Inland Empire (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||David Lynch|
|Produced by||Laura Dern
|Written by||David Lynch|
Harry Dean Stanton
|Music by||David Lynch
|Editing by||David Lynch|
|Distributed by||518 Media
Studio Canal (France)
|Running time||180 minutes|
Inland Empire is a 2006 mystery film written and directed by David Lynch and his first feature film since 2001's Mulholland Drive. The feature took two-and-a-half years to complete, and was Lynch's first film to have been shot entirely in standard definition digital video. The film is a co-production of France, Poland and the United States. It premiered in Italy at the Venice Film Festival on 6 September 2006.
The cast includes such Lynch regulars as Laura Dern, Justin Theroux, Harry Dean Stanton and Grace Zabriskie, as well as Jeremy Irons and Diane Ladd. There are also very brief appearances by Nastassja Kinski, William H. Macy, Laura Harring, Terry Crews, Mary Steenburgen and Ben Harper. The voices of Harring, Naomi Watts and Scott Coffey are included in excerpts from Lynch's Rabbits website project.
Inland Empire was named the second-best film of 2007 (tied with two others) by Cahiers du cinéma, and listed among Sight & Sound's "thirty best films of the 2000s", as well as The Guardian's "10 most underrated movies of the decade".
The film opens to the sound of a gramophone playing Axxon N, “the longest-running radio play in history”. Meanwhile, a young prostitute, identified in the credits as the "Lost Girl", cries while watching television in a hotel room, following an unpleasant encounter with her client. The Lost Girl’s television displays a family of surrealistic anthropomorphic rabbits who speak in cryptic statements and questions. Occasionally, there are laugh track responses within these Rabbit scenes. These three elements become recurring motifs throughout Inland Empire.
The main plot follows Nikki Grace, who has applied for a role in a film entitled On High in Blue Tomorrows. The day before the audition, Nikki is visited by an enigmatic old woman from Poland who predicts that she will get the role and asks whether the story is about marriage and involves murder. Disregarding Nikki’s troubled response, the old woman comments on the confusion of time, claiming that were this tomorrow, Nikki would be sitting on a couch adjacent to them. The film then pans to where the neighbour is pointing, and we see Nikki and two girlfriends sitting on the couch. Her butler walks into the living room with a phone call from her agent, announcing that she has won the role. Ecstatic, Nikki and her friends celebrate while her husband Piotrek ominously surveys them from atop a nearby stairwell.
Some time later, Nikki and her co-star Devon Berk receive an interview on a talk show. They are asked whether they are having an affair, to which each of them respond negatively. Later, on the set being built for the film, Nikki and Devon rehearse a scene with the director, Kingsley Stewart. They are interrupted by a disturbance, but Devon finds nothing upon investigation. Shaken by the event, Kingsley confesses that they are shooting a remake of a German feature entitled 47. Production was abandoned after both leads were murdered, creating rumors of the film being cursed.
Immersed in her character "Sue", Nikki appears to begin an affair with Devon – under the guise of his own character "Billy". While filming a scene in which her character buys groceries, Nikki notices a door in the alley marked Axxon N, and enters. It leads to a room behind the studio, where she can see herself rehearsing her lines weeks earlier. When Devon is sent to find who's lurking backstage, Nikki realizes that she was the disturbance, causing her to flee among the half-built backgrounds and into the house of another character named Smithy. Despite the set being merely a wooden facade, Nikki enters to find an illuminated suburban house inside. Devon looks through the windows, but sees only darkness.
At this point, the film takes a drastic stylistic turn. Various plotlines and scenes begin to entwine and complement each other. The chronological order is often confused or nonexistent. Inside the house, Nikki regularly encounters a troupe of prostitutes. Nikki complies and witnesses several strange happenings, walking through gloomy corridors and staircases, opening doors leading to various spaces surrealistically connected to each other. Many events seem to revolve around her, other characters appear as potential alternate versions of herself.
A parallel plotline involves present Polish circus artists, 1930s Polish prostitutes who are confronted by strange pimps while murder permeates their city. Sue climbs the dark staircase behind a nightclub to deliver a long monologue to a Jewish Rabbi named Mr. K – which touches upon her childhood sexual abuse, disastrous relationships and revenge missions. Her husband Smithy seems to be connected with both the pimps and the organization – and is hired by a circus from Poland. There is much talk of The Phantom, an elusive hypnotist. Convinced she’s being stalked by a red-lipped man, Sue arms herself with a screwdriver.
Finally, Sue walks down Hollywood Boulevard, and is startled to see her doppelgänger across the street. Before Sue can investigate, she is brutally stabbed in the stomach with her own screwdriver, causing her to stagger down the street and eventually collapse next to some homeless people. An old woman comforts Sue until she finally dies, “having no more blue tomorrows”. Off-camera, Kingsley yells “cut”, and the camera pans back to show this has merely been a film scene.
