What was, and will most likely remain, David Lynch's last feature length film, though one that, in a few ways, somewhat foreshadows his pivot to serialized storytelling as represented by Twin Peaks: The Return and his rumored Netflix project. Inland Empire is a sprawling, three hour long narrative, and that's the short version. Its DVD release contains an additional hour and a half of cut footage, which Lynch himself described as "More things that happened", bumping up the unofficial "complete" cut to about 4 hours and 30 minutes and leaving the viewer with what is probably the most highly concentrated dose of David Lynch they could ever subject themselves too.
Inland Empire is probably Lynch's densest narrative, to the point that the pacing of the 3 hour cut feels almost rushed. It has a reputation of being near impenetrable but let me try to sum it up:
Laura Dern plays Nikki Grace who, in turn, plays Susan Blue, the female lead in a film called "On High in Blue Tomorrows". The day before being offered the role she is visited by an old gypsy woman, relaying a cryptic warning about the role to her. Soon enough the movies director reveals to Nikki, that the film is a remake of an unfinished Polish movie which, in turn, was based on a traditional folk tale, that ended in the lead actors dying while shooting it. Rumor has it, the story itself is cursed. Most of the movie deals with Laura Dern, caught between the persona of Nikki and that of Sue Blue, trapped in a liminal space (a term that has become a bit overused recently, here describing a sort of backstage area to our dimension not too dissimilar to Twin Peaks' Lodges), commuting with various supernatural entities and visiting various different times and places, trying to find a way to break the curse and not only free herself, but also a mysterious Polish woman who fell victim to it a long time ago.
By all means, this is about as simple a way as I can describe it, glossing over details like one group of aforementioned supernatural entities taking the form of three anthropomorphic rabbits in a living room that invokes the set of a family sitcom (their cryptic dialogue punctuated by canned laughter.), Dern's character being guided by a group of prostitutes who, at one point, break out in a song or Dern, in the persona of Sue, telling anecdotes about rape and violence to a pudgy man in glasses who seems to act as a sort of mediator between the material and the spiritual world.
Inland Empire is a greek epic in the style of a Silent Hill game, the story of a woman struggling against fate, struggling against herself and struggling against gods and spirits in order to save her own soul, but Lynch's vision of the places where spirits dwell is a grimy one. The lense through which Lynch presents the world of Inland Empire is anything but crystal clear. The movie was shot on a hand camera with a resolution lower than that of your average modern cellphone camera, bringing a jarringly grounded feeling to a narrative that is anything but. Inland Empire is, in its own way, still a rather gorgeous movie but one that demands to be met halfway to be properly appreciated. It foregoes visual clarity in favour of ambiguity and even a strange sense of intimacy, as represented by numerous extremely close closeups.
Inland Empire was Lynch's last theatrical release, and it feels, in many ways, like a summation of at least this particular segment of his career. It tackles themes of identity, infidelity, artistic expression, feminism, jealousy, the power of storytelling and so much more. Occupying some three way intersection between maximalist surrealist art installation, mystery thriller and urban fantasy epic, it stands as... well, as the most David Lynch movie. Quite famously, Inland Empire did not have a finished screenplay when work on it started. Lynch wrote it as he was making it, letting his intuition guide him and from this improvisational approach to writing emerged what is probably his most compelling movie. A trip down a bizarre labyrinth ending on an unambiguously cathartic note. Inland Empire is dark, bizarre, dense and beautiful.