ⓘ Inland Empire (film)

Inland Empire (film)

ⓘ Inland Empire (film)

Inland Empire is a 2006 independent film written, directed and co-produced by David Lynch. The films cinematography, editing, score and sound design were also helmed by Lynch, with pieces by a variety of other musicians also featured. Lynchs longtime collaborator and then-wife Mary Sweeney co-produced the film. The cast includes such Lynch regulars as Laura Dern, Justin Theroux, Harry Dean Stanton, and Grace Zabriskie, as well as Jeremy Irons, Karolina Gruszka, Peter J. Lucas, Krzysztof Majchrzak, and Julia Ormond. There are also brief appearances by a host of additional actors, including Nastassja Kinski, Laura Harring, Terry Crews, Mary Steenburgen, and William H. Macy. The voices of Harring, Naomi Watts, and Scott Coffey are included in excerpts from Lynchs 2002 Rabbits online project. The title borrows its name from a residential area in Southern California.

Released with the tagline "A Woman in Trouble", the film follows the fragmented and nightmarish events surrounding a Hollywood actress Dern who begins to take on the personality of a character she plays in a film. An international co-production between the United States, France, and Poland, the film was completed over a three-year period and shot primarily in Los Angeles and Poland. The process marked several firsts for Lynch: the film was shot without a finished screenplay, instead being largely developed on a scene-by-scene basis; and it was shot entirely in low resolution digital video by Lynch himself using a handheld Sony camcorder rather than traditional film stock.

Inland Empire premiered in Italy at the Venice Film Festival on 6 September 2006. It received generally positive but polarized reviews from critics, with attention centering on its challenging and surrealist elements. It was named the second-best film of 2007 tied with two others by Cahiers du cinema, and listed among Sight & Sound s "thirty best films of the 2000s", as well as The Guardian s "10 most underrated movies of the decade".


1. Plot

In a hotel room, a young prostitute, identified in the credits as the "Lost Girl", cries following an unpleasant encounter with her client while watching a television show about a family of surrealistic anthropomorphic rabbits who speak in cryptic statements and questions. A gramophone plays Axxon N., "the longest-running radio play in history". Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, actress Nikki Grace Laura Dern auditions for the lead role in the film On High in Blue Tomorrows. Nikki is visited by a Polish woman Grace Zabriskie who claims to be her neighbor. The woman tells Nikki two stories: one of a boy who, looking at his reflection in a mirror, created evil, and another about a girl who, wandering through an alleyway behind a marketplace, "discovers a palace". The woman predicts that Nikki will get the role, and asks her if her character is married and if the plot involves murder. Nikki denies both, but her neighbor disagrees. The next day, Nikki celebrates having won the role as her husband Piotrek Peter J. Lucas watches her. Nikki meets the films lead actor Devon Berk Justin Theroux and the two begin a relationship, though Devon is warned by his entourage that Nikki is out of bounds due to her husbands power and influence. Later, during a rehearsal, the crew is interrupted by a disturbance. Devon investigates, but finds nothing. Shaken by the event, director Kingsley Stewart Jeremy Irons confesses that they are shooting a remake of a German feature entitled 47. Production was abandoned after both leads were murdered, creating rumors of the film being cursed. One day, Nikki finds a door marked "Axxon N." in an alley behind the set. Upon entering, she finds herself at the rehearsal weeks before, and she causes the noise that Devon investigated that day. Nikki escapes into the home of a character named "Smithy". Devon looks through the windows, but sees only darkness.

In the house, Nikki finds Piotrek in bed and hides from him in a closet, where she encounters a troupe of prostitutes who advise her to burn a hole through silk with a cigarette and look through the hole. Nikki complies and sees one of the films characters, "Doris Side" Julia Ormond, tell a policeman that she had been hypnotized by a man known as "The Phantom" to murder someone with a screwdriver, but finds the screwdriver embedded in her own side. A mysterious organization claims to have captives from Inland Empire. In 1930s Lodz, prostitutes are beaten by pimps while murder permeates the city. Nikki, having become one of the group of present-day prostitutes, wanders the streets while her companions ask, "Who is she?" Nikki asks several men if they had met her. Meanwhile, Nikkis character "Sue" meets a policeman at a nightclub and tells him how she was abused in her childhood, which led to her prostitution, and how she is being pursued by a red-lipped man; Sue arms herself with a screwdriver in response. She also mentions her husband Smithy, a circus bear tamer with connections to both the pimps and the organization. Sue walks down Hollywood Boulevard and sees Nikki, but is attacked by Doris, who was hypnotized by the Phantom to kill her. Doris stabs Sue with her own screwdriver, and Sue falls at a bus stop, where two homeless women talk about a prostitute named Niko, a beautiful woman whose blond wig makes her look like a movie star, thus allowing her to walk through the rich district without drawing attention. One of the women holds a lighter in front of Sues face until she dies. Kingsley yells "Cut!" and the camera pans back to show this has merely been a film scene.

