Nikki (Laura Dern) is offered a role in a film directed by Kingsley (Jeremy Irons). Her co-star Devon (Justin Theroux) is warned to keep things professional, since Nikki's husband (Peter J. Lucas) is fiercely possessive. Their two characters - Sue and Billy - are on the verge of a romance. Early in the shoot they learn that the script, based on a Polish gypsy folktale, is a remake of a movie that was never finished because the original characters were murdered. When inevitably Nikki and Devon do wind up in bed together, Nikki starts calling Devon Billy and he starts calling her Sue; they realize they're transferring their screen personas from the movie into their own lives. Nikki is propelled on a series of fantastic escapades and encounters that she cannot understand, sometimes referencing her real life and the people in it.
Review by Louise Keller:
It's fantasy blurred with reality; the ridiculous submerged in the profound. Inland Empire is like being a part of one of David Lynch's dreams, and a pretty weird one at that. While it is not nearly as good as Mulholland Drive, this latest complex concoction is fascinating in parts; even if you don't understand it. At 3 hours it's overlong with a plot that often makes no sense as it meanders through the abyss of the subconscious. But lovers of Lynch's unique talents will no doubt find something to challenge the mind in this mysterious psychological drama about an actress trapped within her role. At best it is intriguing; at worst it is tedious. Either way, there's plenty to talk about.
Laura Dern as actress Nikki who takes on her dream role as Susan is the one constant, with emotions pitched at heightened level. So convincing is she and so slippery is the plot, we are often unsure if we are watching Nikki or Susan. Either way, she is in a state of angst throughout. The ingredients are bizarre. There's a strange Polish neighbour, a gypsy tale about a curse, a travelling show, bare breasts, whores on Hollywood Boulevard, a man with a light globe in his mouth, a screwdriver, a one legged girl, a pet monkey and a murder. But of whose murder, we are not sure. Then there is the presence of the three life-sized rabbits, two of which sit zombie-like on a three seater, while the third is ironing in the background, wearing a pink robe. Naomi Watts and Laura Harring provide two of the voices. From the canned laughter, they appear to be in a sit-com, but mysteriously they are also connected (by phone) to the dark stairwells where shadows lurk.
Lynch uses extreme close ups and irritating hand held cameras to take us into the frame. We are so close, we can almost feel the tears as they form, like multi-faceted diamonds immaculately conceived and discarded as they describe emotions. Diamonds or charcoal notwithstanding, Lynch's latest journey is a perplexity.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
You can hardly blame David Lynch for losing the plot in this his latest work, since he never had it in the first place. Seemingly fascinated by the notion of a Polish gypsy folk story that refers to a curse (the number 47), Inland Empire scatters all your attempts at understanding and tramples on conventions of accessible cinema with remarkable bravura. It opens with a small theatrical scene that will recur throughout, featuring three characters in a room, two seated on a couch, the third ironing behind them. The surreal touch is that all three have obviously fake, dark brown hare heads. The sense of theatricality is heightened by the inclusion of a laugh track from an unseen audience.
Alerted by this scene to the fact that Lynch is taking us down the hole to his self styled Wonderland - where everything is far from wonderful - we should not be surprised that the reference points are all rearranged and we are soon unsure of which way up we are sitting in our seats. Nikki (Laura Dern) walks through a great many and varied doors into surprising new realities ... well, surrealities, on her journey to a symbolic and literal destruction. Each time she passes through a door (sometimes the same door but with different places on the other side) there is a new experience for her. Usually, these are all bad.
Watching Inland Empire will certainly set your mind off, chasing hares and following clues, responding to stimuli. At one point my mind jumped ship and recalled Last Year in Marienbad (1961), the great Alain Resnais' surreal fantasy drama with a haunting intensity and chaotic plot, but memorable characters. It is not meant as a comparison - just an example of the effect this film can have.
Lynch focuses on Laura Dern for most of its long running time, but there are plenty of opportunities to meet an assortment of characters ranging from a 'normal' film director (Jeremy Irons) to street people in Downtown Los Angeles. By the time we meet the latter, we might suspect that Lynch is trying to say something about Hollywood with this Molotov cocktail of a film. Certainly the layers of reality and the self obsession seem to have relevance, as do the personality disorders inherent in the characters.
The film plays like a series of dreams - complete with the disconcerting half truths and semi-realities that dreams have, and with the same frustrating characteristic of being elusive and evocative all at once. As with dreams, meaning can be superimposed, but they are not satisfactory. Nor is Inland Empire. But it IS unique and intoxicating.
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INLAND EMPIRE (MA)
CAST: Laura Dern, Jeremy Irons, Justin Theroux, Harry Dean Stanton, Peter J. Lucas, Karolina Gruszka, Jan Hench, Diane Ladd, Julia Ormond, Cameron Daddo, William H. Macy
VOICES: Naomi Watts
PRODUCER: David Lynch, Mary Sweeney
DIRECTOR: David Lynch
SCRIPT: David Lynch
CINEMATOGRAPHER: David Lynch
EDITOR: David Lynch
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Christy Wilson, Wojciech Wolniak
RUNNING TIME: 172 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Dendy
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 15, 2007