"Inland Empire", released in 2006, was the last full-length filmed by director David Lynch. The film was written, directed and produced by David Lynch, as well as him editing, scoring and shooting it. The film stars Laura Dern, Jeremy Irons, Justin Theroux and Harry Dean Stanton, as well as having parts for other of Lynch's long time collaborators. The movie is three hours long, was filmed in California and Poland, and has many scenes with subtitled Polish dialog.
This is considered to be Lynch's most difficult, challenging film to understand. Given that Lynch's name is an adjective for "difficult to understand", that is saying a lot. The film was reportedly filmed without a full script, with Lynch writing scenes every day before shooting. The film's plot, at the beginning, does have a framing device: Laura Dern plays Nikki Grace, an established Hollywood actress that gets a part in a movie called "On High in Blue Tomorrows", co-starring with Devon Berk (Justin Theroux), and directed by Kingsley Stewart (Jeremy Irons). The film seems to involve two co-workers somewhere in the south having an affair, which is mirrored by Grace's attraction to notorious playboy Berk. Grace's possessive husband presents a menacing background threat. All of which is a little confusing to follow, but isn't even the movie's real plot. Like Lost Highway, about an hour in, we have a twist where the already confusing plot changes. Unlike Lost Highway, which picks up another, parallel plot at that point, "Inland Empire" becomes a series of vignettes and segues from that point. The next two hours of the movie shift from scene to scene, with no clear framing device, or narrative flow of time and space. The phrase "dream like" gets thrown around a lot with Lynch, but "Inland Empire" makes "Twin Peaks" look like "Family Ties". There is also a sitcom family of anthropomorphic rabbits. And a polish circus troupe. Laura Dern, perhaps as Nikki Grace, and perhaps as Grace's character, visits a counsellor, who doesn't say anything. There are a squad of prostitutes that at one point break out into an elaborately synchronized dance of The Locomotion. There are a lot of scenes that I can't quite remember. Despite being generally low in conventional horror and gore, the movie has a few jump scares, and overall has a very oppressive atmosphere of fear and tension. This is a David Lynch movie. This might be the David Lynch movie.
For me, the movie felt claustrophobic. It was shot using handheld, standard definition digital cameras, and it took me a while to realize that my computer wasn't having problems playing the DVD, that the film indeed looked like that. It is dark, and many scenes are closely shot. There are dark hallways that lead places they shouldn't, for no reason. But for me, the claustrophobia was about more than just the physical space: it is that the movie lacks a narrative space. There is no world or story that the vignettes seem to exist in, no way to transition between them. For me, one of the oddest and most telling moments in the movie came in a late situation, where two characters are talking about how to get from the corner of Hollywood & Vine to Pomona (what was the context of this conversation? who knows!). Although it is an odd, twisting conversation, it still is one of the first times in hours that the idea that physical locations exist in a way that can be bridged by mundane means is brought up. One of the few times that the happenings of the movie are attempted to be placed in some type of world. Which, of course, is quickly undone, so the film can come to its conclusion (?), and of course, this being a Lynch film, the dance scene.
What can I say about all of this? Nothing that other people haven't said. This is a David Lynch film, and perhaps the ultimate David Lynch film. I watched it for three hours, and despite not really being able to follow what was going on (and, indeed, at one point, I just gave up), I still felt that watching it was a worthwhile endeavor. I can not guarantee other viewers would feel similarly after finishing this long, complex and disorienting film.