Monthly Archives: June 2012

Reuben Sturman: Great Non-Fictional Character

(The following is a slight re-arrangement of content in Eric Schlosser’s underestimated and strangely obscure Reefer Madness, an excellent trio on dark markets of drugs, pornography, and migrant labour, that should be far better known, and has had me pining hard for his next major piece of writing. What follows, obviously, deals with the content of Reuben Sturman, a colossus of the obscenity economy, whose obscurity is equally strange as Mr. Schlosser’s book. The detail of the swan filled lake at Sturman’s mansion is from Dave Gardetta’s fascinating “Doctor’s Orders”.)

Of the four men of prominence who made fortunes in obscenity, three easily summon up an image. Hugh Hefner is the slightly handsy pajama clad grandfather, eternally obsessed with the donna angelicata of Illinois; Bob Guccione is the craftsman on a renaissance church who sells dirty engravings on the side; Larry Flynt is the backwoods youth who had sex with chickens but also pushed himself through Tolstoy’s War and Peace. The fourth, Reuben Sturman, summons nothing and is unknown to almost all: the one who once made the largest fortune making women more visible is the invisible man.

His parents were russian emigrants, and they ran a grocery in Cleveland. Whatever influence they had on his life, there were two that had a greater one: Sanford Aday and Earl Warren. Sturman graduated from Western Reserve university, became an affable wholesaler of comics and other mags which he built into an eight city wide business, was married with three kids. Along with comics, he sold crossword, movie, and car mags. At an employee’s suggestion, he started distributing titles that would outsell everything else he had twenty times. These were nude mags and erotic pulps. One of these was Sex Life of a Cop. The book was written by Sanford Aday, and got Sturman his first obscenity indictment, after which he sued J. Edgar Hoover for violating his civil rights. It was the start of a lifelong difficult relationship between Sturman and the law, with Earl Warren giving him his only legal daylight, finding a social value in Sex Life of a Cop, throwing out his conviction, narrowing the definition of obscenity, and allowing Sturman first to make a small fortune and then a huge one. His money would be made through three ancient elements: naked women, lawyers, and secrecy.

By the end of the 1960s, Sturman was the largest distributor of dirty books and magazines in the United States. He then went into the dirty movie business, developing the ingenious idea of the coin operated peepshow booth, moving the stag film from the group viewing of a Kiwanis club or frat house to a small dark space. He funded his own dirty films, printed the dirty books, owned the stores that sold the books and had the peeps. It was a classic case of vertical integration, with Sturman having a grip on every aspect from production to distribution. Every connection between Sturman and his business was hidden; if no evidence existed of Sturman’s hand in the company, then Sturman could not be indicted for its violations. Canadians, many of them young refugees from the draft, were recruited to be placed as figureheads of the various parts of the Sturman empire, as canadian tax records were outside IRS eyes. His Cleveland assets were owned by The Bahamian Company, whose president and CEO was a carpet store owner in Ontario. Memos from Sturman were adressed, “To whom it may concern”. Business letters from him closed with “Best regards”, and nothing else. Sturman changed his appearance day by day, sometimes with a long beard, sometimees staches, sometimes glasses, other days clean shaven and clear sighted.

Security cameras surrounded Sturman’s headquarters, and heavy steel doors blocked the way. Those asking for Sturman were told no one by that name worked there. After a year of surveillance, FBI agents demanded entry to the building, showing their badges to the cameras. They were still not let in. The steel doors were battered down. A year after, Sturman was indicted on obscenity charges for distribution of various films and mags through the mails. The content was undoubtedly disturbing, Sturman’s lawyer admitted. After seeing some of these movies, he warned, you’ll never eat a marshmallow pie again. Sturman and his associates were found not guilty. The jury sent the judge a note critical of the Supreme Court’s definition of obscenity.

Sturman now owned a Tudor mansion with a swan filled lake. Sturman drove several cadillacs. Sturman had a former prizefighter as a bodyguard. Sturman gave to the Cleveland ballet.

Richard Rosfelder was a twenty-seven year old investigator for the IRS Criminal Division. Richard Rosfelder lived in a condominium complex. A young employee of Sturman’s also lived in the condominium complex. Rosfelder knew of the young employee. The young employee owned two matching cadillacs. Reuben Sturman would come to wish like hell that the young employee had owned fewer cadillacs.

Rosfelder thought the cadillacs were interesting. Rosfelder thought the canadians were more interesting.

Rosfelder believed the same methods Sturman was using to disguise asset ownership might be used to avoid tax payment. Rosfelder went to Sturman’s headquarters to interview him. There’s no one by that name here, he was told. A cadillac drove by with a man giving a friendly wave. The friendly man was Sturman. Sturman was called in to give signature samples. A man came by in a big cowboy hat. The cowboy hatted man was Sturman. His signatures were illegible. The samples were worthless.

