The July program for our Summer of Surrealism series begins this Friday with two midnite 35mm (direct from Lynch) screenings of David Lynch’s epic Inland Empire (get tickets!).
We’re happy to have Adam Lowenstein back at Nitehawk to introduce the film on Friday night, his forthcoming book Dreaming of Cinema: Spectatorship, Surrealism, and the Age of Digital Media is the inspiration for the series. Adam has also written the following essay for us, Dreaming of Inland Empire, that not only gives a fantastic perspective into Inland Empire but also speaks to the spirit of our slightly off-kilter surrealism series too. Let’s get weird…
Dreaming of Inland Empire
Like Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr. before it, Inland Empire traces a path back towards David Lynch’s early experimental films and first feature Eraserhead, rather than building on the more conventional narrative structures of The Elephant Man, Dune, and The Straight Story or even the narrative strangeness of Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, or Twin Peaks. Inland Empire heightens the proclivities for loops in time, for character doubling and dispersal, for ominous tone over explicit explanation, and most of all, for dream logic, that characterize both Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr.
So is Inland Empire, with its embrace of dream logic, an example of Lynch as surrealist? Yes, at least to a certain extent. The doubling of characters here echoes Luis Buñuel’s tendencies to do the same, and the game Lynch plays to involve his audience in dream logic by first offering hints of familiar plot elements (the affair, the inside Hollywood production story, the Eastern European crime syndicate, the endangered prostitute) as well as familiar trademarks of his authorship (Lynch stalwarts Harry Dean Stanton, Diane Ladd, Grace Zabriskie, and of course, the truly magnificent Laura Dern all appear in the film, along with a number of signature “Lynchian” touches) echoes some of Buñuel’s game-like enticements of his audience.
Buñuel may have had more overtly political aims in mind when he engaged his viewers in games of perception and interpretation, but some of the goals are the same: to elevate the realm of dream to the realm of reality, to show how the former should not languish in the shadows of the latter but instead emerge as its revealer. For Lynch, “dream” will always be tied much more closely to the “dream factory” of Hollywood than for Buñuel, and one of the strengths of Inland Empire is its ability to sketch the complex network of desires between actor, character, production crew, and audience that gives Hollywood its special power of fascination. Inland Empire is not a Hollywood film nor an anti-Hollywood film; it is neither wholly surrealist nor wholly non-surrealist. It is Hollywood dreaming of surrealism, surrealism dreaming of Hollywood, and an exhilarating invitation to have us join that dream.