Friday, July 5, 2013

Bob Reviews: Inland Empire

I don't even know where to start with this one.

Inland Empire is a film by David Lynch.

Oh, crap. That's all I've got. Come on, Bob, review! Review!

Okay...let me try to get my thoughts in order somewhat.
Here's the thing: this film doesn't have much in the way of a plot, and what plot it does have is split among multiple stories, which involve some of the same actors, and which are told in nonlinear fashion. It is very, very hard to keep track of anything that's going on, remember what has been revealed about anything--if anything at all is revealed--and most importantly, connect to anyone or anything. I'm not really sure if it's good or bad. It exists. It is so very, very strange, and so very, very confusing. (EDITOR: Duh- that's why you got it.)

Let me start by trying to sum up what the film is allegedly about. An actress, Nikki, and an actor, Devon, are making a movie with a director, Kingsley. For some reason, Nikki and Devon get totally wrapped up in their roles, and since their characters are romantically involved, they become romantically involved as well. This could be a problem because Nikki's husband is the jealous sort and seems like he might be violent. Meanwhile, Kingsley is encouraging the great performances he's getting, perhaps realizing or perhaps not realizing that his actor and actress have lost their minds. Additionally, Kingsley has revealed that the film they are making is rumored to be cursed. On a previous attempt, the leads were murdered.

Now, that sounds like an interesting film, actually. I'd like to watch that movie. Unfortunately, I didn't watch that movie. I don't know what the hell I watched, but it wasn't that movie.

My movie involved that plot in the very beginning- true. But, afterwards, it started to follow Nikki's character Sue as though she were a real person.  And there were anthropomorphic bunnies having the world's slowest sitcom with utterly nonsensical conversations that allegedly related to events of the film.  Plus there was a side story involving, I think, Polish people in the 1930s, whose lines are in Polish but match up at times with the lines in Nikki's film. (Maybe they're supposed to be the earlier film?) And there's some kind of subplot at the very start and very end of the film involving a character called the "lost girl," who basically sits in a room crying. Then there was something about a hypnotist, and a guy who walked around with a light bulb in his mouth, and Sue meeting with a...a psychiatrist or rabbi or something and talking about her various bad relationships with men, and a group of...prostitutes, I guess, who speak in nonsense and imply they had a relationship with...Devon, maybe?...and this girl who insists that she's going to stab someone with a screwdriver...I've probably forgotten a whole lot of things.
*An approximation of Bob's face 2 hours into Inland Empire*
Being totally honest here, I can totally, absolutely understand why someone might actually like this. Even I had a kind of morbid curiosity about how it was going. I wanted to see if I could figure out all the symbolism and piece together the narrative. The problem...well, there's several. I'm going to pretty much have to discuss what plot there is here, and while I really can't say anything will be "SPOILERS," because I don't even know if I'm right about any of this and there wasn't a huge amount of plot to begin with, fair warning that I'm going to talk pretty freely about things.

First off...connection. The film will honestly simply not allow us to connect with things. We're given a fair amount of time with Nikki and Devon early on, and things are pretty straightforward...but as soon as Nikki starts thinking of herself as Sue, that plot about her and Devon ending up romantically involved goes out the window pretty fast. Devon's character--Bobby, I think it was?--anyway, Devon's character pretty much just dumps Sue, and then we pretty much alternate between watching Sue wander through...time, basically...watching the rabbit show, and watching whatever the heck was going on with the 1930s people. We're not shown much of anything, it's never shown in a linear fashion, and characterizations are inconsistent or nonexistent. Therefore, it's hard to find a character to connect with or get behind, and it's hard to get a sense of where and when things are happening.

Second, information. I'm not asking for things to be explained, but there were a large number of situations where for the life of me I couldn't honestly figure out why something was happening, who someone was, or what something meant. The bunny show? Never really explained. Several scenes involving Polish guys talking to other Polish guys about "getting in" and "it is good that you understand?" No idea where that went. A bit about the Polish version of Nikki's real husband who is apparently also her film husband, but not in the 1930s...I think...going to meet some old men who called him there because an invisible girl wanted to give him a gun? That goes nowhere so far as I can tell, unless that's somehow where the gun at the end of the movie came from? Is that what that meant? And if so, why did it mean that? Why does the gun have to come from an invisible maybe-ghost girl? Was she the "Lost Girl?" I don't know. Maybe she was.

