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Yungbull May 22, 2013

An Element of Plot Convergence in Inland Empire

David Lynch’s 2006 film Inland Empire has a diversity of settings not to mention an itinerant nature when it comes to plot development. This film can be differentiated from all of his other works as it adheres to no one specific place. Whereas, Lynch is normally quite faithful to establishing a setting in a particular place – be it an American city, or what Michel Chion describes as “Lynchtown” – or content with an environment of his choosing, his latest film strays from this aspect of his style (78). Instead, the film ties separate places into one episodic tale, which in effect seems to render the plot element of setting useless. The narrative of Inland Empire cycles between Los Angeles, a nondescript city in Poland, and the austere setting of a studio set living room inhabited by a family of rabbits. What occurs throughout the films development is an ethereal overlapping of these settings, which combine and become meta-narratives of one another. Essentially, what Lynch has created with Inland Empire is a circular story that somehow becomes aware of itself and deconstructs as the film progresses.

To understand just how the idea of setting collapses upon itself in this film it would help to point out that each of Lynch’s prior films were adept at establishing setting. He has always had a knack for hashing out an environment and effectively creating a world around that environment. These settings became a totality for each of his characters and they existed in these worlds as if it were their most familiar habitat, one in which they were created and will eventually dissipate back into. Lynch has said before in an interview that “people differ according to place,” which is a notion that comes out in his work (180). Jeffrey Beaumont reflects the blissfully unaware and idyllic backdrop of Lumberton just as Laura Palmer reflects the ambivalent nature of Twin Peaks: pleasant on the surface, but rife with pain and anguish just underneath that pleasant façade.

Inland Empire’s Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) on the other hand seems merely to be a bystander affected by the movement of the plot as it skips between settings. The beginning of the film does not preface a specific place whatsoever. It rather uses the quotidian features of a hotel room, into which a Polish speaking man and his escort enter, both of their faces blurred. With this opening Lynch does absolutely everything in his power to disassociate his subjects from a setting or even an identity for that matter. There is a distinct anonymity to this opening sequence that is continued in Nikki’s own immersion into her new role of “Sue” and a confusion of identities occurs. As Sue, Nikki appears to begin an affair with her co-star’s character “Billy”. While filming a scene in which her character buys groceries, she notices a door in the alley and enters. It leads to a room behind the studio, where she can see herself rehearsing her lines from an earlier scene in the film. When Devon, her co-star, is sent to find who's lurking backstage, Nikki realizes that she was the disturbance that had caused a stir amongst them. She flees among the half-built backgrounds and into a prop house. Despite the set being merely a wooden facade, Nikki enters to find an illuminated suburban house inside. Devon looks through the windows, but sees only darkness. Her vision of him is obscured by the flickering of a sunlit front lawn. All of a sudden she has been teleported to this other setting.

Much of the film imposes a similar type of teleportation between the parallel narratives of Poland and LA. To link them both together Lynch made use of his short film series Rabbits, which acts as a conduit between both stories; whereas the Polish escort watches it, Nikki somehow places a call to its characters. There is no established setting and this may be the intention Lynch set out with, to divorce his characters and their stories from place and to focus on their connected pain and the plight to restore themselves to who they were.

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