I'm reading so much about this film... on various weblogs, forums, film analysis sites. And so much of it, for me, only serves to obfuscate. So here's my attempt to cut through the fog. Take it, make of it what you will. Maybe it'll open up some more Lynch discussion, which I'd welcome.
Inland Empire is the internal narrative of the Lost Girl: the crying girl in the hotel room watching TV. The TV is her imagination; the hotel room, the center of her mind. Through it, we watch her play out various roles.
Lost Girl's past involved prostituting herself to make ends meet, an abusive pimp, the murder of a friend and (possibly) a beating that induced miscarriage. Fleeing with a travelling circus and Piotrek, a man hired by her family to defend her honor (i.e., to kill her pimp, and possibly her), she starts a new life in the suburbs of California's Inland Empire. But the pimp (aka Crimp, aka The Phantom) "seeks an opening" and invades her psyche, following her in her mind.
The Laura Dern stories concern her struggle to throw off her demons. First, she imagines herself as a glamorous Hollywood actress. Then, when that fails, as a dumpy and unloved housewife. And when THAT fails, as a Hollywood whore. She comes full circle, back to a film set, and realizes that all of these roles were fantasies. She kills the Phantom, and re-integrates herself, Laura Dern's character embracing the Lost Girl with a kiss and vanishing. Her mind at peace, she exits the emotional labyrinth and embraces Piotrek and their son.
L.B.: Lodz Bitch, her negative self-image. When retrieving the gun to kill The Phantom, these letters are crossed out.
Rabbits: The doldrums, a hopeless mire, Grof's BPM 2. Her previous domestic life imagined as a nonsensical and soul-killing sitcom.
Seance atmosphere when hiring Piotrek: I don't get anything out of viewing the Lost Girl as dead. Rather, I see Lost Girl's ghostliness as a metaphor... while claiming to speak for her interests, the patriarchs have ruled out her agency, denying her a place at the table.
Axxon N: An axon in, that is, a neural connection leading Lost Girl further into her own mind. The added "X" is a stylistic flourish, such as one might see in graffiti or street tags (and the first two appearances of Axxon N. are as... tags).
47: The site of trauma. In real life, the room where Lost Girl turned her first trick. Remember that she was half out of her mind with fear; this is where it all started to go wrong. Laura Dern's character is Lost Girl finding herself, in order to free herself from that room where, in her mind, she has been shut up ever since. Also note the two girls running down the hallway: these are others that The Phantom abused, and represent a part of her guilt.
Old woman: A psychopomp, entering Lost Girl's dream in order to prod her into remembering. "Actions do have consequences... but still, there is the magic". In other words: "You are obsessed with the past, but you have the capability to free yourself".
"In the future, you'll be dreaming, and when you wake up, someone familiar will be there": Said by the roomful of women. I take this as meaning that Piotrek still loves the Lost Girl and is waiting for her to return from her state.
Red light bulb: The Phantom reminding Lost Girl of her past in the "red light district". He clutches the bulb in his mouth to express his power over her.
Screwdriver/hole in vagina/"when I lost my son": All point to a miscarriage.
Cigarette into silk: A "cigarette burn" is the small dark spot in a film that marks the transition between reels. Here, it's the reels of the mind. This may also correspond to the miscarriage: what we see when the camera moves through the hole looks an awful lot like a cellular wall.
Piotrek: If the couple does flee to America, like I contend (that house doesn't look very Polish), then Piotrek's character is rather interesting. He is Snow White's hunter and prince, rolled into one.
His appearances in the dream-world show Lost Girl's fears about him... justified fears, given what she went through. Of course, she's also being hard on herself: she doesn't expect to receive love.
The monologues by Dern are my least favorite part of the film, simply because they don't lend themselves as much to rewatching. Still, they add to the Lost Girl's character, and can be seen as a purging of her conscience in symbolic form. Alternately, they could represent a Polish woman's fears upon emigrating to America... an exaggerated, Jerry Springer view of white trash, and what the lost girl from Lodz fears she will become.
That we see a boy at the end, with Lost Girl and Piotrek, is slightly puzzling to me... like I said before, I don't believe that the characters are dead. Perhaps they adopted? Perhaps she feared that she would miscarry, or she did miscarry and feared that she would never have a child again?
"I like dogs... I used to raise rabbits. I have watched dogs work their way out of the trickiest situations." Lost Girl sees herself as an unattractive woman (a bitch/dog) and a failed mother. Frankie reminds her that she has intelligence and agency.
Notice that Lost Girl's return to reality is a descent. She has been locked up in the tower, room 47 in the old hotel, for the whole movie, and only at the end comes "down to Earth". She descends from on high... no more blue tomorrows.