The money from Sturman’s peep booths was entirely in coins, with hundreds of employees making the collection in daily and weekly rounds, paying store owners and managers their cut, then pushing out dollies loaded with thousand dollar bags filled with quarters. Because of the lack of receipts involved, the take entirely in small change, it was possible to divert money out of records and move it overseas. Rosfelder suspected Sturman of doing something like this. Sturman was doing something exactly like this.

Anywhere from twenty five to fifty percent of the money from the booths was converted to cashier’s checks of $9999, to avoid the federal disclosure laws of checks of $10 000 and more, sent overseas and invested, or returned to the United States in a new form. In 1974, Sturman was arrested in Switzerland after he tried to open a bank account with a fake passport. I’m trying hide my money in Switzerland, he told the police, because I don’t like paying the tax. Why should he pay taxes, Sturman felt. So he could help pay salaries for the federal prosecutors and agents trying to destroy him? Fine by me, said the Swiss arresting officer, I don’t like paying taxes either.

The incident gave Rosfelder proof that Sturman had criminal intent. Rosfelder now just needed proof of crime.

Sturman had already restructured his company several times after tax authourities became interested in him. He had first transferred ownership of his companies to establishments chartered in Liechtenstein, which had some of the tightest corporate secrecy laws in the world. A Liechtenstein establishment was a legal entity whose directors had to be citizens of the country, and the entity issued nameless bearer shares held by the owner of the company. Only by finding out who had physical possession of the shares could company ownership be determined. Other companies were set up in Panama, where corporate secrecy laws were even stricter. When Liechtenstein amended its laws so that establishment directors were now liable for the establishment’s activities, Sturman transferred all his newly formed companies to Liberia. Liberia had stricter secrecy laws than either Panama or Liechtenstein. Liberia had a similar system of bearer shares to Liechtenstein. Liberia had the american dolllar as currency. Monrovia, Liberia was now the legal center of Sturman’s worldwide empire.

A crucial part of every structuring, was a series of Swiss bank accounts established under fake names, accessible only to Sturman and a handful of close associates. Wherever his companies were legally, a substantial part of the company’s revenue always ended up in these accounts, away from the eyes of tax authourities. In 1979, Sturman may have been the richest man in Ohio. On his tax return that year, he listed no overseas bank accounts. On his tax return that year, he declared an income of about twelve hundred dollars.

Three years into his investigation, Rosfelder and his associate, Thomas Ciehanski found a cheque from a bank in the carribean island of St. Vincent’s. The bank did not exist anywhere except on paper. The cheque’s destination was one of Sturman’s companies, its source a Swiss bank account. The paper trail led to a former attorney of Sturman. The former attorney refused to talk. The former attorney was told he would be a defendant in any tax case against Sturman. The former attorney then explained the set-up with the Swiss bank accounts. Rosfelder asked the Swiss government for access to the accounts, on the grounds that Sturman was involved with organized crime. The access was granted. This evidence for the connections with organized crime has never been seen, by either the public or Sturman’s attorneys. Reuben Sturman’s name did not appear anywhere on the accounts or in connection with the accounts. Rosfelder needed a handwriting sample to prove that they were Sturman’s. Sturman was detained. Sturman provided samples. The samples were illegible, worthless.

Reuben Sturman began to realize that Rosfelder was very serious about this. Reuben Sturman began to think about retiring.

Sturman, divorced from his first wife, married a young singer named Natalie Delgado. He sold many of his companies to their managers. Since, legally, he did not own the companies, the companies were transferred to the new owners, with Sturman afterwards hired as a consultant: the company was bought through a consulting fee transferred to Sturman. A federal grand jury subpoenaed Sturman’s business records. Sturman spent three weeks shredding them. Rosenfeld got trusted aides at every level of the organization to start talking and start co-operating. Sturman began to close his Swiss bank accounts. He was arrested again by the Swiss police. Sturman was asked again for a handwriting sample. The signature was legible. Sturman was indicted on various tax evasion counts in 1985. In 1987, he was indicted again on obscenity. During his tax evasion trial, one associate talked of moving gold bars in a cardboard box to avoid a paper trail. A Sturman accountant revealed that the company officers listed on financial records were picked at random from the white pages, the persons unaware that they were top executives in the largest porn distribution business in the United States. Sturman arrived at court in a Groucho Marx mask, his face hidden behind a plastic nose, dinky glasses, and oversized eyebrows. He was convicted of every count of tax evasion in 1989. In 1991, the obscenity case ended in a mistrial. The government had no case against me, Sturman told reporters. Sturman made his statement wearing a surgical mask. In 1992, Reuben Sturman was sentenced to four years fro tax evasion at Boron prison camp, in the Mojave desert.

The IRS now began to try to collect over five million owed in back taxes. Sturman terminated all his consulting contracts, asking his managers to either pay him in cash or send the money to overseas paper corporations. Sturman made all his purchases via a Visa card issued from a Swiss bank, with funds from a Panamanian company. The IRS seized the Tudor mansion with the swan lake. The IRS then sold it cheap to some faceless company headquartered overseas. The faceless company was owned by Reuben Sturman.

