What is the Hole Inside the Hole
On David Lynch’s Inland Empire

SIMON CRITCHLEY and JAMIESON WEBSTER

Where am I? Where is the key? I gave it to you. What’s wrong with me? Do you know what whores do? Yes, they fuck. I’ll tell you what I want.
Fine.

This is the only question in the movie whose answer can be known: do you know what whores do? Yes. They fuck. All other demands for knowledge are left unanswered. The whore, face obscured, anonymous, doesn’t have to ask anyone anxiously if he can look at her and tell her if he’s known her before. The whore has known everyone and no one. She is safe in her anonymity. She is protected. There is little room to fall.

This film, is it about marriage? Your husband, he is involved?

A little boy went out to play. When he opened his door he saw the world when he passed through he caused a reflection and evil was born and followed the boy. Evil was born.

(Sinnerman, where you gonna run to)

A little girl went out to play, lost in the market place, as if half born. Then, not through the market place, but through the alley behind the market place, this you see, is the way to the past.

(Please hide me lord)

It isn’t something you remember. Forgetfulness it happens to us all. Where was I? Is there a murder in the film? Brutal fucking murder.

(Don’t you know I need you, rock)

I can’t remember if it is today or yesterday or tomorrow. I suppose if it was 9:45 I would think it was after midnight. These times recur in the film, as empty markers against which the recurrence of timelessness winds like a snake.

If today was tomorrow you wouldn’t even remember that you owed something on an unpaid bill? Do you know what debts you hold? Actions do have consequences, such is the dreadful utilitarian law of life. And yet, there is the magic. If it were tomorrow you would be sitting over there.

Do you see? She will, but not until it’s all over. Brutal fucking murder.

(All on that day)

What is time? Accursed time, with its before and after, its relentless succession of nows. What if yesterday were tomorrow and today yesterday and tomorrow today? Imagine. Perhaps the whore knows something more about this. Perhaps it is his wife. Whorish othertime.

For that we would need an act of grace. Unforeseeable. We would need an actor with a porn-star name like Nikki Grace (Laura Dern). You have everything you need to soar back to the top and stay perched there.

Hollywood. Where stars make dreams and dreams make stars. Eventually these stars fall, not like scales from eyes but eyes that fall like scales. Are you able to be true to hubby with a wolf in the den? That is all we demand of you.

If I don’t kill you, her husband will. Her husband is the most powerful guy around. He knows everything. I could tell you stories that would curl your hair and kill your head. So listen to me when I tell you, around Nikki, keep it in your pants. But you have to admit, she’s got a nice ass.

On High in Blue Tomorrows. First scene. What do you want? I want to apologise? The things you said weren’t the truth? Were they the truth? Are you sorry? Why are you crying? I’m so sorry. Look in the other room. Someone is there at the back of the sound stage in Paramount Studios, just next door to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Santa Monica Boulevard. It’s Laura Dern/Nikki Grace/Susan Blue/whoever/HCE/all the other women, from later on, from when the curse of time is lifted. Let the identifications roll. Down the rabbit hole.

There’s a rumor about a movie, they say. This film is actually a remake from an unfinished film. Something happened. Something happened inside the story, inside a hole inside the story and the two lead actors were murdered. Brutal fucking murder. It’s a Polish gypsy folktale called Vier Sieben, 47, the room number of the wise rabbits. Sometimes someone is not told the whole story.

The producers of the movie know this. Who are the producers? We don’t know. Is Nikki’s Polish husband secretly financing the film and deliberately trying to debase his wife, to turn her into a whore and kill her? At least in this way, he can desire her. But then that can’t be entirely true. In this movie, it is always Nikki who desires, a forbidden desire. Each and everyone.

Splitting of time- splitting of love and desire- an unpaid debt, a crime.

Police station – I’ve been hypnotized or something, I’m going to kill someone. Who? I don’t know. Who hypnotized you? I saw him looking at me once when I looked around the bar and he then moved his hands and he said that I wouldn’t know who it was. How are you going to kill this person? With a screwdriver.

Your wife? I’ve been with her since I was a little boy? Nothing little about you now. Why are you doing this? Don’t play dumb. I have a husband, you have a wife and kids… I never met you before. I didn’t know you before. I had this feeling, you’ve had it too, don’t you? I can’t afford to. All I see from here is blue tomorrows.

Are you enjoying yourself? There is a vast network, an ocean of possibilities. Such is enjoyment. I like dogs, I used to raise rabbits, I’ve always loved animals. Their nature, how they think. They can reason their way out of problems, watch them think through the trickiest situations. Can I borrow a few bucks?

