In 2006 David Lynch released, if he sticks to his word, his final film. It was Inland Empire, the most elusive, scattershot, and bizarre of any of his works. Without a great deal of effort on the viewer’s part, the film registers as a largely plotless collection of disturbing and surreal moments, only connected by star Laura Dern’s worrisome presence in nearly every scene.
Lynch has offered little in the way of clues, even less so than with Mulholland Drive, and while most devotees do arrive to their own conclusions as to what the bigger picture of Inland Empire is, the director probably said it best: “It’s about a woman in trouble”.
This network of interconnected ideas is the most blatant reflection of how David Lynch sets about making films yet. He’ll spend time in thought, often meditating, and waiting for what he calls “the big fish”. The big fish is an idea that excites him, and which, most crucially, can be used as bait for further inspiration, an idea that prods his imagination into fleshing it out, or connecting it to another idea he has had on the basis of their subconscious similarity. Per Mr. Lynch’s calculations, once you’ve mapped out about 70 of these ideas for scenes or set pieces, moments or images, you’ve got a movie. All that remains is to find the connective tissue that binds all these concepts together. What is it that has driven these thoughts to you, what unconscious force or uniting principle is occupying you, and spitting out these images?
It is no secret that for much of the filming of Inland Empire, David Lynch did not know what that uniting principle was. A famous behind-the-scenes moment captured Lynch in a car on location musing aloud, seemingly to himself despite the coworker sitting beside him, “I’m so depressed- I don’t know what I’m doing. I haven’t got a clue”. Well, he did get over this, as he always does, and eventually realized what Inland Empire was really about. There are plenty of thoughts on what this could be, but that’s a topic for another day. A similar eureka moment struck him whilst making Eraserhead; he read a single sentence in the Bible, and realized that this was the key that binds the disparate elements of the film together.
And yet, though Inland Empire is one of his least cohesive films, it is one of his most compelling. The strongest talent Lynch has as a writer then, is not in gluing his dreams together (he often goes out of his way to avoid having the story contextualize what audiences are experiencing, leaving them to draw personal conclusions). It is rather in his eye for these ideas, his ability to spot and consolidate on film, transcendental qualities behind an idea. In this way, a strange special feature on Inland Empire’s Blu-ray stands as an excellent example of his modus operandi: David Lynch on Cooking Quinoa.
David gives us the rundown on how he cooks his quinoa, and then whilst he lets it simmer, regales us with a story. Notice how, as he describes the occurrence, he imbues the event with a profound aura he perceived in it. The specificity of his storytelling is cinematic. David Lynch’s most unique gift is his perspective.