Monday, October 29, 2007

INLAND EMPIRE by David Lynch

The latest film by David Lynch is the third in his (for lack of a name) Identity-under-attack trilogy. Both the earlier films, Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, bring a crisis of identity to an exquisitely realized vision. The crisis of identity happens at two levels in both films. Firstly the identity is humiliated by the infidelity of one's partner, and secondly it suffers confusion and a nightmarish escape from the painful reality of the consequences of one's response to that infidelity.

INLAND EMPIRE is superficially about the same theme, infidelity and the identity under attack. But in this film, Lynch considers infidelity to be not just a cause of an identity crisis, but also an effect of it.

On the surface, the film is about an aging actress, Nikki Grace, who acts in a film about infidelity and murder. In her desire to embody her character totally, she gets possessed by it to the extent that she is unable to make a meaningful distinction between her dreams, hallucinations, the film role and her actual reality.

Lynch, in one of the most rebellious acts by a mainstream director, shot and edited the film himself on a consumer grade camcorder and distributed it himself. The film has mainly played in film festivals and has only recently been released on DVD.

Cinematic art is especially prone to leading its participants towards an identity crisis. First, a real life event (an actual occurrence of infidelity, "the longest running show in history") inspires the artist to create a fictional account of it (the Polish gypsy tale). This is the first creation of another world. Secondly, in a cinematic adaptation of a fictional text, the actors are asked to play the characters and not be themselves. This is the second creation, doubly removed from reality. Thirdly, the spectators watch the enactment of this second reality on a screen, which is not real but is a projection of light, and identify with the characters on screen. Spectators feel happy, sad, fearful, angry, by identifying with the storyline and its characters.

One of the most interesting ideas explored in this film is what happens to an artist when she sees herself playing a character on the screen. She was already there, playing it for real. Now she is watching herself on the screen and as a spectator, trying to identify with what the director is trying to convey by the mood of the film, the lighting and the thousand other things which she didn't notice when she was engrossed in playing her part.

There has been a lot of discussion about the admittedly hard-to-understand narrative (or the lack of narrative) in the film. However, it is easier to enjoy and appreciate this film if one sees it as a maze in which one's identity is lost and not everything makes complete sense.

The first time there is a hint of the identity being cursed is when the actress starts embodying the role and she gets emotionally affected. Someone sees another presence in the set, and that perception is literally true, though the seeing was not of a physical being but of a new persona arriving.

Also explored are themes of feminine entanglement versus masculine distancing in a relationship. This distant-ness, or the lack of emotional depth can be considered a childish trait of an ego not fully developed. Males are repeatedly depicted as mental and emotional infants in this film.

The director is scathingly critical about the values of show business and about the commodification of a woman's body, about how the size of one's breasts determines success for a woman in almost any field (be it a nightclub, cinema, in one's career, on the street or in finding a life partner). And about how show-business is peculiarly cruel to women actresses. The sequence where Sue is bleeding on the boulevard of the stars is the one of most harrowing depictions in history of glamor versus suffering.

Some of the scene compositions are breathtaking in their originality and though it is a long film, it never feels long. As is usual with Lynch, the sound design and music in the film is superlative. The end titles are an exuberant treat in themselves.

Recommendation: Must-see.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is the best review I've read of the film. I'm really glad someone else enjoyed it so much, and captured what I loved about it.