I can’t afford to. (It’s funny in ways you don’t expect).

Husband and Devon – I want to hold you close. Sometimes people don’t say exactly what they mean and you have been guilty of this all evening. I will mean everything I say. My wife is not a free agent. I don’t allow her that. The bonds of marriage are real bonds. The vows we take, we honour and enforce them. For ourselves, by ourselves. If necessary they are enforced for us. Either way she is bound. There are consequences to one’s actions and there will for certain be consequences for wrong actions. Dark they would be and inescapable. Why instigate a need to suffer?

Such is the wish in the dream. Such is the hole in the hole. Let’s negate for a time the implacable truth that the mother is certain and the father is not. An old story about one always half-told: Mater semper certa; pater est quem nuptiae demonstrant (Mother is always certain; the father is whom the marriage shows).

Inland empire- the father is certain and the wife that I love is also my whore that I desire. How nice it is on high in blue tomorrows. You have nothing to worry about now, you dying lady.

Devon hits on Nikki, then we switch to a scene in the movie of the two of them caressing. As Billy Side and Susan Blue? It is unclear. I won’t fall in love with you. Uncut. Are you two happy?

The question of happiness is always dark and inescapable. But why instigate a need to suffer? Enjoyment is a vast network of possibilities.

Cut to another scene. What? Something has happened. I think my husband knows. He will kill you and me. Damn, this sounds like dialogue from our script.

At this point and from this point on, Nikki and Susan begin to blur. What the bloody hell is going on?

Cut – We don’t know the real reason why On High in Blue Tomorrows wasn’t finished. Stories grow out of the imagination surrounded by these screwball stories. We shouldn’t give them credence… unless they are true.

Cut – They fuck in real life with the husband/producer looking on at them, but no one is in their place, they cannot stay in their place. Later, she will come to look on the adulterous bed from the exact place of her husband, in the hallway, through the alleyway. He will lie down where she is, or is it where he was? These things are never clear. It is better. The whole story cannot be told.

Look at me. Remember that thing that happened in the story from yesterday, but I know it’s tomorrow. That scene where I was parked in the alley way. This is the way to the past. It’s a scene we did yesterday in the alley and I see this writing on metal and I start remembering something. This whole thing starts flooding in, this memory, and I start to remember, I don’t know what it is. It’s me. Nikki. That doesn’t make any sense. It’s me, Devon, it’s Nikki. Look at me you fucker. Please, look at me. Look at me, please, and tell me if you’ve known me before.

Anxiety signals the approach of the new.

Axx oNN – The axiom of the unintelligible. She goes in through the door. Time fractures backwards and forwards and she meets up in earlier scene. She runs to the door and goes into the house with her husband in the window. She goes in door 1358, in an old 1950s style room. Billy presses his face against the window, but he can’t see her, doesn’t know her.

The window goes dark then we switch to a street-scape. She is in the Inland Empire. The Inland Empire is at the back of the sound stage. We know for the first time it is the Inland Empire, just at the back of Hollywood. Always been there. Who knew?

She goes into room full of women. What do they have in common? They all fucked Devon/Billy. The look on her face, pleasure, horror, some combination of the two. This face, her look, looking on, will return later.

Who the hell are you? Look at us and tell us if you’ve known us before. There are two obvious meanings of ‘know’ in the movie, epistemic and fuckaesthetic, Did he do that thing, that little shaking thing, while he was, you know… wasn’t that great. Yeah. I let him do anything. It’s strange what love does. So strange. In the future, you’ll be dreaming. The kind of sleep where you open your eyes and someone familiar will be there.

Cut – Poland. Whores. Lost Girl (Karolina Gruszka).

Do you want to see? Then burn a hole with a cigarette in the silk. Look through the hole. Primal scene? The hole in the sheet. Your virgin wife? Your female patient? It’s just silk. It’s just a hole. Sometimes a hole is just a hole.

She’s in some shithole in the Inland Empire. Where? Pomona? San Bernardino? Who cares. She burns a hole in the silk. She looks through. Polish whore or a woman who can’t give a man children. I’m not who you think I am I’ll never let you have her, never. Man beats whore. We learn the time is 9:45, but as we learnt in the earlier scene with the amazing Grace Zabriskie, it could be after midnight.

The wise rabbits burn bright candles held high on seven-branch candelabra (we exaggerate).

Cut – She goes upstairs as a new persona, brutalized, debased, castrating woman, marked with a tattoo on the back of her hand, with the initials L.B. The rage. The reversal of identifications. They are moving now. They are dancing.