I'm losing my train of thought again, sorry. This movie does that to you. It's hard to talk about things in an orderly way when you just saw one of the purest expressions of chaos in cinema history.
Okay. So, from what I can tell, another plot had something to do with a hypnotist called the Phantom, and I think that he probably hypnotized screwdriver girl so that she'd stab someone at some point if I recall that properly. Phantom, it turns out, is actually the light bulb guy...I think...and I gather that for some reason he made screwdriver girl kill Sue. I'm not sure why, but yeah--Sue sees her own self from earlier in the movie across the street at one point, goes to try to talk to her, and then gets her screwdriver stolen from her and gets stabbed by screwdriver girl. No, I don't know why. I really don't get why Phantom wants her dead. All she's doing is wandering around kind of passively watching stuff and looking through burned towels into earlier timelines any case, this plot appears to be the focus--such as it is--of the latter portion of the movie. I can kind of figure out that Sue thinks she's being followed and is trying to figure out who is trying to kill her. I don't get why anyone's trying to kill her at all, of course, but I at least see the fear part. Anyway, that one concludes with the Phantom showing up again, but Sue/Nikki (who survived the stabbing because it turned out that it was just a movie scene, so I guess technically it's by this point Nikki again) has the gun she got from the drawer because it was...maybe...left there by her movie-and-real husband who got it from a girl who he couldn't see. So she shoots the Phantom, and he gets the goofiest, most hilariously awful superimposed image over his face. And she shoots again and again, and he's not going down, until I guess he finally does and she walks into the room with the rabbits, where nothing happens and the rabbits aren't there. Then she goes and rescues the lost girl via opening the door, giving her a big kiss on the lips, and disappearing. The lost girl goes to meet up with Sue's husband and a kid I don't remember ever seeing before. I gather that maybe the lost girl is the real wife of the husband?
I'm rambling again! Sorry. This had a purpose, though, because it brings me to the third problem...resolutions. The plot we get resolved is the plot that has the least coverage in the movie. "Lost Girl" shows up intermittently, watching the rabbits on TV and crying. There's no real sense of place or purpose for anything that happens with her, but she's the one who has a definitive end to her story. Nikki? We follow her pretty intently for the first half of the film, but she doesn't really have much of an end (she vaguely smiles at this one odd old lady who said a lot of weird stuff that kind of predicted later scenes in the movie, and then watches a dance party). Sue? She disappears. Or maybe Nikki does. I'm still not clear which of them it is at that point. Devon? No sign of him after his character dumps Sue. No sign of his character either. Kingsley? No sign of him after he calls cut and congratulates Nikki after the screwdriver scene. So basically, what we spend most of the movie following has no real ending.

One final major thing to mention...a heck of a lot of this film happens in the dark. I mean, scenes dark enough that it is very, very hard to tell what is going on. It was difficult enough to figure things out when I could see things! When a lot of moments are poorly lit or oddly lit, that just makes it worse!
Honestly, I don't want to insult this movie. In a way, it's fascinating. It's not badly made, and it's clear that Lynch had a real artistic vision here and set things up exactly how he wanted. For what it is...a strange, experimental, nonlinear film with no real's actually terrifically made. It's's a strange, experimental, nonlinear film with no real narrative, and for the life of me I can't figure out how that's supposed to actually be entertaining.