― polyncephalic, Monday, 10 September 2007 06:04 (thirteen years ago) link
My only reservation about this film is where Lynch can possibly go next. He's dealt with dissociation many times before: in Twin Peaks FWWM, Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive... but this movie takes it further than any of them. It's one thing to tell a story with an unreliable narrator; here, Lynch makes us the unreliable narrator, forcing us to experience a dissociative state in order to feel the hope at the other side. It is shamanic and transformative.
At the end of the day, I can only have theories about "what really happened": but the specific of plot aren't nearly as important as the experience of seeing the film. Love Inland Empire or hate it, it's like nothing else on screen.
― polyncephalic, Monday, 10 September 2007 06:05 (thirteen years ago) link
Peter, do you remember our exchange about Matriculated, DMT and shamanic initiation? If the scene on Hollywood Boulevard isn't a ritual death, I don't know what is.
(And where did Helena Chase come from? She was amazing...)
― polyncephalic, Monday, 10 September 2007 06:08 (thirteen years ago) link
(Reposted from the old thread in January, my initial impressions...)
I saw "Inland Empire" tonight. Seeing a new David Lynch film, for me, is like wrestling with something uncomfortable, getting frustrated, but I find something beautiful in the end. At first I was thrown by his use of digital video, yearned for something crisper and cleaner, less shaky, but after awhile I decided it was the perfect medium for him. I never thought of it this way before, but it occurs to me that Lynch manipulates film in the way an animator might.
The story to me is about an actress (or an artist, or any of us) who is horrified to discover that one's own life, unlike the lives that we can inhabit temporarily for creative purposes, cannot be so easily discarded or escaped for another. An actress can take the role of an adulteress or a whore, then drop it and forget about it later; but the real adulteress can't walk off the stage and finish the movie. When the actress becomes the subject herself, flirting with an affair that may as well have been pulled from her script, she becomes trapped in her own film. But none of us writes our own movie, and so her movie is not hers, either. It's frightening and unfamiliar, and the ending is a mystery. She goes through a catharsis; she comes to understand the character she is playing, and all the real people who may have inspired it, because she is one of them. She sees herself on the screen, and then embraces the one who has been watching her there, allowing each other to return to their proper places. Each sees the other through the screen, which is really a mirror.
On a lighter note, I loved the final scene as the credits rolled. I do love movies that end with dance scenes, the music was great, Laura Harring shows up, monkey dances in the strobe light, the red-lit stage curtains (in my very Lynchian theater in Portland, anyhow) close at just the right moment, and I've just had one of those rare, once-every-few-years moments that is a new David Lynch film.
― Matt Rebholz, Monday, 10 September 2007 07:24 (thirteen years ago) link
I disagree on one very large point: I view the main character as a victimized woman, not a merry adulteress. The husband who warns Justin Theroux about the "consequences" of adultery is an all-around nasty character, and shouldn't be taken as a mouthpiece.
(And yes: for attitudes like his, I blame the patriarchy)
Laura Dern's life is not real, and it doesn't become more real by the introduction of a film. Rather, the film is so unreal ("on high in blue tomorrows"? "47"?) that it exposes her whole reality as spurious. All the world's a stage.
"Lynch manipulates film in the way an animator might" - Yes indeedy. This is the first David Lynch movie that didn't, by its style, keep me at arm's length: the organic, almost breathing DV shots possess so much more intimacy and candor than his previous, too-slick cinematography on film.
― polyncephalic, Monday, 10 September 2007 08:27 (thirteen years ago) link
― Dr. Phil, Friday, 21 September 2007 21:44 (thirteen years ago) link
I also just saw this movie. Not a good (or perhaps it is the best) film to start watching in your basement at 3 in the morning.
Lynch switched over to digital camera for this film, and it shows - it's likely he just discovered Photoshop, with the effects shown. On the DVD there's a guide to calibrate your television set for color, contrast and brightness. From the very beginning he uses that visual wide range. From what I understand he deliberately chose mid-range cameras for the look - you can see especially in the specs in the ultra low-light scenes (and the goofy scene where the filmmakers futz around with the lighting for ages...) Your eyes get used to the darkness, the quiet. The dreadful music very, very slowly churns up, and you know something is going to happen... then an enormous flash, scream, score hit...
It's the bus, the internet shock video, repeated every 5 minutes for THREE HOURS. Some of the scenes from the final moments are probably burned into my mind forever. I hate these kinds of techniques in horror films, they're cheap as hell. Not to say that can never been done well or respectfully in suspense films, but so often in THIS film they're awful and torturous. Do they establish the nightmarish, time-displaced, mentally dissociative-state atmosphere of the film amazingly? Sure. I didn't mind the mad POV disorientation and constantly rejoining narratives at all - but with all the flash cuts, shifting brightness, sudden extreme close-ups and gazing directly at the camera... At a certain point, the meanings this kind of thing may have, becomes totally irrelevant. THREE HOURS.
I know this thread is more about discussing the thematic work and meanings in Lynch's film, but the techniques he used drove me mad. I can still see the incredible skill and artistry behind the film's metaphors and structure, and I greatly admire that, but I'm more angry than appreciative because of the stroke I was going to have after so many grotesques.