Some managers refused to pay Sturman. Business was good, business was possible without further harassment from the IRS. A store owned by a manager that stopped paying had its peeps destroyed by a gang with sledge hammers. Eight Chicago bookstores owned by another welshing manager were also targeted. The bookstores’ peep shows were powered by electric boxes. The electric boxes were to be destroyed with radio controlled bombs. The gang set off one bomb at a South Cicero bookstore. On the way to the next target, a traffic light signal or other radio wave triggered a bomb in the gang’s car. One man died, and the survivors began talking to the authourities. They had no idea who Reuben Sturman was. They had been commissioned for the work by Mickey Fein. Mickey Fein had no idea what the feds were talking about.

On December 1, 1992, Reuben Sturman wrote the third of a series of letters to a judge pleading for a reduced sentence. The juge denied his request. One week later, at Boron prison, there was a nightly bed check. Reuben Sturman could not be found at the bed check. The next day, Richard Rosfelder was having lunch with some reporters when he was told to call his office. The matter was urgent. Reuben Sturman had escaped from prison.

Stephanie Friedman was Sturman’s secretary. Richard Rosfelder and another investigator, Tony Olivio, saw the names of Stephanie and Douglas, her brother, showing up again and again in the prison visitor logs. The Friedmans would be subpoenaed. Stephanie would confess that she would receive checks from around the country for companies based in Liberia and elsewhere overseas, to be sent on to bank accounts in Switzerland, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. Stephanie would also confess that Douglas had driven the car which had picked up Reuben Sturman after he jogged through Boron’s softball field and climbed under a prison fence.

Stephanie also had an interesting story to tell about the tax evasion trial. A young juror had noticed a beautiful woman in the court gallery. During a recess, the young juror was on a payphone when someone handed him a note, with a restaurant address, a time, and a lipstick kiss. The young juror met the beautiful woman for dinner at the restaurant. It could have been a pleasant meal, but: the woman kept wanting to talk about the trial. She was certain the defendant was innocent. Both the man and the woman had issues. The young man had a girlfriend. The beautiful woman was married. The beautiful woman was married to Reuben Sturman. The beautiful woman was Natalie Delgado. The man became very uncomfortable during the meal. Though he did not know who the beautiful woman was or who she was married to, he refused to see Delgado again. Richard Rosfelder heard this, and went pale. Reuben Sturman had almost gotten away again.

On February 9, 1993, federal marshals entered a small apartment in Anaheim, and arrested Reuben Sturman. On March 10, 1993, Sturman was indicted on extortion and other charges related to the destruction of adult bookstores. A jury found him guilty of extortion, but innocent of direct connection with the bombings. The judge refused to impose the large fine demanded by the government. Sturman told the court he was penniless. After being indicted for jury tampering over his wife’s involvement with a juror at his tax evasion trial, Sturman submitted a financial statement that declared his liquid assets to be roughly ten dollars. He was appointed a public defender.

In 1996, writer Eric Schlosser visited Sturman at the medium security Manchester prison in Kentucky. “You wanted to know how the industry started,” said Sturman. “You’re looking at the person who started it.” After the interview, Schlosser wondered if Reuben Sturman didn’t have one last trick up his sleeve. A year later, Sturman pulled his last escape: he made the jailbreak we all make, dying of heart and kidney failure on October 27, 1997. His death went almost entirely unnoticed. The next day, the New York Times published obituaries for art historian S. Lane Faison Jr. and federal judge Arthur Stephen Lane, but none for Sturman on that day, or any day after.

The industry which celebrates corporeality has become itself incorporeal. The sensual information of Sturman’s empire is now part of the electronic ethereal. The very qualities of invisibility and intangibility of an internet stream that make obscenity laws near obsolete has allowed freejackers to atomize profits, leaving the survivors to rip apart what’s left like rabid dogs.

In the mid-seventies, for the first and last time, Reuben Sturman dropped by the set of a porno he was funding. Shortly after, he walked off. He’d never been so bored in his life.

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David Lynch’s Inland Empire: An Attempt At A Roadmap

7What follows is an attempt to give some explanation of what takes place in the David Lynch movie Inland Empire. This is not an effort at explaining what the movie “means”, and I try to root as much of the summary in the material details of the movie, rather than through any theory: say, the man and the woman in this scene are married because he refers to seeing her at home, rather than this movie is about the various ways women are pitted against each other, therefore what takes place at such and such a point is this, etc. Analogously, this would not be an attempt to explain what a painting “means”, only to helpfully discern details in the painting that indicate its subject is a teacup or a nude woman. Others may well have a different perspective, and my opinion should not be taken as an emphatic one. I emphasize the word “attempt”.

