Evil was born, and followed the boy.
So, finally, readers…INLAND EMPIRE.
Alice in Wonderland on acid.
A hauntological ”Repulsion”.
Transcendental meditation on the evils of cinema.
The world’s critics have wasted countless words on the film’s ”meanings”, but the story itself seemed like a riff on Lynch’s stock subject – the meanderings of a lost soul through the Purgatory. Actress Nikki Grace falls down the rabbit hole, straight into a hall of mirrors. Roaming through Lynch’s famous dark corridors, Nikki transforms into various identities. As a crucial scene demonstrates, they are all Nikki’s self-projections: she turns around to face the stalker, only to discover her own grinning face projected on his back.
It seems that yet again, we are threading the labyrinthine spaces of Stanley Kubrick’s Overlook hotel.
The Shining – in both book and film versions, and here I suggest a side-stepping of the wearisome struggle between King fans and Kubrickians and propose treating the novel and the film as a labyrinth-rhizome, a set of interlocking correspondences and differences, a row of doors – is about what lurks, unquiet, in that space. Insofar as they continue to frighten us once we’ve left the cinema, the ghosts that dwell here are not supernatural. As with Vertigo, in The Shining it is only when the possibility of supernatural spooks has been laid to rest that we can confront the Real ghosts….
The underlying psychology relates Nikki’s journey to matrimonial abuse. Echoes of Polanski’s REPULSION and Petrie’s SYBIL abound, but I can’t say that Lynch takes these themes beyond the territory of ”The Wizard of Oz”. Due to its meditative tempo, the film lends itself better to a New Age reading: the female soul traveling towards Enlightenment. However, without the battle between good and evil, INLAND EMPIRE struck me as devoid of suspense . Perhaps this Buddhist mode is a logical choice for Lych, given that MULHOLLAND DRIVE already played with detective cinema.
The story was further marred by references to Poland, which has no clear function, other than creating a sense of dread in the American encounter with Eastern Europe. Worse, the imagery pointed backwards to a decaffeinated Louis Bunuel. It’s as though Lynch wanted to be weird for he Hell of it, or sexually charged without any erotic substance. Sporadic sitcom footage featuring giant rabbits made things even less accessible. Though very effective as absurd comedy, the rabbits reminded me of the early David Lynch, a self-indulgent provocateur from the film academy.
So there’s nothing new in the narrative, or in character development, to merit our interest. As always, it is the uncanny power of Lynch’s audio-visual hallucinations that makes INLAND EMPIRE such an extraordinary film. We need to consult Steven Shaviro, who wrote the following about Dusan Makavejev’s film WR: MYSTERIES OF ORGASM:
The strands of the film could not be more disparate, nor the styles (from documentary rawness to mannered, deliberate staging) in which these strands are presented to us; and yet everything seems related to everything else, everything in the film affects and is affected by everything else.
In the way it proceeds through a rhizome, where the fragmented set-pieces unexpectedly create difference through repetition, making connections that dissolve at the very moment of their creation, the film is a wonderful piece of surreal poetry.
What enables Lynch’s vision to evolve beyond MULHOLLAND DRIVE is his innovative use of the DV (digital video) technique. Watching INLAND EMPIRE on the big screen subverts the usual dynamic of the cinematic event. Because the image looks like a flattened-out Youtube video, you might just as well be blogging in front of the computer. The experience turns the screen into a portal. And this is how Lynch’s hallucination spills over into reality – by collapsing everything on a single plane, reality becomes just one of the many parallel universes that the film conjures.