When you watch an interview with David Lynch it’s always surprising how totally normal he seems. Once you get past the hipster hair style he’s got this unpretentious gee-whiz enthusiasm about things. Did you know he’s a vegan, or at least a vegetarian? He shows us how to make quinoa (pronounced kin-WAH) with organic broccoli, vegetable bullion, sea salt and liquid amino acids. It looks like fun and I’ll have to pick some up at the local organic market. While he’s preparing it he regales us with a story from his youth, travelling on a train from Greece to Venice, and meeting up with a girl who boards in Yugoslavia. He buys bottles of colored sugar-water at an unscheduled stop in Yugoslavia and pays with a small copper coin. He gets back the sugar-water and a large paper bill. Once they get to Venice he uses it to buy six Coca-Colas and gets them plus two handfuls of silver coins in change.
This means something. He also smokes a cigarette while telling it. Why do people interested in their health enough to make quinoa with organic broccoli, vegetable bullion, sea salt and liquid amino acids (tastes like soy sauce!) smoke cigarettes, too?
“Quinoa” is one of the bonus features on the two-disc special edition of Inland Empire. It’s shot in high-contrast black and white, probably in Lynch’s own home. It’s shot in real time while he makes up his dinner from scratch up until the time he eats it (delicious!).
The main feature is on the other disc. If you’ve seen “Mulholland Drive,” you’re familiar with the concept. An actress is making a film. Something happens — she falls through the rabbit hole — and everything is different. She’s someone else. She may be the character in the film. She may be someone long dead. Mysterious characters come and go making oracular pronouncements which of course turn out to be true.
The movie starts out with a black-and-white flashback of a couple in a hallway, on their way to a tryst. Their faces are blurred out with a white glow. They say cryptic things, “who are we?” Next is the rabbits. Any way I could try to describe this scene will make it sound ridiculous. Remember the cowboy in Mulholland Drive? It’s like that. Superficially ridiculous, with an air of deep menace lurking beneath.
Then we meet the actress, played in a tour-de-force by Laura Dern. She’s in her luxurious Hollywood home and is visited by a woman with a heavy Polish accent, played by Grace Zabriskie. Shot in extreme closeup, she tells two short fables that will set the stage for the events that are to come.
After she lands the part, at the rehearsal with the director (Jeremy Irons) she and the leading man are told that it’s sort of a remake. The original production, which was being shot in Poland, was abandoned after the two leading players were murdered. They hear a sound behind them, and the lead actor goes to investigate. The first of the woman’s fables comes true.
For the next two-plus hours it’s a dizzying fractured ride through Laura Dern’s head as she switches back and forth between herself, the previous actress, and the character in the movie. And it’s never quite clear what is what. It’s an open question — who is she, when is she, what is she? The rabbits return.
A typical David Lynch film is confusing and demands attention and thought. This one even more so. At close to three hours, the amount of information he throws up without explanation is staggering. I also watched it on my laptop the first time. According to one of the interviews on the special features disc, this is a mistake. “A great sadness.” And don’t even think about watching it on your phone!
And there’s very good reason. The soundtrack and sound design are amazing. There’s the constant sound of wind. Music of Penderecki (one of the numerous Kubrik references). Ambient noise and distortion. Train whistles — they shot in a warehouse instead of a sound stage to save money, and it was next to busy railroad tracks. They loved the sound and kept it in.
Later on I’m going to mix myself up a big bowl of quinoa with organic broccoli, vegetable bullion, sea salt and liquid amino acid and watch it again on the big TV with the sound really really loud. That’s the way he wants it.