mercoledì 5 febbraio 2020

Ed's Corner: Beyond the image, journey through the hidden meaning of movies - Inland Empire

Oggi è mercoledì, giorno in cui Edoardo sviscera i film di Lynch facendoli comprendere anche a chi è dummy come la sottoscritta. In effetti, mai mi sono sentita più interdetta di quando ho incautamente deciso di guardare Inland Empire, come avevo scritto QUI: Edoardo ci ha visto ben più lungo e questa è la sua interessantissima disamina. ENJOY!

Every time I watch a film of the so-called genre “weird”, I use to spend particular attention on every single dialogue and image. So usually I don’t need more than one view to understand the meaning of what I’m watching.
Having said that, I’ll list below the five steps I went through when I watched this film:
1. I watched the film;
2. I was completely disoriented and full of rage against humanity;
3. I cursed David Lynch;
4. The very next day I watched it again;
5. All the elements were there and finally I realised what a masterpiece it was.

In this film the deconstruction is something UNSPEAKABLE, it is absolutely high level, and the length of the film doesn’t help at all to keep the focus on.
On the internet there’s no explanation to the film, apart from a humoristic post that I found years ago, that I’ll past below. It is a few lines of pure genius and if someone recognises the snippet as its own, please don’t hesitate to write so in the comments:

Finally a straight film from David Lynch, very flat and linear, with the plot that goes on without any jump. There’s basically no need of explanation, but I want to write something down anyway for those who didn’t watch the film very carefully. There are four parallel readings of the story, that can be identified like so:

Immediate reading: the main character Susan/Nikki/Laura Dern is the representation of the screwdriver’s subconscious, waken up by her therapist that in reality is an arms dealer that tries to perform in the little theatres of Broadway with a YMCA’s choreography performed with a group of 47 prostitutes, daughters of the old lady with the wrinkled face, who is just a Polish ex actress escaped from Birkenau and married to the monkey with a wooden leg.
Sociopolitical reading: the film is clearly an anti-abortion manifest that supports the end of the Cuban embargo, promoting the candidacy of Mitt Romney to the presidential elections of 2008.
Cinephile reading: enough with the digital shooting, enough with the abuse of Steadycam, enough with clear images, enough with the stop-motion, enough with those pseudo-tarantinian flashbacks. The film has to be shot following fist the even and than the odd pages  of the script. Enough with the editing.
Lynch reading: the film is mine and I put all the rabbits I want!

Jokes apart, before starting with the analysis of the film I’ll spend some words about the direction and the cast: the film is completely shot in digital, which maybe makes it lose a bit of that visual power that was characteristic in Mulholland Drive, even if it still is at a very high level. There are bits of the film where the dialogues are cult, destined to be remembered, and the actors play very strong characters: Laura Dern, Jeremy Irons, Harry Dean Stanton, Justin Theroux, Grace Zabriskie, Julia Ormond, Terry Crews, etc…

The film starts with a black and white scene of a gramophone that plays Axxon N, “the most long-lived radio broadcast in history”. The next scene, still in black and white, shows a man and a woman, both with blurred face, coming into a luxurious hotel room. The two of them speak Polish. The woman is confused and scared while the man seems to have everything under control (the girl is probably a prostitute). The next scene shows a girl sitting on a bed, that cries whilst watching a sitcom with three anthropomorphic rabbits (that is the first episode of the series Rabbits by David Lynch). At a certain point, one of those rabbits gets out of the room. The camera moves to a big room, luxurious and dark, where the rabbit goes in, and suddenly disappears. In the room, that is now bright, there are two men that speak Polish. Everything changes again and we are now in Los Angeles. Here a local actress named Nikki Grace doesn’t know if she’s going to get the main part in a film called On High in Blue Tomorrows. The day before the audition the girl receives a visit from her new neighbour, a mysterious old woman who knows that Nikki will get the part. Than the old woman tells her two stories. The first one is about a little boy who went out to play, he opened his door and saw the world, and as he passed through the doorway he caused a reflection, “evil was born” and it followed the boy. The second one is a different version of the first one and is about a little girl who went out to play and got lost in the market place, as if half born. And the old woman continues saying that not through “the market place”, but through the alley behind the market place is “the way to the palace”. After those premises starts the real film, which is a complex succession of scenes in balance between dream and reality, according to the typical style of the director. End of the plot.

