Holy guacamole... I'd been going over Inland Empire in my head for a while now and right now the hairs on the back of my neck have stood up, because a theory has popped into my mind that potentially explains everything
... I mean, I need to watch it again now but going through it in my memory I can't find a single scene which doesn't make sense with this theory, including in More Things That Happened... I'm not going to claim I have the solution or anything, but this is the most solid one I can put to it yet and if it's anywhere near true, David Lynch has made one hell of a dark movie right here...
So I was looking through some other people's explanations of things, reading people's theories on what AXXoN N could mean, and JB's Halfborn analysis (this one helped me a lot, JB!) and... God, I MAY be onto something here... I'd love to hear your opinions on this...
So I'm going to go ahead and try and explain this conclusion I may have come to and the elements that lead me to it.
The most popular interpretation of AXXoN N seems to be that it's supposed to mean "axon" - the connector of synapses and nerve cells. If AXXoN N acts as a doorway or portal, or a 'connector' between the different realities in the film, and it means "axon", then perhaps this is a strong clue towards the film being very psychological/mental, and less spiritual.
Like other people I've also applied logic from Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive (since I believe these two have been "solved" for the most part) and the "tropes" included inside of them... I used to see Inland Empire as quite a spiritual movie with the rabbits and the phantom, but I always felt it seemed a bit strange that Lynch would follow a first person film about a psychogenic fugue and a similarly first person film about a person's dream/fantasy with something spiritual. Both Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive are about people who have gotten lost in another reality they have created for themselves, but both are told from the PoV of this character, invoking the "unreliable narrator" trick. This also dates back to Lynch's first movie, Eraser head, so this is obviously a style of storytelling he holds dear.
I'm sure nobody's going to contest that Inland Empire goes down the unreliable narrator route; I doubt anybody out there thinks that every single thing Nikki/Sue sees is physical or chronological, but a lot of us have been looking at the Nikki/Sue connection as something more akin to Lynch's previous masterpieces whilst looking at the rabbits and the phantom as something more spiritual. I'm actually not so sure about that part anymore...
Lynch also has repeatedly said that with Inland Empire he shot lots of "ideas" as they came to him, including bringing in ideas from his web series' and his cancelled web series AXXON N, but then at some point during development, he worked out how they all connect, so now it's up to us to try and see the connection he did and work out what the true meaning behind the film is.
The most interesting thing about Inland Empire, in my opinion, is the way that even though it hits a point where nothing makes any sense anymore, you still care enough to see if Nikki/Sue makes it out of it all alive. When she is vomiting blood, you feel her pain, when she's scared and alone, you worry for her, and you want to see her come out of this safely. When she meets the phantom outside room 47 it feels like a "final encounter" and when she meets the Lost Girl it feels rewarding, it's as if we're all seeing the story subconsciously the same way Lynch did, but we're not able to rationalise it.
Notice the theme here? Subconscious.
Here's the part which suddenly brought everything together for me - If Lost Girl and Sue/Nikki are "soul mates" or "reincarnations", why do Piotrek, Krimp and Donna appear in all of the timelines as different people, and why do some things which are supposedly flashbacks to Lost Girl's life, seem to get so muddled up with Sue's, and even Nikki's? In More Things That Happened, why do some characters seem to just change completely, to the point where one character who is seen to be Polish through most of the film, claims she doesn't even speak Polish, why do some people remember things happening to others in the future, why, even after we believed things to be resolved, do doorways still lead to completely different places, which should be miles apart, and why, oh why, does the whole thing end up in a room full of characters believed to have no connection with one another, all having a party in Nikki's mansion? It's as if a whole bunch of different characters' stories are getting muddled up with each other, and merging at the end.
Let me quickly refer to Eraserhead, Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive again, and the way they're presented - In each case, what the character believes to be happening, is played on screen as if it truly is. So when Fred has created a whole new existence and world for himself in Lost Highway, the movie takes places within that world until things fall apart again - the movie is what Fred himself would have been experiencing. Similarly, the weird stuff that goes on in Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive is all seen through the character's PoV as well. I also think back to a great episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
, where for one episode it's implied that the entire vampire slaying story and all of the characters are all in Buffy's imagination, and that she's been in an asylum the entire time, with the supposedly canonical side of the story saying that this itself was an illusion caused by a demon, but the episode never quite explaining if the demon was faking it, or if she genuinely has imagined the whole thing and will continue to forever (holy crap, it's pretty stunning TV, please go and check out that episode if you haven't seen it), and a fun psychological slasher film from a while back, called Identity
, in which [SPOILERS] all of the characters being killed off turn out to be the multiple personalities of one man, and the murders are the result of a psychology session, in which his psychiatrist is having him mentally 'kill off' each one of his multiple personalities [END SPOILERS]. Finally, I wanted to mention the fantastic psychological horror game for the Nintendo Wii, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
, in which [SPOILERS] the protagonist is revealed to have died 18 years ago, and that you had been playing as a delusion in the mind of his daughter, who just can't let go of him, whilst the world you see turns to ice as the young girl tries to "freeze" her delusion in place[END SPOILERS].
In all of those examples, it's approached as if the person living a fantasy or alternate personalities, sees an entire living breathing world in front of his or her eyes which is thoroughly convincing, and the movie/game/show is "set" in that world until either a psychologist starts to break it down, or the delusion can no longer sustain itself.
