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Inland Empire (2006) is a surrealistic, psychological thriller film, written and directed by David Lynch. It was his first feature-length film since 2001's Mulholland Drive, and shares many similarities with that film. It premiered in Italymarker at the Venice Film Festival on september 6, 2006. The feature took two and a half years to complete, and was Lynch's first film to have been shot entirely in standard definition digital video.

The cast includes such Lynch regulars as Laura Dern, Justin Theroux, Harry Dean Stanton, and Grace Zabriskie, as well as Jeremy Irons and Diane Ladd. There are also appearances by Nastassja Kinski, William H. Macy, Laura Harring, and Ben Harper. Harring's and Scott Coffey's voices are also heard in the excerpts from Lynch's Rabbits project that are incorporated into the movie. Naomi Watts is likewise thanked in the credits for the use of her voice.

It was chosen as the 2nd best film of 2007 (tied with two others) by major magazine Cahiers du cinéma.


The film begins with an image of an old gramophone playing "the longest-running radio play in history". Indistinguishable filtered voices can be heard in the recording. Eventually the scene fades into what appears to be a dimly lit hotel hallway, where a man and a woman, both of whose faces are blurred beyond any recognition, stumble into a hotel room. They are speaking Polish. The man asks the woman to undress, which she does reluctantly. As she does this, the man asks her if she knows what whores do, to which she replies "they fuck". Presumably the woman is herself a prostitute. Next, we are in another hotel room, where a raven-haired woman sits crying while watching a television. On the television is an eerie sitcom about a family of rabbit-people in a small room who speak in terse, seemingly meaningless sentences, that are occasionally followed by a non-sequitur laugh-track. The female rabbit talks about a "secret" that apparently the male rabbit knows about. When a knock at the door is heard, all three rabbits are captivated by it, and the male rabbit goes to answer it, but the knocker is not revealed. He walks out through the door and it closes behind him.

The Male Rabbit enters a dimly lit room, which then fades into a lavish golden room where a bald man sits on a couch. Another gruffy-looking Polish man stands talking to him. The seated man talks about seeking an opening, and the standing man juggles variations of the phrase "do you understand"? Next, we cut to an old woman with bulging eyes (Grace Zabriskie), walking down a suburban neighborhood, looking dizzy. She steps onto the porch of a high-class home and a butler answers. The home is that of Nikki Grace (Laura Dern), a well-known actress, and the old woman is let in, claiming she is a new neighbor and wishes to greet Nikki. She says she heard Nikki got a new part for a film called "On High in Blue Tomorrows". Nikki tells her it isn't for certain since the audition was very recent, but the woman insists she has gotten it. She then talks about a boy who opened a door and saw the end of the world, thus causing evil to be born. She then goes on to talk about a girl who got lost in an alley behind a marketplace, and then remembered something. Nikki is unsure what the woman is talking about. The woman then asks if there's a murder in the movie for which Nikki auditioned. Nikki says no, but the woman insists there is "brutal fucking murder" in the film. She continues by talking about the mixing up of time, yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows. She remarks that it may be 9:45 when it is in fact after midnight. She then points to the couch across from them and says that, if it were tomorrow, Nikki would be over there. We then pan to where the woman is pointing, and see Nikki receive her part via phone.

A week or two after she hears that she has gotten the part for the film, Nikki is seen being interviewed for television with her costar Devon Berk (Justin Theroux) on a celebrity talk show called "The Marilyn Levins Show". Marilyn asks both actors whether or not they will have an on-set affair, to which both Nikki and Devin respond negatively. Afterwards, Devin is told by his entourage that Nikki is "hands-off", since Nikki's husband is an extremely influential and powerful figure. Later, on the set being constructed for the film, Nikki and Devin rehearse a scene with the director, Kingsley (Jeremy Irons). There is a disturbance somewhere on the set. Devin goes to investigate the noise, but finds nothing. Shaken by the disturbance, Kingsley confides with them that the film they are making is in fact a remake of an older unfinished German film entitled 47 that was based on a Polish gypsy folk tale. It was abandoned because the two leads were murdered and the film was rumored to be cursed. However, Kingsley assures them both that nothing will come of it.

