INLAND EMPIRE More Things That Happened

tudwell

Sparkwood & 21
Apr 12, 2022
18
28
Let's talk More Things That Happened. Any scenes you particularly love? Anything you felt should have made it into the feature film? Any other thoughts, questions, concerns, rants, raves?

I'll start with this: I absolutely love the scene where the Phantom sells a watch to the Lost Girl. It's got that signature Lynchian unease. Lots of open space, stiff dialogue with the actors taking a beat or two too long before responding. Everything just feels a bit off, and the dialogue escalates beautifully from intriguing and slightly ominous to truly menacing. But more than that, I actually think it would've worked wonderfully in the film proper. It seems to me like a missing piece of borderline-essential connective tissue, bringing together certain major threads in a powerful but not overly obvious way.

For starters, it would be by far the longest scene we get with the Phantom or with the Lost Girl, even if the dialogue itself had been cut down a bit for the main film. Both of these are figures who kind of skirt the periphery of the movie, and I think there's a value in that, but it also makes it jarring when, for example, the Phantom reveals himself as the big bad Final Boss that Nikki must defeat at the very end. I'm not sure there's anything earlier in the movie that would lead the audience to expect him to reach quite that level of significance in the story, and it's only in retrospect, after having seen the closing bits of the film, that you can go back and fit all the puzzle pieces together. And actually, the first couple times I watched the film I didn't even pick up on the Phantom as a single, continuous presence throughout its run-time. Maybe I'm just dumb, but that seems to be a not-uncommon reaction. Which I think makes sense – he is a rather peripheral figure, and he's hardly the only intimidating Polish gangster-type in the film. Plus, he's variously identified as Crimp or the Phantom or, most frequently, not identified at all but just presented on the screen. (It probably doesn't help that he's mostly in Polish scenes with subtitles, leading the eye away from his face.) It's always struck me as a slight structural weakness of the film, a lack of establishing the Phantom as a character quite as important as he's clearly meant to be. Contrast that with the Mystery Man from Lost Highway. He hardly dominates screen-time, but he's presented in such an ostentatious way that you immediately know this guy is important, and you immediately recognize him whenever he returns.

The Lost Girl is a little more recognizable for me. She's mostly seen crying in a hotel room watching TV. Pretty distinct from everything else going on in the film. So there's not really any issue there for me, but I do think the scene offers a very important twist to her relationship (as far as we can understand it) with the Phantom. Most of the time, the Phantom is just a vague menacing presence floating around the edges of the film, but in this scene we see him actually act upon and interact with another major character. Here he's presented as a very Mephistophelean figure, inviting Lost Girl to make a deal with the devil, which she ultimately does after some hesitancy. It's something of a contrast from the characterization of him as a hypnotist elsewhere in the film. That's not to say that in this scene he doesn't exert any kind of power over Lost Girl that causes her to make a decision she wouldn't otherwise make... but it's not totally one-sided. She seeks him out. She's down on her luck and tempted by the reputation his watches have of being magical. She gives in to that temptation. I think that's totally key. It gives the Lost Girl agency – and by analogy, Nikki as well, who also gets sucked into the Phantom's web. To go back to the Mystery Man – he tells Fred he only goes where he's invited. This is Lost Girl inviting the Phantom in. Of course the adultery and stuff that we (rather ambiguously) see in the sepia-toned Polish scenes show she's hardly some innocent who is terrorized by a demon for no reason whatsoever... but there's something I like about how explicit this watch scene makes it. It seems to draw an almost straight line to other stuff in the film, like the multiple characters who talk to Nikki of a debt that needs to be paid (here's the Lost Girl entering into that debt, it would seem) and especially the final Phantom scene where Nikki shoots him and then sees her own distorted face underneath his. Both that scene and this watch scene show, more than anything else in the film, that the Phantom isn't some external supernatural being – he's inside us, he is us, the part of us that gives into the temptation to do others harm. Which to me is the true significance of the Phantom, and that significance is perhaps not totally reflected in most of the scenes the Phantom appears in.

It also has nice echoes with the prostitution and focus on time that is prevalent throughout the film. Here's Lost Girl entering into a sort of prostitution, holding hands with the Phantom. It simultaneously feels like a first step (hand-holding of course being often the very first truly romantic gesture in a relationship) and a much greater corruption or perversion (hand-holding being something rather innocent, its corruption here feels stranger, maybe even more wrong, than an overtly sexual act). And of course the scene establishes the Phantom as a controller, even manipulator, of time – the ultimate root cause of all of Nikki's timeline confusion throughout the film.

It just seems to fit so well to me, both structurally and thematically. I'd love to someday see a cut of the film with this scene included, just to see how it ends up feeling. Though I love Inland Empire as it is – most days probably the Lynch film I'd pick as my favorite, so these are minor quibbles ultimately, but I just can't shake the feeling that the scene would fit the film so perfectly and I can't really think of any truly convincing justification for removing it. (I mean, there's obviously timing, keeping the movie from being too long, plus it's a very slow scene, and I think it also complicates the Polish backstory. This scene clearly doesn't fit in the sepia-toned storyline in Old Poland. It offers an alternative origin story for the Phantom-Lost Girl relationship, another parallel reality, it would seem, which maybe Lynch decided would ultimately add too much confusion, but then it's not like everything else in the film is wrapped up in a neat bow or anything...)