Those looking for different explanations and in-depth interpretations might find Out 1 Film Journal: Inland Empire Discussion, Half-Born: An Inland Empire Analysis, David Lynch’s Inland Empire: An Attempt At Explanation by Daniel Barnes, Daivd Lynch’s Inland Empire: hypotheses and spoilers, Patrick Meaney’s Thoughts On Stuff: Inland Empire (Part One) (Part Two), and Metaphilm’s Reading Inland Empire: A Mental Toolbox for Interpreting a Lynch Film by Adam C. Walter helpful.

I try as much as possible to use credited names. The actor Peter J. Lucas plays both Piotrek Krol and Smitty, but as his credit is for Piotrek Krol, and no one ever refers to him as Smitty, I refer to the characters he plays always as Piotrek. I am unsure if the Phantom’s wife is given a credited name, so I refer to her, in a bold move, as “the Phantom’s wife”.

Those who have not seen this movie will find what comes next utterly incomprehensible. Those who have seen the movie may find it incomprehensible as well.

I start with what might be a summary of the plot, then go through the movie as the scenes take place in their actual chronological order, rather than the out of sequence form of the movie, including relevant deleted scenes which might supplement this interpretation of the structure. Where it may warrant, I include a full transcript of the scene.

What takes place in this film should not be unfamiliar to those who have seen David Lynch’s show Twin Peaks or its companion film, Fire Walk With Me. There is a group of mysterious figures, having powers making them like gods to us, who infiltrate human life. One of those gods, the Phantom, has gone rogue, just like Bob in Twin Peaks using his powers for selfish pleasure, thriving off of human suffering. The Phantom can place any human subject under a hypnotic spell so that they follow his orders, and he may also be able to take the human form of whoever he wishes. In human form, the Phantom is part of a love quadrangle in Poland. His ex-wife has fallen on hard times, working as a prostitute, carrying on an affair with Piotrek Krol, whose wife discovers this affair and resolves that this woman shall never take her husband away from her. Through hypnotism, the Phantom compels the jealous wife to kill her husband, then kill herself. The Phantom beats his own ex-wife to death. The jealous wife enters purgatory for what she has done.

The other gods, angry over what has taken place, resolve to destroy the Phantom. They will not kill him, however: the vengeance instead will be given to his past victims. The Phantom will be led into a trap, like a horse to the well, with reincarnations of all the past actors, in a “re-make” of the past tragedy, but one with a different outcome this time.

In this re-iteration, the lost girl who committed suicide will be re-born, though only halvely; she finds herself as an actress in a bountiful world that is promised her if she completes the task. She is Nikki Grace, married again to Piotrek Krol, except this time he takes the role of the control freak husband of the first plot. She, in turn, will play the part of the other woman, the one she was so jealous of in the first plot. She will carry on an affair with a man, Billy Side, whose wife will attempt to kill them both after she discovers their infidelity and is hypnotized by the Phantom. We move back and forth between the life of Nikki Grace promised her by the gods, and her actual, impoverished existence as Sue Blue, where she works occasionally as a prostitute, just as the other woman did in the first reiteration. Her rival in this life, Doris Side, moves back and forth as well, between her actual life and the vision given her by the Phantom. Two mysterious visitors remind Sue of the task that must be performed.

Sue’s husband travels to Poland as part of a circus. There, he attends a séance where he sees his dead wife from the last plot, and he is given the mission to kill the Phantom. For whatever reason, perhaps because the Phantom is too close to himself, he does not do so, and the evil god leaves before they catch him, to go to the Inland Empire. He, in fact, ends up next door to Sue, perhaps attracted by the reiteration of the quadrangle, and so he can exert his power over the husband. Sue’s husband returns, and beats her very badly, just as the other woman was beaten in the first iteration, her husband perhaps under the influence of the Phantom. As we move back and forth between the two worlds of the protagonist, Sue in the impoverished one, Nikki the actress in the mansion, we might note that they are two halves, with Nikki good, prim, decent, while Sue is violent, crude, carnal. The contrast is in full display in the penultimate act of the re-make, when Sue gives a lengthy confession to one of the gods. She is then stabbed by her rival, who then stabs herself, but something is different this time: she doesn’t die, but instead emerges whole, the two selves together. She takes the pistol given her husband, and kills the Phantom. The lost girl is liberated, and is restored to the husband of the first iteration, now in happy union. Sue is brought back to the mansion, her controlling husband gone, her tomorrow undecided.

AN ATTEMPT AT A SEQUENTIAL ORDER OF THE MOVIE

The Phantom’s wife is on the street as a prostitute. The sequence of yesterday and tomorrow are often confused. “Tell me if you’ve seen me before”, she says to the two prostitutes she will see again and again after this. One of them makes the sign of the Phantom: these women, who guide Sue through the visions of the past, know who her husband is, and what his powers are. Another possibility is that they make a simple spiral sign signifying an endless loop: the story seen is an ancient Polish gypsy folk-tale and it is the longest running radio show of the Baltic region. Though we see two iterations of the story, it has been run through many, many times with these parts. These laughing women are gods in human form, and they have seen it re-told again and again, and to be told twice more.

