I can first remember watching Mulholland Drive (2001) when it came out and thinking ‘God, that was the worst Lynch film, or arthouse film, I’ve ever seen – he’s completely lost any interest in telling coherent story.’ But when I rewatched it, after realising that Lost Highway (1997) was kindof meant as a double entendre; one character having a past/duel experience of another life, ie a film/dream within a dream; an this allowed me to appreciate Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive a lot better.
For these, characters with unusual stories are often shown dreaming about other characters, and which Lynch exposes, in an Brechtian style, their emotions, fears and desires, and that somewhat represent an allegory for the dark side of American values and the glamorous, fairytale icons of classic Hollywood; which I think we can see subverted in Eraserhead (1977), Twin Peaks (1990), Blue Velvet (1986), Wild At Heart (1990), Lost Highway and Straight Story (1999).
However, Inland Empire seems different, and I remember watching an interview with Lynch describing how much cinematographers love 35mm film, but that he hated it and preferred DV simply because you could move faster and didn’t need to wait for lighting setups. The ugly degraded, Dogma-style of Inland Empire makes it look a lot cheaper and less beautiful than his previous films; despite where Lynch himself is a gifted photographer and painter, and that DV seems like stepdown for him.
Despite myself, and given the bizarre complexity of previous films Lost Highway and Mulholland, I found Inland Empire particularly hard to follow or make sense of. Although it does resemble the sudden shifts in tone and identity-switches of Mulholland, it felt like he was over doing it to the point that I couldn’t understand what was going on or who was meant to be who anymore.