Usually I only write about movies to point people toward the really great ones or to warn them away from the really awful ones. I had hoped that today’s entry would be one of the former, but instead it must be the latter.
After ducking it for two years, I finally summoned the courage to view David Lynch’s most recent film, Inland Empire. I had been afraid of it because a) I worried it would continue the accelerating downward spiral that had afflicted Lynch’s work ever since Wild at Heart, and b) it is a big film, almost three hours long.
But after revisiting Twin Peaks my affection for Lynch was restored to such an extent that I approached Inland Empire with cautious optimism. The cast includes a number of old-timey DL favorites such as Laura Dern, Harry Dean Stanton, Diane Ladd, and Grace Zabriskie, as well as Jeremy Irons and Nastassja Kinski. In interviews, Lynch waxed enthusiastic about the possibilities digital filmmaking had opened up for him, and about the positive impact of transcendental meditation on his creative life. It seemed just possible that Inland Empire would mark a return to form for a filmmaker whose work once brought me a great deal of pleasure.
This optimism lasted for about 45 minutes. Like its predecessors Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, Inland Empire begins fairly coherently. Laura Dern has been cast in a movie that turns out to be a remake of sorts of a Polish film that was never completed because both of its lead actors were murdered. Dern becomes involved with her leading man, played by Justin Theroux, and because Dern has a homicidally jealous husband, it looks like history is going to repeat itself. Things are creepy and suggestive in that special David Lynch way, and it looks like we’re going to be in for an interesting ride.
And then things start to get weird, and not in a good way. I can’t really tell you what happens next because Lynch abandons the story in favor of a series of increasingly incomprensible scenes of horrible things happening for no discernable reason. New characters are introduced, but we don’t know who they are or why they’re doing what they’re doing. Long streches go by with no dialogue; for about a half hour there, it’s just Laura Dern looking anguished, which quickly passes from being comical to being tedious to being deeply aggravating.
I used to love David Lynch, but as this movie dragged on I began to hate him. It seemed like hours went by as I was subjected to one scene after another of unidentified people looking somber and intoning mysterious lines that sounded significant but meant nothing. It was like a bad parody of a David Lynch movie, but parodies are usually short, and this one just kept going. I stuck it out till the end because I’m stubborn that way, always hoping that some deus ex machina would come along to make it all worthwhile. No such luck. I wasn’t sad when Laura Dern’s character finally got stabbed with a screwdriver, because she had long since ceased being sympathetic, but I was sad that the movie went on for another 15 minutes afterward. By the time the credits rolled, I felt like I had undergone a major trauma. And get this—the credits run over a light-hearted dance number, which seems intended to convince us that we just had a jolly good fun time at the movies, rather than being psychologically abused.
Inland Empire was such a miserable experience that it cast doubt not only on the quality of Lynch’s earlier work, but on everything he stands for and believes in. If transcendental meditation causes you to make garbage like this, then there must be something wrong with transcendental meditation. This makes me worry about the David Lynch Foundation, which teaches TM to kids and will soon be holding a benefit concert starring Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and Donovan. Will it warp an entire generation and cause them to confuse misanthropic, self-indulgent nonsense with art? In 2025, will we have a thousand Inland Empires in theaters? The mind reels.
Now that I’ve gotten all that off my chest, let me pull back a bit and say that Lynch is still a visual genius, and of course there are some striking images and affecting moments in Inland Empire. And I suppose that if I spent the rest of the week reseaching the film’s motifs and references, I might find that there’s more depth to it than I thought. But you know what? I don’t want to. This movie offered me no reason to care about it, and after this sentence and one or two more, I’m not going to waste another minute thinking about it.
David Lynch, I break with thee, I break with thee, I break with thee. I throw dog poop on your shoes.