Lynch’s masterpiece, and I won’t countenance any opposition, INLAND EMPIRE is a challenging development on the möbius strip structure of Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive and into what appears to be a meditation on a murdered Polish sex worker, quite possibly from the 1930s, trapped simultaneously in a Sartrean (albeit this time seemingly purgatorial) hotel room and in a state of Deleuzian eternal recurrence, experienced both by her and we the spectators (she watches all the filmic events through a television screen, herself) as a rhizomatic system of assemblages that serve to investigate genealogies of gendered violence, ultimately in search of a line of flight.
Or, at least, that’s how best I make “sense” of INLAND EMPIRE. The keenest interpretation is one that doesn’t necessarily accept any (I say “any,” rather than “either”) of Laura Dern’s characters as the true protagonist. Characters merge, they fracture, they exchange roles, become each other’s mirrors, avatars, spiritual doppelgangers. In so doing, INLAND EMPIRE reflects on the ways in which we can become our own victims and perpetrators and, accordingly, how much self-liberation may feel like self-murder.
Constant motifs of holes speak to the permeable membranes of ontology and identity that come to define the constellation of bodies that make up the assemblage of characters and situations of INLAND EMPIRE, the folded silk reflecting the foldings at levels both spatial and temporal which Sue/Nikki/? as the Lost Girl’s avatar/s must strategically navigate to a point of self-realisation and radical self-realignment to achieve meaningful deterritorialisation and liberation. When that moment finally arrives, it is perhaps Lynch’s most sublime, moving and beautiful moment in his whole career. Indeed, it expresses a similar sense of pathos as the ending to The Tempest in which Prospero’s letting go is clearly Shakespeare’s as well. It comes as no surprise that INLAND EMPIRE was announced as Lynch’s final film for entirely the same reason: it’s a film, made of endings. It may not be an ending everyone likes, nor one everyone understands, but it is nonetheless perfect in its philosophy and its execution.
I first heard executive producer Elijah Wood mention “a black and white vampire film, shot entirely in Farsi called A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” in, I think, a promotional interview for Maniac like, two years ago. And then I somehow completely missed the opportunity to see it at the London Film Festival, like, one year ago. So the anticipation to seeing this film, as it slowly gathered more and more stellar reviews as it tried to get widespread distribution, was pretty intense. With such a build-up, it could only be absolute perfection or a total disappointment, right?
Well, not quite. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is good. But not great. It’s beautifully shot, with a really interesting mixture of Killer of Sheep-esque post-italian-neorealist aesthetics, gothic expressionist inflections and a considerably more modern Indiewood vibe. The soundtrack is great and it plays with the diegetic / non-diegetic binary in a way I’ve rarely seen happen. The horror element is sporadic but strong and the sound design is intense – most cinemas’ speakers have been really struggling to handle the bass. The only problem is the relatively 2-dimensional quality of most of the characters. The Girl announces at one point that she has “done many bad things,” but there is no real evidence for this – the promotions for this film say she “preys on men who disrespect women,” but then she goes and kills a rough sleeper for no reason whatsoever and traumatises a small boy who has done nothing wrong. However, despite these inconsistencies, it’s a fine film.
I do, despite disappointment I pretty much knew was coming, anticipate a second viewing. However, there is a strong chance that it might result in a lower rating.
Jake Gyllenhaal gives not one but two impressive if quiet performances in this evocative film that manages to feel simultaneously high concept and yet also strangely small – at about 90 minutes, the last thing Enemy is is baggy. With its subject matter of doppelgängers and mysterious keys, there is an unmissable Mulholland Driveconnection which, much like its predecessor, provides an easy enough interpretation for those who don’t much like to think and will only watch it once, with enough questions left unanswered for those who will want to return a few times more. I imagine when I watch it a third time, this will up from a 3.5 to a 4 star rating as I uncover more of this pleasingly unpretentious example of 21st century surreal cinema.