How many characters does Laura Dern play in Inland Empire, how are the contexts in which those characters appear interrelated and is there even any point in asking any of those questions in light of the fact that Lynch himself said that he shot the film without a script? (And what does that mean, without a script, anyway?) Does the film end after the credits roll or only after Laura Dern gets the well-deserved Oscar? And why is it that, when you’re watching that rabbit in the beginning, the rabbit gawks back at you?
My impressions of the film immediately after seeing it were scattered. The main one, the gloves are off. No more Mr. Nice Lynch. As possible as it was to see Mulholland Dr. as one of the most beautiful character studies ever made, accessible to a degree even after the first viewing, and at the same time maintain a polite, civilized distance from the fiction itself, Empire resists the left side of the brain and uncompromisingly draws the viewer in and forces him to simply experience the film.
Lynch does this partly by inserting elements of horror, with the use of the score (especially in the scenes on the movie set, with music reminiscent of the golden age of Hollywood in the background), and partly by having the movie resist any kind of meaningful interpretation. There is no coherent chronology, no apparent logic to the scenes with characters played by Laura Dern, and not a single solid point of reference to go back to as one confusing scene follows the other. At one point, it looks like the movie is about to end with the death of the protagonist, in a scene that irresistibly mirrors the end of Marc Foster’s Stay (Ewan McGregor, Ryan Gosling, Naomi Watts, script by David Benioff), but Lynch decides to say another thing or two and the director yelling “cut” obliterates the possibility of an easy ending.
Still, the basic difference between Inland Empire and
In a way, it is not at all strange that a director who leans on the universal nature of human experience to such a degree that he provides the audience with little else to hold on to, has finally gotten rid of the limitations of ‘character’ and instead set out to knock about the very definition of identity as something well-rounded, autonomous and discrete. Other than contrasting a person (actress) with the character she plays, several different personalities contained in the same physical character, he also shifts experiences, feelings and tendencies from one character to another. For instance, several characters get stabbed in the same way, one character dreams about something that another character is going through, or a character (e.g. Nikki Grace’s husband) is presented as jealous or aggressive only for those traits to then be illustrated on another character (e.g. the aging actress seeing the chorus of prostitutes or having Dern transform into a Calamity Jane of sorts who talks about the horrific things she did to a man who assaulted her once).
About a week after seeing the film, it occurred to me that this particular take on characters reminded me of something that Paul Auster, New York author and master of all things fragmented, monomaniacal and disintegrating, best known in the world of film for his cooperation with Wayne Wang on Smoke and Blue in the Face, wrote in one of his early works, Portrait of an Invisible Man, in reference to his sister and her deteriorating mental health, comparing identity to a house:
At what moment does a house stop being a house? When the roof is taken off? When the walls are knocked down? At what moment does it become a pile of rubble?
With Lynch, of course, it is dangerous to assume that the house exists to begin with.
The soundtrack is out on September 11. Here is the track listing:
01 David Lynch “Ghost of Love”
02 David Lynch “Rabbits Theme”
03 Mantovani “Colours of My Life”
04 David Lynch “Woods Variation”
05 Dave Brubeck “Three To Get Ready”
06 Boguslaw Schaeffer “Klavier Konzert”
07 Kroke “The Secrets of Life Tree”
08 Little Eva “The Locomotion”
09 David Lynch “BBQ Theme”
10 Krzysztof Penderecki “Als Jakob Erwachte”
11 Witold Lutoslawski “Novelette Conclusion” (excerpt) /Joey Altruda “Lisa” (edit)
12 Beck “Black Tambourine” (film version)
13 David Lynch “Mansion Theme”
14 David Lynch “Walkin’ on the Sky”
15 David Lynch / Marek Zebrowski “Polish Night Music No. 1″
16 David Lynch / Chrysta Bell “Polish Poem”
17 Nina Simone “Sinnerman” (edit)