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


Rabbit holes. You might be familiar with them as you might be familiar with Alice as well. Rabbit holes sometimes unravel stories and sometimes those stories are linked to each other by certain particularities. Movies unravel stories as well, but they usually unravel one story at a time. But what happens if they unravel more than one story and if those stories are not connected by an in–line plot?

Do not be fooled –this review is not intended to explain INLAND EMPIRE. I do not agree with explaining things thoroughly, because then I would deprive the dedicated viewers of the satisfaction they may have when they find out certain things by themselves. In my previous article I summarized David Lynch’s work, underlining some of his trademarks, pointing out some of his ideas and arguing that his work is like a map. Bear this thought in mind. Now let us return to where we were…

Stories. Stories and meta-narratives. There is a remake (On high In Blue Tomorrows – directed by Kingsley) of a “cursed” film (47), one based on a gypsy folk tale. In the film, the protagonists (Billy and Sue) are about to engage themselves in a “forbidden-relationship”. At the same time, the actors (Nikki and Devon) themselves kind of fall for one another and at one point Nikki mistakes Devon with Billy. There is a polish side of the film in which a man (M1) and a woman (W1) start a confrontation, the man hits her and then walks out. In the meantime, we see another man and another woman (the man looks like Piotrek, Nikki’s husband) and the woman is telling him that she can’t give him children. The man walks out and meets with another man and asks him what time is it. He finds out that it is 9:45, which is linked to the beginning of the film in which a supposedly Russian neighbor tells Nikki that perhaps if it had been 9:45 she would have thought that it is past midnight. There are more of these similarities.

The main difference between INLAND EMPIRE and, let’s say, Mulholland Dr. is that Mulholland offers a simple key, a key linked to our logic or, better said, to the traditional narrative’ s logic. INLAND doesn’t. Whereas Mulholland relied on a simple artifice of switching places of two layers while maintaining each one’s characteristics (if you saw the film, you’d know what I’m talking about and which are the two layers), INLAND puts each layer side by side, without creating priority rules.

Now let us return to the rabbit holes a little, to holes, to be more precise. Holes as gateways. Rabbit holes as gateways. In the beginning of the film we see two people, one of them being M1. M1 asks for an entrance. By the time the scene closes, as the lights go out we see the shadow of a rabbit.

At another point of the film, one of Laura Dern’s characters learns that if she wears the watch and burns – with a cigarette – a hole through a silken piece of clothing and then looks through it, she will enter in another world. The next scene we see is the one I mentioned earlier with M1 and W1. There are also those doors with AXXON N written on them (” AXXON N the longest running radio play in the history tonight continuing in the Baltic region…”) which act as holes/gateways as well.

Speaking of time and the man in the green coat that “has something to do with the telling of time”, there are some scenes which are replayed, for example the one in which a hooker (played also by Laura Dern) meets a shrink, a scene we see after the first 30 minutes and then we see again in the movie’s final part. In the beginning, the scene occurs to unravel a part of the character’s history and then to unravel the context. The same pattern occurs again in the earlier stages of the film, when the actors rehearse and Freddy (Kingsley’s agent) notices that someone entered their stage (“Someone’s there”). Devon goes to see who is it, but comes back saying that “he disappeared where it’s very hard to disappear”. Later, when Nikki and Devon have sex, Nikki tells her that one day ago she did a scene where she was supposed to buy groceries for him with his car and she parked the car in a place she knew there is always a vacant parking space. When she got out of the car she saw a door which had “AXXON N” written on it and when she opened it she saw herself having that first rehearsal and it was that moment when Freddy realized that “someone’s there”. Again, the scene – context pair.

However, what is linking all of these stories? On the one hand there is a common ground, but we can tell that about many random events and yet they still remain vaguely related.

Bergson stated that we do not perceive things/ideas entirely, but only fragments of them, depending on what is in our area of interest. In other terms, we perceive only that part that fits to our outer design. Henceforth, we perceive something that is already formalized to fit our own design, henceforth we may perceive what we are processed to perceive.

But this happens when the context in which a certain idea occurs fits with our design. Lynch rarely gives the viewer this comfort. If we look back at his films, we can see that the plot is simple, but what makes it difficult to sit through for many viewers is the manner in which the plot is developed. Even here, the stories are common, but Lynch manages to create a background that is bizarre and yet hard to dismiss. How is he doing that, more precisely? By partially replacing the Figurative, with the Figure. For those unfamiliar with these two terms, they emerge from Gilles Deleuze’s work, according to whom the Figurative implies narrative/representation, while the Figure implies sensation. I say partially, because Lynch still uses fragments of classic narrative, followed by abstractions. Here the narration and the sensation are blended together. He have the film (“In a high on blue tomorrows”) as a gateway itself. Because, when we are to look at the story inside, from the end to the beginning we can easily see that some things are wrong. We see the husband playing a role for one, and he was not in the film. The film’s tone, at the beginning is that of a soap opera more-like, the “end” of the film is disturbing.

