The Lost Highway to Inland Empire
Rolf van Dam“It’s been a hell of a life and it’s been an incredible ride, and when I die, whoever gets this seat better buckle up, ‘cause it’s a lotta ups and a lotta downs. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
David Lynch's newest film, Inland Empire1, is an attempted study into the relationship between story and reality. How fiction can take control of reality and how actors are no longer acting but actually become the characters they attempt to portray. But if there is a story in a story and the former is fiction and the latter reality in this story, what does this say about actual reality? If this fiction could break into one layer of reality, what about the next?
In 1970 William S. Burroughs published a paper entitled “The Electronic Revolution”2. In it he claims that simply recording audio from a person or location and it's viscinity and playing it back together with the sound of a catastrophe would actually produce this catastrophe at this location in the near future. He could create a fictionalized event by playing back an engineered recording of this event unfolding and it would become reality. Literary genius as he may be, it would be easy to discard these wild claims as the ramblings of a mad man.
However, he goes through great lenghts to bring justice to his theory. The written word could be seen as the proto-recording. In it events and feelings could be described but by doing so it would reproduce the same desires, hopes and dreams in the reader. The transcription of the desires that led to a string of events would lead to the reproduction of the same string of events if the desires could be succesfully planted in the reader. It would function as a virus, Burroughs claims.
In 1997 Robert Blake was cast in a supporting role in David Lynch's “Lost Highway”3. In this film he was billed as the “Mystery Man”. A demonic individual that taunted the protagonist, Fred Madison, with his own yealous rage, driving him to murder his aledgedly adulterous wife Renee.
The Mystery Man accomplishes this by recording both the surroundings and the interior of his house. He would deliver the unmarked videotapes to the protagonist doorstep at which point Fred would playback the recordings inside his house.
In 2002 Robert Blake himself was arrested for the murder of his spouse4. She was shot at point blank range while sitting in a car, waiting for her husband to return.
Lost Highway's protagonist, Fred Madison, meets Robert Blake's character at a friends party. The Mystery Man claims to be at his home. After handing him a telephone for him to call to his house, the Mystery Man himself answers. Clearly this is not physically possible. In the film such a situation is simply engineered with a pre-recorded soundtrack. In the reality of the film this is engineered by Fred Madison's subconscious.
A moment later Fred finds himself in an interrogation room. He is forced to watch the last of the Mystery Man's recordings. It shows him.at his lovers bedside, smeered with her blood. Assuming responsibility for her death he is swiftly incarcerated by the authorities. His death row prison cell soon becomes the scene for something even more outlandish. It now seems inhabited by a different person altogether. The state sees no other option than to release this innocent young man to his parents.
The young man's name is Peter Raymond Dayton. He is a lowly car mechanic living at home. It is at his place of work that he comes into contact with Mr. Eddie. A typical mobster type, a manly man who doesn't take lightly to tailgating. It is not until we meet his girlfriend that we realise why this tail needs to be protected so fiercely.
We are introduced to this blonde bombshell as she slowly rises from the seat of Mr. Eddie's car. We instantly recognize her as the fair haired double of Renee Madison but through Peter's fresh bright eyes she is nothing short of an angel.
She uses sex to lure him into her possession. She introduces him to the dark corners of her seedy past. S&M, bestiality, even snuff movies. Blinded by her curves she even drives him to murder. She then dissappears only to be replaced by the Mystery Man, Robert Blake, as he drives up in Peters hotrod. While sitting in Peters car he is the one to shed light on his dark side; his alter ego named Fred Madison.
Two years after Lost Highway opened, Robert Blake meets a woman named Bonnie Lee Bakley at a friends party5. At the time she was seeing Christian Brando6, son of the ultimate mobster “The Godfather”, Marlon Brando.
The blonde bombshell offers to sleep with him, telling Robert that she is taking the pill. When she becomes pregnant she claims that the pill must not have worked. She says she was taking anti-biotics at the time and that she must've not been on the pill long enough for it to take effect7. She even claims the baby is not his but Christian's.
Later it was revealed that she was in fact taking fertility pills8, trying to get Robert to impregnate her without his knowledge. DNA tests confirmed him as the father of the child. She had used sex to lure him into her possession. He was now introduced to the dark corners of her seedy past.
>From very early on Bonnie Lee Bakley had made a living running Lonely Hearts schemes. She would post personal ads in magazines to contact men. She would then send them nude pictures and tell them she would visit them if they sent money.