She meets the analyst who is a rabbit wearing a human disguise. You go down the rabbit hole and meet a rabbit. Who did you fucking expect? God almighty? I don’t really understand what I’m doing here. So they told me you could help me, so I guess I’ll just tell you the thing. There was this man I once knew, his name was, doesn’t matter, lot of guys change, they don’t change but they reveal what they really are. It’s an old story. This guy he revealed something looking back on it, all along it was being revealed, he was planning something with me in mind….

When I get mad I really get mad. I gouged a man’s eye out when I was fifteen he was trying to rape me had his thing out and was pushing my legs apart. I got my finger in his eye. What a man you are, crying like a baby. He could still see me with his one eye, grabbing his nuts and tearing at him, crying like a little baby holding his nuts till the ambulance come. What happened? He come to be reaping what he been sowing. That’s some pretty heavy shit he’s been sowing.

Cut – She stares at cigarette and burned silk. All the girls again (it is said there is no such thing as All the Women): I thought you would last… I saw it coming… I thought he was the one you know… so where he’s gone… find someone else… not easy when you feel like shit… oh baby (laugh)… tits and ass (showing her tits)…sweet. All dance.

The girls, the past lovers, the whores, arrive on the scene to mark the unfolding of the story between Susan Blue/Nikki Grace and Billy’s wife who will stab her with the screwdriver. To stab the woman who your husband betrayed you with is also to stab yourself. And so she did. They are as two punished. Why? That other woman is always there in wedlock. Why do women always insist on unraveling the details of a man’s previous lovers? Hearing them speak about him, every little detail, that shaking thing before he, you know… Is it a dream? A nightmare? Why instigate the need to suffer?

So much feminine masochism, Mr. Lynch.

Cut – Back in the Inland Empire. Impoverished desperate couple. Feeling of violence. She tells him, I’m pregnant.

She calls the rabbits from the Inland Empire. Yes, she calls the rabbits. She says, ‘Billy?’ (canned laughter).

Through silk again. Back with the analyst. I seen him coming at me with a crow bar once. I guess he figures I was two-timing him and I was coming home we were shacked up at the time and he was waiting for me in the half-light. Waiting for me to come home, worked himself into some kind of a frenzy. I see this shape burst out of the chair, crow bar going up, I scream and turn, fucking crow bar smashes into that door, cheap piece of shit, it just splinters like glass. I don’t take this kind of behavior. I see what this fucker was up to. Bam! I kick him in the nuts so fast they crawl up into his brain for refuge and he goes down like a two-dollar whore. Bullshit telling me he loves me.

Were you, in fact, seeing another man? (First time the analyst speaks. He has a way. How good of him to point out her indiscretions also, where are you Nikki Grace?) I was screwing a couple of guys for drinks, no big deal. This one guy he was kind of cute, had dick like a rhinoceros, fuck the shit out of you I tell you what, he’d buy me a couple of drinks after, we talk and he’s tell me about the town he grew up in all the little girls he’d fuck, chemical factory putting so much shit in the air you couldn’t think straight, lot of crazy shit going on there, weird dreams, seeing things that wasn’t there. So one time this little girl was staring off at something and starts screaming and the people come to her and ask what’s wrong and she says she sees the end of the world all fire and smoke and bloodrain, you know, like they say, the wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Cut – Look at me and tell me if you’ve known me before? Yes, we will do that. Husband spills ketchup on stomach where the woman stabs herself with the screwdriver. Time she stops. Time she stopped.

Cast out this wicked dream that seized my heart.

Billy’s wife screwdriver in hand, stabs herself.

Who is she? He said that I wouldn’t know who it was.

Cut – Who are those people? Hot dogs. The situation is becoming dangerous. Give me that hammer. There is no toilet paper in the Inland Empire. They are a group that performs in traveling shows in the Baltic region. What’s that got to do with you? I will take care of the animals. It was said that I have a way with animals. I’m sure he does. I’m sure this husband has a way with animals.

Cut from animal to analyst – Went to some Eastern Europe shithole with the circus. Carnies, gypsies, conmen, a real fucking ball of shit. There was this guy who would start talking, real regular talking up the crowd and they would push in closer, he did some sort of thing on people. They called him the Phantom. He got in a bar room fight at night. Circus clowns. So when they take him down to the station he disappeared. This is the kind of shit I’m talking about. He was a marine from North Carolina, he had a sister with one leg, she had a car stick for the other one. She killed three kids in the first grade. This is the kind of shit. Fucking funny. People. All got their own peculiarities, own way of livin’.

