Laura Dern, Jeremy Irons, Justin Theroux
Though Inland Empire's three hours of befuddling abstraction could try the patience of the most devoted David Lynch fan, its aim to reinvigorate the Lynch-ian symbolic order is ambitious, not to mention visually arresting. The director's archetypes recognizable from previous movies once again construct the film's inherent logic, but with a new twist. Sets vibrate between the contemporary and a 1950s alternate universe crammed with dim lamps, long hallways, mysterious doors, sparsely furnished rooms and, this time, a vortex/apartment/sitcom set where rabbit-masked humans dwell, and a Polish town where women are abused and killed. Instead of speaking backwards, mystic soothsayers and criminals speak Polish. Filmed on video, the film's look has the sinister, frightening feel of a Mark Savage film or a bootlegged snuff movie. Constant close-ups, both in and out of focus, make Inland Empire feel as if a stalker covertly filmed it. A straightforward, hokey plot unravels during the first third of Inland Empire to ground the viewer before a dive off the deep end. Actor Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) is cast as Susan Blue, an adulterous white trash Southerner, in a film that mimics too closely her actual life with an overbearingly jealous and dangerous husband. When Nikki and co-star Devon (Justin Theroux) learn that the cursed film project was earlier abandoned when its stars were murdered, the pair lose their grasp of reality. Nikki suffers a schizophrenic identity switch to Sue that lasts until nearly the film's end. Suspense builds as Nikki's alter ego sleuths her way through surreal situations to discover her killer, culminating in Sue's gnarly death on set. Sue's actions drag on because any sign of a narrative thread disappears due to idiosyncratic editing. Non-sensical scenes still captivate, however, such as when Sue stumbles onto the soundstage where she finds Nikki (herself) rehearsing for Sue's part. In this meta-film about identity slippage, Dern's multiple characters remind one of how a victim can become the hunter in their fight for survival. Lynch's portrayal of Nikki/Sue's increasing paranoia is, in its own confusion, utterly realistic. Laura Dern has created her own Lady Macbeth, undone by her guilt over infidelity. Even though Inland Empire is too long and too random, Laura Dern's performance coupled with Lynch's video experiments make it magical.