As far as he and his personal detective knew, Robert was simply part of an upgrade of that scheme to target hollywood celebrities. Even after her marriage with Robert she kept running her Lonely Hearts schemes. By this time she had already been married 8 times. She had tried hunting down Jerry Lee Lewis and Christian Brando. Now she finally nailed one. This was an act devoid of love, a turning point where everything that was light is now dark. He could never have her, even though she had never seemed closer.
It was the night of the murder. Robert and Bonnie had just had dinner at an Italian restaurant when Robert went back to retrieve a gun. It was a gun he carried for personal protection and he had accidentally left it in their booth. Moments later he found himself at her side, smeered with her blood.
In court it was proven that it was not Robert's gun that had fatally injured his wife. After a long trial Robert was acquited of murder in 2005. One of the reasons of his acquital was that the other suspect, Christian Brando, had a prior conviction for voluntary manslaughter. In 1990 he had killed his half-sisters boyfriend while they were at Marlon Brando's residence on Mulholland Drive.
Bonnie's children filed and won a civil suit making Robert liable for their mothers death and he was ordered to pay $30 million in restitution. In 2006 he filed for bankruptcy.
During the civil suit there were wildly different accounts on Bonnie's behaviour and person. It's as though she played many different roles. Her children claimed that she was a wonderful person and loving mother. Blake's lawyer made it look as though she was a con artist. There were even accounts that she prostituted herself and her daughter.
After using her schemes to financially support her acting career she finally settled on becoming a celebrity by marrying someone famous. She targetted several celebrities. When she had, what was supposed to be, a one night stand with Robert Blake, she was also dating Christian Brando. When it was finally proven that the child was Blake's, could it have been a fit of yealousy on behalf of Brando that led to her death? Was it one of the hundreds of other men she had led on?
Christina Scheier, Bonnie's best friend from her early years, recounted that she was dead set on becoming famous8. That she would do anything in her power to live the dream of fame and celebrity. It was this image of stardom that had led her to her death. Just as she thought she had it all.
In 2006, 9 years after “Lost Highway”, David Lynch released “Inland Empire”. It is about a fair haired actress played by Laura Dern. She finds that the plot of the movie she is working on is starting to have a striking similarity to her own life. The faith of Nikki and Susan (her character) become inextricably intertwined.
As the movie progresses she moves through several distinct personalities. In her original life as an actress and mother she lives in a big wonderful house with her rich but yealous husband. She crosses paths with a polish whore. She's a housewife trying to survive with her polish ex-carny husband (who she might end up killing). A homeless person living on the street, looking up. The innocuous best friend driven into a screwdriver wielding yealous rage.
The overall theme of the piece is the power of the story. How when you recreate a story, the story becomes real. The story does not stay confined but becomes a part of it's players. Nikki no longer knows who she is. She is a professional actress, she is everyone and anyone yet everyone wants to be her. So naturally, there is a vacuum and identities are swapped. She becomes the characters in the story. She becomes the people that see her movies and see themselves in her. She is an underling living a hollywood fantasy. All she knows for certain is that she is a woman in trouble.
Then there is the story, that which never changes and is it the same for everyone. The story of murderous envy. The dark side of hopes and dreams.
The turning point in the story is when Nikki is cheating on her husband with Devon and her husband walks in on them having sex. Perhaps it is the lowly polish carny walking in on Susan and Billy having sex. Maybe it's Christian Brando being presented with the scientific truth about Robert and Bonnie's one night stand. It could be Fred Madison succumbing to his wife's infidelity. It could be Robert Blake crumbling under the weight of his wife's scheming. The victim already knows the deal. He has warned Devon and Billy and Robert and Christian about what would happen if he were to break their bond.
Deep down he's always known that he will never have her. Deep down she knows it will never be her fame and fortune. She's a scarred prostitute that likes to wear a blonde wig, having a party in her big new house. She knows the deep gaping wound between her legs will catch up to her but it's already too late. All she can do is sit in the passenger seat and wait for fate to be delivered.
After filing for bankruptcy Robert Blake now works as a lowly farm hand and lives in a small apartment. He's trying to get back into acting4.
1. "Inland Empire (2006)", http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0460829/
2. Burroughs, William S.; "The Electronic Revolution", http://www.ubu.com/historical/burroughs/electronic_revolution.pdf
3. "Lost Highway (1997)", http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0116922/
4. "Robert Blake (actor)", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Blake_%28actor%29
5. "Bonnie Lee Bakley", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonnie_Lee_Bakley#Marries_Robert_Blake
6. "Christian Brando", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Brando
7. "Excerpts from letters written by victim found in defendant's home", http://www.courttv.com/trials/blake/docs/letters.html?page=2
8. "A Question Of Guilt: The Bakley Murder", http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/07/25/48hours/main516379.shtml