This year, Dallas hosted its first annual AFI International Film Festival, and my employer was one of the contributors, so I got to go to a screening of the new David Lynch film, 'Inland Empire.' I was able to briefly meet the man himself, and get a picture with him:
I also got him to sign my Region 2 import DVD of 'Eraserhead' too, although he wasn't too happy about it (I was told before I met him that he rarely, if ever, signs things for people). When I handed it to him, he frowned, but I mentioned that I'd bought it years ago, long before it was available here, and it was one of the main reasons why I got a region-free DVD player. He signed it, so either he bought my story, or he just wanted to shut me up.
So, the movie. I'm glad I met him before I saw it, because I honestly don't know what I would've said to him afterwards. I'm a big fan of his other films. 'Eraserhead' is a classic, as is 'Blue Velvet,' and more recently, 'Mulholland Drive.' However, 'Inland Empire' doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as any of those other films. In fact, the kindest thing I can say about it is that Lynch has successfully brought a living nightmare to the screen. Unfortunately, the nightmare is all ours, and the only way to wake from it is to fall asleep.
This film is truly 'Lynch untethered.' If you're a film buff, think about those words for a minute. And heaven forbid, but if you thought 'Mulholland Drive' didn't make any sense (and it took a couple of viewings and some web research for me), I'll bet dollars to donuts you won't make it through the first 60 minutes. Just the first hour alone was like watching a four-year old try to play Tetris. Once in a while, a couple of pieces may seem to fit together, but it'll be more by accident than anything else. Then you have hour two. Then, hour three.
The most upsetting thing about this film is that he's covering old territory, and not just of other directors (you'll see some not-so-subtle nods to Stanley Kubrick, Oliver Stone, Japanese horror, etc.), but of his own material. In a nutshell, 'Inland Empire' is another 'Fuck You' to mainstream Hollywood, but he did it a few years ago with 'Mulholland Drive,' and much better. He gave us a small amount of narrative, a character to root for, and even when the film seemed to go off the rails in the last 30 minutes, there were good reasons for it. With this film, it's not only off the rails, there were no rails in the first place. In fact, there's barely a train at all. I'm not one who complains when a film doesn't follow the three-act structure, but this film had about 50 or 60 acts. This is also why it felt like it had 20 endings, and yet felt like it never ended, even after the credits rolled. Talk about unsatisfying. Lynch makes one tiny effort to 'throw us a bone,' but it comes at about the 2:30 mark, and it adds more confusion than anything else, and by this time, I'd stopped trying long ago.
There are a couple of positives to take away, however. Laura Dern's performance is strong, but it may have felt that way because everyone else in the film acted like they were overdosing on Vicodin. Also, the score was very effective, and unsettling at just the right times. But these things aren't enough for me to even consider recommending this film to even the biggest Lynch diehards. Unless you like spending your free time putting together jigsaw puzzles of blurry pictures, and that have half of the pieces missing, stay far away from this one.
I was told that Lynch's original cut of this film was 11 hours long. If it were 30 minutes, it would still be too long. At 11 hours, there's only one way you would get me to watch it:
I like some abstract movies ('Begotten,' anyone?), but no matter what, a film has to make me care about something or someone in it. In this respect, 'Inland Empire' is a complete disaster. It may end up being my pick for Worst Film of the Year. I don't know if I've ever felt more disappointed while walking out of a theater, and I didn't read a single review beforehand (I saw that Ebert's website editor gave it four stars, but that's it), so my expectations were squarely on Mr. Lynch's shoulders. I appreciate when a filmmaker has the courage to take risks, but at least one of them has to pay off for it to make a difference for me. I don't want Lynch's next film to be Mission:Impossible 4, but I don't want it to bore me as much as this film did either.