The loneliness of location in Inland Empire

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In my writeup for Southland Tales I marvelled at how that film, Miami Vice, and Inland Empire, all released in the same year, still looked new ten years on. Southland Tales burns with a contemporaneity that (ridiculing conservative apocalypticism) looks to a future where it will have stopped making sense, but with Inland Empire I couldn’t help but mourn the lost time between its release and the present: it still seems like a work in waiting, and one that has been waiting for a long time. I don’t doubt that at some point it might come to make sense (where and how we can’t know), but the intuitive specificity of its textures will now never not be an anachronistic fetish thing, and true to the director’s method the unstable affective surface is where meaning occurs. The images here are invariably invaded by their time, and Lynch instead of restraining and limiting, gives them (and us) over to the indeterminacy of light and noise that we recognise as being from our world, our own migraines and hangovers. Instead of manufacturing something artificial from life that will stay preserved, it feels for the first time as though he is capturing something that is living and dying in front of us. In its best moments then Inland Empire feels like it is dramatising the birth of cinema.

Its sense of images happening to us is unmatched, and its tremendously grotesque cropping of portraits encourages us to push through the face and account for the rest of the scene. For although he has never been so aggressively flat as is he is here, there is a renewed sense of space to the film that the author refuses to represent as simply another room of the unconscious. The subjectivised editing tries to wrestle for control of the unseen, but the film’s sense of being a photographic record overrides its overt authorial control. In its unadorned disgrace it tells scenes and captures the truth of life, then dies and tells it all over again. This is why for now it feels like a document of 2006, and why I love it for that, even though I also desperately need to know if that’s it. To Lynch’s credit it takes tremendous guts to after three decades move beyond demonstrating the permeability of fixed temporal/subjective/narrative states and outright dissolve them, but ultimately Inland Empire cannot sustain the affective terror and tenderness of his best (and more deliberate) work. It’s telling that liberation from this film lead to a period of intensive experimental output culminating in the unexpectedly comprehensive The Return. That work modestly cracks the unheimlich’s reflection with natures mortes and if anything the echo with Inland Empire occurs wherever that happens. Which is fine- I’m just listening out for whether the simplicity of its textures ever echoes back from the unknown, because if not then this is one of the singularly loneliest films I’ve ever revisited.

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