Memory, sex, and celebrity
Returning to themes mined in Mulholland Drive, David Lynch's Inland Empire explores the disjointed world of memory, sex, and celebrity framed by the old "film within a film" motif. Only on Lynch's fragmented terms where actress and her role Nikki/Sue (Laura Dern) converge to become one with not a blip even if the audience should confuse the two roles. As the director has Niki assume other roles such as Hollywood Boulevard hooker and battered housewife, the actress becomes richer in character if not confusing in reality.
The recent Perfect Stranger with Halle Berry shows the complicating and destructive force of sex in advertising and journalism; Inland Empire shows the life-threatening effect of illicit sex between an actress and her co-star. Lynch adds the turn of the screw that this is also a plot in Nikki's film. But "plot" is giving Lynch much more credit for realism than he deserves, the discursive Blue Velvet an early and famous example of his wide-ranging mind. At times I am reminded of Robert Altman's much more plot-restrained Eyes Wide Open where sex is the dominant force underneath visual set pieces that overwhelm character and plot, such as it is.
Interspersed among the plot points in Inland Empire are disorienting images of actors in rabbit costume in a stage play with canned laughter (some critics suggest Alice in Wonderland), bad girls visiting Nikki"s home and joining her on the street, a soothsayer older woman predicting the upheaval of Nikki's marriage with her new role. The predictions don't alter the future but remind us that human failure is predictable.
Images in Inland Empire clash and merge like memory itself?imperfect and random, dwelling on the ends of experience, either ecstasy or defeat and seldom the softer center. Lynch bravely provides few clues to his disjointed universe, only juxtaposed images of love and death that are sometimes confused for each other.
Inland Empire (an appropriate title given the signature Lynch close-ups revealing souls in upheaval) might best be approached like a poorly organized photo album: Although the images evoke the joys of familiarity, even warmth, they cover a world of greed and lust at war with love and happiness. Empire is a tough three hours but ultimately worthwhile if it only jogs the memory to face the effects of the past and dread of the future.