As the actors and film crew wrap for the next scene, Sue slowly arises, Nikki once more. Kingsley announces that her scenes for the film are complete. In a daze, Nikki wanders off set and into a nearby cinema, where she sees not only On High in Blue Tomorrows – encompassing some of the subplots of the film – but events that are currently occurring. Eventually, Nikki confronts the red-lipped man from earlier, now known to be The Phantom. She shoots him, flees into a nearby room – Room 47, which houses the rabbits. Elsewhere in the building, Nikki finds The Lost Girl, who has been watching and crying all along. The two women kiss, before Nikki fades away into the light along.
Nikki is then seen back home, calmly smiling at the old woman seen earlier.
- Laura Dern as Nikki Grace / Sue Blue
- Jeremy Irons as Kingsley Stewart
- Justin Theroux as Devon Berk / Billy Side
- Harry Dean Stanton as Freddie Howard
- Julia Ormond as Doris Side
- Diane Ladd as Marilyn Levens
- Peter J. Lucas as Piotrek
- Grace Zabriskie as Visitor #1
- Mary Steenburgen as Visitor #2
- Karolina Gruszka as Lost Girl
- Krzysztof Majchrzak as Phantom
- Ian Abercrombie as Henry the Butler
- Terry Crews as Street Man
- William H. Macy as Announcer
- Tracy Ashton as Marine's Sister
- Laura Harring (voice) as Jane Rabbit
- Scott Coffey (voice) as Jack Rabbit
- Naomi Watts (voice) as Suzie Rabbit
- David Lynch (voice) as Bucky the Gaffer
Lynch shot the film without a complete screenplay. Instead, he handed each actor several pages of freshly written dialogue each day. In a 2005 interview, he described his feelings about the shooting process: "I've never worked on a project in this way before. I don’t know exactly how this thing will finally unfold... This film is very different because I don’t have a script. I write the thing scene by scene and much of it is shot and I don’t have much of a clue where it will end. It’s a risk, but I have this feeling that because all things are unified, this idea over here in that room will somehow relate to that idea over there in the pink room."
Interviewed at the Venice Film Festival, Laura Dern admitted that she didn't know what Inland Empire was about or the role she was playing, but hoped that seeing the film's premiere at the festival would help her "learn more." Justin Theroux has also stated that he "couldn't possibly tell you what the film's about, and at this point I don't know that David Lynch could. It's become sort of a pastime—Laura [Dern] and I sit around on set trying to figure out what's going on."
Much of the project was shot in Łódź, Poland, with local actors, such as Karolina Gruszka, Krzysztof Majchrzak, Leon Niemczyk, Piotr Andrzejewski and artists of the local circus Cyrk Zalewski. Some videography was also done in Los Angeles, and in 2006 Lynch returned from Poland to complete filming. Inland Empire is the first Lynch feature to be completely shot in digital video; it was shot with a Sony DSR-PD150. Lynch has stated that he will no longer use film to make motion pictures.
In an NPR "Weekend Edition" interview, Laura Dern recounted a conversation she had with one of the movie's new producers. He asked if Lynch was joking when he requested a one-legged woman, a monkey and a lumberjack by 3:15. "Yeah, you're on a David Lynch movie, dude," Dern replied. "Sit back and enjoy the ride." Dern reported that by 4 p.m. they were shooting with the requested individuals.
Financing and distribution
Lynch financed much of the production from his own resources, with longtime artistic collaborator and ex-wife Mary Sweeney producing. The film was also partially financed by the French production company StudioCanal, which had provided funding for three previous Lynch films. StudioCanal wanted to enter the film in the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, but it was not ready in time. Instead, it premiered at Italy's Venice Film Festival on September 6, 2006, where David Lynch also received the Golden Lion lifetime achievement award for his "contributions to the art of cinema." The film premiered in the United States on October 8, 2006 at the New York Film Festival, selling out both showings. The film received a limited release in the US beginning on December 15, 2006; distribution was handled by the specialist company 518 Media.
Lynch hoped to distribute the film independently, saying that with the entire industry changing, he thought he would attempt a new form of distribution as well. He acquired the rights to the DVD and worked out a deal with Studio Canal in an arrangement that allows him to distribute the film himself, through both digital and traditional means. A North American DVD release occurred on August 14, 2007. Among other special features, the DVD included a 75-minute featurette, "More Things That Happened", which compiled footage elaborating on Sue's marriage to Smithy, her unpleasant life story, the Phantom's influence on women, and the lives of the prostitutes on Hollywood Boulevard.