Phantom's wife

Prostitutes

PHANTOM’S WIFE
Hey, look at me…and tell me if you’ve known me before.

The Lost Girl, Piotrek’s wife, has fallen under the spell of the Phantom, compelled to kill her husband for his infidelity. She tries to fight it, but it is a losing battle.

Lost Girl prays

LOST GIRL
Cast out this wicked dream that has seized my heart.

At a later point, Piotrek’s wife begs her husband not to leave the house. He is going to see the other woman. She is not who he thinks she is: she is under the influence of the Phantom.

Piotrek leaves

Piotrek's wife

LOST GIRL
I can’t give you children. I know that…Are you listening to me?

PIOTREK
I’m going out now.

LOST GIRL
I’m not who you think I am! I’ll never let you have her! Never…

Piotrek leaves. It is after this that the Lost Girl kills Piotrek, then herself.

Inland Empire

Inland Empire

Inland Empire

The Phantom, who is either in the form of the other woman’s husband, or her actual husband, runs into her on the street. They used to be husband and wife: “I’m used to seeing you in our home”. She works as a prostitute, she is “out in the street, at night”. That the Phantom might only be in the form of her husband is there in the line “I think you don’t recognize me…my manner…”; his outward appearance is the same, but his behaviour is very different. The killings have already taken place, one of the dead being Piotrek, the man she was having an affair with: “I’ve seen the two of you together.”

Inland Empire

Inland Empire

THE PHANTOM
I almost didn’t recognize you.

THE PHANTOM’S WIFE
You startled me.

THE PHANTOM
Strange…to find you on the street.

THE PHANTOM’S WIFE
You seem upset…Are you?

THE PHANTOM
Should I be?

THE PHANTOM’S WIFE
No, but…

THE PHANTOM
So I shouldn’t be?

THE PHANTOM’S WIFE
No…but still you seem so…

THE PHANTOM
I think you don’t recognize me…my manner…

THE PHANTOM’S WIFE
That’s true. You seem different.

THE PHANTOM
You too. I’m used to seeing you in our home…not on the street…at night.

THE PHANTOM’S WIFE
Me too.

THE PHANTOM
There was a murder…

THE PHANTOM’S WIFE
How awful. Where?

THE PHANTOM
Just down the way. I think…you knew the person.

THE PHANTOM’S WIFE
Who was it?

THE PHANTOM
Don’t know the name…but I have seen you with this person.

THE PHANTOM’S WIFE
You have?

THE PHANTOM
I have. I think…I’ve seen the two of you together.

THE PHANTOM’S WIFE
That’s awful.

The Phantom is now in a room with the other woman. Their argument escalates.

Inland Empire

THE PHANTOM’S WIFE
I didn’t mean anything by that. I just asked a question.

THE PHANTOM
Why did you ask if it means nothing? Whatever you want is that it?

THE PHANTOM’S WIFE
No. Whatever you want?

THE PHANTOM
Oh…now it’s me.

THE PHANTOM’S WIFE
Always you.

THE PHANTOM
You can lie to me, but don’t lie to yourself. So sly…

He pushes her.

THE PHANTOM’S WIFE
Don’t push me.

THE PHANTOM
I’ll push you to hell.

THE PHANTOM’S WIFE
Stop it!

A key moment in the film. A stranger asks Piotrek what time it is, he replies that it is 9:45. Piotrek is already dead. His sense of time has stopped. He is seen on the screen, transparently, he is a ghost.

Inland Empire

PIOTREK looks at watch. Stranger comes by.

STRANGER
Excuse me, do you know the time?

PIOTREK
9:45 pm.

STRANGER
Thank you.

The gods often take the form of a trio of rabbits, occasionally miming the actions of mortals. Here, the trio mime what has just taken place, the female rabbit summoning the man as a transparent vision, as if a dead man at a sénace, just like the faint image of Piotrek.

Inland Empire

The Phantom beats his wife to death.

Inland Empire

Inland Empire

The Lost Girl is escorted into her purgatory by the Phantom. She is in-between two roles, the woman she once was, and the woman she’ll be in the next part, where she will be a prostitute.

Inland Empire

Inland Empire

WOMAN
The stairway is dark…I don’t recognize this hallway. Where are we?

MAN
At our room now.

WOMAN
I don’t have the key…

MAN
No, you gave it to me. I have it.

WOMAN
What’s wrong with me?

WOMAN
This is the room? I don’t recognize it…

MAN
Take off your clothes.

WOMAN
Sure…

MAN
You know what whores do?

WOMAN
Yes. They fuck.

WOMAN
Do you want to fuck me?

MAN
Just take off your clothes. I’ll tell you what I want.

