Friday, July 06, 2007

Inland Empire

Gracchi argues that Inland Empire is a fine showcase of what the symphonic (plotless) form of film-making is capable of. Apparently, among other things:

"Never 'til this film had [Gracchi] seen a prostitute's life in all its tawdry terror displayed so accurately.


In Inland Empire the tapestry works and in some strange sense you emerge with a sense of wonder at the cinematic craft, horror at the life of the prostitute, and some vague questions about dark continents within the soul- of desire, truth and perception- continents whose baleful power has haunted the imagination of the West- over which the ignorant armies of human perception clash by night!"

My experience of Inland Empire was rather different. I spent at least half the film wishing, in a deeply heart-felt manner, that it would end.

It would seem to me that for a symphonic film to work it has to work far harder than a regular film at engaging you with its emotional substance. It lacks the crutch of a plot that you can be enthralled by or interested in and has to go entirely on emotional impact. With that in mind Inland Empire just didn't seem sufficiently communicative.

Films have, over the years, engaged me with Generals, Mad-Scientists, a time-travellers in conversation with a warped rabbit, giant apes, Mexican gunfighters, gangsters, geishas, ancient heros, Korean slaves turned to warriors, elves, orcs, arms dealers, Mobile Infantrymen, victims of genocide, a grieving father attempting to do the right thing in an infertile world, kings, a man without the ability to form new memories and a host of others. Few of these are exactly close to my own circumstances. The better films have generally been the ones that have best engaged me with the emotional experiences of their characters. In doing so they can provide me with insight into the human condition and provide a more genuine escape than any explosive action-thriller.

I never felt engaged with the inhabitants of Inland Empire (the word character seems ill-fitting). I felt vaguely horrified at times and disgusted throughout the film. Maybe that's what Gracchi is talking about. It seems plausible that the life of a prostitute is horrifying at times and generally disgusting. However, spending three hours in unmitigated contact with that is too much. There have to be other sides to the prostitutes themselves. Certainly there is another side to the life of a Hollywood film star. Engaging with nothing but the dismal results in a dismal film.


Gracchi said...

Matt good review from the opposite perspective- I think its one of those things which is purely subjective so am not going to argue back- though when I watched it some scenes did work and some didn't so I understand your frustration- I also think it was too long.

The Nameless Libertarian said...

Inland Empire is a very odd film, and one I think that it is difficult to actually like. The lack of any discernable plot flies in the face of conventional film making. It is also probably too long - certainly when I saw it in the cinema, someone piped up as the film appeared to end with the words "what the hell was all that about?" only for the film to continue to meander for another 15 minutes.

But the formless structure of the film and the random, unsettling images were the point for me. It is the logical progression (perhaps the logical extreme) from the type of stories Lynch has been telling since Eraserhead - it felt like a nightmare on the screen, with moments of realism that descend into both absurdity and disquiet quickly and unexpectedly. And perhaps it had to be that long, to emphasise that you cannot escape from that nightmare, and there are so many different levels to make your way back up through before you can get back to reality.

No doubt Lynch would have a completely different take on this film, but whilst it is a difficult film to like, I am still very glad that I saw it. I am also glad I saw it on the big screen - I think it would lose a lot if seen for the first time on a TV screen.