Inland Empire

"From Hollywood, California -- where stars make dreams, and dreams make stars."

"From Hollywood, California -- where stars make dreams, and dreams make stars."

Written and directed by David Lynch. 2006.

So much of the early dialogue in Inland Empire is near inaudible -- and for good reason. It isn't really necessary. For a time, words are secondary to image. This becomes less the case in the second half, as nightmarish faces and ghost-like spaces are intercut with Laura Dern's violent (and quite funny) monologues -- neat vignettes offering glimpses of character in the dark.

But words, we understand from the beginning, are not the point. Everything Lynch has ever had to say about women in trouble (the film's nifty catch-all phrase), creepy bedrooms, whores, and Hollywood is here. He's said it all before and, yes, to greater, tidier effect. But to presume he's commentating on these things is to miss the intent of Inland Empire. Lynch's subconscious is on display here, the great dark region of his mind that doesn't plot but gives birth. It's appropriate that so many of Dern's close-ups share similar composition to Lynch's photographs: the movie is more an art show occupying many galleries than it is a narrative.

I've decided what makes David Lynch a great filmmaker is his defiance of any standard other than his own. There's not a rule of cinema you can hold him to or expect him to obey. And so we're tempted to measure each new film by comparison to his others. The end credits make it plain that Lynch is aware how redundant some might see this film, how self-indulgent it might seem. But a lumberjack sawing away at a bit of wood is the nod and the wink required, I think, the compact between Lynch and viewer: now you come to this only because it is a David Lynch film, and your expectations are both fulfilled and defied.

And it's fortunate, as Lynch has said, to be an adult and still be doing what you want to do.