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By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 29, 2007 3:14PM

Filmmaker David Lynch was on hand Saturday evening at the Music Box for two sold-out screenings of his new movie INLAND EMPIRE. Die-hard cinephiles began lining up outside the theater in sub-zero temps two hours before the show just to get the best seats. Inside, the setting couldn't have been more appropriate. The red curtains in front of the screen and a pipe organ "improvisation" before the film were elements straight out of his oeuvre.

The skeletal plot couldn't be more nakedly functional: an actress named Nikki Grace (Laura Dern, astonishing), with a murderously jealous husband, lands a part in a movie called On High in Blue Tomorrows. Soon her "real" life becomes confused with the character she's playing, and also possibly with the murdered actress who first played the character in an unfinished original production. We literally go down the rabbit hole, and along the way we encounter the pompous British director (Jeremy Irons), a hypnotized woman with a screwdriver in her stomach (Julia Ormond), lip-syncing whores on Hollywood Boulevard, Polish carnies, and an exploded ketchup bottle.

2007_1lynch.jpgFor two hours and fifty-nine minutes we simply drifted along, unable to process much of what was going on. Two days later, we find ourselves unable to stop thinking about it. The movie is not a problem to be solved, for the simple reason that there are no answers. There are only possibilities. Picture an exploded "Choose Your Own Adventure" book (with a lot more violence and sex). There is only the eternal now; in the film's world, memory can just as easily refer to tomorrow as to yesterday. Memory is as blurry as the degraded visuals.

Lynch shot INLAND EMPIRE in mid-grade digital video: blocky smears of light, washed-out colors, hazy and peculiar. It's literally a dreamworld. As in a dream you can't always tell what you're seeing, or what it means. The viewer is forced to squint between the pixels. But as in Lynch's other work, the soundtrack is arrestingly intricate, populated with all manner of industrial noises and hair-raising sound effects. It's an image/sound mashup as scary, bewildering and brilliant as anything we've encountered on a movie screen.

To thunderous applause, Lynch retook the stage after the movie for some Q & A. The best question? When asked what his favorite animal was, he replied, "Rabbits. They're usually pretty happy."

INLAND EMPIRE plays through this Thursday only at the Music Box. Image by wrestlingentropy.