David Lynch films are a litmus test of intelligence. You don’t have to like them to prove that your cinematic IQ is above the level of a mouth-breather with a Vin Diesel DVD collection. But you do have to realize the films’ artistic merit. And then give lengthy interpretations of their leitmotifs while sitting cross-legged on a porch, drinking a king can of cheap beer and holding court to stoned lesbians you met at a vegan potluck.
So, essentially, your two options when it comes to the David Lynch canon are to be either a shit-head with a brain full of Deuce Bigalow quotes or a pretentious asshole. It’s a tough choice, but what religion is easy? Still, truly worshiping the Philadelphia born auteur is more difficult than most religions. Not only do you have to commit wholeheartedly to films built upon dream-logic and nightmare imagery, but you have to ignore reality itself. While this shouldn’t be to hard for creationists and Pentecostals, for the general population this can be quite difficult.
Lynch’s first film, 1977’s Eraserhead, was a surreal, black and white vision of an infectious, industrial hell, a factory mass-producing misery and syphilis. Blue Velvet (1986) has become a cult classic in its own right, with its bizarre mix of Hardy Boys atmosphere with a depraved drug orgy. And Mulholland Drive (2001), Lynch’s Hollywood film noir, confused audiences with its semi-linear narrative. Nevertheless, he’s beloved by critics, film buffs, and guys trying to lay video store clerks the world over. And rightly so, because the man is a brilliantly charismatic leader of his own film cult.
But if his filmography is an IQ test for cinephiles, then Inland Empire, his most recent release, is the trick question on the exam where you have to count all the triangles in some stupid Escher-like drawing.
Cult: The International Society for Lynchian Consciousness
Adherents: Film students, film students’ long-suffering girlfriends, people who need to justify possessing an entire sheet of blotter acid (“I was gonna watch Wild at Heart!”)
Basic Tenets: Logic is for the weak, cause can go fuck effect
Example: Inland Empire (2006), written and directed by David Lynch
This 2006 film is both the best and worst entry point into Lynch’s work. In one way, it’s ideal, because it synthesises of much of his previous work. Within Inland Empire, Mulholland Drive’s film within a film plays alongside Lost Hightway’s schizophrenic character breaks, accompanied by Blue Velvet’s lounge swing and Twin Peaks’ forever building horror.
But in another, more accurate way, it’s a terrible first Lynch film to watch, because it’s three hours long, makes no sense, and has the video quality of Redtube porn.
Ostensibly, the film is about an actress, played by Laura Dern, who has an affair with her co-star, Mulholland Drive’s Justin Theroux. There also seems to be a Gypsy curse of some kind, a Polish film paralleling the action like a funhouse mirror, and a sitcom cast with rabbits. Also a busload of vaudeville-trained hookers.
Inland Empire is also shot on digital video, and bad digital video at that, rendering it even more of a grueling viewing experience. Normally, Lynch films, as confusing as they may be, at least have the benefit of gorgeous cinematography; here, we’re watching Cops on peyote, if not simply fish-eyed cell phone footage.
Perhaps Lynch’s most difficult film, Inland Empire is certainly the one to watch if you want to challenge your faith in the director. Or simply knock the Deuce Bigalow out of your brain.