WOMAN
Fine. Where am I? I’m afraid. I’m afraid…

The gods again as a group of rabbits as they perform on a stage for fellow gods in the audience. Later, they will hold a sénce in order to show Piotrek his past wife. Here, they serve as mediums for thoughts of the past plot: “I’m going to find out one day.”, one day Piotrek’s wife will discover who he is having an affair with. “I have a secret”, Piotrek’s affair. “When will you tell him?”, perhaps a thought of the second woman, that she was pregnant with Piotrek’s child. “Who could have known?”, how did Piotrek’s wife find out about the affair?

There are also two lines which provoke laughter, which may be jokes among the gods. “What time is it?” Either: silly mortals, unable to know when they are dead, or: it is past midnight, time for the end of the Phantom. “There has been no calls today”, they will receive a phone call from the other world near when things are in place for the Phantom to be destroyed. “I hear something”, one of the female rabbits laughs at this: they will hear Sue approaching right before she enters their domain, after she’s killed the Phantom. “I do not think it will be much longer now”: the plan to trap the Phantom is about to start. That they laugh so easily at humanity should underline the fact that these beings do not look on us with anything like compassion. They wish to see the Phantom destroyed because he has violated their own code, not out of any sympathy with those hurt. This, I think, is easily seen in their treatment of Sue, who they use as indifferently as any child with a dull toy.

Inland Empire

JANE RABBIT
I’m going to find out one day.

SUZIE RABBIT
When will you tell him?

JACK RABBIT
Who could have known?

SUZIE RABBIT
What time is it? (laughter)

JACK RABBIT
I have a secret.

JANE RABBIT
There has been no calls today. (laughter)

JACK RABBIT
I hear something. (SUZIE RABBIT laughs)

JANE RABBIT
I do not think it will be much longer now.

The male rabbit leaves the domain, fades out, and re-forms as Janek. The Phantom is given permission to enter the world again, so the gods may trap him.

Inland Empire

JANEK
You are looking for something?

THE PHANTOM
Yes…

JANEK
You are looking to go in?

THE PHANTOM
Yes.

JANEK
An opening?

THE PHANTOM
I look for an opening. Do you understand?

JANEK
Yes, I understand.

THE PHANTOM
Do you understand I look for an opening?

JANEK
Yes. I understand completely.

THE PHANTOM
Good. Good that you understand. That’s good! You understand!

Nikki meets with a mysterious visitor. The visitor gives a strong hint to her mission.

Inland Empire

VISITOR#1
A little boy went out to play. When he opened his door, he saw the world. As he passed through the doorway, he caused a reflection. Evil was born. Evil was born, and would follow the boy.

NIKKI
I’m sorry, what is that?

VISITOR#1
An old tale. Another variation. A little girl went out to play. Lost in the marketplace. As if half-born. Then: not through the market-place, you see that, don’t you? But through the alley, behind the marketplace…_this_ is the way to the palace. But. It isn’t something you remember. Forgetfulness. It happens to us all. And me? I’m the worst one. Oh! Where was I? Yes…is there a murder in your film?

NIKKI
No, it’s not part of the story.

VISITOR#1
No? I think you’re wrong about that.

NIKKI
No.

VISITOR#1
BRUTAL FUCKING MURDER!

NIKKI
I don’t like this kind of talk. Things you’ve been saying. I think you should go now.

VISITOR#1
Yeeees…me I can’t seem to remember if it’s today, two days from now, or yesterday. I suppose if it was _9:45_…I’d think it was after midnight. For instance, if today was tomorrow…you wouldn’t even remember that you owed on an unpaid bill. Actions do have consequences. And yet…there is…the magic! If it was tomorrow, you would be sitting over there.

A man has an evil reflection, which follows him, and may overtake him. This takes place in the first iteration of the story, when the Phantom overtakes one man, and the second, where it overtakes Piotrek. The Phantom follows Piotrek: he ends up living right next door.

There are two marketplaces, one is Hollywood, the other is prostitution. Nikki is lost in the first, Sue is lost in the second. Both are half-born, needing the other half. It is not through either marketplace they will find redemption, but through the alley, behind the studio or the street, that they will perform their mission of killing the Phantom, and it is by that route they will reach the palace, the mansion at the end. Nikki owes an unpaid bill, the killing of her husband for which she must repent by this mission. Though Piotrek, still thinking he’s alive, thinks it’s 9:45, the gods, like this visitor knows it’s actually after midnight: Piotrek and the others are dead, now reincarnated in another life, and it is overdue that they act against the Phantom.

Nikki and Devon are cast in the lead roles. They grow closer and begin an affair. The move from this visionary world of a wealthy actress to the reality of her more squalid existence is not discrete: the two bleed together slowly.

For instance, in this scene where Piotrek threatens Devon:

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NIKKI
Piotrek? Where did everyone go?

HEAD MANSERVANT
I’m sorry, he’s taken Mr. Berk upstairs.

NIKKI (scared)
Alright.

DEVON
Well, I’m not exactly sure at what you’re getting at.

PIOTREK
I’m going to put my arm around you and hold you close. You don’t mind, do you?

DEVON
What do you mean?