At this point, the film takes a drastic stylistic turn. Nikki's world begins to blend with that of the film they are making, putting into question whether or not the alleged "curse" is in fact real. There are multiple subplots which arise throughout the film that appear to have nothing to do with Nikki's story: Polish prostitutes confront various pimps while murder permeates their Polish city. A woman with severe stomach wounds (who also plays the wife of Billy Side, a character in Nikki's film) tells a cop she is going to kill someone with a screwdriver. A mafia-like organization discusses one of their captives, remarking that the man claimed he was from "Inland Empire". When we return to Nikki, she is shopping for groceries when she sees a door labeled "Axx o NN.", with an arrow pointing to a door. She passes through the door and enters a movie studio. She hears voices and begins running. She looks back: She sees herself seated with Kingsley, watching Devin chase her. She then realizes that SHE was in fact the intruder in the earlier scene and that she had watched herself sneak into the studio. Nikki evades exposure by hiding in a house found on the set, where she stays for most of the movie. When she enters the set house, it miraculously metamorphoses into an actual house somewhere in the suburbs. Nikki sees it is filled with prostitutes who are having a surreal party, exposing themselves to each other and dancing to 60's music. She listens to their stories, smoking and donning their suggestive garb, eventually becoming one herself.

Much of the movie is similar to these seemingly arbitrary storylines: Nikki is at a party with her husband where she asks friends to "look at me, and tell me if you've known me before". Nikki wanders into a backyard dressed in a business suit and finds a man with a lightbulb in his mouth. Frightened, she brandishes a screwdriver at him, and runs away. Nikki runs down Sunset Boulevard, attempting to flee a woman with a screwdriver (the same woman from earlier) who is attempting to kill her. She is ultimately stabbed in the stomach by the woman, wandering the streets bloody and lost. While attempting to escape the treacherous woman, Nikki hides in a nightclub, where she meets in a back room with a fat man with glasses. She begins an epic and foul-mouthed monologue in which she unloads all her childhood scars, including being molested as a girl, where she gouged out the eye of her rapist.

Eventually, Nikki confronts the standing man from earlier in the film, known now as "The Phantom". She shoots him, which causes his face to become hideously disfigured, at first becoming a disturbing copy of Nikki's own face, but eventually morphing into something closely resembling a fetus. We next go to the rabbits again, who are once more faced with the opened door.

The film ends with a group of prostitutes dancing to Nina Simone's "Sinnerman" with a beat from two lumberman sawing a tree.




The director shot the film without a complete screenplay. Instead, he handed each actor several pages of freshly written dialogue each day. In a 2005 interview, he described his feelings about the shooting process:"I’ve never worked on a project in this way before. I don’t know exactly how this thing will finally unfold... This film is very different because I don’t have a script. I write the thing scene by scene and much of it is shot and I don’t have much of a clue where it will end. It’s a risk, but I have this feeling that because all things are unified, this idea over here in that room will somehow relate to that idea over there in the pink room."Interviewed at the Venice Film Festival, Laura Dern admitted that she didn't know what Inland Empire was about or the role she was playing, but hoped that seeing the film's premiere at the festival would help her "learn more." Justin Theroux has also stated that he "couldn't possibly tell you what the film's about, and at this point I don't know that David Lynch could. It's become sort of a pastime - Laura [Dern] and I sit around on set trying to figure out what's going on."

Much of the project was shot in Łódźmarker, Polandmarker, with local actors, such as Karolina Gruszka, Krzysztof Majchrzak, Leon Niemczyk, Piotr Andrzejewski and artists of the local circus Cyrk Zalewski. Some videography was also done in Los Angelesmarker, and in 2006 Lynch returned from Poland to complete filming.Inland Empire is the first Lynch feature to be completely shot in digital video; it was shot with a Sony DSR-PD150. Lynch has stated that he will no longer use film to make motion pictures.

In an NPR "Weekend Edition" interview, Laura Dern recounted a conversation she had with one of the movie's new producers. He asked if Lynch was joking when he requested a one-legged woman, a monkey and a lumberjack by 3:15. "Yeah, you're on a David Lynch movie, dude," Dern replied. "Sit back and enjoy the ride." Dern reported that by 4 p.m. they were shooting with the requested individuals.

Film critic Roger Moore has noted that Inland Empire follows Mulholland Dr. and Twin Peaks in being inspired by the names of cities or the places in which they're set. "But often they don't have anything to do with the location at all," he adds. Lynch "doesn't let the actual geography of the place interfere with his vision."