I mean, hell, on the bonus disc, I didn't even get through through his ridiculous cooking segment, because it had the same creepy music playing while Lynch himself offered a harmless cooking lesson. I doubt a bloody stabbing occurred while dinner was served, but I think proving this kind of point is just aggravating and useless.
P.S. Poly, I think you're dead on - at least I had a very similar interpretation myself. In the opening post here you nailed much of what was great about the film. I do love the movie's different levels... for instance, I don't particularly care about the actress' story or Lynch's examination of Hollywood morality (taken more literally), but the Lost Girl, or Perhaps Mother, and her final salvation at the end was incredibly affecting and fascinating (and not because I was glad the film was finally over).
And the credits sequence was pretty great.
― Nhex, Monday, 1 October 2007 06:30 (thirteen years ago) link
Thanks. And, I think I'm more willing to overlook certain flaws of the film, but it's true... some of the horror techniques stuck way out. There were a couple of edits -- silence, then cut to flashing or screaming -- that made me say "why do you gotta do that, David?". If I had my druthers, I'd take out some scream-and-thunderclap moments, just like I'd truncate the Dern monologues.
(she has a great one in disc 2 "More Things That Happened", though -- spiders in the walls!)
Also, just to be a PITA, I'll say that I'm no longer of the "coming to America" opinion. Nailing IE down to a linear time and space frame feels Procrustean... it works, sort of, but then so does the idea of travel through screens, or the idea of the whole story taking place in one moment. That's what I find myself moving towards.
― polyncephalic, Monday, 1 October 2007 07:50 (thirteen years ago) link
Maybe I've barked up the wrong tree? It's possible to say that Lost Girl needed money or wanted excitement or anything in between, but maybe her motivation isn't important here. All we really ever know about her is that she's in a hotel room (face blurred out), she's having sex (apparently not by choice), and that she's afraid. Maybe the question is: what would go through the mind of a woman in that situation? A woman in trouble?
― polyncephalic, Monday, 1 October 2007 07:51 (thirteen years ago) link
The moment of "wait, this doesn't belong"... that, to me, marks the beginning of the end for a dream. Neo's deja vu. The oddness of the Tench. Landing a role on "47". DL is canny enough to let us draw the connection, if we want to.
(Apologies for excessive verbiage)
― polyncephalic, Monday, 1 October 2007 07:56 (thirteen years ago) link
I just wrote a ridiculous amount in response, but I realized it's gonna be hard enough to focus on just one thing, so I'll talk about the monologues for now...
I'm not thinking much narrowing down a specific time frame of logical events for the entire story, either. The emotional journey that the main character goes through completely ignores and destroys the conventional rules of time and space. Any literal interpretation can be safely ignored!
Personally I totally dug the Dern monologues, if just for her cutting performance. It felt RAW, also justifying by contrast all those scenes with Dern playing the thinly Hollywood-drawn southern adultress character, Susan Blue, on the movie set. While the fakeness of Susan Blue is truth, I figured the backstory of the monologue was the real truth spoken by Lost Girl, even though she was in the physical guise of the awakened Nikki Grace, yet speaking with the accent of Blue. The convergence of personas is the beginning of the end of this journey. It explains how she knew the Phantom - the hypnotist - and how this likely all started, her history of sexual abuse, and revenge. The Lost Girl, forced to watch Inland Empire, is a trapped victim, but was she always? Alternatively, the toughness of the character may yet be another fantasy to cover for her insecurities. How much of this is "truth" and how much is not... is probably meaningless in the end.
A stretch, but it also seemed much of these personas were informed by a foreign interpretation of American women - the slut actress, the street whore, the southern belle and bitch, self-consciously from American films.
It was also one of those nice chronological reveals, realizing her outpouring her anger... because it actually happened after she was "killed" and awoke from the Hollywood dream-set? Of course, the Theater Owner can't really do anything for her, even though she expects him to save her or give her answers... though in fact it's the ability to realize she is being watched and can watch the future on the projection screen which eventually gives her the power to free herself. Self-awareness? Industry ego?
I was still surprised to learn later that apparently the movie's production started with the 14-page monologue, before the rest of Inland Empire was conceived, written or filmed.
― Nhex, Monday, 1 October 2007 09:38 (thirteen years ago) link
I see Lost Girl as dead, all right, dead and in the Bardo( as in the Tibetan Book of the Dead).Same for Nikki/Sue,after the realization she's dead sinks in- an actress, it's follows her 'death scene'.In fact, I see them as the same 'Woman In Trouble.'
My Grand Unified Theory, part 1, anyway
― Carl, Friday, 4 December 2009 23:11 (eleven years ago) link
― turkeylurkeyknull, Saturday, 27 March 2010 09:21 (eleven years ago) link