Sunday, May 20, 2007

Thoughts on Inland Empire, 2nd viewing

Last Thursday I went with Nick and his friends to the Michigan Theater's screening of Inland Empire. It was the second time I'd seen it, but the first time for Nick and his friend Lorne and his girlfriend. Last time I'd gone was in December at the IFC Center theater in New York, at a midnight show. This one was 8pm and it makes a difference with a three hour film.

To begin with, everything moves much faster. That first 45 minutes or so in which events have some linear path and resemble reality is a bit like that climb up the hill of a roller coaster before the drop. I'd forgotten that prior to this climb there is a small hurdle of abstraction - our first looks at the teenage girl viewer, the rabbits, the Poles and a prostitute. Rather formalist, since those are all the elements which are abstracted upon after Laura Dern sleeps with her co-star and we go to crazytown.

That first time last December, the experience felt long, but not detrimental. It's impossible to know what's coming next, so if you can't let go for the experience, it'll really feel like three hours - Lorne's girlfriend hated it, though she's liked a lot of other Lynch. The funny thing is, Inland is what Lynch's critics have inaccurately condemned him for years of: making pure abstractions of ideas rather than stories. This is the first time where that really applies. I haven't seen Mulholland Drive, but it's fans seem to know what's going on by asserting that part of it is clearly delineated as a dream. In Lost Highway, which I have seen, many paradoxes fall into place if you decide that the first and most important impossible occurrence delineates the beginning of a dream. From there you can interpret these scenes for their meaning rather than rationality, and compare them against the scenes which do take place in reality. Inland is a bit trickier because of that prologue, but in both viewings I'm still viewing the 45 or so "rational" minutes as the reality from which the abstractions must be extrapolated.

Lorne's girlfriend thought that the prologue centered the entire film around the crying girl - since she seems to be watching the movie itself and turns out to be inside the brick house which Laura Dern spends so much time in. That brick house is also probably the one which the gypsy woman makes reference to being her own, in the scene between her and Dern. There are clearly many patterns to pick up on the first viewing, but on the second viewing you'll find more than you even suspected. Once that roller coaster starts hurdling down and around it's like a party - no longer so suspenseful, but still thrilling. I was able to leave and get popcorn at one point without guilt. I looked forward to the Loco-Motion and the credits dance number, nodded my head and tapped my feet. Fucked up fun!

The broader meaning I was able to find in terms of story was this: if what we see after Laura Dern sleeps with her co-star is an examination of her psyche, then her death at the hands of the screwdriver-wielding woman is a payment for her sins. It's after she bleeds to death that we finally re-enter the world of the filmmakers - the director Jeremy Irons - and her final journey to the brick house happens through passage of a movie theater. That Polish guy whom she has to shoot to end the nightmare is the same who cast a spell on the screwdriver woman. We hear her claim this in the interrogation room scene, and much later we catch a glimpse of that man waving his finger and speaking mumbo-jumbo. The screwdriver woman is also the doppelganger of the fictional wife in "On High the Blue Tomorrows" who's married to Justin Theroux, as we see when Laura Dern seems to wander into that movie but can't convince Justin that he's his real self, and not the movie character.

One other thing I missed first time around - there's a funny shot of Laura Dern in black and white referencing that "Salome" movie by Eric Von Stroheim and starring Gloria Swanson, as featured in "Sunset Boulevard" - another great metaphysical movie about movies which David Lynch actually screened for his "Eraserhead" crew before they began production.

Wherever that "see it again for the first time" advertising line came from, I doubt it applies to any film more than this one.

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