Tuesday, January 09, 2007

INLAND EMPIRE: I'll no doubt change my mind after five more viewings

I might still be in INLAND EMPIRE, which I saw last week. It's about being unable to tell whether you're in a movie, acting for a movie, watching a movie or watching yourself watch or act in a movie. (Yeah, I know.) I walked out of the AFI and didn't want to turn my head, fearing David Lynch would be next to me with a digital camera in my face. ("David, please, I'm trying to cross the street.")

INLAND EMPIRE, INLAND EMPIRE. All caps. A great title -- epic and intimate. "A woman in trouble" is its tagline. Perfect. "It's a mystery," Lynch has said. He shot it on digital and swears he won't go back to film, which is a shame because Mulholland Dr. was gorgeous and INLAND EMPIRE is not. It looks like a student film. A bad student film.

I can only assess EMPIRE with regards to Mulholland. After all, both feature blonde actors vying for a role that puts the kibosh on their psyche. But where Mulholland was measured and profound (it was in my top 10 for 2001), Empire is cagey and unfeeling. The first was about heartbreak, the second about murder and guilt. I think. Both movies operate on their own logic and -- despite their what-the-f*ckness -- they follow the rules therein. Except Mulholland's logic makes sense. You dig? Neither do I.

And while I value Mulholland as a whole, I was only transported during one sequence of EMPIRE. Laura Dern's character is lost in the dim hallways of her soul (think John Malkovich in his own portal) and stumbles into an empty movie theater. She sees herself on the theater's screen as we see her on ours. Then a dark figure darts on her screen at the same time it moves in her reality (which is our screen), and I immediately wanted to look around my own theater (my own reality) for the intruder. Dern is unnerved, and we are unnerved. Who's watching us? Who's watching us watch ourselves? (I was half-expecting Dern and Lynch to jump in through the fire exit to pulverize the last bricks of the fourth wall. They didn't; if they did, this would've been the best movie of the year. Alas.)

This brief scene is a thesis, but the rest of the film doesn't support it. At least, not after one viewing. I took notes on every scene, knowing I'd have to piece it together. And even though I was riveted for EMPIRE's 172 minutes, it doesn't add up for me. Lynch has proven to be a careful artist, but this one feels like an amateur attempt to trick people into seeing a genius that just...isn't...there. If this sleight-of-hand was Lynch's intent all along, then good for him. But I feel sleighted rather than delivered.


"I'm not sure how many characters I'm playing, but I bet it'll look just fascinating."

10 comments:

d henry said...

Fine review. Thank you. I don't think I have the 171 minutes for it. But Mulholland Drive was a wonderful movie. Oh well. So go see Vulvar and be glad.

d henry said...

Oops, Volver (embarassed).

J.J. said...

Vulvar...I think that's a porn movie I saw once.

I have a lot more to say about EMPIRE -- especially about Lynch's obsession with Hollywood -- but it's not worth it right now.

RC said...

interesting, thanks for sharing this post...not many people are talking about this movie.

Middento said...

Oh my gosh, thank you for reminding me of the wonder that is Blue Velvet, even if you didn't mention it here. I must add it to my syllabus right now before it's too late.

J.J. said...

I think Blue Velvet is one of the worst movies ever made. Take it off your syllabus, unless you need to demonstrate how a film can totally destroy its respectable efforts with juvenile satire.

Middento said...

Oh, Ebert. Please stop moonlighting hyperbolically on JJ's blog. I've already read your review, and that's precisely why it's going in my syllabus.

J.J. said...

Oh snap.

MattS said...

J.J., a very good summing up. Inland Empire resembles juvenalia in nearly every respect--it is self-important, sentimental cinematic tripe--except for the budget constraints that burden the young starving artist. This monument of self indulgence took 5 years to make?

I wonder where all the money went. Certainly, none of it went to Angelo Badalamenti whose compositions seemed central in Lynch's previous films. The music concept in Empire is worse than juvenile, more like "Oh dear, Grandpa's fallen asleep on the MOOG again!"

The only thing I got for 3 hours and 12 bucks came from the creepy couple behind me at the late-night AFI screening. They kept muttering to each other in a language I'm pretty sure they were making up as they went. I couldn't bring myself to turn around. After reading JJ's review, I'm certain one of them was Lynch.

J.J. said...

"Oh dear, Grandpa's fallen asleep on the MOOG again!"

What a fantastic (and appropriate) image.