from The Fairfield Weekly Reader, March 2007

Inland Empire
by Tony Ellis

A British reviewer once said of David Lynch’s movies, they are supposed to be experienced not understood. While this is true, his latest film, Inland Empire, turns out to have a relatively recognizable story line rooted in the best traditions of Greek drama (albeit framed in Lynch’s super-magical world of darkness and light, dream and reality). The film follows events in the life of an actress, played by Laura Dern, as she embarks on what may be a “dream” role (little does she know). Before she travels to Hollywood, she is warned by auguries that if she breaks her marital fidelity and transgresses into sin with the leading man, there will be serious consequences to pay. Of course, she fails to take heed and so begins her odyssey into the dark underworld of the human psyche. Dern has always impressed with her ability to transition quickly from gracious beauty to crazed street junky, which is perhaps why Lynch likes to work with her so much. She gets plenty of chance to play the latter as she scrambles through the fetid corridors of her personal hell.
            Geographically, the film wanders back and forth between the decaying imperial splendor of Poland and the decadent street life of Hollywood, with only a few glimpses of the actual Inland Empire, an area between Orange County and Los Angeles, affectionately known as “California’s backyard”. You begin to suspect that the real Inland Empire is a state of the mind rather than a physical place. Cinematically, the film is sketched in grainy pastels and screaming pixels with more than a passing homage to German Expressionist filmmakers. As a masterful exercise in the use of inexpensive digital video, it should excite young filmmakers with big ideas and small pockets, though there are times when you crave a taste of celluloid warmth to cheer up the thin pixilation.
            Like all classic odysseys, there is an augury, a journey into darkness, an ogre to be slain and a lower level of creation to be reached (which in this case is room 47, populated by strange beings in bunny suits and is actually one of the most striking metaphors in the movie), and a Greek chorus of Hollywood hookers, who at one point break out into their own version of The Locomotion by Little Eva. Despite the visual violence, the playful and mischievous mind of Lynch is never too far hidden (he comes dangerously close to self-parody a few times). When Dern completes her journey and finally slays her monsters, there is a blaze of light and sweetness, and balance returns to the world.
            For those of you who are worried you will not be able to make it through 179 minutes of David Lynch’s universe, don’t be afraid. The film is entirely engaging and barely a person in the cinema moved during the whole show. If you get a chance, see it in the movie theater rather than wait for the DVD. This film is made for watching in a big dark cavern.

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