Anyway, thank you for coming to my TED Talk!
 
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AXX°N N.

Waiting Room
Apr 14, 2022
283
648
I've actually always been somewhat hot and cold on that scene. Something about it feels off in a way I can't pin down, and that makes me feel as if I need to watch it again...

I wonder how my understanding of the film would be different if I didn't have it to draw on. Unlike any other Lynch film with deleted footage, we had access to these scenes the very first time we had access to the film itself, unless we were lucky enough to see a theatrical screening.

Which means I can only be hypothetical when I say: I think much of IE's effectiveness has to do with our ability to share in Nikki's vertigo. I'm not sure where the scene would be placed, but I imagine it would be pretty early on and it would give us leverage over Nikki, because the scene is rather explicit and generous towards our ability to form an interpretation. If we're to look at IE as being structured with the intent for us to submerge along with Nikki, the Phantom should be as nebulous for us as it is for her; even when she overcomes him at the end, she never saw him pawning watches. I wonder what it is she can even glean from seeing her face on his face... whatever connections she makes in that moment, though, I think is supposed to also flummox the audience.

The way the Phantom skulks the margins is creepier to me than his watch scene; and it reminds of the way the Jumping Man haunts the corners of TP, most notably in S3. He emerges from where our protagonist just entered, an entrance fundamental to the plot's forward momentum then immediately met with a jarring, seemingly unrelated secret passage of this entity, never picked back up on, as if its primary dynamic is being furtive and perhaps catastrophically successful as such. Mrs. Tremond/Chalfont comes to mind too, and we could look at the even more elusive Judy as the most extreme example of the periphery presence. There's something about the feeling this gives in both IE and TP that make these characters the creepiest to me.
 
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Mr. Reindeer

White Lodge
Apr 13, 2022
775
1,740
While I like that scene a lot, I think at fifteen minutes long, it would grind the pacing of the film to a halt, in a movie that is already testing a lot of audience members’ patiences. And editing it down to a shorter length would remove some of its mesmerizing power. And in an odd way, I think that including it would simultaneously explain too much while also murkying understanding, if that makes sense. It clearly takes place in some sort of separate reality from anything else in the film (Lost Girl doesn’t speak Polish, etc.). And the idea of a mystical watch being responsible for the curse somewhat dilutes the film’s themes of infidelity/jealousy being the root. Not that both things can’t be simultaneously true, but as I said, it clouds things a bit.

One thing I’ve always wondered about the scene is, who is the guy sitting out by the pool? We see him at the beginning and the ending of the scene, and in a weird way I get the sense that he’s almost controlling events? It’s almost impossible to make out any detail, which makes him more unsettling. Actually, I’m not even sure it’s a man.

I’m not sure I’d put any scene back into the film, but perhaps the scene of Nikki on the hotel room floor. That’s a great scene. But I’m not sure where it would fit, as part of the power of the film is that we don’t return to Nikki’s world until the great pull-back on her death scene.
 
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Jordan Cole

White Lodge
Sep 22, 2022
733
1,145
And actually, the first couple times I watched the film I didn't even pick up on the Phantom as a single, continuous presence throughout its run-time. Maybe I'm just dumb, but that seems to be a not-uncommon reaction.

Yep yep yep...my reaction too. I think it took a second or third viewing, or possibly reading about the movie, to even know the Phantom is even a character at all. I totally missed him. Which is quite phantom-like...no?
 

Mr. Reindeer

White Lodge
Apr 13, 2022
775
1,740
I'm almost certain I didn't pick up on the Phantom in my first cold viewing, either, or at least didn't realize that all of his appearances were the same guy. I mean, obviously we all realized she confronts a guy in a hallway at the end, and I think I linked him back to Mr. Crimp the lightbulb guy, but the full significance of his character probably was lost on me initially. I think I also may have been confusing him and Smithy/Piotrek in some scenes, which in retrospect is embarrassing.

It's really a film you have to see more than once, more than twice, to even begin to "understand" it. That's understandably frustrating and off-putting for a lot of people, and probably explains why it's never found the audience of some of Lynch's other works. It's a commitment. If you love the film, it doesn't feel like a commitment, because you want to just keep going back to that world and discovering new things.
 
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AXX°N N.

Waiting Room
Apr 14, 2022
283
648
On my initial viewing I caught most of his appearances but I didn't really view him as a single person, I figured I was seeing different versions of the same guy given that everyone else is in fractured roles. When he shows up and is confronted in the hallway the way it's framed worked kind of as a reveal to me, that all along he was probably the most singular. And this is emphasized when you factor in More Things, because it establishes he's a visitor to every plane of reality we see.
 

tudwell

Sparkwood & 21
Apr 12, 2022
18
28
I've actually always been somewhat hot and cold on that scene. Something about it feels off in a way I can't pin down, and that makes me feel as if I need to watch it again...

I wonder how my understanding of the film would be different if I didn't have it to draw on. Unlike any other Lynch film with deleted footage, we had access to these scenes the very first time we had access to the film itself, unless we were lucky enough to see a theatrical screening.

Which means I can only be hypothetical when I say: I think much of IE's effectiveness has to do with our ability to share in Nikki's vertigo. I'm not sure where the scene would be placed, but I imagine it would be pretty early on and it would give us leverage over Nikki, because the scene is rather explicit and generous towards our ability to form an interpretation. If we're to look at IE as being structured with the intent for us to submerge along with Nikki, the Phantom should be as nebulous for us as it is for her; even when she overcomes him at the end, she never saw him pawning watches. I wonder what it is she can even glean from seeing her face on his face... whatever connections she makes in that moment, though, I think is supposed to also flummox the audience.

The way the Phantom skulks the margins is creepier to me than his watch scene; and it reminds of the way the Jumping Man haunts the corners of TP, most notably in S3. He emerges from where our protagonist just entered, an entrance fundamental to the plot's forward momentum then immediately met with a jarring, seemingly unrelated secret passage of this entity, never picked back up on, as if its primary dynamic is being furtive and perhaps catastrophically successful as such. Mrs. Tremond/Chalfont comes to mind too, and we could look at the even more elusive Judy as the most extreme example of the periphery presence. There's something about the feeling this gives in both IE and TP that make these characters the creepiest to me.
Fair points, all around. It would be a trade-off for sure. I do see the value in keeping the Phantom someone who merely lurks in the shadows.

And it's interesting: Thinking about it initially, I was kind of envisioning the scene somewhere toward the end of that crazy, fragmentary middle hour of the film, something that begins to put some of the puzzle pieces together before we transition to the final stretch in the streets of LA. But on the other hand, I agree with you that it would dilute the vertigo we share in with Nikki. Most – if not all – of what happens in the film after Nikki walks through that first Axxon N. door seems to be through her eyes. The first part of the film is more third-person – the opening Polish scenes and the Doris-in-the-police-station scene and some of the on-set stuff that doesn't involve Nikki seem to me to take place outside of what Nikki would be experiencing – but once we dive into Nikki's consciousness, it feel like that's all we see. When we see old Polish scenes, it's because that's what she's seeing when peering through that cigarette-burnt fabric, or whatever. But this watch-selling scene between the Phantom and the Lost Girl doesn't feel, for whatever reason, like a scene Nikki is or even should be privy to. It's back to the third-person mode, revealing something to the audience but not Nikki, which I guess would be a bit of a contrast with the rest of the second-two-thirds of the film.

I probably overstated things in the OP saying there weren't any truly convincing justifications for keeping the scene out. There are. But I still like how economically it ties so much of the rest of the film together (but always in a very loose, suggestive way, not at all didactic).
 

tudwell

Sparkwood & 21
Apr 12, 2022
18
28
While I like that scene a lot, I think at fifteen minutes long, it would grind the pacing of the film to a halt, in a movie that is already testing a lot of audience members’ patiences. And editing it down to a shorter length would remove some of its mesmerizing power. And in an odd way, I think that including it would simultaneously explain too much while also murkying understanding, if that makes sense. It clearly takes place in some sort of separate reality from anything else in the film (Lost Girl doesn’t speak Polish, etc.). And the idea of a mystical watch being responsible for the curse somewhat dilutes the film’s themes of infidelity/jealousy being the root. Not that both things can’t be simultaneously true, but as I said, it clouds things a bit.

One thing I’ve always wondered about the scene is, who is the guy sitting out by the pool? We see him at the beginning and the ending of the scene, and in a weird way I get the sense that he’s almost controlling events? It’s almost impossible to make out any detail, which makes him more unsettling. Actually, I’m not even sure it’s a man.

I’m not sure I’d put any scene back into the film, but perhaps the scene of Nikki on the hotel room floor. That’s a great scene. But I’m not sure where it would fit, as part of the power of the film is that we don’t return to Nikki’s world until the great pull-back on her death scene.
Good points here, also! It would kind of further muddy already pretty murky waters – though at the same time I think clarifies certain things. Again, all about trade-offs, I guess. And while the source of the curse being a mystical watch might not feel all that weighty, thematically, on the other hand in the film proper we're also presented with a cursed film script being the source of everything, which to me feels equally kitschy.

I will say the Nikki/Sue monologue scenes are slow as molasses, and there's a good bit of that in the main film, but also a) no single monologue is anywhere near as long as the watch-selling scene (even if it were to be cut down a tad) and b) Laura Dern is just a more magnetic screen presence (not a criticism of the other two actors; they're working outside their native tongue and I think were probably also directed by Lynch to be in that slightly-stilted mode he loves). The pacing could be tricky, but I could also see Lynch pulling it off, if he really wanted to.

Speaking of the monologues, while the one in the OP is surely my favorite scene from More Things That Happened, my favorite moment is probably "I like pancakes." What an insane thing to say at that moment! Hilarious, but grotesque. A perfect Lynchian stew of tonal ambiguities and imbalances.
 
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