There is another aspect, that I found – again – particularly interesting, an aspect that I noticed in the first part of the film: the moments of silence between some pieces of dialogues. The expressions on the characters’ faces. They looked as if they were hypnotized or their thoughts wandered somewhere else. It vaguely reminded me of Werner Herzog’s “Herz aus glas”.

This consideration, however, is a standalone one. It is not linked with the rest of the article. Now going back to where we left, there is another aspect, that every Lynch connoisseur knows: in his films, the identity is mutable. However in his previous work the mutability had been rather simulated, and dictated by a narrative device. Here it is not. What he have more likely is a rhizomatic structure which connects any point

to any other point regardless of its nature. Digging deeper, there is another notion that describes a structure in which all points are connected: logic. But what we – in most cases perceive as logic –is linked again to formalisms. In fact, a logic is a closed system in which all points are connected. Since I used “a logic” and not “logic”, I also imply that there might be different logics applied to different individuals. There might be some things in common between some of them, but all in all they are different entities.

The confusion is generated by mistaking logic with science. Whereas logic may deal with scientific aspects as well, it is not reduced to doing only that. Which brings us to the next step. The existence of multiple logical systems, rules out objectivity. Science doesn’t.

People expect an objective view when it comes to film, a single and correct explanation, a single story or a set of stories that can be grouped around a category. But the objectivity is not something mandatory, because, in life, objectivity exists only when it comes to things that are cold. You can be objective when it comes to medicine, biology, physics etc. But what about the human mind, what about the human MO? Or the relationship between humans, their actions? The only objectivity there exists as long we exist, which is somewhat a contradiction.

The difficulty that critics encountered when they encountered INLAND EMPIRE, was the absence of an objective view (translated here, by a readable structure that controls the whole film). In art there is no objectivity, in senses there is no objectivity and in some of people’s actions there is no objectivity. There are no rights and wrongs excepts the ones stated by a finite and – ironically – subjective entity. On a lighter note, the last sentence is not to be taken ad-litteram.

Another issue is the director’s choice to step into digital. On one way, it offers the result a more immediate tone, one that is easier to sense and on another way, the whole language is different. However, this film doesn’t resemble with the DOGME 95 films, neither does it resemble with films such as “Collateral”, for example. There is, especially in the first part, a strong contrast between the cinematography and the sound (the scene where the two INOBT have a drink, for example).

Since we talked about rhizomatic structures we may as well talk about causal symmetries. Since identity is mutable, the classical principles of causality do not apply anymore. We are taught that the Thing No. 1 causes thing No. 2 and not the other way around. Here, due to the rhizomatic structure, it happens. And since the plans are aligned horizontally, something from a plan, may cause something from the other plan. And if we add to the equation that Lynch talked a lot about the unified field I think it is clear where the last part of the sentence was heading, clear enough for me not having to write it down.

To sum things up a little, INLAND EMPIRE is a film to be experienced, rather than deciphered in a standard manner. There are some ideas attached to it, but none of them directly linked to the plot itself, and it reminded me of Sadegh Hedayat’s “The Blind Owl” by means of scenes and motifs repeating themselves regularly. Its rhizomatic structure may confuse some of the viewers, but it also gives the whole films some sort of a strange unity. In spite it’s dismembered “narratives”, actors playing multiple characters, subplots that go haywire, the movie never feels incomplete, nor can it be dismissed since, on one hand there is no other film to relate to, and on the other, the only grounds for dismissal would be the traditional ones and the movie rejects them from start.

There are similarities with some of his other films, but this time there is no standard key to unlock it. However, there are traces such as failed marriages, loss, cursed films even, but, whereas in other films characters talk about it, we read them, here we watch them like in a movie theater, unconnected to what we were used to.

Bear in mind, that film is a standalone environment and should be treated likewise. Films are not real life, or, more precisely, films are not what we encounter in real life. Here, there is a difference between something that is depicted to happen – happening as depiction – and something that IS happening and we watch it in its hole, unlinked – again – with what we were taught or what we liked to perceive.

This certainly is not a film that would appeal to many and more than that, for the time being, I would prefer not to even call it a film, because it barely has anything to do with what film was like. It may be called, in more familiar terms, an experiment.

But for those who liked “Eraserhead” and who are willing to see what is beyond that in terms of visual experience then you may very well “have to be wearing the watch. You light a cigarette you push and turn right through the silk. You fold the silk over and then you look through the hole”.

That’s it for tonight, see you on the next AXXON N transmission.

Movie still: Inland Empire.

review by Shade

Full article here.