Well time has come for the explanation of the film: in order to better understand it, it’s important to pay attention to the title, INLAND EMPIRE, a general area of San Bernardino, full of prostitutes (very important clue). After that you have to distinguish four different time lines:
1. The one where Laura Dern is an actress (Nikki) who is about to take part in a movie;
2. The one of the movie our actress is playing a part in (On High in Blue Tomorrow);
3. The one of the original Polish film (47);
4. The one of Rabbits (the tv series by Lynch).

Having said that, I’ll tell you a trick that is going to help you better understand every single Lynch’s weird work: David Lynch always uses two “parallel planes” (call it “dimensions” if you prefer, even if it’s not the correct expression). One of them represents the reality; the other one is represented by the mind of one character in the film, who filters the reality. The trick is finding that character, which in this case is not Nikki/Susan (Laura Dern), but the girl that at the beginning of the film watches the tv. Trough the tv she filters her own personal experience, and here is the fifth temporal line of the film: the reality.
As you can understand, the other four lines listed above are not real, they are the creation of her own mind. This time we are not in front of a dream, as it was on Eraserhead, Lost Highway or Mulholland Drive, the girl is awaken, she watches the tv, she thinks, she combines her own story to what she’s watching on the tv.

The “dimension” where Nikki is an actress that is going to take part in a film is the one where she’s married, and there is the old woman that goes to her house and talks through metaphors (I’ll come back to those metaphors later). On the movie set she meets Devon (Justin Theroux) and she cheats on her husband (Peter J. Lucas) with him. Nikki is an alter-ego of the girl that watches the tv in the hotel room, we’ll call her Lost Girl like it is in the credits (and here too the name is a big clue about her role on the film).

The “dimension” of the film where she’s taking part on (On High in Blue Tomorrows) is the one where Nikki plays Susan, married woman that cheats on her husband (Peter J. Lucas) with Billy (Justin Theroux). She gets pregnant, her husband finds out about her affair (because he is sterile) and attacks her. She has an abortion, than he goes for a journey around Europe with a group of Baltic gypsies. She is destroyed and becomes a prostitute (on Inland Empire). One day she gets in a club and starts talking about her story with a pseudo-terapist. When she gets off on the street, she gets attacked by Billy’s wife (who has been hypnotized) handing a screwdriver, passes out next to a group of tramps and dies. During this phase Nikki can’t tell herself from Susan, the character she plays in the movie.

The “dimension” of the Polish film 47, unlucky number (the two main actors are dead), of which “On High in Blue Tomorrows” is a remake. This dimension takes place in Poland during the 50s, and there’s no Laura Dern. There is the Lost Girl, whose role I’m about to explain later.
The “dimension” of Rabbits is the easiest to understand, and I don’t think you need any help to distinguish it from the others.

What happens in reality is this: the girl that’s watching the tv is a Polish prostitute (the scene where the man goes with a prostitute, both with blurred face, is emblematic, also they speak Polish). She fell in love with a man (in 47 he is played by Peter J. Lucas), and she got pregnant while his wife couldn’t have babies. She wants him to leave his wife, maybe he doesn’t want to, so she goes in his flat (number 47) armed with a screwdriver and the wife gets killed, probably as a mistake.

Her pimp though, after finding her affair and her will to leave the street, has the man killed by some hitmen (the old Polish men, probably related to the mafia). She is devastated and decides to have an abortion. Then she runs away, goes to USA, but even there she has to be a prostitute, on Inland Empire. One night, while she’s watching the tv crying, she feels like she can see her story through the images. So we can say that Nikki is an alter-ego of her (there’s a line at the end of “On High in Blue Tomorrows” that explains everything: “my cousin… she is a prostitute… she looks very good in her blonde wig... just like a movie star”), and every character and every dialogue is connected to her story: the two murders that the neighbour (the nephew of an actor from the cast of 47) talks about to Nikki (one happens at 9.45, the one of the man loved by the Lost Girl in 47, and another one at midnight, which is the one of the wife of that same man, executed by the Lost Girl); the prostitutes (as already said she is a prostitute, and here we understand the importance of the title of the film, because Inland Empire is a street full of prostitutes); the many cheating of Nikki/Susan to her husband (thing that shows her low level of moral dignity); Billy’s wife that kills Susan with a screwdriver whilst hypnotized (thing that shows her repentance about the murder of her lover’s wife, also inside her mind is the wife that kills Susan, like she killed her because Susan is her alter-ego).
The pimp is another important character, which appears in 47, in “On High in Blue Tomorrows”, in Nikki’s reality, and represents evil: he has killed the man who the Lost Girl loves, he is part of the group of gypsies which Susan’s husband goes with, and is called Crumpy, and hypnotizes Devon’s wife to kill Susan with a screw driver (in reality is the Lost Girl to kill her lover’s wife with a screwdriver).

