“We are like the spider. We weave our life and then move along in it. We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives in the dream. This is true for the entire universe.”
– a quote from the Aitareya Upanishad, read by David Lynch before introducing Inland Empire to a Seattle audience
On Wednesday night, I took a seat in Seattle’s magnificent Cinerama theater and braced myself as David Lynch took the stage in front of the city’s biggest screen.
He welcomed us, and then announced that cellist Paul Rucker was going to “set a mood for us.” Rucker proceeded to do just that, setting a truly Lynch-ian mood with an improvisational solo that the cello barely survived.
After the applause settled, Lynch got right down to business: “Ladies and gentlemen… Inland Empire.”
I am so glad I don’t have any assignments to review this film, because I would hardly know where to start. Inland Empire makes Mulholland Drive‘s narrative seem as simple as a sitcom’s by comparison.
Imagine if you watched all of David Lynch’s films back-to-back without a break… especially Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and Mulholland Drive. Then, you went and ate really spicy food. And then you went to bed and had wild, wild dreams starring Laura Dern.
Watching this film is like having those dreams.
Highlights: Grace Zabriskie. Harry Dean Stanton. Lynch’s own (offscreen) cameo as a character named “Bucky J.” The end credits sequence. And Dern really gives everything she has to the role(s)(?). It’s the most demanding role for an actress I’ve seen in years, and Dern is flawless.
Complaints: Man, it’s really, really long. At the two-hour point, I thought we were experiencing the finale, and then I checked my watch. Badalementi’s score was as powerful as ever, but at the same time, it just sounded like more of the same dissonances he’s brought to the last few Lynch films.
But the most annoying part of the evening came after the screening, when fans proceeded to offer endless and effusive praise for Lynch. Say he’s a great filmmaker. You might even say he’s one of the greatest filmmakers. But it was the kind of event where the fellow introducing Lynch “one of the greatest filmmakers of our time… one of the greatest artists of our time… and yes, even one of the greatest artists in history….” Oh, give me a break.
As new and strange as Inland Empire is, I’m not really sure there’s that much here beyond a surreal trip through all of the themes, shocks, absurdity, and jarring juxtapositions that we’ve seen in previous Lynch films. At no point did I find myself thinking, “Now that was something he hasn’t explored before.” I’m looking forward to reading other interpretations of it, to see if there really is something extraordinary going on here.
Normally, I can’t wait to see a Lynch film again. This time, I’m weighing whether I want to commit to that ordeal again or not. Three hours is a long time to give to a film that is so relentlessly intense and that has so little narrative structure. I’ll have to think about it.
The Q & A afterward was a hoot. Every time he answered, he lifted his hand and wiggled his fingers in the air fitfully. And sometimes, his answers were cryptic incomplete sentences. I wonder how so much time in transcendental meditation is affecting him. But he did tell some funny stories, and his sense of humor and childlike enthusiasm are as delightful as ever. I remain a loyal fan.
I can’t wait to hear what other people make of it. I’m going to chew on it some more before I offer any theories.
Here’s Adam Walter’s reaction. He sat in the row in front of me, and is an even more enthusiastic Lynch fan than I am.