What must it be like to be a bit parter in a David Lynch film? You know what’s going on with the scene you’re in, and if you’re lucky, you might even understand it. I’m a prostitute dancing the locomotion in Laura Dern’s mansion. I’m a scary Polish neighbour visiting Dern and making prophetic inquiries. I’m a rabbit in a sitcom with a misaligned laughter track and no jokes.
From inside your scenes you can work out that you probably have something to do with the typical Lynchian themes: faded Hollywood glamour, a conspiratorially tight cabal of players running the film industry, and at the centre of it all, a woman in trouble. But from your siloed viewpoint, you don’t stand much of a chance working out what the whole film is about. And in all probability, you don’t care.
This is the viewpoint I found myself watching Inland Empire from, only able to care about a given fragment of storytelling while it was onscreen.
It is hardly new ground for Lynch to throw in sub-plots that at first appear to be absolute red herrings, but that, on reflection (and much Googling after the film has finished to discover what the locked blue box or tree in the wheelbarrow represent), support some greater theme in the film. But they are normally kept at the margins, bear some clear relevance to the central plot, and aren’t as wilfully obscure as they are here.
That’s a shame, as the central plot in Inland Empire is genuinely interesting, if you can put the fear out of your mind that the scene could cut away at any moment. Laura Dern is Nikki Grace, a famous but faded star, who is starting to work on a new film for English film director Kingsley (Jeremy Irons). Her co-star Devon Berk (Justin Theroux) has a lothario’s reputation and it looks like she’ll be falling for him next, but she has a fearsome partner to consider. The future of the film, meanwhile, is in question as a German version of the same plot was unfinished as both lead actors were murdered.
Dern is the numb centre of the plot, playing the character as unengaged with the world and bumping through events that she seems to have little control over. Nikki seems as tarnished a person as Lynch’s Hollywood is, and Dern does provide a good focus when she’s on screen.
But this is about the starkest plot summary you are likely to find of the film, carefully blocking out the foreign language portions and the rabbits. And it is difficult to suggest it is worth picking those parts out from the 179 minute run time of a film that suffers from more sprawl than Los Angeles, with hour after hour of Lynchian motifs of creeping music, ominous old people, shady Hollywood forces at work and secrets hidden in dark houses.
Inland Empire is only really of interest to fans of Lynch at his most obscure.
Inland Empire is out now on Blu-ray and available from the Den Of Geek Store.