Sunday, September 23, 2007

Inland Empire - It's Easier than Learning your ABC's

I felt I should comment on something that Michael mentioned about my last/first post here at Rancho Notorious. He disliked my implication that our co-blogging was somehow a competition, and I, the implied loser. This of course, was unconscious on my part, but there it is. So, for many reasons relating to this incident, I am going to talk today about Inland Empire, the latest David Lynch monster. Which I liked a whole lot. I won’t be looking at it in its almost three hour entirety, since I spent most of that time tensely upright in the theatre, and I definitely don’t remember all of it.

But the sections that affected me most, while seemingly having nothing to do with what I set out to discuss here, were surprisingly personal for me. These were the scenes involving the ‘white trash girl’ characters, who are later depicted blatantly as prostitutes. They affected me deeply almost every time they were onscreen, for different reasons each time, but created an overarching theme that I am still kind of lost in thinking about. I almost couldn’t believe that David Lynch was hitting on all of this.

Anyway, the first scene in which they appear out of the grimy darkness, they ask Laura Dern’s character if she will look at them, and tell them if she’s known them. This line is repeated throughout the film by different characters, but always female. This premise of the scene, as the girls go on to discuss a man they’ve all slept with (presumably the man Dern just cheated on her nutso husband with), reads kinda like a bad government health agency ad. (ie: you’re sleeping with everyone your partner has…) But the tone is so off (so Lynch, if I may, without knowing his whole body of work), and disconcerting.

The entire scene has the feeling of rape. It’s difficult to justify that statement, having no experience of rape. But we are brought uncomfortably close to these women’s sexual experience which is obviously submissive and objectified. All these women are is their sexuality. They have no dimension, and no desire to be anything more. So creepy. And definitely a comment on misogyny, and objectification, but more deeply a sensitive understanding of the master/slave mentality underpinning this experience.

The next scene of interest is probably my ‘favourite’ of the film, if such a statement can be made of such a tense, grotesque, uncomfortable experience. In this sequence, the same horde of ‘white trash,’ (and please pardon my light use of such offensive terms) create a formation in the dimly lit hotel-looking room and dance to Little Eva’s ‘Locomotion,’

It was funny, in an uncomfortable sort of way, but more so deeply upsetting for me. Of course haunted by that Lynch darkness and dirtiness, the scene had me re-evaluating my formative years, and the gross amount of television I consumed. This ‘innocent’ song choice lays bare the fact that long before Britney Spears, people were making a business of packaging dangerously ‘trashy’ ideologies beneath an innocent façade (that is so transparent it drives me crazy) and throwing it at sweet little girls who just like to dance. “You’ve got to swing your hips now.” “My little baby sister can do it with me.” I loved that song when I was a little girl. The scene ends abruptly at “Jump up,” leaving the audience jarred.

The last scene that really shook me was –well, really, all of these sequences of these girls as whores on the streets of LA. In particular, though, Laura Dern’s lines: “I’m a whore. I’m afraid. Where am I?” The first line delivered with a sobering pain, and the rest twisted into a mocking laughter. I was fighting tears. Full of empathy for the character, and full of pity for myself, and scared as hell for no good reason. Wow. Laura Dern is so great in this film. But I was also reeling from the fact that David Lynch, being both a man and a filmmaker (which is the most basic recipe for misogyny), could articulate something so complex and accurate about women, and their sexuality, and self-image. Especially after seeing Mulholland Drive, which I enjoyed, and it was interesting, but holy crap, why are we seeing those girls make out so damn much (slash at all)? (Michael, I await your retort)

I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days (Inland Empire). It bothered me profoundly that such a dark film had such a personal effect on me. It still does.


  1. Regarding Mulholland Dr., I would retort that it's necessary for us to see Betty/Naomi Watts and Rita/Laura Herring making out the first time in Aunt Ruth's apartment, because without that scene they're just good friends, and the whole character of Diane/Watts in the second part of the film wouldn't make sense without it. The second sex scene in Diane's apartment is the point where things start to go bad for her character.

  2. Yeah, I agree with Michael's point about Mulholland Dr. Without those scenes, the sense of physical desire that Diane yearns for cannot be articulated. There a wonderful piece on Lost Highway/MD by Todd McGowan in the Cinema Journal issue 43.2...

    Regarding the newest from Lynch, you raise some interesting points regarding the overwhelming sense of prostitution, in all its facets, that pervades the film. That sense is a lens that might open up more connections for the film, as I struggled to keep my bearings on my first viewing of it. Bah, who am I kidding. I stumbled blindly through it, though I kept getting the recurrent scenes of power being lorded over women by men. That said, there's a strange power in Dern's performance as she expresses vulgarities and talks nakedly about her experiences, specifically with the "hick persona." The end credits/coda, and it's use of Sinnerman, also felt important, though I've got no real clues how it's important. This one deserves a revisit...

    Paul / dreamdead from Match Cut