When asked about Inland Empire, Lynch responded that it is "about a woman in trouble, and it's a mystery, and that's all I want to say about it." When presenting screenings of the digital work, Lynch sometimes offers a clue in the form of a quotation from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: "We are like the spider. We weave our life and then move along in it. We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives in the dream. This is true for the entire universe."
Richard Peña, a New York Film Festival official and one of the first people to see Inland Empire, has summarized the film as "a plotless collection of snippets that explore themes Lynch has been working on for years," including "a Hollywood story about a young actress who gets a part in a film that might be cursed; a story about the smuggling of women from Eastern Europe; and an abstract story about a family of people with rabbit heads sitting around in a living room" -- Lynch's web-only video series, Rabbits. Peña's perception of a plot involving "the smuggling of women from Eastern Europe" stems from a scene in which one man asks another, in Polish, if he is selling the woman in the room.
The scholar Delorme indicated that the film is about adultery, but in a way that Lynch "avoid[s] a chronological unfolding of the scenes and situations provoked by the adultery", but rather "superimpose[s] them instead in as many scenarios developing from the potentials of the adultery", so that "[t]he narrative is constructed on strange characters brought together by a similar terror."
The film was screened at several film festivals around the world, most notably the Venice Film Festival in Italy, New York Film Festival in New York, United States, the Thessaloniki Film Festival in Greece, Camerimage Film Festival in Poland, Fajr International Film Festival in Iran, International Film Festival Rotterdam in the Netherlands, San Francisco Independent Film Festival in San Francisco, United States, Festival Internacional de Cine Contemporáneo de la Ciudad de México in México City, Mexico, Cinema Digital Seoul in South Korea and !f Istanbul International Independent Film Festival in Turkey. It was released in Iceland in 2007. The company that showed "Inland Empire" is called Grænaljósið or "The Greenlight".
Inland Empire was released and distributed by Ryko to the United States on 14 August 2007. It was released on 20 August in the United Kingdom, 4 October in Belgium and the Netherlands, with distribution by A-Film and 6 August 2008 in Australia, with distribution by Madman Entertainment.
At Metacritic, which assigns a normalised rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film received an average score of 72, based on 24 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews" and holds a 72% "fresh" rating on review aggregator web site Rotten Tomatoes. The site's consensus states that the film is "typical David Lynch fare: fans of the director will find Inland Empire seductive and deep. All others will consider the heady surrealism impenetrable and pointless."
The New York Times classified Inland Empire as "fitfully brilliant" after the Venice Film Festival screening. Peter Travers, the film critic for Rolling Stone magazine wrote, "My advice, in the face of such hallucinatory brilliance, is that you hang on." The New Yorker was one of the few publications to offer any negative points about the film, calling it a "trenchant, nuanced film" that "quickly devolves into self-parody". Jonathan Ross, presenter of the BBC programme Film 2007, described it as "a work of genius... I think." Damon Wise of Empire magazine gave it five stars, calling it "A dazzling and exquisitely original riddle as told by an enigma" and Jim Emerson (editor of RogerEbert.com) gave it 4 stars and praised it: "When people say Inland Empire is Lynch's Sunset Boulevard, Lynch's Persona or Lynch's 8½, they're quite right, but it also explicitly invokes connections to Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le Fou, Buñuel and Dalí's Un Chien Andalou, Maya Deren's LA-experimental Meshes of the Afternoon (a Lynch favorite) and others". However, Carina Chocano of the Los Angeles Times wrote that "the film, which begins promisingly, disappears down so many rabbit holes (one of them involving actual rabbits) that eventually it just disappears for good."
Dern received almost universal acclaim for her performance, with many reviews describing it as her finest to date. Lynch attempted to promote Dern's chances of an Academy Award for Best Actress nomination at the 2007 Academy Awards by campaigning with a live cow. She was not nominated for the award.
518 Media released Inland Empire to two theaters in the United States on December 6, 2006, grossing a total of $27,508 over its opening weekend. It later expanded to its widest release of fifteen nationwide theaters, ultimately grossing $861,355 at American box office. In other countries outside the United States, Inland Empire grossed $3,176,222—bringing the film's worldwide total gross to $4,037,577.
|Category — Recipient(s)|
|National Society of Film Critics Awards||Best Experimental Film — Inland Empire|
|Venice Film Festival||Future Film Festival Digital Award — David Lynch|
|Category — Nominee(s)|
|Chlotrudis Awards||Best Actress — Laura Dern
Best Director — David Lynch
Best Film — Inland Empire
Best Supporting Actress — Grace Zabriskie
Best Visual Design — Inland Empire
|National Society of Film Critics Awards||Best Actress — Laura Dern|
|New York Film Critics Online Awards||Best Picture — Inland Empire|
|Toronto Film Critics Association Awards||Best Actress — Laura Dern|
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