Alright, I'll get to the point now. I believe that Inland Empire may be about a mentally ill woman with a whole bunch of different realities and personalities in her mind
, as does occur in real psychiatric cases, and that almost nothing in the movie is physically real, though events in reality are affecting the things occurring in the film.
Let's call her Laura Dern for now...
Nikki the actress? Laura Dern.
Sue? Laura Dern.
The Lost Girl? Laura Dern.
The Rabbits? Laura Dern. At least one of them is.
The Prostitutes? Laura Dern.
The Phantom? Probably Laura Dern.
The murders may have occurred for real, notice how she is given several counselling sessions in a small, dank room. Prison cell? Psychiatric ward? (She DOES have a stamp on her hand...) She confesses several violent crimes to him in a foul-mouthed manner, without really showing much remorse or intent to keep secrets, a way a prisoner would, right? At first I thought Jack Rabbit was the counsellor, but it's clear that Jack Rabbit sits down in Laura Dern's place, on her side of the table.
Laura Dern's character has several personalities inside of her mind, each in their own world... A list of some of them:
- A woman living in Poland (who is sometimes Polish), who can't stop staring at a TV (notice how she's in a room which she doesn't seem to be allowed out of...)
- A rabbit (or three rabbits) who live in a situation comedy
- Susan, an ageing southern beauty and adulteress
- Nikki, a successful actress who is coming towards retirement
There are more amongst the movie, I think several are also split into different versions of themselves too.
My girlfriend, who has been in mental health (for something very minor, but she met people who were full blown Schizophrenic) once told me that a person with Schizophrenia (not split personality disorder, though that can be a part of Schizophrenia) will turn the people around them into 'characters' in their fantasy/fantasies. One person might be "the mail man", one might be "my daughter" etc., even though they're just neighbours of theirs, counsellors, or people in the psychiatric home with them. For me, this explains why Piotrek, Krimp and Doris all appear to play different characters in different places and times.
In fact, based on how protective and controlling he is, and how he seems to just be "watching" all of the time, I wonder if Piotrek is Laura Dern's character's psychologist.
So, that gives an explanation to the worlds and characters and their connection, but what's happening? Well, something is happening, I believe it to be her going through therapy, hence the scenes where she talks about her past to a counsellor of some sort, and how they seem to outright interrupt the movie in random places, which is causing her realities to start breaking down, getting confused with each other, merging. Nikki starts to make a movie about Sue, Sue starts to see the prostitutes and finds herself in Poland, the Lost Girl starts seeing Nikki's movie on TV, each girl starts to 'become' the others, each starts to show up in the others' worlds. Oh look! The thing that connects each world is an AXON! ...Is it spelled AXXoN-N because it's broken and jumbled?
The Phantom is her most dangerous personality. He's the murderous one, who 'hypnotises' other women (her other personalities) into committing murders (I'm not sure if the story of the adultery and following murder is something which truly happened and is in her memory or if it's another construct, but I think it'd be safe to assume she's guilty of murder). He's the most important one to be gotten rid of, to prevent any more "BRUTAL FUCKING MURDERS".
The rabbits stand in a room and talk incoherently about something bad that happened... A murder of some sort... A man in a green coat... I'm going to find out one day. When will you tell it?
So what happens? Well, when Nikki's movie is made, some personalities are removed/resolved. Sue is killed in Nikki's movie. Stabbed and left to bleed to death. Nikki "wraps" and finishes her movie. Laura Dern's character (notice the "LB" stamp has returned, the only other time it's seen is during her counselling sessions...) confronts and kills off the Phantom, who doesn't go down easily (notice how dark, deep and winding the rooms and corridors are on the way to him, as if he's deep in her mind, and yet Smithy's house is right through the doorway behind him), but with a bright, blinding light, he is defeated, and as he goes down, he shows her a contorted version of her own face ("I AM YOU!!! THIS IS ALL YOU!!!"). She enters the sitcom to find the rabbits gone, and an empty auditorium (the sitcom has come to an end), she comforts the Lost Girl, sending her to her estranged family (oh look, one is Piotrek again), and as she stares into a light, her remaining personalities and constructs all come together in one room, free from the Phantom, and party. Is this all a therapy session? Has her psychologist(s) gotten her to destroy the destructive part of her, the Phantom ("It shouldn't be much longer now", he says), and to take out some of the other roadblocks in the process? Was the Lost Girl a more innocent part of herself which was locked away in a hotel room?
I'll have to give this one and MTTH a good, thorough rewatch, but at this moment in time I can't think of anything in the movie which doesn't actually work with this idea.
Finally, Lynch has explained in several movies that the name, INLAND EMPIRE, refers to the internal mind (Inland = Internal) as well as the place. If somebody has the link to one of the interviews in which he mentions this so I can cite it I'd be grateful. He also repeatedly says it's about "a woman in trouble". Not "women in trouble", "a woman".
If anybody is impressed with this (and doesn't think it's ridiculous), I'd like to invite you guys to watch the movie (and More Things That Happened) again with this interpretation in mind, and see if we can find any more evidence for it, or contradictions. It could be fun.empire (ˈɛmpaɪə)
1. an aggregate of peoples and territories, often of great extent, under the rule of a single person, oligarchy, or sovereign state
Inland Empire. An "aggregate of peoples and territories"... "inside of the mind"...
Or maybe I've just gone mad...