A Woman in Trouble, Her Double by Dylan Brennan
(OR: NOTES ON INLAND EMPIRE, TEN YEARS ON)
—Is there a murder in your film? —Ah, no. That’s not part of the story. —No. I think you are wrong about that. —No. —Brutal fucking murder! […] I can’t seem to remember if it’s today, two days from now, or yesterday. I suppose if it was 9.45, I’d think it was after midnight.
A film like the Bible, riddled with fulfilled prophecies. Axxon N plays on a scratchy gramophone, the longest running radio play in history, broadcasting in the Baltic Region. The name later is seen scratched on the door of an alley. Behind a marketplace? When Nikki’s unsettling visitor asks if her new movie deals with marriage and ‘brutal fucking murder’, Nikki replies that it doesn’t. It does. Maybe. 9.45 or after midnight? Both. In one of the films within films (or maybe it’s that radio play, scratching can be heard) that seem to revolve around the lives of Polish prostitutes in the early twentieth century a man is asked the time. He replies that the time is 9.45. When the latter-day Polish mobsters in a newer film appear to plot some nefarious deed, the time is after midnight. Freddy, the director’s assistant, tells the stars of On High in Blue Tomorrows, Nikki and Devon, that he is good with animals. Dogs, rabbits. Nikki’s character’s name is Sue. Sue’s husband is good with animals and an asset to the circus. As she lies dying on the street, (it’s after midnight) her Japanese interlocutor mentions how ‘there are those who are good with animals, who have a way with animals’. On High in Blue Tomorrows is, in fact, a remake of a film named 47, inspired by a Polish gypsy folk tale. The room in which the humanoid rabbits reside is no. 47. Rabbits. Talking rabbits. They mention a man in a green suit. When Nikki seems to slip through a wormhole, no, a rabbit-hole, into a complex warren-matrix of curved space and time, a man in a green suit seems to orchestrate her passage. It’s Piotrek. It’s not Piotrek. It’s Nikki’s husband, it’s not. It’s Sue’s husband. It’s. The strange visitor to Nikki’s home lays out the threads, and they are picked up and tangled throughout the narrative. A logic is at work. The logic of the dream. Logic of a nightmare.
Hmmm. A little boy went out to play. When he opened his door, he saw the world. As he passed through the doorway, he caused a reflection. Evil was born. Evil was born and followed the boy.
Hollywood, California, where stars make dreams and dreams make stars!!
Born of his reflection. A hologram. A replica. A simulacrum. Jean Baudrillard, with reference to the original iconoclasts that advocated the destruction of religious imagery, claims that ‘their metaphysical despair came from the idea that the image didn´t conceal anything at all, and that these images were in essence not images, such as an original model would have them, but perfect simulacra forever radiant with their own fascination’. Before, after and during the fall—David Lynch loves Hollywood. He loves its former glory and he loves its current decadence, the fascination, the radiance. He tells us so much: ‘I love Hollywood. I love The Golden Age of Hollywood, the magic, just this beautiful thing. I even like the way it fell, in a strange way…’ The beautiful, the magic, the unreal, the fake. In Inland Empire, just like his previous film Mulholland Drive, there is a scene involving a read-through between actors. Naomi Watts’s character, in the former film, moves from shy ingénue to confident, panting seductress within a matter of seconds. Nikki and Devon, in Inland Empire, pivot from discussing cappuccinos to the climax of a domestic breakdown, tears and all, real tears. In contrast, the cappuccino conversation seems tense, rigid and overacted. The ease with which the actors move from engaging in trivial banter to plunging the depths of the human condition is astounding. More so when we take a step back to remember that the casual small talk was also faked, as the characters are, after all, acting in the film we are watching. Layers of reality. Layers of simulation. Yes the radiance, yes the fascination but also, the metaphysical despair. Show business is seductive, sparkling and hollow. When it replaces reality, it perturbs. Hollywood, like the suburbs, colourful, nurturing and enticing on the surface. Severed ears, rotten flesh, worms, insects, murdered women…Just like the suburbs, it’s rotten to the core.
An old tale, and a variation. A little girl went out to play. Lost in the marketplace, as if half-born. Then, not through the marketplace—you see that, don’t you?—but through the alley behind the marketplace.
