Saturday, December 16, 2006
David Lynch's latest film, the first since the surrealistically over-rated MULHOLLAND DR. Clocking in at a completely indefensible 2 hours and 48 minutes, EMPIRE covers some of the same territory as MULHOLLAND: we're once again in a no-man's-land of narrative and cinematic tricks, where Nothing Is As It Seems To Be, and everything is as Lynchian as it can possibly be.
Insert that little sound of frustration and annoyance that Marge Simpson makes here.
The story, or stories, seem to center on an actress named Nikki Grace, played admirably by Laura Dern. Nikki is making a film, and finds that the line between herself and the character she is playing seems to be fading. We also find out that an earlier production of the film in progress (in Poland, for some reason) was halted due to the murder of the two leads. We get scenes from the film that Nikki is making, scenes from Nikki's life that seem to mimic the film Nikki is making, scenes from the earlier Polish production, and scenes from the life of Nikki's Polish counterpart which seem to refer to moments in Nikki's life and Nikki's film, and scenes that might be dreams, and a sitcom featuring humanized rabbits, and a lot of other stuff that will probably make sense with repeat viewings.
If there are any repeat viewings. INLAND EMPIRE doesn't quite sink under the weight of all the metacinematic trickery, but it never really takes off, either. Lynch does begin the film brilliantly,though. The old sense of effortless Lynchian menace, which he seems able to induce at will out of ordinary settings and with a few rumbling sound effects, comes across very quickly and excitingly. But then something else happens. What had been an exciting tingle of dread gives way to a familiar sense of the familiar, that I'd seen it all before. Elements of LOST HIGHWAY, BLUE VELVET, ERASERHEAD, even the red curtains from TWIN PEAKS, and unfortunately big chunks of MULHOLLAND all inform INLAND EMPIRE.
There's nothing particularly wrong with a director working on similar themes and ideas and motifs from film to film. But with Lynch it feels like he's just plain repeating himself. Nothing's being learned, nothing's being digested, just chewed over and over and over.