Third Time's The Charm?
I must admit, I'm very hesitant to write about Inland Empire, even after three viewings. There may be two weeks left in the year, and I still need to do some catching up (Inside Man, L'enfente, et al), but I can guarantee Inland Empire is in my Top 10 of the year. It's currently sitting pretty at #1, but that may change. You never know.
The most important thing to remember about Inland Empire is that, even though the majority of the action surrounds Nikki Grace/Susan Blue (Laura Dern), the movie is actually about the redemption of the Lost Girl (Karolina Gruszka). The movie opens with a single beam of light, probably from a film projector. As the camera pans to follow the light, we see the title of the film, and then a record player. The soundtrack mentions the longest running radio program in history, and the tells about a grey day in an old hotel in Europe. This is where we first meet the Lost Girl, a prostitute with a client in this hotel. They both have digitally blurred faces, but her face clears after the man leaves. She proceeds to watch a television where, in fast motion, we see both the Rabbits we'll see later and the Visitor (Grace Zabriskie) walking towards Nikki Grace's house.
I think I've worked out some of what happens next. The Lost Girl, besides watching the rest of the film on her television, appears as the character that would become Susan Blue in On High In Blue Tomorrows, the film at the center of Inland Empire. Her husband, known only as the Phantom (Krzysztof Majchrzak, in the scariest Lynch part since Robert Blake's Mystery Man in Lost Highway) also appears later in the film.
Consider this my spoiler warning, though I can't really see why you wouldn't want to know as much about this film as possible before going in. Oh well. SPOILER ALERT!
I believe that the Lost Girl is trapped in a purgatory of sorts. She was the Polish version of Susan Blue, and her lover (Peter J. Lucas) was murdered by the Phantom. From here, I think either the Phantom killed her, leaving her in this place, or the death of her lover caused her to have a mental break-down and turn to prostitution. I'm inclined to go with the former explanation. The Lost Girl is dead, and so she is trapped in this hotel room, watching Nikki follow in her footsteps.
The difference, or course, is that when Nikki finally meets the Phantom, she has a gun. In killing the Phantom, Nikki both releases herself from the Lost Girl's fate (that final shot of her on the sofa is her changed destiny), and the Lost Girl. Once Nikki kills the Phantom, she appears in the Lost Girl's room and disappears. Nikki has escaped and left the door open. The Lost Girl leaves the room and finally returns to her lover and their son.
Some important things to note:
-The door Nikki enters after killing the Phantom is 4 7. The name of the original film that became On High In Blue Tomorrows was German, translating to "four seven." The Lost Girl was trapped in the curse of 4 7, and Nikki rescued her by rescuing herself.
-Nikki's husband (Peter J. Lucas again) does not have a part in On High In Blue Tomorrows. This means that the majority of the film, where Nikki is Susan and her husband is Susan's husband, is not the actual film. I believe that this is completely imagined by Nikki to try to fill her role as Susan.
-The Phantom hypnotized the woman who kills Susan (Julia Ormond). Ormond also plays Doris Side. Doris' husband, Billy (Justin Theroux) is having an affair with Susan in On High In Blue Tomorrows. I think that Doris, after learning of Billy and Susan's affair, decides to kill Susan. Susan, meanwhile, has been slowly losing her mind. After her husband leaves her and her son dies, she begins to work on the street and create her own backstory.
I could probably watch this film once a week for a year and never completely understand. But I don't think I'd ever tire of it. It constantly engaging, and it works on every level. If you just want to enjoy the images on screen without connections, then there are numerous scenes which work among Lynch's best. He crafts his lights and sounds to their maximum effect, and the raw emotion he presents on screen runs the gamut, often in one scene. This is not a movie for everyone, but if you're willing to go with it, it will take you to places rarely, if ever, seen on the big screen.
**** / ****