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By Admin | October 26, 2007

Something about a death,
something about a fire…

It all started by accident, at the beginning of September I rented “Inland Empire,” the newest David Lynch film and one of the rare new cinematic offerings that I truly felt like seeing. As per my usual habit though, I totally failed to watch the damn thing during the day and literally forgot I even had the DVD until it was almost 10pm. Then I saw it on the TV just lying there and I realized that I’d better watch this sucker now or end up having spent 4 bucks for nothing.

So I popped it in the DVD and watched about 15 minutes. It was then that I realized that I was dog dead tired and that I barely had the strength to keep my eyes open, much less try to make sense of the images I was seeing. Partly out of laziness, partly out of personal weirdness and partly out of a desire to break from routine I left the DVD playing with the volume turned low, and proceeded to fall asleep.

Now, just to situate you, the TV in my bedroom is directly where the headboard of the bed would be. It’s literally like 3 inches away from my head. So even at the lowest volume I hear something; and if I open my eyes, more often than not, I can see the screen. And wouldn’t you know it, that night I had a dream. F****d if I know what it was, don’t even bother to ask me, but I did dream and it was related to the movie.

I didn’t think much of it, except that it would be an a neat experiment to recreate for my own personal amusement one day, and maybe a funny story to tell friends, but I was talking to Graham Rae (another FT contributor) and he encouraged me to make a series of blogs out of it (That you all can read here, here and here.) and review the film after watching it awake.

Well, that sounded like a damn fine idea, so here it is: The reason why I’ve been dreaming all month about death and fire. Not long after talking to Graham I bought “Inland Empire” on DVD and have been playing it while I sleep and trying to capture the dreams it’s evoked in a little notebook ever since.

That last bit hasn’t really panned out since I don’t quite remember most of the dreams, so the notebook is mostly empty.

However, there is one thing that makes the viewing (which is to occur in a moment) an exciting proposition: Since I’ve done this so many times, I’ve begun to notice that I’ll often slip out of sleep when the film is playing and more or less “watch” some scenes while I’m unable to tell if it’s a dream or reality. So it’s almost like a hypnotic suggestion. Then the next morning I’ll wake up with almost no recollection of having done so. Thus nothing I’ve actually seen of “Inland Empire” has been recorded to memory, but instead into the dreamworld of the subconscious.

Freaky eh?

It’s a strange world…

If I think back and try to remember that first ever moment where it occurred to me that I wasn’t just watching a movie, but a work of art, the memory that springs up is of 13 year old me sitting in front of the TV in stunned silence as “Blue Velvet” played in my VCR. It wasn’t that I was shocked or that the film was “too much” for me. I was a pretty savvy kid. Besides, I was raised on French comics (and trust me even the kid’s stuff from there owe a lot more to Tales from the Crypt and Heavy Metal magazine than it does to Spider-Man or The Incredible Hulk) so the violence and the nudity and the profanity didn’t faze me in the least bit.

No, what had impressed me was the scene where Dennis Hopper blows out the candle in Isabella Rossellini’s apartment and says “Now it’s dark…” and all of a sudden it was. Not that there was less light in the physical sense, but instead David Lynch had taken the mood and tone of the film and made it pitch black in that one instant, with that one scene and that one line of dialogue. Most films can’t achieve that with chainsaws, screaming, blood flying around and goblins. No matter how dark and eeeville they’re trying to be there’s always a goofy sense of unreality. Not with “Blue Velvet.” As surreal as it may be, it still feels raw and real, like something that is happening, not something that has happened.

So, for that moment of discovery, I owe David Lynch. Oh sure, I might have come to the same conclusion from other people’s work eventually. Even before that, I had seen Ken Russell’s “Altered States”, Stanley Kubrick’s “2001” and “The Shining” and all the important Hitchcock films. Not to mention that a few years later I had started watching “serious” films like “The Two Jakes” and “Texasville.” Movies that didn’t have monsters or spaceships or zombies or some s**t. So it only would have been a matter of time for me to become interested in “art” films, even if Lynch had never existed.

Yet, despite all that, David Lynch holds a special place. Even above arguably greater directors like Kubrick and Hitchcock. If only because Lynch has a kind of childlike view on the world, where everything’s either beautiful or ugly until you discover the dark mystery underneath and then beauty becomes ugliness or ugliness becomes beauty. His work is an extension of that, all his movies are made to be a mystery with a solution unique to each audience member.

A gray winter day, in an old Hotel…

And so, a month and a half later after all that buildup, here I am with the review. I’ve got my perfect cherry pie and my perfect cup of black David Lynch coffee. I’m sitting at my desk, and “Inland Empire” is finally playing.

I’ve watched the first fifteen minutes before, so I’ll quickly comment on them as they unfold.

The scene where the prostitute is watching “Rabbits” on TV and crying is one of the most strangely affecting moments in film. One thing that Lynch has learned in his career and mastered is how to take a simple quick scene like this and immediately imbue it with raw emotion. You have no idea who this chick is, but she’s crying and damn it all if it doesn’t make you sad as well. You don’t know WHY, but it does. This is light years ahead of Lynch’s “Eraserhead” which has never moved or provoked me. I watched it, it was weird, but it never involved me. However, starting with “Elephant Man” Lynch has steadily grown the ability to grab the audience with incidental scenes like this. Now he can do it like a Magician.