Cut – L.A. at Billy’s house with his wife. What are you doing here? Something’s wrong, bad wrong, do you feel it? Sue? Billy, do you love me? Don’t you remember anything, how it was? Billy, something’s wrong. I love you Billy. Wife slaps her. Sue, go away. (Flips into a rage, like the woman with the analyst. Gnashing of teeth). I don’t care, it’s something more. I don’t care, it’s something more.

Back in the Inland Empire. I came about an unpaid bill that needs paying. Alright. Do you know a man who lives here? Do you know him? What do you want? There is an unpaid bill that needs paying. You already said that. Do you know that man who lives next door. Crimp is the name.

Funny name, Crimp. The imp of the perverse.

Cut – Crimp. Man with a lightbulb in his mouth and a screwdriver on a small table. Isn’t he the Phantom? The one who hypnotized her?

Cut – There is someone there. I have to tell you. There is someone. Brings in the husband. Do you recognize her? I don’t see her. You understand she sent for you. (The Lost Girl). I don’t know where I am; I don’t know where I am. I hear her now. You don’t see her.

The horse was taken to the well. Take the pistol. Let’s go! Right away, it’s after midnight. Girl disappears… a ghost… she’s already been murdered. The three Poles merge into the three rabbits. I’m going to find out one day. Where was I? This isn’t the way it was. (canned laughter). It had something to do with the telling of time….

Can we lift the curse of time?

Major cut/jump to Hollywood Boulevard – Where stars make dreams and dreams make stars. Two Nikkis/Susans/L.B.s staring at each other: the one from the analyst’s room, the other from the Inland Empire. We hear a scream like in a horror film.

On Hollywood Boulevard with all the whores. ‘I’m a whore. Where am I? I’m a freak.’ She laughs mockingly. Looking at herself across the street laughing at herself. AXX oNN – Billy/Devon’s wife is stalking her. She’s going to fucking kill me. Runs upstairs at club.

Back at the analyst’s office – I don’t know what I’m doing here. There was this man I once knew. I’m trying to tell you so you’ll understand how it went. I don’t know what was before or after. I don’t know what happened first and it kind of laid a mindfuck on me. My husband he’s fucking hiding something. Acting all weird before he left. He was talking this foreign talk and telling loud fucking stories.

Cut – Husband beats her…. I’m not who you think I am. Are you listening to me? I know for a fact that I can’t father children. Brutal fucking murder. Woman with child. A son. We suppose it is the son. The son who is not the son of the father, a whoreson, a dead son. What makes a father a father? Bastard. She doesn’t know the husband at the moment he decides that he knows that she’s a whore. His certainty is a brutality. I mean everything I say. Her not knowing… I can’t say.

His face all red, eyes bugging out. I figured one day I’d just wake up and find out what the hell yesterday was all about. I’m not too keen on thinking about tomorrow and today is slipping by. I guess after my son died I went into a bad time where I was watching everything go around me while I was standing in the middle, like in a dark theater, before they bring the lights up. I’m sitting there wondering how can this be. Phone rings…. Hello. Yeah still here. (She has a screwdriver). I don’t think it will be much longer now. Yeah. The horse to the well. Yeah. She’s around here someplace that’s for sure.

Billy’s/Devon’s Wife takes screwdriver from Nikki and stabs her. Punished. For being a whore. Finally. Runs off.

There are consequences to one’s actions and there will for certain be consequences for wrong actions. Dark they would be and inescapable. Why instigate a need to suffer? Why? There’s a question. Axiom of the unintelligible.

Falls to ground on Hollywood Boulevard next to a black woman and black man with an Asian girl. You dying lady.

What you say about Pomona? You asked about the bus. Can’t get no bus to Pomona. You can get the bus for Pomona here if you get on the subway first. I never can get no bus. You can go all around Hollywood from Hollywood and Vine and you can get to Pomona for $3.50. I never heard of no bus there. I went last summer to visit my friend her name is Niko (not Nikki). I stayed for two weeks. My cousin comes from Pomona. What time is it? I don’t know. It’s after midnight. After midnight? It could be 9.45. My friend Niko in Pomona has a blond wig. She wears it at parties, she’s all on drugs and turning tricks, but she looks very good in her blond wig, just like a movie star. Even girls fall in love with her in her blond star wig. She blows kisses and laughs… but she has got a hole in her vagina wall. She has torn a hole into her intestine from her vagina. The hole inside the hole. Baby, don’t tell us this shit. She has seen a doctor but it is too expensive and now she knows how her time has run out. She’ll score a few more times and then, like that, she will stay at home with her monkey. She has a pet monkey. This monkey shit everywhere and she doesn’t care. It screams like it’s in a horror movie. But there are those who are good with animals, who have a way with animals. They can reason their way out of the trickiest of situations and then shit everywhere.

