David Lynch and Laura Dern: Inland Empire

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By John Esther

"It's so beautiful when the lights go down, the curtains open, and we get to go into a different world."

By far his best film since Blue Velvet, writer-director David Lynch's Inland Empire will likely be the most radical film of 2006. Running 179 minutes with much rhyme and very little reason - in the positivist sense - Inland Empire debunks nearly every Hollywood trope imaginable.

The primary plot focuses on Nikki Grace (Laura Dern), a rich kept wife and actor who has just landed a role as Susan Blue in a new film. Her co-star, Devon Berk (Justin Theroux, who played the young film director in Lynch's Mulholland Drive), has a reputation for seducing his co-stars and that could be a problem. As Nikki becomes more and more like Susan, the multifaceted films-within-films refuse to offer any simplistic path to follow.

Co-starring Jeremy Irons as film director Kingsley Stewart, Harry Dean Stanton as his assistant, Naomi Watts as a surreal sitcom character, Diane Ladd as a talk show host, William Macy as an announcer and Julia Ormond as a murderous wife, this is a demanding yet rewarding film that has left many novice filmgoers nonplussed, if not downright angry.

Sitting at a table full of journalists, the usually quiet Lynch and the typically gregarious Dern talked about their film over a slice of banana crème pie.

Journalist: When did you first start writing the script?

David Lynch: I wrote a scene without Laura. But I didn't know it was going to be a big scene with Laura. And shot that as a stand-alone thing. I didn't know anything was going to happen. I kept looking at this scene thinking, "Wait a minute. There's something more. It's holding something." And then I'd get another idea and write that scene and go shoot that. And then I'd get another idea without Laura and I'd shoot that. I didn't know how one would relate to another - if it was going to hold together, or be anything. Then a thing happened five or six scenes down, where I see a story coming out that unites these scenes. Then it went faster. I'd write more and more and more and then we'd shoot more traditionally after that. But in the beginning, it was long time; wait, another scene; wait, another scene.

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