—What? —Did you understand what I said? —I don’t understand. —Hmm, you don’t speak Polish. —No. —Half of it… —I think she understands more than she lets on…
All the transformation and role-playing, the topsy-turvy elation of the carnival, it’s magic. But what happens when the fake is passed off as the real, well then ‘actions do have consequences’. Despite hotshot lead actor Devon Berg being warned off entering into any illicit relations with his co-star Nikki (because of her dangerous husband Piotrek and his criminal connections), they end up in bed together. During sex, (with Nikki’s husband watching on unbeknownst to the others) Nikki explains: ‘Devon, it’s me, Nikki! Look at me you fucker!!’ Already the cursed movie seems to be working it’s own dark brand of sinister magic. Confused as to her own identity Nikki feels compelled to affirm her existence in the real world. At other times Nikki and Devon (as Sue and Billy) talk of marital infidelity. They embrace, they kiss, they breathe heavily. It seems real. It is real. Cut! It’s spectacle, just a movie. At one point, Nikki/Sue, expressing concern that their affair has been twigged, exclaims: ‘Dammit! Sounds like a line from our script’. Cut! The director calls a halt to proceedings and Nikki seems astonished to see the camera filming her. She has gone off-script. She is lost in the role. To paraphrase Baudrillard, she is no longer the reflection of a profound reality. Rather, she seems well on the way to bearing little relation to reality whatsoever. She’s her own hologram. This is bad. The original read-through was interrupted by Freddy. He sees someone, hears someone. Devon goes to check, finds nothing. Later on, an alley, a marketplace, a darkness, Nikki finds herself interrupting the same scene. Gazing upon herself. Is she Sue, is she Nikki? Like the tale her neighbour told her. Like the old Polish couple mentioned. Half-born, half-formed. A fake thing. Neither here nor there. A hellish existence of existential bewilderment. A woman in trouble.
Bucky!! Bucky move, lower it two foot…Bucky!!!
He’s driving director Kingsley Stewart up the wall. A knowing smile from Jeremy Irons, playing Kingsley. Bucky might be a props guy. He is definitely David Lynch, the voice is unmistakable. Lynch is aware of his own role. In a short, behind the scenes video, available on YouTube we get to see him at work. Shouting orders to a props guy down a walkie-talkie, he seems frustrated. He turns to the camera and loudly ponders ‘what a heavy load Einstein must’ve had. Fucking morons everywhere!!’ Then comes the smile, the laugh. He fooled us. Just like Bucky and Kingsley, you see that, don’t you? He’s just playing a role. The David Lynch role. The khakis, the hair, the Lynchian whimsy. Someone asks him if he’s all set now. Of course not. He closes his eyes, a vision, a scene:
I want a one-legged 16 year-old girl. I want a Japanese girl, who’s Jap…Eurasian, I want a Eurasian, like 23, that’s beautiful. I, and, but, eh, we’ll knock her down a little bit. I want a pet monkey, a spider monkey. Pet!
They all end up in the final scene. With a lumberjack. Lynch the cook, Lynch the visionary, Lynch the grouch, Lynch the props guy, Lynch the angry director. Playing the role. Playing us. Talking rabbits, taking us for a ride. In order to promote Inland Empire in the weeks leading up to the Oscar nominations, instead of taking out the very expensive advertisements in the trade papers, he appeared in various locations around Hollywood with a cow. He wanted that nomination for his leading lady. Nikki/Sue—Laura Dern. She wasn’t nominated by the academy. Didn’t get the nod. What happened to the cow?
***END OF INTERLUDE***
When a novel has a plot, it doesn’t matter if the reader goes to chapter eight, then ducks back to chapter five, and then goes forward again. Finally, the ultimate apparition, the ultimate dream of the novel, is a continuous one.—(James Gardner in conversation with William H. Gass).
Lynch made Inland Empire ten years ago, winging it, on the fly. It’s a dream. It’s a novel. A radio play, on a gramophone. A Russian-doll set of films. It teases you, pokes you, seduces you, unnerves you, infuriates you. I want you to watch it. You will not forget it. Not even ten years from now. It follows its dream logic and unravels upon interrogation. It’s a masterpiece, if you like. So, what’s it all about? If you can explain what a poem means in any form other than the poem itself, well, don’t write the poem. Don’t tell anyone your dreams. Create them. But still, what’s it all about?
Fold the silk over, look through the hole.
Rabbit: It was the man in the green suit. It had something to do with the telling of time.
