The following article was published in N-SPHERE November 2009 issue.


David Lynch’s films have never been easy to review nor have they been easy to transpose into the common bare naked factual logic. They are demanding, freewheeling and often require multiple viewings, which lead a considerable number of people to dismiss them as either the works of a madman, or chaotic efforts of a very gifted yet self-indulgent director. Yet if the true test of any review is on how it encounters its material by means of depth, avoiding comfortable and shallow answers, such assumptions – overnight – turned – into – self proclaimed – pertinent – reviews fail this test miserably. For art should not comfort the basic cause-effect logic, nor should it feed the masses’ need of upholding moral values which – sooner or later – they will betray. A film shall be judged from its own modus-operandi, or shall not be judged at all.

These having been said, I will not comment in any way on the degree of incomprehensibility, the obscure trail surrounding most of Lynch’s works. I will stop and discuss a few things which I find to be more important: the links between his films, the recurrent themes and pattern-matching issues and the way the idea of a narrative structure evolves – as a whole – in his previous efforts so that you will see the payoff of INLAND EMPIRE.

If you are to take a closer look, you will see that Lynch’s films are like regions of a map. You can make connections between all of them, for example, the Kafkian mutation in “Eraserhead” is displayed in a more gentle, sensitive and accessible approach in “The Elephant Man”. The young Jeffrey Beaumont (“Blue Velvet”) evolved into Dale Cooper (“Twin Peaks”). The disturbing mindscape from “Lost Highway” is channeled in a more methodical fashion in “Mulholland Drive”. There are also certain actors who you can see in most of his films, and also certain constant character types.

Of all directors, David Lynch may be the one who has the most trademarks, from a certain type of soundtrack (haunting, walking the ground between the beautiful and the nightmarish), to color pallet (red is often present in most of his work – red drapes, red lipstick), dialogue (often oscillating between unworldly and idiosyncratic), character profiles (his protagonists generally have the tendency of weaving frail illusions into which they will surrender) etc.

The narrative structure is no exception either. “Eraserhead” has a beckettian approach: characters that barely communicate, a story that is stripped to the minimum, fitting like a glove with the overall mood. As the movie progresses, as its protagonist’s mind is swallowed little by little by anxiety and alienation, the story itself starts to decompose. “The Elephant Man” however, uses a far more straightforward structure in which, occasionally, Lynch inserts moody industrial dreamlike sequences. “Blue Velvet” uses mostly the same approach, this time there is a film-noir pattern overlapped over a domestic comedy one. The same recipe is used into “Twin Peaks” as well with few additions and greater effect. After “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” however, the narrative structure becomes more and more non-linear, the plot being used as a vehicle and nothing more, which might have not been something entirely new since, for example, “Blue Velvet” was more focused on the mysteries of repressed desire, on the robins and on the Dorothy-Jeffrey-Frank triangle as it was focused on the mystery around which its plot was centered. In “Twin Peaks” the “Who killed Laura Palmer?” is just a starting vehicle as well to lead us, into what really happened in those “strange old woods”. But in those cases the plot was developed and straightforwardly enough to be something that viewers can cling into. In his post “Fire Walk With Me” films (excepting “Straight Story”) the plot itself was a puzzle and what the viewer was to gather was not from it but from its proximities. “Mulholland Drive”is a good example in the case. There, you almost don’t need a plot to understand and experience the film (the operative action remaining “to experience”).

With his latest film – INLAND EMPIRE – David Lynch goes even further. Generally, his films where all about duality: blonde and brunette, two-layered plots, actors playing to characters and so forth. Here, things are a bit more complicated. On the one hand we have the story of an actress playing a lead role in a film, which later she finds out that it is cursed, on the other hand we have a prostitute discussing with a shrink, telling him her story, there is also a story branch which takes place in Poland and so forth.

There is a stunning performance from Laura Dern, there are common patterns which hold the film together. There is also a very interesting temporal structure. There is the title itself. The empire.

I have said before that Lynch’s films are like regions of a map. INLAND makes no exception: first, there is the actress story which strikingly resembles Mulholland Drive, there are some references to Twin peaks as well (the red curtains in the black Lodge, the doppelgaenger) and it also resembles Eraserhead by means of story transformation/disintegration.

Mulholland Drive discarded the notion of conventional narrative, or to be more precise, discarded its contribution by a technical artifice. Instead, INLAND EMPIRE relies more on a polymorphic plot. One that exists, yet it is too vague to be encapsulated in a single set of events and rules. Therefore, we have plots, not plot. It depends on the starting point/starting character.

You can tell that it is a film about acting, or that it is a film where stories overlap and generate other stories, it may be a film of a cursed girl forced into oblivion in a room with a TV, it may be a film that has one or two things to do with the “telling of time” (also, there are some scenes which are replayed etc.)

What happens next? I don’t know. I wait to be surprised. INLAND EMPIRE already set new rules, both from a visual aspect (HD Cam) and also from a structural one so there is not pretty much guessing.

Until then however, for those who have developed a taste for this kind of stuff, good riddance down the rabbit hole!

Artwork: photography by David Lynch

review by Shade

Full article here.