Financing and distribution

Lynch financed much of the production from his own resources, with longtime artistic collaborator and ex-wife Mary Sweeney producing. The film was also partially financed by the Frenchmarker production company Studio Canal, which had provided funding for three previous Lynch films. StudioCanal wanted to enter the film in the 2006 Cannes Film Festivalmarker, but it was not ready in time. Instead, it premiered at Italymarker's Venice Film Festival on September 6, 2006, where David Lynch also received the Golden Lion lifetime achievement award for his "contributions to the art of cinema." The film premiered in the United Statesmarker on October 8, 2006 at the New York Film Festival, selling out both showings. The film has not been widely distributed to theaters. It received a limited release in the US beginning on December 15 of 2006; distribution was handled by the specialist company 518 Media.

Lynch hoped to distribute the film independently, saying that with the entire industry changing, he thought he would attempt a new form of distribution as well. He acquired the rights to the DVD and worked out a deal with Studio Canal in an arrangement that allows him to distribute the film himself, through both digital and traditional means. A North American DVD release occurred on August 14, 2007. Among other special features, the DVD included a 75-minute featurette, "More Things That Happened", which compiled footage elaborating on Sue's marriage to Smithy, her unpleasant life story, the Phantom's influence on women, and the lives of the prostitutes on Hollywood Boulevard.


When asked about Inland Empire, Lynch responded that it is "about a woman in trouble, and it's a mystery, and that's all I want to say about it." When presenting screenings of the digital work, Lynch sometimes offers a clue in the form of a quotation from a translation of the Aitareya Upanishad:"We are like the spider. We weave our life and then move along in it. We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives in the dream. This is true for the entire universe."

Richard Peña, an official at the New York Film Festival and one of the first people to see Inland Empire, has summarized the film as "a plotless collection of snippets that explore themes Lynch has been working on for years," including "a Hollywoodmarker story about a young actress who gets a part in a film that might be cursed; a story about the smuggling of women from Eastern Europe; and an abstract story about a family of people with rabbit heads sitting around in a living room" -- Lynch's web-only video series, Rabbits. Peña's perception of a plot involving "the smuggling of women from Eastern Europe" stems from a scene in which one man asks another, in Polish, if he is selling the woman in the room.

Release dates

The film debuted on several film festivals around the world most notably the Venice Film Festival in Italymarker, New York Film Festival in New Yorkmarker, United Statesmarker, the Thessaloniki Film Festival in Greecemarker, Camerimage Film Festival in Polandmarker, Fajr International Film Festival in Iranmarker, International Film Festival Rotterdam in The Netherlandsmarker, San Francisco Independent Film Festival in San Franciscomarker, United States, Festival Internacional de Cine Contemporáneo de la Ciudad de México in México Citymarker, Mexicomarker, Cinema Digital Seoul in South Koreamarker and !f Istanbul International Independent Film Festival in Turkeymarker.

Inland Empire was released and distributed by RYKO to the United States on August 14, 2007. it was released in August 20, 2007 in the United Kingdommarker, , released on October 4, 2007 in Belgiummarker and The Netherlandsmarker and distributed by A-Film) and in August 6, 2008 and Distributed by Madman Entertainment in Australia.


Overall the film has been well-received by critics. The New York Times classified Inland Empire as "fitfully brilliant" after the Venice Film Festival screening. Peter Travers, the film critic for Rolling Stone magazine wrote, "My advice, in the face of such hallucinatory brilliance, is that you hang on." The New Yorker was one of the few publications to offer any negative points about the film, calling it a "trenchant, nuanced film" that "quickly devolves into self-parody". Jonathan Ross, presenter of the BBC programme Film 2007, described it as "a work of genius... I think." Damon Wise of Empire Magazine gave it five stars, calling it "A dazzling and exquisitely original riddle as told by an enigma" and Jim Emerson (editor of gave it 4 stars and praised it: "When people say Inland Empire is Lynch's Sunset Boulevard, Lynch's Persona, or Lynch's , they're quite right, but it also explicitly invokes connections to Stanley Kubrick's The Shining,Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le Fou, Buñuel and Dali's Un Chien Andalou, Maya Deren's LA-experimental Meshes of the Afternoon (a Lynch favorite), and others". However, Carina Chocano of the Los Angeles Times wrote that "the film, which begins promisingly, disappears down so many rabbit holes (one of them involving actual rabbits) that eventually it just disappears for good."

Critics have criticised the film for being recorded in digital video, with Oxford University Press's Chris Hook suggesting that the use of such a medium gave the film an "unsavoury" aesthetic.

Laura Dern received almost universal acclaim for her performance, with many reviews describing it as her finest to date. Lynch attempted to promote Dern's chances of an Academy Award for Best Actress nomination at the 2007 Academy Awards by campaigning with a live cow. She was not nominated for the award.


  2. Film 2007, 5 March 2007

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