In “Nikki’s reality” he appears at the end, like a ghost, to whom she shoots. After the shot he disappears, but before doing that he shows her own sneering face to her, as a reflex on a mirror (thing that proves that he is an evil person, but no one is free from evil, she was the one to kill her lover’s wife).
A little critique regarding the representation of evil is necessary: the monster behind the wall in Mulholland Drive was much more effective.

Axxon N was a radio broadcasting show, it appears at the beginning of the film, and every time we see it written, Nikki splits personality, and can’t distinguish “her reality” from the “reality of the film she is playing on”.

Rabbits is a web series made of eight episodes, by the same film maker, and it’s very important for what he wants to say: it connects all the characters in the film, because Rabbits is a representation of the reincarnation after death, other than a ferocious and disturbing critique to the tv audience (I recommend to watch it, it’s amazing). Whoever (every single living creature) did some evil in life, has to reincarnate, and in the meantime “wait” in some sort of limbo, under the form of anthropomorphous rabbit. I WONDER WHO I WILL BE.

Beautiful is also the metaphor about evil that the old woman tells to Nikki: the little boy that for the first time goes out through the door to play, and once he’s out, evil is born. Good and evil are recurring concepts in Lynch’s films (i.e. Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway), and they exist for everyone, beyond space and time.
Do not lose the main stream though, it doesn’t matter if you couldn’t make it to follow the reconstruction of the events that I’ve done so far, because everything that I just described IS NOT REAL, it’s all inside the mind of the girl who’s watching the tv, the result of the process of association between images and moments of her life. Her name (Lost Girl), the fact that she’s crying, all details that denote her mood, she’s desperate, maybe she wants to commit suicide, and there’s only one way out: she must forgive herself, or she’ll kill herself.
So at the end of the film she sees her own alter-ego Nikki that looks towards her from the tv, materializing inside the room, kissing her, and than disappearing. After that the Lost Girl imagines of hugging her lover again, together with the child she never had. What’s going to happen in her future we cannot know.

Inside this film there is everything, it’s really beautiful: an analysis of the life conditions of the ones who need to emigrate to another country; the control that tv and cinema make on people’s mind; decay; religion; good and evil. Also great is the tribute that Lynch makes to Ingmar Bergman, in particular to his masterpiece: Persona. He honors him on his way of shooting, the continuous changes of scene “life/set”, the oniric black and white of the film 47.

In this film David Lynch puts all his love, and at the same time all his hate, for the seventh art, and regarding to that some says that Tarantino’s Once upon a time in...Hollywood is the greatest tribute to Hollywood ever made. Well, I can tell you for sure that the Tarantino’s movie is a great movie and a great tribute, but the greatest tribute to Hollywood and cinema ever made so far is INLAND EMPIRE.

And inside this amazing tribute, besides the concepts of good and evil, there’s death and the constant fear that characterizes every single living being. IT’S OK SWEETHEART, YOU’RE DYING THAT’S ALL. That’s the line at the end of On High in Blue Tomorrow, and denotes the “artist’s purpose” that characterizes Lynch, finding a meaning to the existence, telling the viewer he shouldn’t be afraid, through the use of words and images.
Nevertheless, after the line followed by the Susan/Laura Dern’s death we can see the camera zooming out, framing what is the ending scene of a film, remembering us that what we’re watching is still a film.


Special thanks to Alessandro Cardena and Glenda Fontana for the translation.
Versione italiana:

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