David Lynch's body of work cannot be described in words — one can try, but it is difficult to do justice to art that primarily revolves around dream states, evolving identities, and doomed central characters. In 2006, Lynch released the deeply experimental, nightmarish "Inland Empire," which was the director's first foray into digital filmmaking, shot almost entirely on a Sony camcorder. This low-resolution, immersive cinematic experience is perhaps the most inaccessible among Lynch's oeuvre, as the film deals with complex themes about "a woman in trouble" and a mystery which no straightforward resolution. However, this is what makes "Inland Empire" such a unique film, thanks to an electrifying arresting performance by the lead, Laura Dern, who is the beating heart of this offering.
Laura Dern did not win an Oscar nomination for "Inland Empire," despite Lynch's best efforts to focus the spotlight on Dern's performance with the help of an unorthodox Oscar campaign. Taking a unique approach in a way that only Lynch can, the director sat next to a large poster of Dern's character in "Inland Empire," which the words, "For your consideration, Laura Dern" printed in bold letters. The poster was showcased on Hollywood Boulevard, with Lynch in attendance, along with a cow for some reason. Although fans were happy enough to meet Lynch and express their love for the surrealist film, the Oscar Campaign functioned more as a cultural landmark than an effective mechanism to appeal to the Academy.
On the occasion of Janus Films releasing a 4K restoration of "Inland Empire" this year, Lynch spoke to IndieWire about the visceral quality of Dern's performance, and how she should have won an Oscar for the same. And he is right.
'She Should Have Won An Award'
On the surface, "Inland Empire" follows fading Hollywood actor Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) who believes that her latest project can help her make a strong comeback in the industry. After a string of strange events occurs, Nikki finds it increasingly difficult to differentiate between her core self and the character she is set to play, which leads to mini-plots that all share a disturbing, surreal quality. The handheld camera used to shoot the film accentuates the amorphous, bonkers nature of the subject matter, allowing Dern to emote in unconventional ways during close-up shots. The results are haunting.
David Lynch told IndieWire about the aura of intimacy evoked by the Sony camcorder, and how Dern made this aspect work in her favor by belting out an authentic performance that was underappreciated:
"You want to create a situation where an actor or actress can get down in there and make it real from a very deep level, and talk to them while they're going and not have to stop…Shooting digital, you've got a chance of getting magic — you've got 40 minutes of tape and you can talk through it and try it again and again and get in there and it's amazing what can happen that couldn't happen in the old way. Laura, bless her heart, she should have won an award, but it was not meant to be."
There is something special about the way Dern engages with her surroundings in "Inland Empire," playing an actor consumed by a character in a seemingly-cursed movie project. Locations change and morph into spaces that are disorienting, and people merge into one another in sinister ways. Moreover, the digital camera aspect of the project grants it an eerie, unsettling found-footage-like quality. At the center of this enigma, lies Dern's Nikki.
Why Dern's Performance Deserves More Recognition
On a critical level, Laura Dern's performance in "Inland Empire" was unanimously praised, especially her ability to effortlessly embody the discomfort of one devolving into the chaos of a strange inner world. However, it was not enough to warrant an Oscar nomination. Although David Lynch has been nominated for some of his work, including "The Elephant Man" and "Mulholland Drive," along with his overarching contributions to cinema, "Inland Empire" is too ambitious, experimental, and free-flowing per Academy standards (which is not necessarily a good thing). Awards fanfare (or lack thereof) aside, Dern's performance in the film needs to be revisited for its sheer ingenuity, and this year's 4K restoration of Inland Empire" seems to be the perfect opportunity for the same.
Lynch also considers his collaboration with Janus Films a second chance for "Inland Empire," as the director stated that the re-release is akin to a "new life, chance" for this underrated gem. Lynch worked closely on the 4K remaster, supervising a more vibrant color palette and sound mix for the re-release, which makes the experience more visceral and immersive. These changes accentuate the themes running through the film, which include the cycles of violence that women undergo in male-dominated spaces, the disorientation that accompanies the world of showbiz, and how fractured identity can give way to strange revelations that follow no rhyme or reason.
Dern's performance, which was a standout even in the original theatrical version, shines brighter in the 4K version and is definitely worth checking out. If anything, you can always visit (or re-visit) scenes featuring unsettling anthropomorphic rabbits on a television show, a dancing monkey, and a lumberjack sawing wood as the film's credits roll.
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The post David Lynch Thinks Laura Dern's Inland Empire Performance Went Underappreciated appeared first on /Film.