By now most filmgoers have decided whether they love what David Lynch has to say, are simply baffled by his oblique and fractured storylines, or think his work is overrated and pretentious. To let you know where I stand, I'd actually call him a genius. But I don't use that word lightly. A genius, in my mind, is someone who has the talent to find logical connections between completely unrelated things and ideas. Under this definition, I understand why some people call genius a form of madness, because this method of finding connections is similar, in many ways, to a schizophrenic's rantings.
And so we have Inland Empire, Lynch's most inaccessible film since Eraserhead. It's a three-hour-long opus that begins with a married Hollywood actress (Lynch regular Laura Dern) accepting a part in a film that has a dark history. From there the story bounces around feverishly between Hollywood, Poland, and the "Inland Empire" itself (an oft-maligned suburban/rural chunk of Southern California, southeast of Los Angeles), with Dern in multiple roles, few of which are clearly defined, other random characters who may or may not be real, repeated bits of dialogue, and continued references to infidelity, murder, and more.
There's quite a lot to sift through, but I think I managed to figure out what the story may actually be about - I won't give away anything here, but Lynch's films tend to be about singular traumatic events in their protagonists' lives that lead to desperate denial fantasies broken up by nightmarish glimpses of the hopelessness of their reality, and I found that here as well.
Safe to say, if you didn't care for Mulholland Drive or Lost Highway then Inland Empire is most definitely not for you. It may even strain the patience of some who consider themselves diehard Lynch fans. As for me? Well, I was often lost, but never bored. And someday I'd like to see it again just to see if I can sort out more pieces to the puzzle. (The maddening thing about Lynch's films is that there always is a point to them - with the exception of Wild at Heart, none of them are weird for weirdness' sake - and so one can't just brush off all the abstractions as just nonsense, because every scene, no matter how random, serves a purpose.) But so much of the film is basically incomprehensible, and three hours of it is hard to take in one sitting. So I'm in no hurry to do so again, even if I can't stop thinking about it.
Kudos to Lynch for being confident enough to break all the rules: he shoots on consumer-grade video, the characters are frequently out of focus, and some shots aren't meant to cut well together. At times I tried to imagine my reaction to the film if it were made by a nobody, just to see if I'd find it amateurish in that context. But it was impossible. There's a mature vision at work here, no matter how dressed down it may be. There's just something so assured about Lynch's sound design, about his ability to get gut-wrenchingly emotional performances from his actors, about the way he lights and frames a shot. For a filmmaker like me, it's intimidating. It's like giving a painter a small box of crayons and seeing him create a masterpiece with them.
So did I like Inland Empire? Well, I didn't connect with it as much as I connected with, say, Blue Velvet, or even with Mulholland Drive (though it took me a couple of viewings of the latter film to "get it"). And I just don't care much for Laura Dern, though her performance is strong. However, I think the film is a fascinating work of art and I look forward to revisiting it in a few years.