Kingsley informs Nikki that her scenes for the film are complete. In a daze, Nikki wanders off set and into a nearby cinema, where she sees not only On High in Blue Tomorrows, but events that are currently occurring. She wanders to the projection room, but finds an apartment building marked "Axxon N.". There, Nikki confronts the red-lipped man, now known to be the Phantom, and shoots him. The Phantom transforms into a deformed version of Nikki, and then into a bloodied fetal figure before dying. Nikki flees into Room 47, which houses the rabbits on television, though she fails to see them. She then meets the Lost Girl, and they kiss. Nikki and the rabbits disappear in a white light, and the Lost Girl escapes from the hotel and into Smithys house, where she happily embraces her husband and son.

Nikki, back at home, smiles victoriously at the Polish woman and finds a one-legged woman Tracy Ashton that Sue had mentioned, Niko the prostitute, and a monkey. The end credits roll over a group of women dancing to Nina Simones "Sinner Man" while a lumberjack saws a log to the beat.


2.1. Development Production

Inland Empire is the first Lynch feature to be completely shot in digital video; it was shot with a hand-held Sony DSR-PD150 by Lynch himself. Lynch has stated that he will no longer use film to make motion pictures. He explained his preference, stating that the medium gives one "more room to dream", and more options in post-production. Much of the project was shot in Lodz, Poland, with local actors, such as Karolina Gruszka, Krzysztof Majchrzak, Leon Niemczyk, Piotr Andrzejewski and artists of the local circus Cyrk Zalewski. Some videography was also done in Los Angeles, and in 2006 Lynch returned from Poland to complete filming. Lynch then edited the final results in Final Cut Pro in his home office over six months. He did not work with frequent collaborator and editor Mary Sweeney because "there wasnt a real organized script to go by and no one knew what was going on except" him.

Lynch shot the film without a complete screenplay. Instead, he handed each actor several pages of freshly written dialogue each day. In a 2005 interview, he described his feelings about the shooting process: "Ive never worked on a project in this way before. I dont know exactly how this thing will finally unfold. This film is very different because I dont have a script. I write the thing scene by scene and much of it is shot and I dont have much of a clue where it will end. Its a risk, but I have this feeling that because all things are unified, this idea over here in that room will somehow relate to that idea over there in the pink room."

Interviewed at the Venice Film Festival, Laura Dern admitted that she did not know what Inland Empire was about or the role she was playing, but hoped that seeing the films premiere at the festival would help her "learn more". Justin Theroux has also stated that he "couldnt possibly tell you what the films about, and at this point I dont know that David Lynch could. Its become sort of a pastime - Laura and I sit around on set trying to figure out whats going on." In an NPR interview, Dern recounted a conversation she had with one of the movies new producers, Jeremy Alter. He asked if Lynch was joking when he requested a one-legged woman, a monkey and a lumberjack by 3:15. "Yeah, youre on a David Lynch movie, dude," Dern replied. "Sit back and enjoy the ride." Dern reported that by 4 p.m. they were shooting with the requested individuals.


2.2. Development Financing and distribution

Lynch financed much of the production from his own resources, with longtime artistic collaborator and ex-wife Mary Sweeney producing. The film was also partially financed by the French production company StudioCanal, which had provided funding for three previous Lynch films. StudioCanal wanted to enter the film in the 2006 Cannes Film Festival. Instead, it premiered at Italys Venice Film Festival on 6 September 2006, where David Lynch also received the Golden Lion lifetime achievement award for his "contributions to the art of cinema". The film premiered in the United States on 8 October 2006 at the New York Film Festival. The film received a limited release in the US beginning on 15 December 2006; distribution was handled by the specialist company 518 Media.

Lynch hoped to distribute the film independently, saying that with the entire industry changing, he thought he would attempt a new form of distribution as well. He acquired the rights to the DVD and worked out a deal with StudioCanal in an arrangement that allowed him to distribute the film himself, through both digital and traditional means. A North American DVD release occurred on 14 August 2007. Among other special features, the DVD included a 75-minute featurette, "More Things That Happened", which compiled footage elaborating on Sues marriage to Smithy, her unpleasant life story, the Phantoms influence on women, and the lives of the prostitutes on Hollywood Boulevard.