Oh, and I just noticed something about Lynch’s “Rabbits” short: Everything that’s on the set of it, from the radiator to the door to the table, looks fake; like it’s a miniature. Nice eerie little detail. Not to mention that the shadows thrown by those giant bunny ears are scarier than all of the Eli Roth films put together.

A little aside here: I’ve been drinking Lynch’s own brand coffee as I watch Empire, and it is THE best cup of coffee I have ever had. Nice strong flavor, but no aftertaste; rich, but not overpowering; the kind of brew that you can drink any time of day either black or loaded with cream and sugar. It’s… (I hate to sound like a cliché but…) it’s surreal. The pie I made is not too bad either. Don’t follow the recipe I posted in the blog though, it sticks to the pan. It tastes fine, great even. Still, it mushes up when you try and serve it on a plate. It’s not a proper perfect pie. –J.K.

I’ll tell you something else. If you ever play a film you’ve never seen while you sleep for as long as I did (almost a month on and off), it makes the actual viewing beyond surreal. I have shocks of Deja-vu every few minutes as I see something that seems straight out of a dream I had, even though I know intellectually that it’s something that I “saw” while staring half-asleep at the screen. It’s the strangest sensation.

Another thing, there’s no rational sense to this film and there isn’t supposed to be because it is a perfectly and obsessively recreated dream. The only story being told is the one you choose to see; and the only mystery is what the film evokes inside of you. It hops around in time and place because that’s how dreams unfold. It tells side stories about people that even the main character doesn’t know about because that’s what happens in dreams. It confuses you about who the main character is because there is no identity in dreams. It flip-flops between various stages of realism and goes back onto itself and twists itself into a knot because that’s what dreams do. Occasionally there might be a moment where it is memory or truth, but we can never be sure because that’s how dreams work. This isn’t a movie, not precisely. If you watch it with the idea that there is a linear story that makes sense buried somewhere behind rabbits and polish slave traders and a cursed remake, you will never ever get this film, and it is a properly brilliant film. So it’d be a shame if you missed the point by being stubbornly logical.

The key to solving the mystery here is to realize that Lynch never films what happens to his characters; instead he films what his characters want to remember happened. Once you get that fact, you get Lynch. That’s the blue key. Nothing in “Inland Empire” happened but something happened. There’s a woman in trouble, there’s a man involved and she’s trapped. Something about death, something about fire, as Peter Straub would say. All else is Freudian and Jungian symbolism come to life.

The other thing with “Inland Empire” is that it’s really not like any other Lynch film. It’s quite literally a dream in every way. Even something similar like “Eraserhead” was more like a manufactured imitation of a dream. Not the same thing. Of course, maybe it’s just me and my own experiences with “Empire” that cause me to prefer it over the earlier effort. But, at the same time, I don’t think I’m wrong.

David Lynch tried to get Laura Dern considered for an Oscar and I completely agree with his efforts. This is the best performance she’s ever given. A lot of scenes just require her to be quiet so you don’t really see what all the fuss is about, but there’s a scene around the hour and a half mark that really sticks out. Where she talks about… well I won’t say, but there’s an intensity about her that makes you realize that she may just be a much better actress than her mom or dad ever were, and that’s saying a lot.

If you’ve read my blog about the dreams I had while watching/sleeping “Inland Empire” you’ll know that I dreamt of a long legged man in a white suit playing 50’s music on drums with his feet. Well damned if the song he was playing wasn’t in Empire. It’s the weird music playing around 1:40 or so with those girls in the house. Weird looping slowed down music. The same sort of thing happened with the emerald city that I saw and the rabid rabbits. Those specific images aren’t in the film exactly, but I did see what must have inspired them. Thus the sights and sounds of things that only happened in my head were almost sorta kinda right there… I can’t explain to you how odd that is to experience.

Then again, dreams are just things that we’ve seen that seep into our subconscious anyway. This is no different. Lynch showed, I saw, I dreamed, I watched the movie and re-experienced it all over again; ouroboros, over and over again unto infinity.

In the end this is all about dreams and dreamers. Nothing is real, everything is possible. Just ask yourself as the credits roll: Is Laura Dern the dreamer or the dream? Then ask yourself a much more important question: Does it matter?

So all of this is my extremely long and convoluted way of saying that I’m very glad I bought this film because I think I may be watching it more than once. It’s a beautiful poem and song and a wonderful film, a career high for both Lynch and Dern.

Well, ummm… that’s kind of it. For all my hyping and hawing, this was an extremely undramatic month. Most nights that the film played, I slept like a log. Other nights I didn’t watch the film at all either because I was lazy or forgot or wanted to get a good night’s sleep. Very boring, very ordinary, Trust me, I made it sound a lot more exciting and weird than it was. But now that it’s all over though, I’m sorta maudlin in a way. It was fun. I hope those of you who followed my little experiment enjoyed it. Wish I had something more profound to say. Alas…

So, in closing, what’s my solution to this particular Lynch film/mystery? Well, I won’t tell you that. That I’ll keep for me. What I will tell you is this: Lynch makes damn fine coffee.

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