The film opens with a woman, crying, watching a series of images. A prostitute and her customer, their faces obscured; a family dressed up as rabbits; and images from a childhood. Shortly after, the film cuts to a strange elderly woman goes to Laura Dern's house, where the struggling actress is given a strange set of advice, which then cuts to the future. It's a strange scene, filmed with odd close ups, a lot of the time focusing on a look of confusion on Dern's face that persists through the entire film--but more than that, this opening scene suggests all the problems that will continue to grow as the film continues. There's no reason for it, the free formed nature of the scene has no perch, no weight to it, and exists on its strangeness, which unfortunately relies upon Lynch's bad choice of long, lingering close ups on actors that you'd rather wish he hadn't employed. Perhaps if Dern had not been the lead of the film I might have found it slightly easier to keep going, but the longer I watched the film, the more Dern's confused expression began to represent my feelings of the film.
As Inland Empire continues, Dern's character, Nikki, lands a role in a film, and the film's main conceit, that a film is being made within the film, and that Dern's character will slowly lose herself in the role she is playing. Eventually, the character of Nikki will disappear entirely, and be replaced by Sue, who is working class, and struggling through an unloving marriage. While this sounds perfectly fine, the execution of it is flawed entirely, and the film itself is unable to convey what is happening clearly. A collection of odd extras, who often appear to have conversations that do nothing for the plot or idea of the film, certainly don't help, and while the sudden burst of dancing during the Locomotion is funny, it really doesn't have any point. It mostly makes the film harder to follow, or, in my case, aggravates you. In fact, once the Locomotion had finished, I realised, just shy of two hours into the film, that I really wasn't enjoying what I was watching. I found it amateuristic, badly acted, poorly shot, and lacking focus completely--the Locomotion was not just a highlight, but at slightly past the midway point of the film, the highlight of the film for me.
Shortly after, I stopped it. There was just over an hour left on the film.
I felt like I'd failed some kind of appreciation of art test by doing so, to be honest. I've liked enough of Lynch's films in the past and, though I don't consider him anywhere close to being a favourite, I've nothing against him--and the idea of this film, in particular, with its free form narrative style, should have been my thing. However, if there is one thing I have learnt with any kind of experimental work, is that the line between genius and wank is paper thin, and that what crosses onto one side or the other is very often decided upon by the reader or viewer, and that this judgment is not universal, and will be as varied from one person to another where other works of art may not.
For me, however, Inland Empire was just wank.
Unwatchable, pretentious, wank.