PIOTREK
Now, sometimes people don’t say exactly what they mean. And you have been guilty of this all evening. Now, I’ll tell you something. And 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, and if necessary, they’re enforced for us. Either way, she is bound. Do you understand this? There are consequences to one’s actions. And there would, be certain, consequences for wrong actions. Dark, they would be. And inescapable. Why instigate a need to suffer?

Reasonably alert listeners will notice that even though we appear to be off the movie set, Devon and Nikki, who, outside the movie have yankee northern accents, retain the southern accents of their roles.

Later, in this scene where Nikki and Devon begin their affair, with lines clearly referencing that they are off-camera, getting ready for the start of the shoot, all their dialogue is in the southern accents of their on-screen roles.

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DEVON gives NIKKI some coffee.

NIKKI
Thanks, Devon.

DEVON
Pleasure.

NIKKI
This is exactly what we need.

DEVON
After shooting, do you want to get something to eat with me?

NIKKI
I bet you know a cute little Italian restaurant. Tucked away. Private. Great food.

DEVON
I do. How did you know that? Doesn’t that sound nice?

P.A.
They’re ready for you.

NIKKI
I’ll be just a minute.

A long look at DEVON.

NIKKI
See ya after the shoot.

In this disturbing moment where Nikki can no longer figure out what is real, they speak in southern accent, then, when Nikki breaks character, she keeps her accent.

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NIKKI
I don’t know.

DEVON
Tell me.

DEVON
What?

NIKKI
Something’s happened. I think my husband knows about you. About us. He’ll kill you. And me. He’ll…

NIKKI
DAMN! This sounds like dialogue from our script.

When we see Nikki and Devon sleep together, we further see the overlap. They sleep together in the bedroom of Smitty’s house, yet they are spied on by Piotrek as Nikki’s wealthy, nattily dressed husband, not the poor man Sue is married to. Nikki, who is always very prim and restrained, slowly bleeds into her other self, talking explicitly about sex and the two of them coming together. Laura Dern, an excellent actress who has no difficulty keeping a southern accent, loses and gains it here, as she slips in and out of the second self. They talk about events of the film set, yet Devon calls her Sue, and she suddenly becomes very frightened that he doesn’t recognize her as Nikki, but only as this other woman.

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NIKKI
You feel that?

DEVON
Yeah.

NIKKI
Ohhh…

DEVON
You move like that again and I’ll come.

NIKKI
Okay. Wait. Stop, baby. Oh, god. Oh, yeah. Just do it one more time–oh, god. Yeah. Okay. Our first time. Fucking this good.

DEVON
You’re talking through the whole thing.

NIKKI
Oh, please.

DEVON
You talk too fucking much. Are you gonna talk through this whole thing?

NIKKI
Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…

NIKKI
Remember that night when I said that thing about it being — Oh, you feel that?

DEVON
Yeah.

NIKKI
Oh, remember — remember I told you about this thing that happened? It’s a story that happened yesterday, but I know it’s tomorrow.

DEVON
That doesn’t make sense.

NIKKI
It was that scene that we did yesterday, when I’m getting groceries for you with your car. And it was in that alley, and I parked the car. There’s always parking there. So there I am.

DEVON
What?

DEVON
Sue, damn.

NIKKI
It’s a scene we did yesterday. You weren’t in it. That one when I’m in the alley. I’m going to get groceries for you with your car, and I park there ’cause there’s always parking. You know the one. I see this writing on metal. And I start remembering something. I’m remembering…and…ohh…this whole thing starts flooding in, this whole memory. I start to remember. And I-I don’t know. I don’t know what it is.

NIKKI
It’s me. Devon, it’s me. Nikki!

DEVON
That don’ make any sense. What is this, Sue?

NIKKI
IT’S ME. DEVON. IT’S ME. NIKKI! LOOK AT ME, YOU FUCKER!

NIKKI
Look at me…please…

Note that she describes the event of going behind the alley which takes place next, as having happened yesterday. She becomes the mysterious visitor that was spotted on-set, yet this is an event that occurred long ago, on one of the first days of production. On that same day of the intruder, Devon noted that the set for Smitty’s house hadn’t been completed yet, but when Nikki runs to the house for refuge, it is fully built.

Another small detail: during the first scene of the set intruder, Nikki remains in her chair when Devon goes to chase the visitor.

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When it takes place again, Nikki is gone.

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Now, Sue ends up in Smitty’s house. This, I think, is a slightly distorted vision of Sue’s own squalid life, its true squalor only heard, never seen, in Sue’s monologues at the end. We may see several levels of a truer and truer account of Sue’s life and who she is, from the mansion, to what we see in the movie On High In Blue Tomorrows, Smitty’s house, and finally the monologues. We do not see Sue work as a prostitute at Smitty’s house. We see her miscarry at Smitty’s house, while in the monologues, the reference to the child by gender (“after my son died”) suggests a death outside the womb.

Though some of what takes place at Smitty’s house fits no sequence, some points might be placed before others.

