Inland Empire Mind-fuck, straight ahead!

WOW. I MEAN, REALLY. This is going to be hard. It's not wise to open your mouth about a David Lynch film until you've seen it at least twice, but here I am, gabbing away after only one viewing of Inland Empire. Lynch's films, from Mulholland Drive to Eraserhead, get richer and more nuanced the more times they're viewed. (Face it, you didn't like whisky the first time you tried it, either—and now look at you.) So here's the summation I'm trying to avoid: Inland Empire wasn't that much fun after the first viewing. The film is three hours long, and it's a long three hours. Plus it's shot on ugly digital video. But this doesn't mean you shouldn't see it—in fact, you should see it two or three times.

A spectacular Laura Dern plays Nikki Grace, an actress starring in a film that centers on an illicit affair between a rich Southern man (Justin Theroux) and his employee (Dern). But things are never what they seem in Lynchvania, and what follows is a metaphysical stew, spiced up with Lynch's trademark oddities like prostitutes dancing to Little Eva's "The Locomotion," mutant rabbit people in a laugh-tracked sitcom, and gypsy curses. The resulting mind-fuck will leave you a mental midget for days—puzzling over the implications of Dern saying, "Look at me, and tell me if you've known me before." If you thought Mulholland Drive left you in a thought-provoking fugue, you're about to be floored.

I must say, I was worried about Lynch shooting an all-digital film, and my concerns were justified by the muddiness of the picture. Perhaps my biggest fear about Lynch's newfound use of digital video was that it's such an easy-to-shoot medium, which promotes spontaneity, improvisation, and off-the-cuff shooting, and that as a result Lynch might get sloppy. But Lynch uses this medium to his advantage: For instance, Dern and Theroux's faces look fuzzy in close-ups, while the background is focused—cementing the fact that their true identities are dubious. But would Inland Empire have been a shorter, tighter (and better) movie if it had been shot on film? I'll get back to you after I've seen it a few more times.