Emperor of Weird

Erin McKee cooks quinoa ventures across the desert to David Lynch’s Inland Empire.

I found myself constantly putting off watching Inland Empire, David Lynch’s most recent feature film since 2001’s Mulholland Dr. I was afraid of being sucker-punched by it. Fragments of the movie I’d heard about beforehand sent my imagination spinning: a woman with a screwdriver in her stomach. A chorus line of barely-dressed young women doin’ the Locomotion. Rabbit-people. Eerie hallways. Prostitutes in Poland along a snowy street. Gypsy curses and fairy tales. A film within a film.

Several times I was about to pop the DVD in the machine… and then I’d notice it was a beautiful, sunny afternoon outside… or worse, I’d realise the brightness streaming through the window was turning muted and dusky. Panic! If I started the film, how long before it would become dark outside? Inland Empire is a three-hour commitment – how would I feel at the movie’s end, alone in the quiet blackness and stillness of an end-of-summer night? Would I want to curl up in bed with the covers over my head, or would I need to distract myself with something soothing or cheery afterward to bring my emotions back to some sort of equilibrium?

I was tense for several days before I pressed play.

And then, when I did, I disappeared. I was at the mercy of Lynch’s tele-visions.

The movie unfolds in a dreamlike, non-linear way, revealing the worries and anxieties of the characters, and, possibly, illuminating the disconnect between a person’s subjective and actual experiences.

If that sounds bewildering… well, it is. Inland Empire is one of those cruel movies entirely open to interpretation.

With a barely-discernible plot, obscure chronology, peculiar soundtrack, and fluctuating, unstable characters, in many ways you can see in this movie whatever you want to see. If you’re willing to surrender your reasoning abilities, it may seem a haunting, perceptive movie about the depths of one’s mind and its impressions of reality. But then again, it could just be a confusing and pointless movie with some weird rabbit people in it.

Laura Dern is captivating in the lead role, and her movements and gestures carefully reflect raw emotions. While her character carries much of the weight of the movie, the other actors are notable as well, in many cases appearing and re-appearing in different guises.

The film’s ambient soundtrack is not unlike a mixture of sounds you hear in any city-sounds so common and persistent your brain merely filters them out so you may not have noticed them at all: the buzz of electricity in your home, the crackle of streetlights, the indistinct zooming and humming of cars on the parkway in the distance… In Inland Empire sounds similar to these have been amplified and melded together into what seems like a continuous drone that runs through the film. Scarcely audible underneath the campy melody of Little Eva’s “Locomotion”, the synchronized dancing scene becomes creepy instead of cheeky.

While my three hours lost in abstraction was more than enough for me, the recently-released special edition 2-disc DVD of the film has, among other things, 90 minutes of additional deleted scenes (gah!), interviews with the director and actors, 73 movie stills, a short film, and a segment entitled “David Lynch cooks quinoa,” which makes the special features seem almost as intriguing as the movie itself. (“Quinoa is something I like to have for dinner every chance I get,” intones Lynch from his well-equipped kitchen.)

Rather than watching this alone, I recommend inviting some introspective friends over to share the experience. At the very least, Inland Empire might inspire interesting discussions at an otherwise dull party.

Inland Empire was released on DVD last month.