When I saw "Inland Empire" one gray afternoon at the IFC Center in Manhattan there was just me and about three other people in the audience, as if the theater was our private living room. It seemed very long, but at the same time I never wanted it to end. One room gives way to another, one world shifting to another, moving without warning from Poland in black-and-white to L.A. mansions to lurid back streets to desperate suburbs. Shot on some kind of low-fi video that is sometimes ugly but sometimes gorgeous, "Inland Empire" is full of beauty and dread and David Lynch's sinister jokiness -- the rabbit people! -- the work of a great director who will go only where he wants to go.
It is also Laura Dern's bravura role. As her character falls down the rabbit hole she switches with razor-sharp precision from Hollywood princess to Southern belle to downtrodden housewife to battered street prostitute, inhabiting each one with absolute clarity and truth. A marathon brutal monologue, delivered to a silent, sweaty bald man in glasses in a seedy back room, is so shockingly intense and real that you feel you are living it with her. It must be the most remarkable performance by an American actress in the last decade, and it was almost completely ignored. (She and Lynch shared a "special recognition" Spirit Award.) But at least it's all there on DVD, and you can see it.