It’s okay, you dying is all. You saw the light. It burns bright in heaven. No more blue tomorrows. You on high now.

Camera pulls back and up. Director yells, ‘Cut… and print it’. Bravo. What’s the matter Nikki? You were wonderful… The Lost Girl, the one who was killed by her husband, sees Nikki on TV. Nikki sees herself on the screen in the theater talking to the analyst about how her son died. She’s standing in the dark theater seeing herself talking about standing in the middle of a dark theater, everything going around, time spins, identifications dance, her in the middle, before they bring the lights up.

Time is folding back on itself. Time it stopped. Time she stopped. Phone rings, It’s the conversation again. The horse to the well. The analyst goes up a staircase… AXXoNN is on the analyst’s door.

The axiom of the unintelligible leads back to the Inland Empire through a rabbit hole. She opens a drawer next to the bed. The bed from the scene of adultery. Takes the pistol. It’s L.B. and she’s not messing around.

Poland and Inland Empire collide. She is going down a long corridor with the gun, into Room 47, Vier Sieben. She shoots the man from Poland. She shoots the Phantom. She shoots her husband. Superimposed on his face, a grotesque female face. The imago. Hers? It is the mother behind the father who refuses that father as a husband and the husband who refuses his wife for his mother. It’s an old story: where you love you cannot desire, where you desire you cannot love. Perhaps there is something in the sexual drive that will not allow for complete satisfaction. Who said that? Perhaps there is just a loop, a short circuit of the debased and the forbidden, the debased woman for the man, the forbidden man for the woman. Deadlock. Or wedlock.

Cast out this wicked dream that seized my heart.

Rabbits. The rabbits live down their hole in room 47. Blue light, blue tomorrows. She meets the Lost Girl who’s been crying from the beginning. They kiss. A long fucking kiss. The other woman. Nikki/Susan disappears. The Lost Girl smiles. The door opens and she leaves. She leaves room 47. She runs down corridor. Out. She greets her husband and her dead son that glimmered in the analysis. He takes up his role as father, the father is whom the marriage shows.

The Lost Girl comes home in the end. Happy family? Happy ending? Suturing the hole? Eat your heart out. The horse goes to the well, but you can’t make it drink. Not one drop.

Subtitle: A Woman in Trouble. Amazing Grace. What once was lost now is found. Never Inland Empire.

Look. Nikki sees herself across the room. (If it were tomorrow you would be sitting over there).

Fade out. End. Closing credits. In the whorehouse in Pomona. No, in the mansion in Hollywood. Same difference. Enter the Phantom’s sister with one leg. Castration. Sweet. Niko with monkey. Shit all over the floor. Sweet.

They all dance around Nikki.

Grace.

Oh Sinnerman, where you gonna run to?
Sinnerman, where you gonna run to?
All on that day

Well I run to the rock, please hide me, rock
I run to the rock, please hide me, Lord
All on that day

But the rock cried out, I can’t hide you
The rock cried out, I can’t hide you
The rock cried out, I ain’t gonna hide you guy
All on that day

So I run to the Lord, please hide me Lord
Don’t you see me prayin’?
Don’t you see me down here prayin’?

But the Lord said, go to the devil
The Lord said, go to the devil
He said, go to the devil
All on that day

So I ran to the devil, he was waitin’
I ran to the devil, he was waitin’
All on that day

I cried –
Power.
Bring Down -

Power.

  • About

    Simon Critchley works in continental philosophy, history of philosophy, literature, ethics and politics. After a position as University Fellow at Cardiff University, Critchley was appointed Lecturer in Philosophy at Essex in 1989, where he became Reader in 1995 and Professor in 1999. Also at the University of Essex, he was Director of the Centre for Theoretical Studies and collaborated closely with Ernesto Laclau. Critchley was President of the British Society for Phenomenology from 1994-99. Between 1998-2004, Critchley was a Programme Director of the Collège International de Philosophie, Paris. Since 2004 he has been Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research, New York. From 2009, he will be part-time Professor of Philosophy at the University of Tilburg.

    Jamieson Webster is a practicing psychoanalyst. She is a Fellow at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute and teaches psychoanalytic theory at the New School.


    Their essay 'The Power of Powder' appears in Bedeutung Magazine Issue 3/ Life & Death, available here for purchase.