INLAND EMPIRE The Atlantic: David Lynch’s Unfathomable Masterpiece

Cyril Pons

Jul 3, 2022

A digital reissue of Inland Empire reveals the charms of the director’s inscrutability.

One day, deep into production on David Lynch’s 2006 film, Inland Empire, a producer approached the actor Laura Dern in a panic, trying to parse a strange request from the director. “He took me aside and said, ‘Laura, David called me this morning, and I can’t figure out if it’s a joke,’” Dern, the movie’s lead, recalled in an interview. “‘He said, “Bring me a one-legged woman, a monkey, and a lumberjack by 3:15.”’ I said, ‘Yeah, you’re on a David Lynch movie, dude; just sit back and enjoy the ride.’”

By 4 o’clock, shooting had begun with the lumberjack, monkey, and one-legged woman all on set—they’re all prominently featured in the compellingly inscrutable final sequence of Inland Empire, which has been recently remastered and is now touring cinemas around the country. The anecdote is a testament to how classically “Lynchian” the film is, loaded with visual details that invite intense analysis but defy plot logic. But it’s also illustrative of the unique way Inland Empire was made, what sets it apart from the rest of Lynch’s oeuvre, and the unexpected strength of surreal storytelling. Unlike the rest of his movies, Inland Empire was created without a complete script. Instead, Lynch would write specific scenes as he went along, gather his actors for filming, and then repeat the process again over the course of about three years.

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