Wednesday, March 21, 2007

David Lynch terrorizes Emma Peel?

I saw an episode of The Avengers a while ago (an awesome show, by the way, though only when Diana Rigg was in it), wherein Emma Peel (Rigg) was lured to a country mansion and then trapped within, constantly circling between normal rooms and physcadelically decked-out spaces, some bizarre mechanics meaning that she could not escape except when she finally punches her way through the wall. There were disorientating swirls painted on the walls, spiral staircases, and doors that she could not go back through. Anyway, to get to the point, I was reminded of this episode of The Avengers when thinking about INLAND EMPIRE (something I have been prone to do ever since I saw it), because, like Mrs. Peel, the audience is trapped within a circular world, where we constantly revisit the same places, see the same befuddling things, see no way out of this mad world. Like David Lynch's previous Mulholland Drive, INLAND EMPIRE sets up a conventional narrative only to shatter in into pieces, asking the question whether what you were watching was reality, or whether one of these new places is reality, or whether reality actually exists at all. Is the "real" (for of course ultimately it is all fiction) character of Laura Dern (giving a stunning, fragmentory, hysterically impactful performance which is surely one of the best I've ever seen) the one we are first presented with: that is faded actress Nikki Grace, offered a part in director Jeremy Irons' new film, controlled by a jealous, rich Polish husband? Or is it the character she seems to be playing in said film, one Susan Blue, who falls into an affair with Billy Side (Justin Theroux, also a character within a character)? Or is she a Polish prostitute? Or an American one? Or a twangy-voiced American housewife? INLAND EMPIRE is somewhat of an epic at three hours long, but, for a Lynch fan such as myself, it is never a chore, just an enigma: what the fuck is going on? Does the fact that two of the talking rabbits (taken from Lynch's website) are voiced by Naomi Watts and Laura Harring provide some unknowable link to Mulholland Drive? Like most of Lynch's films, what is important here is not narrative, but feeling; and, above all, INLAND EMPIRE is horrifically frightening: in the last half hour or so (I cannot be sure, because I lost all track of time completely), Lynch takes you to the delirious extreme of one nightmare only to pull you out of it and plunge you into another, even more horrifying nightmare. INLAND EMPIRE affects not just the mind but the body: at various points I was sweating profusely, my left arm went numb, and at one point I experienced the strange desire to curl up into the smallest ball possible and disappear into my seat, so terrified was I. I cannot pretend to explain everything in INLAND EMPIRE, and to know whether it all makes sense, but I do know that no other film from 2006 made me feel so intensely and memorably as this one, and, for that, it is clearly the best film of the year.

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