David Lynch makes obscure, darkling movies, and fittingly his reputation as an interviewee is an uneasy mix between inarticulate black hole and gregarious man-child. But this year, self-distributing and stumping for his most difficult and indigestible movie, Lynch is an open book, frank and energetic. If anything, Inland Empire makes his trademark elusiveness—talk of “ideas coming” and “feeling right,” like a painter—seem, for once, wholly appropriate.
The Stranger: How did Inland Empire originate? With the equipment?
David Lynch: Well, I started experimenting, producing little things for my website—I’d shoot these little bits and pieces I called “experiments,” with this digital camera I got. I thought it was a toy, but then I fell in love with it, I just fell in love. So then I got an idea for a scene, all by itself, and so I shot it with that camera. Then, another scene, and another, all disconnected from each other. Slowly, a story emerged. I went to Canal+ in France and said, I don’t know what I’m doing here, but are you in? And they said they’re in. It was that beautiful. It really was like writing down ideas for a screenplay, a little here, a little there. Usually, you’d eventually have a screenplay, not a film. This way, I had material already for the film.
I’ve read that Laura Dern’s long prostitute monologue was that first scene.
People say that’s the first scene, but it’s not true. I don’t want to say which part came first, because it would putrefy the rest.
What determined the movie’s size and shape?
It was the same process as it’s always been for me: The ideas come, one by one, action, reaction; eventually they make a whole that feels correct.
This movie’s particularly difficult for some viewers; you have to sympathize—when you use the word “story”…
I hear you, I do sympathize. But for me there is a story, to me it makes sense. But when a film is abstract in its storytelling, some people have difficulty letting go and just having the experience, and dealing with it intellectually afterwards.
The movie makes you hunt for corollaries; I thought of Persona and Juliet of the Spirits, the splintering feminine psyche… Not on your radar?
No, I’ve seen both of those films, I love them, but no. They said the same thing about Mulholland Dr.
Can you go back to orthodox filmmaking ever again?
If I fell in love with an idea, I’d make it—like The Straight Story, I didn’t write it, I read it, I saw in my mind how it’d be, and so I did it. But shooting film as compared to shooting video is soooo inefficient. The downtime—I die the death. Magic can get lost. With video, there’s no waiting, you get deep into a scene, things can happen, and with auto-focus you can make little changes as you shoot you could never make with film. It doesn’t have film’s quality, but it has its own quality, and I love its quality. Film has gotten as good as it’s going to get. Video is the future, and it’s just going to get better and better.
It’s pronounced “wooch.” Strange, isn’t it, all those sounds. It’s because I was invited to the Camera Image festival in 2000, and I became friends with those people, what a great bunch. But also the city in winter—the mood, the architecture, it drove me crazy.
The ideas of good and evil as portrayed in your movies lead me to ask if you believe in God.
For sure. But… I do, but it’s probably not a man on a throne.
My 9-year-old read me this from a magazine yesterday, and I thought of you—the fact that the weight of all the termites in the world is heavier than all the humans. But you never see them, they’re under the surface.
That’s Blue Velvet, right there. Wow, a good fact to know!
I’m well aware you hate to analyze your films, but it seems to me that there’s a pervasive attempt at expressing a visceral anxiety, from Eraserhead on—is it self-expression, or a crafted vision of the world, or something else? I remember years ago reading Mel Brooks’s interpretation of Eraserhead, when The Elephant Man came out—he said it “betrayed a strong anxiety about parenthood.”
Well, that’s Mel’s take. For me, it’s just the ideas—it sounds like it, but I’m not copping out—they come. It’s nice if they’re in a whole but usually they’re in pieces. Then a whole emerges eventually, and only later can you look back on it and see a theme, or whatever. But everyone’s different. There’s that old saying, “the world is as you are”—some people see everything through dirty gray glasses, some people see through rose-colored glasses. Some see only politics, others only see elements of love and emotions. The audience is such a huge part of a movie, how it plays out. Sure, there’s anxiety, that’s part of human nature. But there’re other things, and how you see it all is up to you.