‘I’m watching the TV, or is it watching me?’
David Lynch’s Inland Empire is as ambitious as his projects get. It is quite a difficult, but in many ways rewarding watch as a result. Inland Empire is the challenge you graduate to after you have earned your stripes with Mulholland Drive.
Inland Empire cannot be discussed in the same way that you would with traditional storytelling because it isn’t that. It is a patchwork of stories. Actors play multiple characters in a variety of situations throughout the film.
The theme that links them all together and runs through the whole film, is the paranoia of the digital age. The introduction sees a young woman staring at a television with an image of a camera superimposed over her. This brings a phrase to mind: ‘I’m watching the TV, or is it watching me?’.
The television she is watching begins to play a sitcom featuring people in rabbit costumes. They are wearing human clothes and going about their normal lives. Despite the fact that they are speaking to each other in a broken up stilted way, the audience laughs.
The rabbit sitcom highlights the absurdity of having a TV show where we laugh at the lives of others. Those rabbits haunt the characters like a waking nightmare, reminding them that Big Brother is always watching them and they are never truly free from The Inland Empire. The movie is of course a satire on the media and Hollywood, this is what is referred to by ‘The Inland Empire’.
This is why Lynch was being so ambitious here. He was tackling Hollywood and the dangers of the media, in a film. This makes his art-imitating-life theme even more effective.
We first see Laura Dern’s character as she is visited by a neighbour. This strange woman appears to know personal details about her which gives the feeling that she has no privacy. Not only that, all of her scenes are shot in a documentary style. Dern’s character is an actress, the theme of art invading life really comes into play when she begins work on a new film role.
The plot of the movie they are shooting begins to predict real life. In both the script and her real situation, she is falling for someone that is not her husband. Furthermore, the director reluctantly reveals to them that the story was attempted once before but the male and female leads were murdered. This echoes the folk tale of Macbeth being a cursed play.
I found these scenes in which they were producing a movie particularly captivating. There are scenes where you think reality is taking place but it is a scene from their movie, you are snapped out of the moment by the director calling cut.
The Hollywood plot line felt a lot like Lynch’s masterpiece, Mulholland Drive. There were elements of the dark side to the film industry in Mulholland Drive. It would have been the subject had the plot not diverted into a young woman’s mental breakdown. Or, was it about a supernatural force that displaced the many sides of her personality and scattered them across the timelines?
This is the plot of Inland Empire. We see multiple versions of one woman. We see her accidentally find a way to access these many versions of herself. This is a way to illustrate the idea that we are different people in front of cameras and online than in real life.
In this way, it is still relevant today. Lynch was talking about the surveillance culture at the time but these ideas could be applied to social media. We are very different on social media than in real life.
This isn’t a film you enjoy as such. It is frustratingly confusing and deliberately abstract. However, that doesn’t mean it cannot be enjoyed. There are a lot of fascinating ideas. This is an extremely difficult film to review, hopefully you got something from this anyway though.