Yes, it does. It does have something to do with the telling of time. With the folding of space. With notions of passageways, portals, Alice in Wonderland, Nikki in Nightmareland. Something to do with repetition, with cyclical history. Something to do with prophecy and fulfilment. Something to do with art imitating life, with life imitating art. Something to do with revenge. With mangling the scrotum of a would-be rapist. With a phantom who makes his subjects do his bidding. With blood. With a jammed screwdriver in the side of two bodies. With pregnancy, women in trouble. Women who suffer at the hands of men. Violence, physical, sexual. With people who have a way with animals. With prostitutes, locked up and dancing to the Locomotion, slapped in the face, their friends murdered, freezing in the streets of Łódź, the streets of L.A. Something to do with a blonde wig, a spider monkey, a tear in the vaginal wall. Nothing to do with a lumberjack. Something to do with silk, a hole burned by a cigarette. With looking, gazing, being gazed upon. With darkness. With Blue Tomorrows. With a lit lighter held up to a dying woman. Lux aeterna. With heaven. Afterlife. This life. No life. Half-life. Half-born…
She expires on the side of the road. No more Blue Tomorrows. She’s dead. The blood. Silence. Cut!
—Nikki. You. Were. Wonderful!!
So were you Laura, and you deserved an Oscar.
—I guess after my son died, I went into a bad time. When I was watching everything go around me, while I was standing in the middle. Watching it, like in a dark theatre, before they bring the lights up.
I sing this poem to you, to you. Is this mystery unfolding as a wind floating? Something is coming true, the dream of an innocent child.
Something is happening, something is happening...
There’s a scene at the end of Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry when the fictional characters created by the writer protagonist gather round him in his apartment and applaud him. At his lowest point, his creations return to thank him for their existence. This brings him some solace. Something similar seems to occur in the closing scenes of Inland Empire. There was another woman in trouble. Right from the start. A Polish prostitute is brought to a hotel room and, after a man demeans her verbally before fucking her, she is left stranded in the room, watching the television. The events that unfold throughout Lynch’s film, appear on her screen. She sees Sue and Nikki and even further back in time to the early twentieth century scenes filmed in a rose-tint of streetlamps on the streets of Łódź. After Nikki arises from her final scene she wanders off in a daze. She finds herself in a cinema watching scenes from the film she just shot. She sees herself appear in the prostitute’s room and embrace her, kiss her. Then she looks on as the woman runs to greet a man and boy who have arrived through a door. Through a portal. The man looks just like Nikki’s husband, Sue’s husband, but must not be either. The scene plays out to the painful beauty of Chrysta Bell’s ‘Polish Poem’. A woman held captive reunited with her child, just like in Blue Velvet. In Lost Highway, a man cannot cope with the knowledge that he has killed his wife and wills himself to morph into another character, into another life, where he’ll try to do better. Mulholland Drive hints at this kind of wish-fulfilment through the medium of dreams as the desperate Diane attains the love of her life in a dreamland, where she re-invents herself as Betty, an innocent young actress. By entering into the realm of the unreal, Lynch’s characters seem to obtain that which is most dear to them. Hollywood is magic. Hollywood is fake. The characters of the cursed film 47, like Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author must have been left in existential limbo by the fact the film was never finished. Yearning for closure. By finally completing the film, Nikki seems to have lifted the curse. A family is made whole again. Applause is heard. The applause is for Nikki. You. Were. Wonderful! The camera moves to the face of the old Polish neighbour, the mysterious visitor that seemed to know all. Her wry smile of satisfaction suggests that something has happened, something she instigated has come to fruition. Then the one-legged girl, the lumberjack, the spider monkey, the woman with the blonde wig, and Laura Harring (from Mulholland Drive, from Rabbits) blows Nikki a kiss. Fictional characters come to celebrate with her. Sinner Man. Nina Simone. A job well done. Maybe Hollywood and its simulations are not so bad after all. Dancing. Just the women. No trouble. Nikki. She. Was. Wonderful.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dylan Brennan is originally from Dublin and currently based in Mexico, and writes poetry and prose. His debut poetry collection, Blood Oranges, for which he received the runner-up prize in the Patrick Kavanagh Award, is available from The Dreadful Press. Atoll, an e-chapbook is available for free from Smithereens Press. In 2016, he co-edited Rethinking Juan Rulfo’s Creative World: Prose, Photography, Film for Legenda Books. Three poems of Dylan’s were published in gorse no. 2, and his essay, ‘Guadalupe,’ was published in gorse no. 6.
[Image: ‘Black Hole Sun’ by Jonathan Brennan]