2.3. Development Soundtrack

Lynch contributed a number of his own compositions to the films soundtrack, marking a departure from his frequent collaborations with composer Angelo Badalamenti. His pieces range from minimalist ambient music to more pop-oriented tracks such as "Ghost of Love". Polish composer Marek Zebrowski wrote music for the film and acted as music consultant. The soundtrack includes the following musical pieces:

  • Witold Lutoslawski – "Novelette Conclusion" excerpt / Joey Altruda – "Lisa" edit 3:42
  • David Lynch / Chrysta Bell – "Polish Poem" 5:55
  • Kroke – "The Secrets of the Life Tree" 3:27
  • David Lynch – "Woods Variation" 12:19
  • Nina Simone – "Sinnerman" edit 6:40
  • David Lynch – "Ghost of Love" 5:30
  • David Lynch / Marek Zebrowski – "Polish Night Music No. 1" 4:18
  • Little Eva – "The Locomotion" 2:24
  • Boguslaw Schaeffer – "Klavier Konzert" 5:26
  • David Lynch – "Rabbits Theme" 0:59
  • Dave Brubeck – "Three to Get Ready" 5:22
  • David Lynch – "Call from the Past" 2:58
  • David Lynch – "Walkin on the Sky" 4:04
  • Mantovani – "Colors of My Life" 3:50
  • Krzysztof Penderecki – "Als Jakob erwachte" 7:27
  • David Lynch – "Mansion Theme" 2:18
  • Beck – "Black Tambourine" film version 2:47

3. Themes and analysis

When asked about Inland Empire, Lynch refrained from explaining the film, responding that it is "about a woman in trouble, and its a mystery, and thats all I want to say about it." When presenting screenings of the digital work, Lynch sometimes offers a clue in the form of a quotation from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:

We are like the spider. We weave our life and then move along in it. We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives in the dream. This is true for the entire universe.

New York Film Festival official Richard Peña summarized the film as "a plotless collection of snippets that explore themes Lynch has been working on for years", including "a Hollywood story about a young actress who gets a part in a film that might be cursed; a story about the smuggling of women from Eastern Europe; and an abstract story about a family of people with rabbit heads sitting around in a living room." The Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw called the film "a meditation on the unacknowledged and unnoticed strangeness of Hollywood and movie-making in general", adding that Lynch "establishes a bizarre series of worm-holes between the worlds of myth, movies and reality." Critic Mark Fisher wrote that the film "often seems like a series of dream sequences floating free of any grounding reality, a dream without a dreamer he narrative is constructed on strange characters brought together by a similar terror".


4.1. Release and reception Distribution and box office

The film was screened at several film festivals around the world, most notably the Venice Film Festival in Italy, New York Film Festival in New York, United States, the Thessaloniki Film Festival in Greece, Camerimage Film Festival in Poland, Fajr International Film Festival in Iran, International Film Festival Rotterdam in the Netherlands and the Festival Internacional de Cine Contemporaneo de la Ciudad de Mexico in Mexico City, Mexico.

Inland Empire was released and distributed by Ryko to the United States on 14 August 2007. It was released on 20 August in the United Kingdom, 4 October in Belgium and the Netherlands, with distribution by A-Film and 6 August 2008 in Australia, with distribution by Madman Entertainment.

518 Media released Inland Empire to two theaters in the United States on 6 December 2006, grossing a total of $27.508 over its opening weekend. It later expanded to its widest release of fifteen nationwide theaters, ultimately grossing $861.355 at American box office. In other countries outside the United States, Inland Empire grossed $3.176.222 - bringing the films worldwide total gross to $4.037.577.


4.2. Release and reception Critical reception

At Metacritic, which assigns a normalised rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film received an average score of 72, based on 24 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews" and holds a 72% "fresh" rating on review aggregator web site Rotten Tomatoes. The sites consensus states that the film is "typical David Lynch fare: fans of the director will find Inland Empire seductive and deep. All others will consider the heady surrealism impenetrable and pointless."

The New York Times classified Inland Empire as "fitfully brilliant" after the Venice Film Festival screening. Peter Travers, the film critic for Rolling Stone magazine wrote, "My advice, in the face of such hallucinatory brilliance, is that you hang on." The New Yorker was one of the few publications to offer any negative points about the film, calling it a "trenchant, nuanced film" that "quickly devolves into self-parody". Jonathan Ross, presenter of the BBC programme Film 2007, described it as "a work of genius. I think". Damon Wise of Empire magazine gave it five stars, calling it "A dazzling and exquisitely original riddle as told by an enigma" and Jim Emerson editor of gave it 4 stars and praised it: "When people say Inland Empire is Lynchs Sunset Boulevard, Lynchs Persona or Lynchs 8½, theyre quite right, but it also explicitly invokes connections to Stanley Kubricks The Shining, Jean-Luc Godards Pierrot le Fou, Buñuel and Dalis Un Chien Andalou, Maya Derens LA-experimental Meshes of the Afternoon a Lynch favorite and others". However, Carina Chocano of the Los Angeles Times wrote that "the film, which begins promisingly, disappears down so many rabbit holes one of them involving actual rabbits that eventually it just disappears for good".

Dern received almost universal acclaim for her performance, with many reviews describing it as her finest to date. Lynch attempted to promote Derns chances of an Academy Award for Best Actress nomination at the 2007 Academy Awards by campaigning with a live cow. She was not nominated for the award.