He Used to Be Such A Good Director...
This post is definitely NOT an entry into the Bizarro Blog-A-Thon hosted by Piper at Lazy Eye Theatre. I believe everything I say in this post, and whatever you do, you should not go to the hub of the Blog-A-Thon, because it is an incredibly boring read.
It's hard to deny David Lynch's place among the greatest living directors. This is the man who gave us Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, The Straight Story, and Mulholland Dr.. No matter how you cut that, it's impressive. Lynch has become a master at telling linear stories in a non-linear manner, culminating in the masterpiece of the new millenium, Mulholland Dr. However, Lynch has taken it a bit too far. His latest work, INLAND EMPIRE suffers from what everyone accused Tideland of: auteurism unchecked. This leads to various problems with the film, and serious questions about both Lynch and his very vocal supporters.
I would go into a plot description, but any attempt beyond the film's tagline of "A Woman In Trouble" is an exercise in futility. The film meanders between an undefinable number of "plots" that revolve around Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) and a cursed film production. Dern, over the course of the film, plays a number of roles, at least 4 by my count, through we never know which one she is playing at any given time.
Dern has received great praise for her performance in this film, but the only positive thing I can say is that she managed to survive the movie. This isn't meant to be a slight against Dern, who has done some great work, and some of that for Lynch (Wild at Heart comes to mind), but the film butchers any sort of consistency she could have given to the role. It hardly seems possible that any of the characters Dern plays could exist as aspects of one whole character, as some would claim.
One of the great successes of Mulholland Dr. was the presence of an omnipotent being at its core. No matter how odd the film got, we could feel that Lynch was carefully controlling everything we saw. Everything is there for a reason, and Lynch's camera never leaves that in doubt. Such a presence is lacking in INLAND EMPIRE, and that greatly damages any faith I could put in the film. Knowing the construction of the movie (Lynch shot scenes immediately after writing them, only later beginning to connect them into a whole) only weakens my trust in Lynch. The film doesn't play by any rules, as Mulholland Dr. does, and the freedom, while admirable as an experiment, doesn't cohere properly into a solid movie.
The quality of the images doesn't do the movie any favors, either. Lynch says that he will never return to film again, and that is unfortunate. The images are grimy and, though atmospheric, they take away from the overall impact a film like this could have. INLAND EMPIRE seems allergic to sunlight, and that feels much more a result of Lynch's use of digital video than any symbolism he may have intended.
INLAND EMPIRE is an embarrassment to David Lynch, and it should be to anyone who truly loves his work. Lynch has gone off the deep end, and he shows no signs of coming back. Please do, Dave. I miss the control you once possessed over your worse instincts.