Welcome to the David Lynch remix project. Where to even begin? With "Inland Empire," Lynch surveys his own domain, the unmistakable, weird auteurist landscape he’s carved out for himself, and in which he then proceeds to frolic (and yes, he totally frolics) for three hours with a unapologetic shrug and kick of the heels to anyone less than well-versed in his work. For those who aren’t, "Inland Empire" is a giddy joy, a swirl of actors from Lynch-works past (Laura Dern, Harry Dean Stanton, Justin Theroux, Grace Zabriskie, Naomi Watts as the voice of a rabbit), as well as themes (identity, duality, moviemaking, strange mythology) and general directorial twitches (red curtains! a possibly kidnapped son and husband! a log! industrial buzzing sounds!).
For those who are â€” we have no idea what to say. Even at Lynch’s most fractured, in films like "Lost Highway," there’s a sense that if you could somehow reach bottom, you’d find truth, some primal series of events that kaleidoscoped out of recognition in the telling. There’s no bottom to "Inland Empire," at least not one that we discern after one viewing. Initially, Dern plays Nikki, an actress who lands a coveted role after some time out of the spotlight (incidentally, the film also features a real life actress who seemed prime for greater stardom before dropping out of sight â€” Julia Ormond, wherever did you go?). She’s set to star opposite Devon (Theroux), who’s a bit of a Lothario…also, the script seems to be cursed. When it was first shot, both leads were murdered halfway through. It’s about an ill-advised romance that develops between a man and woman who are both married, and Nikki and Devon seem to be following suit until Nikki somehow becomes her character, suddenly living in a low-ceiling, carpeted house instead of her previous cavernous mansion, speaking with a halfway Southern drawl.
There’s a lot more â€” the Greek chorus of hookers who dance to "The Locomotion"; the integration of "Rabbits"; the brutally funny confessional monologue Dern delivers to mysterious man waiting in a room at the top of a long stairway; the whole Polish section. Rather than really cohering, the film just continues onward like some bizarro cinematic equivalent of jazz improv.
"Inland Empire" is shot on DV, which is jarring from Lynch, one of the great appreciators of the look and saturated reality of film (he told Dennis Lim in the New York Times that "Film is like a dinosaur in a tar pit. People might be sick to hear that because they love film, just like they loved magnetic tape. And I love film. I love it! Itâ€™s so beautiful…[But] I would die if I had to work like that again."). But video suits "Inland Empire," giving it a remove and a lightness that allows scenes that on film would have a ponderous semi-irony to just be funny. Playful, even. The film closes with an all-my-friends-are-here dance number that runs over the credits and is downright joyous â€” if it doesn’t make you grin like an idiot, then…then you probably fell asleep a while before, anyway.
It’s not for everyone, and we honestly can’t see it getting a distributor. But for the right people (and you know who you are), it will be grand.
Screens at Alice Tully Hall October 8 and 9.
+ "Inland Empire" (NYFF)
Update: According to Gregg Goldstein at the Hollywood Reporter, David Lynch will self-distribute "Inland Empire": "Lynch will work with well-known theatrical and home video partners to launch his epic fever dream of a film, retaining all rights to the low-budget project in each service deal. The partnerships will be announced within the next week."