Once upon a Lynch there was a film maker who worked off energy released from an insight that beneath smooth suburban lawns there was a rich primal schizoid earth which produced strangely deformed psyches. But Lynch seems to have progressively forgotten his starting point, the lawn itself, and developed little interest in examining the necessary conditions for the development of lawn culture.Inland Empire – David Lynch – Fr – Pol –USA – 2006 Lorna Derne
Viewed Rotterdam Film Festival – 3rd Feb 2007
Like playing your collection of old records
When I told my friend Graeme Walker that I had just seen Lynch’s Inland Empire he looked at me and asked: was it like this? Graeme pumped out his cheeks and made some delicate squelching noises, produced some muted clicking sounds with his tongue and inblown squeekings with his mouth, before finally hardening his eyes turning to me and saying in a deliberate tone accentuating the second word by raising its pitch slightly: “ Who are you?” I replied Inland Empire had been something like that but much longer (three hours) and not as entertaining. In short Lynch has reached the point to which many film makers come: the cupboard is bare, they have nothing to express, just empty form to fill.
Once upon a Lynch there was a film maker who worked off energy released from an insight that beneath smooth suburban lawns there was a rich primal schizoid earth which produced strangely deformed psyches. But Lynch seems to have progressively forgotten his starting point, the lawn itself, and developed little interest in examining the necessary conditions for the development of lawn culture. His formal concerns have concentrated on simply providing visual fields for a set of psychically mutated characters to do their thing, to strut their stuff. It becomes the American Weird genre, in which everything in the film is subordinated to a demonstration of weirdness. The acting, the sets ( distorted perspective, labyrinthine channels) the cuts, the dialogue, the camera lens, the musical set pieces, each element of the film is designed to accentuate the weird. The amplification circuit of the film not working to increase tension or suspense or awareness but simply to escalate the magnitude of the weird.
In this sense Inland Empire is typical of Weird movies which usually rely on a single device or motif to drive a concatenation of events which are either weird in themselves or to which the characters have weird reactions. In Inland Empire the driver is the idea that the actors are involved in a replaying of actuality(one of the opening shots of Inland Empire is of an old 78 rpm record being played on an old turn-table). The structure of the film takes the form of an escalation of the weird events and responses leading to a final act of destruction followed by an unresolved penultimate sequence. The weakness of Inland Empire is that its only referential logic is the dynamic of escalation demanded by the form of the film. By three hours this has long run out of steam, with Lorna Derne bankrupt in the expressive department, the script dead and the camera work repetitious.
David Lynch has said that Inland Empire is a movie about time. I think that it’s a film about space, with the action cuts used to by-pass time, shifting the action from space to space, not from time to time. Inland Empire is an edited film not a film that is composed in shot or frame. And most of the edits are action cuts designed to move on the action. They don’t filmically suggest time – even if that is the director’s intent. Just because there are impossible cuts in Inland Empire, in the sense that through an edit two non adjacent spaces are linked, in themselves these suggest space not time, in particular when there is no character through whom we can experience time. We see Lorna Derne shift in space but we don’t get her take on the shift, we simply see an act of manipulation, the vacuity of a cut.
In a way Inward Empire is just a cop out. Located and invested in a world where there are no consequences and no meanings, just a world that comprises of unending unrelated sequences of weirdness. In a sense this is a tacit social comment on the satiated gorged material state of US culture, but this is a social comment about the genre – the Weird. There’s nothing in Inland Empire to suggest anything interesting such as broader social readings.
In the final sequence of the film, David Lynch plays one of his favourite records Nina Simone’s Sinnerman. As at the end of Kitano’s Zatoichi (I’m sure there are other examples but this is the most recent I could think of), Inland Empire ends with the caste and the director laying aside the outer pretence of the movie and partying. It might be that Lynch’s intention for this ending was to suggest yet another layering of time, the Russian Doll effect (which is space rather than time anyway) For me the effect of the dance party was simply to underline the emptiness of the Lynch’s filmic conceit. Nina Simone had more class and energy than anything glimpsed in Inland Empire, and her song way eclipses the film.