I'd love to be able to do some kind of breakdown of this bit by bit and debate the meaning of things like with Southland Tales--that was what I was expecting I'd be doing. But I really can't figure out enough of what this film is doing beyond the above to really talk about it. So...I think I have to leave you with some of the odder points in the film.
*The introduction, where we see what apparently happened to the Lost Girl (she is...maybe...a prostitute, and has a very bad meeting with a client, I think?) is filmed with intentional blur over the faces of the participants, which is weird since we're shown Lost Girl's face clearly moments later.
*The rabbit show. Here's a sample of how it goes. Keep in mind that there are lengthy pauses between every line, and no one's moving much at all.
**"I'm going to find out one day."
**"When will you tell it?"
**"Who could have known?"
**"What time is it?"
**"I have a secret."
**"There have been no calls today."
**"I hear someone."
**"I do not think it will be much longer now."
*The neighbor lady. This strange neighbor lady comes by early in the film to meet Nikki, and asks her about her movie, and insists there will be murder in it even though Nikki says there won't, and then says a lot of things that do come up later in the film. She mentions 9:45 and an unpaid bill (two things that come up but...not in any important way, I don't think), talks about nonlinear time a bit, and I guess is trying to warn Nikki about what's to come, but it just doesn't really seem all that meaningful. She has some really winning lines, though:
**A little boy went out to play. When he opened his door, he saw the world. As he passed through the doorway, he caused a reflection. Evil was born. Evil was born and followed the boy.
**A little girl went out to play, lost in the marketplace. As if half-born. Then, not through the marketplace, you see that, don't you, but through the alley behind the marketplace...this is the way to the past. But it isn't something you remember. Forgetfulness. It happens to us all. And me, why I'm the worst one. Oh...where was I?
**If today was tomorrow you wouldn't even remember that you owed on an unpaid bill.
*The group of prostitutes. These girls just kind of say all kinds of nonsensical stuff, constantly, and seem to act threatening but also comforting towards's like they're trying to guide her, but I have no idea to what end. Also, there's a wondrously bizarre moment where they all start dancing to "The Loco-Motion." And they also show up at a dance party at the end, a dance party which happens for no apparent reason and features one of the women lip syncing to a male singer's song.
*The bit where Sue gets stabbed--there's a lot of weird stuff in this movie, but this one really stands out. After getting stabbed, she lies dying by some street people. One of the street people is an Asian girl who speaks English pretty phonetically, and she argues with another woman about whether there is in fact a bus to this one particular place, and then tells a story about a friend of hers who has a medical problem I am not going to ever mention in public, ever. All this while a woman is bleeding out. Then the woman she was arguing with starts talking to Sue and comforts her as she dies. Then it turns out that's a movie scene and Nikki gets up, ignores everyone involved in making the film, and goes into a theater where she sees the scene of Sue talking to the psychiatrist or whatever playing. When the psychiatrist gets up to answer a phone in the scene, he ends up in the theater. Nikki sees him, but doesn't talk to him or anything. She just continues to wander and ends up finding the gun, leading to that confrontation I mentioned before. Mind-blowing.
That's all I've got. Inland Empire was strange, and confusing, and impossible to really judge. If you really, really, really like dense, non-linear, bizarre films where you can spend hours watching them and you may or may not truly understand anything you just saw when it was over--and that's not intended as an insult!--if you really like that, you may actually enjoy this. Me? I like films I have to figure out, but not to this extent! For me, this was just about three hours of my life that I spent in utter confusion, and when it was over, I still couldn't figure out what I had spent three hours watching.

Yes. Three hours.

Inland Empire is insane. It's often nonsensical, it doesn't allow you to connect with anything, it leaves plots dangling and resolves ones that barely exist, and it makes you try to piece together an already sketchy narrative from nonlinear and sometimes even conflicting pieces. It is bizarre. It is definitely creative, but it's that kind of creativity that I'm not sure is a good thing. I can't react to this movie. I can't gauge my own feelings on it. All I can say is I'm glad I'm done watching it, and glad that for the rest of the year all I have to deal with are Project Terrible films.

(When that's something you're glad about, it's kind of sad.  EDITOR: Maybe to you.)
Innn-Laaand Em-piiiiii-re!
Happy Birthday, Al. But remember, if today was tomorrow you wouldn't remember you owed me a review next year.


  1. You may know that I'm a bit weid, but... ahem, I really, really love Inland Empire, almost as much as Mulholland Drive or Lost Highway...

  2. I loved a lot of Lynch films (Mulholland Drive, Elephant Man, Sailor & Lula...), but this one is just a big crap !
    I don't see the point of making a (very long) movie that 99% of people won't understand and watch from the beginning to the end. I think the firts 20-30 minutes are ok, but after that... :-/