David Lynch is an acquired taste. Audiences who actually watch his films either find him deep and meaningful, or pointless and tedious. Arguably though, Lynch is at his best when he simply tells a straight-forward, universal story (i.e. 1999’s The Straight Story) but his attempts at making very non-linear, off beat pictures have more often failed. The only exception is 2001’s Mulholland Dr., which beautifully combined those straight-forward story elements with his signature chaotic plot structure. Sadly though, his new three hour opus falls short of the heights that Mulholland Dr. reached and much like his earlier work, it doesn’t seem to add up to anything.
The film centers on Nikki Grace (astonishingly played by Laura Dern) and I’ve endlessly pondered how to explain the film’s premise but any form of a cohesive story is squandered by Lynch’s abstract approach. The only way to make sense of the film is to view it as a character study on a woman who can’t determine dream from reality. Lynch has always been fascinated with dreams and as a result, his films are normally bizarre and disconnected. Inland Empire is nothing but disconnected.
The film constantly feels like a string of insanely grotesuqe sequences that were written on the spot. One scene never matches the other and the movie carries on like this for nearly three hours until it tries to make sense of everything in the last twenty minutes. Unfortunately by the time “explanations” are attempted, the audience is so frustrated that you will no longer care.
Despite the film’s senseless nature, Laura Dern’s diverse performance is so believable that I kept neglecting the fact that she was acting. Her performance is so brave and dedicated that I couldn’t help but admire her. Other supporting actors turn up such as Jeremy Irons and Justin Theroux and they make the best of their minimal screen time, especially Theroux, who is still virtually unknown and shouldn’t be.
Though there are moments of disturbing, genuinely frightening imagery, the film overall seems built-up mostly of hot air. The cinematography is so amateurish that I sometimes felt like I was watching a home movie. Inland Empire is one of the single most maddening experiences that I’ve ever had watching a film. Perhaps my expectations were too high due to the excellence of Mulholland Dr. or maybe I shouldn’t have been expecting Lynch to retread familiar ground? His films are evidence of his diversity but regardless of my feelings toward Inland Empire, I remain an admirer of Lynch. In the end though, his new film seems to just get lost in experimentation and feels like a waste of time.