Click here for Part 1:
Creating a New Folk Culture: Future Cinema Aesthetics and the Rise of the Backyard Filmmaker
And now for Part 2:
Going Inland: Inland Empire and Transcendental Meditation
“I have been “diving within” through the Transcendental Meditation technique for over 30 years… Someday, hopefully very soon, “diving within” as a preparation for learning and as a tool for developing the creative potential of the mind will be a standard part of every school’s curriculum.” – David Lynch
Transcendental Meditation is, among other things, a way to tap into the untapped power of the unconscious mind. TM acolytes believe that if the square root of 1% of the world’s population practices an advanced form of TM simultaneously, then world peace will result, and that if just one percent of the world’s population practiced the Transcendental Meditation technique, there would be an end to war.
It should be clear that the film’s title refers to this untapped potential as much as to the geographic location. Maybe more so, as Lynch never applied for any of the permits necessary to shoot in Inland Empire cities. [Another possible reason for his lack of permits might be the use of IE as an example of the potentials of amateur filmmaking; for more reflections on this, please see Part 1.]
One of the hallmarks of Lynch’s filmmaking has always been to imbue everyday objects with a decidedly sinister presence. A pan across an empty bedroom is given a sense of dark foreboding through Lynch's selections of music and lighting. This is especially true of Inland Empire, as the narrative fractures and multiplied personae exist in different spaces that are at once strange and familiar. For they are “normal” spaces – often like the ones we might see in our own homes – but they are foreign to Laura Dern’s character(s) at the moments of transmogrification. These physical spaces are often as strange as the new selves that she finds herself in (strange both to her and to us).
This disorientation and fear associated with everyday objects relates to the principles of Transcendental Meditation and it’s relationship to the physical world. If TM is capable of influencing war and traffic accidents, then it must work on some level above the substrate of the physical world. And though the practice of TM itself is now marketed as a religion-free practice, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi states that his teachings are based on the principles espoused by the Adi Shankara. Adi Shankara consolidated the principles of the Advaita Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy, best defined through his statement “Brahman is the only truth, the world is unreal, and there is ultimately no difference between Brahman and individual self.” Brahman is the truth of existence, an idea of God that includes all things that exists as components of Brahman.
Adi Shankara also contributed the concept of “maya” to Advaita Vedanta. Maya is that which covers up the reality of the unified Brahman-nature of the world, cloaking it in our experience of the physical world (including our own illusion of being an individual self). Brahman is hidden behind our experience of the world as a series of discrete physical realities. We could also say the same about the illusory distinctions between past, present, and future.
The illusions of maya, like the illusions of cinema, only serve to separate us further from truth, a separation that inevitably (according to Adi Shankara) causes suffering. The obstacles to our self-actualization (a goal of TM practice) are twofold: the object-nature of the physical world and, especially in IE, our investments in fictions.1
For this reason Lynch is skeptical both about the objects we encounter and the roles we play, and encourages us to be aware of the pitfalls of both. “Nikki Grace,” the actress who both portrays and becomes “Susan Blue,” suffers extensively because of her investment in fictions. The dangers that she experiences are due entirely to her taking on the actor’s project of inhabiting another (false?) skin, which then becomes truer than “Nikki,” even inside her own head. As she dives within her new character, that’s when the trouble begins…
Click here for Part 3: Memory, Identity, Confusion, Recursion: Narrative Structure in Inland Empire - A Primer