DVD Review: Inland Empire

Movie •••• Picture •••• Sound ••••½ Extras ••••½
It's been said that, no matter when you watch Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space, it feels like 3 in the morning. David Lynch's films have always lurked in that same noirish, dead-of-night netherworld, but none of them (except possibly the primal Eraserhead) has so consistently had the feel of a bad dream as Inland Empire: A Woman in Trouble.

Before I get to the picture and sound (this is a reference-quality disc) and the extras (completely satisfying - as much for their tantalizing restraint as anything else), indulge me for a minute while I talk about the actual movie. . .

If this was a standard action/adventure knockoff or a dumber-than-thou white-male teen comedy, I wouldn't bother. But Inland Empire wasn't widely reviewed (or seen) during its theatrical run, so almost everybody is going to be encountering this unusually provocative, stupefying work for the first time on DVD - a fact that Lynch, it becomes plain as you watch the extras, is acutely and even painfully aware of. Which is why he supervised every last detail of this two-disc set - something directors rarely bother, or are allowed, to do.

I hated Inland the first time I saw it, found myself admiring parts of it the second time through, and have since seen my appreciation for it grow with each viewing. It's too soon to say I love it, and I still have a hard time imagining the day when I'll place it up with Blue Velvet, the Twin Peaks pilot, Fire Walk with Me, and Mulholland Dr. - or even The Straight Story and the unmade Ronny Rocket (the script for which I've read). At the moment, I'm more appreciative than passionate, which puts Inland somewhere in the vicinity of Eraserhead and Lost Highway. But there are far less gratifying neighborhoods to be in - especially when you consider that practically every other current film deserves to be buried in some nuclear wasteland miles beneath the earth's surface.

Maybe the oddest thing about Lynch's famously perverse oeuvre is that Mr. Eagle Scout, who puckishly defined Americana's underbelly during the Reagan era, has turned out to be the greatest European filmmaker this country has ever produced. Inland Empire bears almost no resemblance to anything in mainstream American filmmaking; it's more akin to Jean-Luc Godard's postmodern-before-the-fact Tout Va Bien or all the dicking around with fiction in Jacques Rivette's Celine and Julie Go Boating than it is to even the dense and disjointed Mulholland Dr. In other words, at almost 3 hours, and with an all but complete absence of narrative lucidity, Inland can be tough going even for Lynch fans and seems aimed squarely at the most sensitive, but thickest-skinned, of cinéastes.