Inland Empire itself is Lynch's most experimental feature-length movie. A beautiful woman (Laura Dern) is seen leading two strikingly different, and slowly overlapping lives -- in this case as an actress named Nikki whose life and film role become confused. Girls kiss each other. Loud rock 'n' roll plays at moments of tension. Characters gush fluids from their mouths. Dreamlike angels appear. Foreign languages are spoken.
All of this is standard fare for Lynch, but it's Inland Empire's style that makes it daring. Lynch has switched to digital video -- sometimes blatantly pixilated -- and a jerky handheld camera. His passion for the jittery and unfocused reaches a maniacal pitch that is at times mesmerizing and often exhausting. For three hours, he pushes the camera under the actors' faces in bad lighting, and uses digital processes to amp up his beloved contrast in both audio and visual volume.
Lynch is as established as an avant-gardist can be, so it's exciting to see him willing to mix things up. Unfortunately, the new style doesn't come with much new storytelling, and much of Inland Empire feels like a primal scream version of Mulholland Drive. There's also a notable absence of organic textures and effects, as though Lynch decided to focus on dialogue and photography after the soap-opera abstractions of Twin Peaks turned out so well. And Inland Empire also omits my favorite Lynchian trope: food fetish. From the chickens in Eraserhead to the wieners in The Straight Story, Lynch has loved food, especially coffee. That's why "Quinoa" is my favorite part of Inland Empire. It's an absurdist cooking show hosted by David Lynch -- a behind-the-scenes look at how he puts things together. Brilliant.