Follow TV Tropes


Film / Inland Empire

Go To
A woman in trouble...

AXXoN N., the longest running radio play in history. Tonight, continuing in the Baltic Region, a gray winter day in an old hotel...

In Poland, a prostitute and her customer (their faces blurred) talk in a hotel room. In the same room years later, a woman cries and watches a sitcom starring three rabbits. An actress in LA, Nikki Grace, gets a visit from her neighbor and the next day gets the part in a movie, On High In Blue Tomorrows, which turns out to be a remake of a Polish film based on a Polish folk tale 47 where the leads were murdered. Nine prostitutes lounge around a house. There's a murder, a mystery, and a woman in trouble.

Possibly David Lynch's most incomprehensible and terrifying film since Eraserhead. Its production was unusual: Lynch shot the film in bits and pieces, without a complete screenplay. He would simply hand the actors new pages each day. When asked what it was about, Lynch (who never explains his films) simply quoted from the Aitareya Upanishad: "We are like the spider. We weave our life and then move along in it. We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives in the dream. This is true for the entire universe."


The film provides examples of:

  • Arc Words: Several, including "the horse to the well" and "look at me and tell me if you've known me before". They can be hard to spot, though, since they're often mumbled or spoken in Polish.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: "Were you, in fact, seeing another man?" All the more effective given that it comes from The Quiet One.
  • Anachronic Order: The film isn't linear, and ends up seeming more like a fever dream than anything else because of it.
  • As You Know: During rehearsal, Devon's character Billy says this. He said some things last night. As you know. And he wants to apologize.
  • Ax-Crazy: Nikki's husband Nikki/Susan herself begins to show shades of this late in the film.
  • Bilingual Dialogue: Some dialogue is in Polish
  • Call-Back: A handful towards earlier Lynch works.
    • The ending has some towards Twin Peaks and Mulholland Dr.. (It supposedly shares a universe with both.)
    • Advertisement:
    • The conversation between the homeless black woman and the Asian girl is a reference to Lynch's short film Darkened Room.
    • The second twisted face that shows up in the climax is reminiscent of Henry's baby.
  • Chiaroscuro: Used very effectively.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: an example:
    Nikki: Are you enjoying yourself, Freddie?
    Freddie Howard: Well... There is a vast network, right? An ocean of possibilities. I like dogs. I used to raise rabbits. I've always loved animals. Their nature. How they think. I have seen dogs reason their way out of problems. Watched them think through the trickiest situations. Do you have a couple of bucks I could borrow? I've got this damn landlord.
  • Creator Cameo: The lighting technician Kingsly was yelling at is the voice of David Lynch.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Many interpretations of the film indicate that the creepy rabbit people and the strange women that appears at the beginning of the film are actually trying to help the Lost Girl... But being a film of David Lynch, you never know.
  • Dream Sequence: It's possible that nearly the entire damn thing is inside Nikki's (or Sue's) head.
    • David Lynch wrote it as he went, without knowing where he was going with it to see what would happen. As in, he pretty much let his subconscious direct a movie. Naturally, the result is probably the closest a movie will ever come to emulating a dream.
  • Drone of Dread: A majority of the movie's score, with the exception of some weird choices, and in one case a Scare Chord manages to hang around through half of Beck's Black Tambourine.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: The ballerina dancer seen at the end shows up again in Lynch's short film Absurda, and the lone shot from that movie looks remarkably similar to one used near the end of this one.
  • Le Film Artistique.
  • Film Noir: parts of the film mimic the genre, especially scenes of a private investigator.
  • Gainax Ending: The Other Wiki's description of the ending: "The concluding scene of the film takes place in Nikki's house, where she sits with many other people, among them Laura Elena Harring, Nastassja Kinski and Ben Harper. A one-legged woman who was mentioned in Sue's monologue looks around and says, 'Sweet!' Niko, the Japanese girl with a blonde wig and a monkey, is also present. The end credits roll over a group of women dancing and lip-synching to Nina Simone's 'Sinnerman' while a lumberjack saws a log to the beat." So... yeah.
    • This trope is debatable though, if only because the rest of the movie is no less strange.
  • Greek Chorus: The troupe of prostitutes that show up throughout the film, some of whom give (cryptic) comments related to Nikki's predicament.
  • Hair-Raising Hare: the Show Within a Show Rabbits.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: A very strange example, considering that it's practically impossible to tell which of those characters are real and which are not, and several actors play visually identical, yet separate characters.
  • Lost in Character: Happens to Nikki on several occasions, it's hard to tell which scenes are real and which are parts of the film within a film.
  • Magic Realism
  • Manly Tears: The wealthy Polish character played by the same actor as The Phantom has these in one scene. It's implied that he's just killed his wife's lover (Nikki and Sue's husbands in the American segments).
  • Mind Screw: And HOW! It's above and beyond Eraserhead.
  • Mockstery Tale: In the beginning, it has elements of the detective/mystery genre (including a number of murders and several noir-style scenes), but it quickly turns into pure Mind Screw. A popular interpretation is that beneath it all there is actually a psychological drama story.
  • Mystical Hollywood: The plot revolves around a cursed Hollywood movie and the surreal events surrounding it.
  • Nightmare Face: The Phantom makes a face only a mother could love in the climax, straight from the bowels of the Uncanny Valley.(Immediately followed by another one that looks like a fetus bleeding from the mouth.) The rest of the film does this to several characters with lighting tricks.
  • No Plot? No Problem!: This movie was produced without a script. Very frequently Lynch would just show up on the set and gave people their lines, clearly having written them no more than a few hours before. When people would ask him what the film was supposed to be about he would respond with a cryptic poem. The general consensus is that there is no plot.
    • Though there isn't a coherent script, whether there isn't a plot is questionable and not as relevant as one would expect. It's inarguable that there's several recurring motifs and characters, though. See Writing by the Seat of Your Pants.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: This film will give you nightmares just from buildup alone. You see it's runtime? About two-thirds of that is soul-crushing buildup and atmosphere.
    Nikki: Damn! This sounds like dialogue from our script!
  • Precision F-Strike: BRUTAL FAUGHKING MURDER!
  • Proscenium Reveal: The cry of "That's a wrap!" and the applause after Laura Dern's "death scene".
  • Self-Parody: Many have suggested that this film has elements of Self-Parody to it. Given that the film is completely messed up it would be hard to separate parodying elements from others, but some moments do seem ridiculously Lynchian, such as the Locomotion scene. This of course doesn't diminish the film from being terrifying beyond all reason.
    • The Barbecue scene... just... what?
    • The Phantom standing around with a lightbulb in his mouth. Nikki walks up to him, gets scared, grabs a screwdriver, and runs away.
  • Shout-Out: To Sunset Boulevard, one of Lynch's favorite films.
  • Show Within a Show: The three rabbits sitcom Susan's story is zig zagged like a motherfucker.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Mulholland Dr., and Eraserhead
  • Sudden Musical Ending: Of all the films to have one.
  • Surreal Horror: Emphasis on the surreal. And the horror.
  • Surreal Humor: See Self-Parody.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: In one scene, a pair of homeless women discuss taking a bus to Pomona while Nikki lies bleeding to death in the street next to them.
  • The Quiet One: The bespectacled interviewer, who spends most of his scenes mutely staring at Nikki/Sue. He speaks only twice during the entire film.
  • Wham Line:
    Neighbor: Is there a... murder... in your film?
    Nikki: Um, no, that's not part of the story.
    Neighbor: I think you are wrong about that.
    Nikki: Sorry?
  • World of Symbolism: Possibly David Lynch's favorite setting.


Example of: