No More Blue Tomorrows: David Lynch’s Inland Empire Returns to Theaters

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David Lynch’s No More Blue Tomorrows: Inland Empire returns to theaters


When David Lynch’s “Inland Empire” first came out in 2006, it was so unlike anything that had ever gone on that it was years, decades, ahead of its time. In this sequel to the critical and commercial success of “Mulholland Drive,” Lynch took a blow to both the traditions of conventional narrative storytelling and the established laws of the entire Hollywood cinematic apparatus. Now, after a long period in which “Inland Empire” was difficult to watch, both in terms of access and visual quality, its tenth film is back in theaters in a newly remastered edition. He somehow feels even more ahead of his time than ever.

The unusual way Lynch prepared, produced and released “Inland Empire” has now become legend. Instead of preparing a traditional script and then trying to find funding for it, he started by writing random scenes and giving them to the actors to play without any real initial idea of ​​how they were going to work together. . Intrigued by the possibilities digital video could create in the filmmaking process, Lynch eschewed film and shot the whole thing with a commercial-grade, standard-definition Sony digital camera. Then, as a final blow to the cinematic apparatus, Lynch not only financed most of its production on its own, but also handled distribution for its three-hour film.

Following an opening that involves a mysterious encounter between a young prostitute known as the Lost Girl (Karolina Gruszka) and a guest in a spooky hotel room, both of whom are blurry-faced, a plot begins when ‘A strange Polish woman (Grace Zabriskie) shows up at the home of actress Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) and her husband, Piotrek (Peter J. Lucas) claiming to be her new neighbor. Turns out Nikki just auditioned for what could be her comeback role in a Southern melodrama titled “On High in Blue Tomorrows.” The stranger insists she’ll get the part in a conversation that begins on an odd note and soon becomes as unnerving as the infamous party conversation between Bill Pullman and Robert Blake on “Lost Highway.”

Nikki gets the part and is cast alongside Devon Berk (Justin Theroux), an actor with a reputation for being a seducer. Devon is warned by his people not to attempt anything with Nikki for fear of what Piotrek, who says little but obviously has a lot of power and influence in Hollywood, will do. Their first script reading on a soundstage is interrupted by mysterious noises but whoever made them is able to escape unnoticed. That’s when the film’s director (Jeremy Irons) decides to level up with his stars by informing them that what they thought was an original script is actually a remake of a Polish film based on a gypsy folk story that was never completed after both co-stars were murdered, leading to rumors that the project itself was cursed. (“They discovered something…something inside the story.”)

At this point, things get weird in a way that I’ll let you discover (indeed, if you haven’t seen the movie before), partly to preserve surprises. But no mere reviewer could hope to explore all the seemingly inexplicable story points and thematic elements in remotely adequate detail – it would take an entire book to do so (and there are a number of them, including a recent monograph by critic Melissa Anderson). Even then, you may only be scratching the surface of what Lynch is offering here. I admit that when I saw the film for the first time during a press screening in 2006, I liked it quite a bit, but it didn’t really impress me. I saw it again about a month later and for some reason it clicked with me that second time around. At this point, I’d place it alongside “Eraserhead”, “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me”, and “Mulholland Drive” as one of Lynch’s finest works, although I can’t quite explain why. I love him as much as I do. . The film is so dense with images, ideas and sheer audacity that you might think the only thing missing is Nastassja Kinski sitting enigmatically on a couch while a group of women lip-synch and dance to Sinnerman by Nina Simone. On a totally unrelated note, be sure to stick around during the closing credits.

Like Lynch’s earlier so-called Los Angeles Trilogy films, “Lost Highway” and “Mulholland Drive”, notions such as time, space and identity are erased to the point in “Inland Empire” where the characters suddenly become other people, places and timelines change with equal brutality, and the City of Dreams becomes an endless night from which it seems impossible to wake up. In the earlier films, the separation between the dream and the real world is reasonably hard and fast, but perhaps only in retrospect. Here, Lynch blurs the line that separates the two virtually from the start, both metaphorically and literally. The latter is thanks to his decision to shoot the film in digital video, giving it a visual style that is both familiar and strangely disconcerting and that leaves you constantly in search of landmarks.

The problem is that while this stylistic approach creates a number of haunting and unnerving visual moments, it did make the movie a bit hard to watch for a good three hours in 2006, and while the next DVD Lynch released was presumably state -art at the time, it hasn’t exactly stood the test of time. For this re-release, Lynch and Janus Films put “Inland Empire” through a lengthy and detailed audio and visual remastering process (Lynch also did the film’s stunning sound design) to arrive at a new 4K transfer. While there’s little room for improvement given the source material, it looks about as good as it ever will. When this version of “Inland Empire” hits Blu-ray (presumably via Criterion, which has already done superb work on a number of Lynch films), it should turn out pretty well.

That said, the two truly standout aspects of “Inland Empire” don’t require such technical tweaks. The first is Lynch’s direction, which is both bold enough to take viewers places they never expected to go, and skillfully done enough to keep them hooked over an extended duration. which never seems too long for a second. The other – one that even film naysayers would easily agree with – is Laura Dern’s performance. His work here is a high-flying act that is never wrong for a second and is not only the best performance of his illustrious career, but one of the best and most intense performances by anyone in this century. Lynch himself campaigned for an Oscar nomination for her by appearing on a street corner in Los Angeles, accompanied by a cow, to draw attention to his work. The gamble didn’t pay off – she didn’t even score a nomination – but I’m going to go on claiming that, with all due respect to ‘Marriage Story’, this is the movie she won her award for. Oscar.

“Inland Empire” goes so completely against commercial cinema that once it reaches its conclusion, most viewers will be unable to imagine what it could possibly do for a follow-up. Indeed, it remains his last feature film released in theaters to date. (He returned to TV with smash hits with his 2017 revival of “Twin Peaks,” but that’s of course not a movie.) If Lynch does indeed never make another movie, “Inland Empire” is about as strong and sure of a final arc as I can imagine – absolutely original work that shows him approaching ideas that have fascinated him throughout his career in new and innovative ways. But as a fan of this movie and his work in general, I sincerely hope he gets the chance to do at least one more project to inspire, amaze, and confuse audiences in equal measure. At a time when most great American movies look like long toy commercials or filmed memos, we need Lynch more than ever to throw another glorious wrench into the machine.

The 4K restoration of “Inland Empire” is streaming now in select theaters, including a week-long run at Chicago’s Music Box Theater starting Friday, May 6.

Pierre Sobczynski
Pierre Sobczynski

Peter Sobczynski is an eFilmcritic.com and Magill’s Cinema Annual contributor and can be heard weekly on the nationally broadcast “Mancow’s Morning Madhouse” radio show.


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