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An attempt to chart David Lynch's mind proves there's no charting David Lynch's mind

After staggering out of Inland Empire like a mole groping toward sunlight, you could be forgiven for thinking that there should be a start-up kit for how to make a David Lynch movie. Fritzing overhead lights—check. Sound of candles being blown out, amped through a Marshall stack—check. Industrial decay, inexplicable dance sequence, mix-and-match identities—check, check, check. The lesson of the new documentary Lynch—well, one lesson, along with the sound advice not to perforate a bloated cow with a pick-ax—is that producing a fugue-state apocalypse ripped bleeding from the subconscious isn't as easy as it sounds.

Filmed over the two years spanning the inception and making of Inland Empire, Lynch carries a mysterious director's credit ("blackANDwhite") and apes its subject's style so thoroughly that it could pass for the world's longest director's-signature American Express ad. (Whoever the filmmaker is, s/he will appear at a Q&A on October 26 at the IFC Center, perhaps in a luchador's mask.) Chronologically vague and associative rather than linear in its linkage of sound and image, the film intersperses fly-on- the-wall footage of Lynch brooding, joking, and tending his website with the minutiae of the director shaping his unclear vision— from personally distressing a set with hammers and wheat paste to coaching Laura Dern on how to best fake a knifing on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.


Directed by blackANDwhite
Opens October 26, IFC Center

Much of this is tedious—no more or less exciting than surveillance-cam footage of a regional sales manager, even if this one's desk offers a glimpse at one point of a legless baby doll. But the disconnect between Lynch's mundane method and his id-unleashed madness is more surreal (and revealing) than any of the movie's diligently scuzzed-out images, or its cutaways to, say, a roomful of anthropomorphized suburban rabbits. Famously clammed up tight about the symbolic or even, God forbid, political order of his conservative phantasmagorias, Lynch does no unpacking of his work here. Instead, and maybe more telling, there's just the evidence of his Warhol-like work ethic as he shepherds his crew, busies himself with tools and table saws, and digs a mine shaft into his imagination.

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Jim Ridley, you have described the experience of encountering the facade - the seemingly impenetrable, bewildering, frantic, hostile, paranoid exterior surface of INLAND EMPIRE. At that superficial level the film certainly is a maddeningly hallucinogenic, incoherent assault on every notion and precept of good film making. But, should you manage to stumble upon the modestly concealed entry point into the inner, real film you will be greeted by an extraordinarily logical, lucid, breathtakingly elegant cinematic experience. The trick, or rather the key to gaining entry is to properly position your mind, to realign your sensibilities, as though in a meditative state - an open and inviting state with your natural critical, defensive, discriminatory faculties set aside. There's a series of oddly compelling but seemingly irrational scenes at the very beginning of the film which it turns out are actually coded instructions from David of how exactly to achieve this altered, receptive state of mind. There's one conversation in particular with the curious foreign "neighbor" whose bizarre words about time and space and good and evil effectively act as a mechanism - like a mantra or a prayer - by which to orient your awareness, your consciousness. If you grasp what the odd lady is instructing you to do with your mental attitude the film suddenly, miraculously opens up - explosively - into a startlingly coherent expression of pure intuition. You don't quite understand all the intimidating, horrific, terrifying action as much as you deeply intuit the sublime truth which it is imparting. The astounding, dumbfounding depth of comprehension, the remarkably visceral intensity of the experience cannot be overstated. It's absolutely the most impressive and magical and satisfying cinematic experience of my adult life. Not since being taken to a revival showing of 2001: A Space Odyssey as a young teen has a film so completely, utterly overwhelmed me. 

Viewers who haven't made the discovery of the camouflaged "entrance" have been deprived of a truly revelatory cinematic experience which transcends nearly every other art inspired moment of clarity I've ever experienced, including that amazing time that standing before Leonardo's "Mona Lisa" in the Louvre I was instantly engulfed in a stunningly brilliant, radiating arc of enlightenment; I had emotionally, mentally, spiritually merged with the painting and with the artist's formidably impressive intellect. I had grocked what DaVinci was communicating.

Until you grock INLAND EMPIRE you really haven't seen it, you just haven't experienced it. There's a gloriously civilized, masterfully orchestrated, sublimely humane cinematic experience contained within all that paranoid madness which INLAND EMPIRE so coyly, so smugly, so sarcastically wears exactly like a pompous cliche artists beret.


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