Saturday, December 23, 2006


I finally saw David Lynch's Inland Empire last night, and while I was watching it, it struck me that Lynch is a filmmaker of many talents. He can make films that totally suck, like Wild at Heart; films that mostly suck, like Lost Highway; films that are neither good nor bad, like Dune; and films that totally kick ass, like Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, and Mulholland Dr.

And then there are films like Inland Empire, which belong in a separate category, but I don't know what that category is.

His movies used to be relatively straightforward. They were bizarre and surreal, but they were straightforward. But little by little (with the exception of The Elephant Man and The Straight Story), his films have gotten increasingly enigmatic and dreamlike, to the point that I'm not sure what the purpose of seeing a David Lynch film is anymore.

The first time I saw Mulholland Dr., I tried to figure out what the story was, but it was impossible. That's because even though Lynch feeds you clues and keeps you guessing, he never wraps everything up in the end. He doesn't even partially wrap anything up. What he does instead is make you even more confused.

We're not supposed to understand his movies. We're not supposed to figure them out. So what are we supposed to do? We're not supposed to just sit back and enjoy them, because they aren't necessarily all that enjoyable. Mulholland Dr. is pretty enjoyable to watch, in part because Naomi Watts and Laura Harring are so enjoyable to watch, but there's so much violence and suffering and pain in Inland Empire that only the cruelest, most sadistic sort of person could enjoy watching it.

So I guess we're just supposed to experience his films, the way you experience a dream.

Of course, that won't stop a lot people from theorizing what Inland Empire is all about. It's a provocative movie, so it's bound to provoke a lot of thought, and I'm sure a lot of film geeks will post their theories and expositions on the web somewhere. I'll probably read a few of them one day and end up understanding Inland Empire no better than I do now.

And when the DVD comes out, after I watch it I'm sure I'll be just as confused as ever. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the DVD includes bonus material that makes the movie even more incomprehensible. Did you ever watch the bonus material on the Eraserhead DVD? It's just David Lynch talking endlessly about everything and nothing. At least, that's what I think it is. To be honest, I fell asleep while watching it, and all I remember is that when I woke up, he was still talking. Which, of course, leads me to wonder if maybe the purpose of a David Lynch film is to induce some sort of trance state. So, I can't wait to see what kind of bonus material shows up on the Inland Empire DVD.

Of course, one of the pleasures of watching the movie in a theater is that when it's over, you get to look at the confused expressions on everyone's faces. That's something you can't get on a DVD.

And that reminds me of the first time I ever saw a David Lynch movie. It was in 1977, when Eraserhead was released. I don't know if that movie was ever released the "normal" way -- as I recall, it played every Friday at midnight for years, but it was never shown at any other time. Or at least that's how I remember it -- maybe I'm mistaken.

In any event, the first time I saw Eraserhead, I was blown away, and so was everyone else in the audience. You could see the wide-eyed looks of confusion on everyone's faces as they left the theater. But a couple of months later, when I saw it again, nobody seemed to think it was that big a deal. I guess most of the people in the audience had seen it at least once before, so nobody was as dumbfounded, awestruck, flabbergasted, or dazed as they were a few months earlier.

But by the third or fourth time I saw it, it had already been playing for, I don't know, maybe a year, and people in the audience were yelling out lines of dialog at the screen like they would for The Rocky Horror Picture Show. That was depressing. It was also the last time I saw Eraserhead in a theater.

However, I can't help wondering what would happen if they decided to show Inland Empire every Friday at midnight for years and years. It's a three-hour movie, so I don't know how many people would see it over and over, but I bet there'd be a few. And after a while, they'd have a lot of the dialog memorized and they'd yell it at the screen. They might even know every scene by heart, and they might mistake that sort of familiarity for some kind of understanding, but they'd be wrong. Totally wrong. You can dream the same dream over and over again, but that doesn't mean you know what you're dreaming about.