lot of it sums up and restates a lot of themes he's been fond of for much of his career -- there's a lot of Mulholland Drive in the DNA of Inland Empire, with Laura Dern's Nikki Grace a funhouse mirror image of Naomi Watts's Betty Elms, and traces of Blue Velvet, Eraserhead and Lost Highway can be teased out as well -- but per the usual Lynch manages to assemble these elements so that they still feel like a distinct work rather than a greatest-hits compilation. If anything, this is Lynch at his purest, which makes it both satisfying and exasperating, not to mention really difficult to understand. The much-maligned DV photography works within its limits; while I do wish that Lynch had stuck with film, the indistinct fuzziness of digital video seems to fit thematically with Lynch's concept of a world where identity and even perception itself is blurry. The narrative, such as it is, is as ouroborian as Lynch has ever been, with a film-within-a-film swallowed up by the true-life narrative upon which it's based, then that being swallowed by the dream-lives upon which the true-life narrative intrudes, only to have the whole deal revealed as self-devouring artifice. (It's somehow even more confusing than it sounds.) Mesmerizing and aggravating in about equal measure (the Greek chorus of whores is either the best or worst idea Lynch has ever had, and I can't tell if the conversation between the street people near the end is jaw-dropping in a good or bad way), this is nonetheless a singular work from an artistic master. There's also Laura Dern's hell-for-leather performance, which is amazing work in its own right. So verdict: It's pretty good, but come back to me when I've seen it again. It has the potential to be a mindblower.

Grade: B


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