Richard Martin, in tandem with Justus Nieland, gives Inland Empire (David Lynch, 2006) an excellent reading in the fifth chapter of The Architecture of David Lynch, rife with essential background information and illuminating synthesis. Among the key pieces of deep research Martin performs, a fascinating moment emerges where he brings in Hotel Savoy, a 1924 novel written by Joseph Roth that’s “clearly based on Łódź” (Martin 170), the Polish city wherein much of Inland Empire is set (?).
Łódź plays a key role in Inland Empire. The film that Kingsley Stewart (Jeremy Irons) directs, starring Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) and Devon Berk (Justin Theroux), entitled On High in Blue Tomorrows, is based on an unfinished Polish film entitled 47; Nikki’s neighbor, introduced in the film’s beginning, appears to be of Polish origin; the Lost Girl (Karolina Gruszka) is a Polish prostitute; many of the events transpiring around Nikki/Susan Blue (Laura Dern) are doubled in Łódź; and, amid the frenzy of spatial confusion Lynch depicts, Łódź and Los Angeles are constructed as physically connected spaces.
Martin introduces his breakdown of Łódź with a justification of its pairing with Los Angeles in Empire. Though it “might seem a perverse pairing,” Lynch has a vested interest in the Central European city, as he was “involved in Łódź’s regeneration plans,” and he feels “‘very much at home’ … in the ‘ecologically ruined Poland of industrial wasteland'” (Martin 168-169). Martin then seeks guidance from “prior representations of Łódź,” and introduces Hotel Savoy as a worthy contender in this category (Martin 170). Martin describes Savoy‘s Łódź as markedly Lynchian, a landscape so smolderingly industrial that “fantasmatic desires … arise from this grim urban environment” (Martin 170). “‘In this town,’ [Roth’s] protagonist states, ‘nothing is more needed than a cinema'” (170). Martin reframes this moment by clarifying that the “fraught juxtapositions of centripetal urbanism and the compressed leisure produced by industrial time-keeping require release in the form of the movie theater” (170).
This language of seeking release from harsh urban living brought me back to earlier moments in our curriculum, such as Lewis Mumford’s “Intolerable City” and Siegfried Kracauer’s “Cult of Distraction,” wherein cinema is cited as a tool to combat contemporary urban living. Though Mumford mentions cinema in passing as a dim, mass-produced amusement that relieves some of the stresses inherent to urban living (3), Kracauer advocates for a cinema that without disguise displays a world as fractured and as disintegrated as modern city life, edging the audience closer and closer to requisite revolution (95).
In much the same was that Kracauer sees his contemporary cinema as honing in on the essence of contemporary living, and revealing it fully to a receptive audience, I see Inland Empire as a work that weaves a tale so unabashedly digital, that it performs the same task Kracauer was calling for.
To bring in the work of Justus Nieland, in “Vital Media: Inland Empire” he argues for the film as promoting a “surrealist anthropology”of sorts, where the notion of “organic becoming in media” surfaces as a lamentation on the inhumanity of “human nature and human culture,” an “assemblage of codes, forces, and prosthetic accoutrement that are subject to infinitely plastic dynamism” (Nieland 154). Empire‘s vastly intricate spatial and temporal integration, and its meditation on cross-mediation, are today’s equivalent of Kracauer’s disintegration communicated through distraction.
Viewing Inland Empire is an experience of the essence of modern life, hyper connection across vast space and a simultaneity of events, that reminds and educates the viewer of their current lived experience. The films also advocates for a demystification of these connections on the part of the individual, as coded through moments such as Nikki burning a hole through silk and being able to peer into foreign spaces (while setting ablaze the set of Rabbits). It’s only after (?) making these connections that Nikki is able to set free the Lost Girl.
This is the equivalent, I argue, of Kracauer’s sought revolution. Lynch wants the spectator to recognize and appreciate the power and swath of modern connectivity, and use this hyperconnected world to benefit others.
Kracauer, Siegfried. “Cult of Distraction: On Berlin’s Picture Palaces.” The Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays. Trans. Thomas Y. Levin. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1995. 91-96. Print.
Martin, Richard. “Room: The Logic of Simultaneity.” The Architecture of David Lynch. New York: Bloomsbury, 2014. 163-88. Print.
Mumford, Lewis. “The Intolerable City: Must It Keep on Growing?” Harper’s(1926): n. pag. Print.
Nieland, Justus. “Vital Media: Inland Empire.” David Lynch. Urbana: U of Illinois, 2012. 134-54. Print
Separate from the analysis prompted and offered, did you derive pleasure from Inland Empire? How would you characterize your surface-level feelings of the film?
Do you find such a mode of filmmaking, intentional incomprehensibility, to be an effective from of communication? As a film student, do you feel it necessary that a film be able to communicate its message without required extra reading?
Nieland puts great emphasis on the film’s feminist ideology. Do you agree with his analysis? How do you read the gender politics of the film?