As complex as David Lynch is, I've never been so frustrated by one of his films.
Inland Empire is shot on digital film. It has barely any plot. And it's three hours long.
Did I like it? Of course I *liked* it. David Lynch is one of the last great visual filmmakers. Even with digital, the "bastard child of film," he still manages to be so sublime with his use of colors, motions, and compositions. What I respond more in Empire is how TERRIFYING the thing is. More than in ANY of his other films, this thing is boiling with dread. The distorted close-ups, the random narrative, the PERFECT sound design that incorporates his surreal noises with harrowing music works and sustains the 3 hours. I watched it in about 4 sittings, so I'm a little biased about the pacing, but it didn't seem to be very slow.
You could argue the film is about a negotiation between fantasy and reality, dreams, the distinction between the screen and our minds, a journey into our fears, a tale of redemption, a story about the loss of love, about mediated images, but you'd still come no closer to solving WHAT IT'S ABOUT. Naturally, Lynch doesn't help. But I don't think he needs to.
I could write endlessly about how damned frustrating this film is, but at the end it creates this odd feeling of catharsis; even if you don't know what it's about, that's almost okay. Lynch is a painter, and with each edit, each stroke, he brings us a step further inside his vision. No one will argue that Lynch is creative, that he's a visionary, but here he's doing unmistakably breathtaking things that defy the very logic of the cinema as a narrative medium. I still see Lynch as a man who traces our experiences as humans back into our dreams, trying to work out psychologically what we experience and why. "Inland Empire" scared me because I was afraid of what was going to happen, of where Lynch was going to take me, and what he was going to show me. I *knew* I wouldn't understand it, and THAT'S precisely what makes it work. Watching this film, if you let yourself be a part of it instead of writing it off as boring, makes you want to leave the room because of how ominous it is.
I congratulate him for that. With a fearless, overwhelming Laura Dern really guiding the picture, Lynch has pushed the expectations for digital film, showing us what we can get out of films and how films can communicate our psyches and our fears.