This is quintessential David Lynch -- as in, really weird. Plenty of mainstream filmmakers (Jim Henson and Orson Welles, to name just two) start out doing abstract, weird, experimental productions you'd never associate with their typical Hollywood output. But director David Lynch has never quite left behind his oddball roots in troubling movies like his 1978 breakthrough Eraserhead -- a sort of cinematic bad dream you can't forget. For INLAND EMPIRE, Lynch goes back to that style in a big way (three hours' worth). Even though the movie stars relatively well-known actors whom kids might recognize -- like Lynch regular Dern -- Inland Empire isn't for kids, or even a lot of grownups. The film showcases Lynch at his most unleashed, nerve-jangled, and avant-garde, a mode that his die-hard fans find mesmerizing, but which a lot of unaccustomed viewers will just see as a creepy, borderline-unwatchable puzzle.
At the one-hour point, the movie seems warp into another reality -- maybe the film-within-the-film, or maybe a parallel universe of some sort. The ladylike, mansion-dwelling Nikki has now become Susan, a hard-bitten, foulmouthed woman who lives in a squalid bungalow and openly cheats on her Polish husband, who abuses her. Viewers also see the rabbit people again, a woman planning bloody murder with a screwdriver, Devon reappearing as a guy named Billy, and flashbacks to Eastern Europe in the early 20th century. What's up? Is Nikki taking her role too seriously and having a real affair with Devon? Is she just thinking about it? Or is Lynch playing an even trickier game with the idea of filmmaking as sort of dreaming? Or dreaming as filmmaking? People who are really into Lynch (or writing for serious film journals) will spend years answering those questions -- and if that's your notion of entertainment, enjoy.