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David Lynch's Inland Empire (2-Disc Set) - suspense DVD review
DAVID LYNCH'S INLAND EMPIRE rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America rating: 3 1/2 stars
Actors: Laura Dern, Jeremy Irons, Harry Dean Stanton, Grace Zabriskie, Jan Hencz, Karen Baird
Director: David Lynch   Studio: Absurda/Rhino
DVD release: 14 August 2007   Runtime: 179 minutes (2 discs)
Format: Color, DVD-Video, NTSC
DVD features: Audio tracks (English), 90 minutes of Deleted Scenes, Short film "Ballerina", Lynch 2 (Behind the Scenes of INLAND EMPIRE with David Lynch), Talks with David Lynch and Laura Dern, More Things That Happened (Additional Character Experiences), Theatrical Trailers (3), Stills Gallery (73 Photos), David Lynch cooks Quinoa

In any of the interviews involved with the promotion of Inland Empire, David Lynch would tell his host, "It's about a woman in trouble." The film's star, Laura Dern, didn't know what it was about when asked. Inland Empire was filmed over the course of several years using digital cameras; it's hardly surprising that its piecemeal beginnings would leave Dern little clue.

What is it about? It's about a woman in trouble. Actress Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) is trying a comeback in a movie directed by Kingsley Stewart (Jeremy Irons). It is revealed that the last time anyone tried to turn this script into a film, the leads ended up dead. This production is as cursed as the one which preceded it. Nikki's husband is a threatening presence, though it never really becomes clear why.

The first half of the film is rich with mystery. Lynch keeps us intrigued with little details that may or may not be important. Harry Dean Stanton plays Freddie, an assistant to the director who we see asking for money from several members of the crew. Is this important? There's a noise in the darkened corners of the sound stage. What could it be? Nikki is given a dire, if bizarre, warning from a foreign visitor to her home (Grace Zabriskie). There are bits with rabbits talking in an emotionless monotone in an apartment (accompanied by a laugh track). This is the meaty sort of surrealism that whispers 'Lynch' through a keyhole. It is compelling even if it seems to have no place in the main drama.

The most compelling point is when Nikki is drawn into the fiction that she's acting in (perhaps this is how it went before). It becomes reality in such a brilliant way. I won't ruin it for you - you need to experience this for yourself. After that, it gets more difficult to follow. There are compelling vignettes throughout, but the last third of the film seems less purposeful, perhaps more improvised. It pulls it together for the ending and makes some sense, but not in a way that you can write about.

Inland Empire affects the viewer on an emotional level. It is our nature to try to ferret out a solution to the mystery before us, but it cannot be done. We must be satisfied with the emotional impact of the piece. It bears watching again, but I know I won't find any of its loose ends neatly tied the second time 'round. Maybe that realization will help me to see it better. It's no wonder Lynch sticks to his simple explanation when asked what it's about.

This is the first film since Eraserhead that Lynch has had total control over. He filmed it on digital and has proclaimed that, for him at least, film is dead. Once the shot is in the can, it's ready for editing or immediate viewing - none of that photo lab nonsense. It gives a director freedom and opens the door of filmmaking to a much wider playing field. I can't vouch for the quality, however. I found myself distracted by the low quality at times. I'm sure Lynch is aware of this, and that the quality was intentional. Other recent films shot entirely in digitial include the Star Wars Episode II and Episode III, Mel Gibson's Apocalypto, and David Fincher's Zodiac; don't be fooled into thinking that digital filmmaking is going to give you poor quality unless the director wants it that way.

The second disc of the DVD set includes 211 minutes of special features: outtakes entitled "More Things That Happened," lots of footage of "Ballerina", a loose, behind-the-scenes chapter called "Lynch 2," and some great interview footage with Lynch, a chair, and a microphone in front of a red curtain called "Stories". There is a short feature on how Lynch prepares his favorite vegetarian dish from Quinoa, a protein-rich seed. The second disc seems so unlike what Lynch has been willing to share in the past. No commentary track, of course, but he's amazingly open about the making of this film on this second disc. Take as much or as little of this as you want. I look forward to what Lynch has to offer in the future, and this is worth checking out.
reviewed by Eric Renshaw
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