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Sunday, February 04, 2007

David Lynch: Inland Empire and Eraserhead

One aspect of David Lynch’s uniqueness is that his “bad” films are often nearly as fascinating as his “good” ones, and his “good” ones are as likely to be perplexing and unsatisfying as his “bad” ones. The “good” group is generally thought to be led by Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive, and the “bad” by Dune and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. All are worth seeing, but I won’t try to predict how any individual will react to them, except that you're not likely to be indifferent.

Recently I caught Lynch’s newest, the three-hour hallucination Inland Empire, and his first feature, Eraserhead, a 90-minute hallucination from 1977. The new film has its moments, but also its irritations, and it goes on endlessly. Eraserhead, in contrast, is all of a piece, and probably Lynch’s most beautifully realized and thoroughly satisfying movie.

It’s probably pointless to describe the surrealist sights and sounds in a Lynch film. They should be experienced by any literate movie-lover. I will note that Inland Empire is best when it is most “conventional,” when it seems to be about Laura Dern and Justin Theroux acting in a movie directed by Jeremy Irons. That “plot” gets dropped about halfway through, then resurfaces at the end. There is also a wonderful recurring sequence involving big humanoid bunnies in a Beckettesque sitcom (as I say, it’s better experienced than described). Eraserhead too moves past the initial quasi-plot into a dream state. But it never lost me, the way Empire, and earlier, Mulholland Drive, did. The Museum of Modern Art’s newly restored print of Eraserhead is a beauty.

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