After an uncomfortable, borderline disturbing visitation by a cryptic neighbour, the fading movie star, Nikki Grace, is thrilled to hear that she has just landed herself the female lead role in director Kingsley Stewart's sensational Southern melodrama called "On High in Blue Tomorrows". However, as she gradually disappears into her complex role, Nikki's character, Susan Blue, starts to emerge from the labyrinthine pathways of her unconscious, creeping into her delicate consciousness. More and more, as Nikki's dissociation becomes more aggressive, and her self-transcendent experience sets in motion a sometimes subtle, sometimes profound transformation, parallel worlds interweave, and a mysterious lost girl tuned into the TV sitcom, Rabbits (2002), begins to take shape. Is Stewart's ambitious project doomed to fail?Written by
Arranged by Nina Simone
Performed by Nina Simone
Published by Warner Bros. Music Corp. (ASCAP)
Courtesy of Mercury Records
Under license from Universal Music Enterprises See more »
Is it brilliant or rubbish? Well, for my money it is both and worth seeing regardless
Whenever I saw Mullholland Drive I enjoyed it because it was such an experience but yet had much for me to try and figure out as hard as it was to do so. Funny then to watch Inland Empire and think that in the future, if it continues this way, that we will look back on Lynch's earlier films as his pre-weird period, which is strange when you watch Wild at Heart, Blue Velvet etc. However this is the place we now find ourselves with Inland Empire, a film that not only shuns narrative tradition but behaves as if such a thing has never existed. And to watch the film, well, you just need to accept this and deal with the fact that if you have even a slight grasp on the story then you should consider yourself lucky.
If you can accept this then the film is flawed genius; however if you cannot accept this then the film is a shambles that will make you hate it almost as soon as you realise you will not be able to get to the bottom of it just by watching it tonight. The funny thing is that both camps are right in their comments on this film because it is at once brilliant and terrible Jonathon Ross summed it up surprisingly well when he said it was a "work of genius I think" because the impression left on me was just this.
On one hand the film is almost impossible to follow and it is not just a glib remark to say that this does make Mullholland Drive feel like an episode of Eastenders in regards accessibility. The plot starts out as a mystery but pretty much disappears into a series of semi-connected fantasy (?) sequences where characters complete switch worlds and identities, terrifying characters loom large but yet are invisible to the viewer and a sitcom featuring rabbits is watched by a girl crying in her room. There is little here to help the viewer and there is simply no foundation for you to put one foot one and say "right, no matter what happens I know I am on firm ground here"; the film doesn't pull the rug from under the viewer there is simply never a rug to begin with. To many viewers this will be the end of discussion but for my money I already suspected this would be the case and what I actually came for was the experience.
In this area the film is both brilliant but yet flawed. It is brilliant because it literally does feel like you are falling through worlds of dreams. Lynch manages to shoot his scenes with the air of them being slightly (or totally) unreal. The effect is completely unnerving and an example of the power of cinema that he can move the viewer into such a place mentally that even a static shot of three people dressed as rabbits is quite terrifying. It is a skill he is famous for and he shows no sign of losing it. As an experience I found it engaging to a point and, unfortunately, that point was not 180 minutes. It is ironic to praise the film for its freewheeling experience but yet criticise it for being undisciplined but yet here we are because it does feel very much like a film where Lynch needed someone to say "look, you need to make it as tight as it is exhilarating".
Nobody said this I think and as a result it outstays its welcome at times and the dips are just that much more pronounced. Fortunately it is not consistent but it does come and the conclusion of the film is worth staying for. Not narratively you understand (even though the threads do come together) but some terrifying scenes give way to closing credits of beautiful women dancing to Nina Simone's Sinnerman; does it make sense? Well no, but again it is all about the experience and in this regard it is fairly consistent. Another reason for seeing it is a performance from Laura Dern that only begs the question why she didn't manage to get an Oscar nomination. OK it was a tough year for actresses with Cruz, Mirren, Dench and Streep filling out the list but for my money Dern is as good if not better than all of them. Lynch plays out so much confusion and emotion in her face, with this making some scenes a story without a single word being said. Given how hard it is to understand what is happening in the script, it makes Dern's convincing performance all the more impressive. Below her nobody is as good but everyone does suit the material and Lynch's approach.
Of course aside from Dern, the star is Lynch and his fans will come to this way the same Bruce Willis' fans come to a film because he is in it. His direction, editing and cinematography is masterful, which only really leaves his writing. Superficially he does fall down but yet he also produces a flow he understands as well as some brilliant specific moments a line where a black homeless woman says "It's OK, you dying is all" is a wonderfully insightful remark that is all the more impacting for the throwaway delivery of it, a matter-of-fact summary of life on the streets in a tiny part of a bigger film.
Overall then this is an impressive film that is as brilliantly bewildering as it is frustrating. Some will find meaning but the vast majority will be best served to treat it as an experience rather than a "film" as one would expect from any other director. Even on this basis it is not perfect and is easily too long to sustain but in this regard it is still worth seeing. Not sure if it is entirely enjoyable but for sure it is an experience I'm glad I had.
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