Sue shops for food that night.

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She tells her husband that she’s pregnant.

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She miscarries in the kitchen.

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She is visited by the group of women, prostitute co-workers from the past life of the other woman, and of her own: we never see this most difficult part of Sue’s life, where she earned money for sex work. It is hinted at in the Hollywood Boulevard section, and only mentioned explicitly in the monologues.

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LANNI
Hey. Look at us and tell us if you’ve known us before.

SANDI
In the future…

DORI:
…you will be dreaming…

LORI:
…in a kind of sleep…

TERRI:
…when you open your eyes…

LANNI:
…someone familiar will be there.

This, I think, can only be a reference to what will take place at the end of the movie, after a sort of long dream has ended, and Sue will come across the hotel room with the Lost Girl, the woman she once was in a past life.

In a deleted scene, Sue receives a visit from a friend. The friend describes meeting Billy, but this may be the Phantom in the appearance of Billy: the dialogue described at the end is exactly that of the Lost Girl before she enters the purgatorial hotel room. I bold the two key sections.

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SUE
Where you been?

THE LADY
I had the most incredible experience. It all started at Al’s. I was sitting in the back, you know, where the bathrooms are. There was this guy…he turned around and looked at me and…I just lit up inside. You know. He asked me if I wanted a beer, and I said: I said, yeah, okay, thank you. And then I noticed he had a ring. He was married, but…I didn’t care. And then, he said he was just passing through. And, uh, he asked me my name, and I told him. He said his name was Billy. And, he said: nice to meet you. And I said, nice to meet you, Billy. Pete was in the back, serving up a beer to Sandra. And, uh, I don’t know, he suddenly, like, I met you before. And I’m like, I’m not falling for that line. But now I said, I think I’ve met you before. And I thought I’d met him before, but I don’t even remember where. And then suddenly he said, like…I wanted him so bad, and I felt he felt the same thing, you know? And then he said: I want you. And I said: where do you want to go? And he said he was staying at the hotel, and I said, at the Radisson? He said yeah. We just left. And Pete was looking at me, like…and Sandra was eyeballing this man I was leaving with. And then we got to the hotel. And I was…kinda hanging back…in the dark while he was getting his key. Everything was different. We went through the hallway…I didn’t know where I was. They must have changed the decor or something. Everything was different, I didn’t recognize…any of it. I didn’t know where I was. It was like I was dreaming.

Another deleted scene has Sue traveling through the various worlds, finally arriving at a hotel room of Nikki, the actress. The Phantom, through his magic, speaks to Nikki during a phonecall she has with Devon, their conversation making explicit mention of her previous life where she killed her husband in Poland. Note that even though this is clearly Nikki, she starts speaking with the southern accent of Sue, then gradually loses it until her final exclamation, when it is entirely gone. Devon’s accent is yankee. The gods, worried that their plan will fail, intervene in the phone conversation. I bold the most important lines.

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SUE looks down at NIKKI on the floor.

THE PHANTOM
You don’t remember?

DEVON
Nikki. Nikki. I can hardly hear you. Better question is: where are you?

THE PHANTOM
You don’t remember? Do you understand?

DEVON
Speak into the phone.

NIKKI
Nah, cause I didn’t kill anybody.

DEVON
What?

NIKKI
I didn’t kill anybody.

THE PHANTOM
But are you sure?

DEVON
Are you crazy? What are you talking about?

THE PHANTOM
Tell me everything.

NIKKI
‘Cuz I’ve never been there. I don’t know where that is.

THE PHANTOM
Isn’t it so, right?

NIKKI
I don’t even know where that is.

DEVON
NIKKI.

Static overwhelms line, and we cut to the RABBITS.

SUZIE RABBIT
THERE IS SOMETHING HERE.

NIKKI
Listen.

THE PHANTOM
Do you hear?

DEVON
I gotta go now.

NIKKI
There is something here. Hear that?

THE PHANTOM
It glows within me. Like gold.

NIKKI
Something here.

DEVON
I don’t hear anything.

NIKKI
Something here.

DEVON
Go to bed, Nikki.

NIKKI
Last night…

DEVON
What about it?

THE PHANTOM
It could have destroyed a dream, right?

NIKKI
Your voice is frightening me.

NIKKI
I want you to come round. Why don’t you come round? I can’t sleep anymore. I can’t even sleep. I can’t even go to sleep. I just want to go to sleep.

THE PHANTOM
It wasn’t me. Maybe I fucked you a few times…

DEVON
Nikki, are you still there?

NIKKI
Tell me the truth.

DEVON
What do you…what do you mean? What do you mean, Nikki?

CUT TO where SUE was standing before, observing – it’s the exact same space, but SUE is now gone. POV of a shaky camera, running to a locked door. JUMP CUT to SUE in formal dress looking on, suddenly breaking out in a deranged laugh.

Back to NIKKI on the floor.

NIKKI
WILL YOU STOP FUCKING WITH ME? STOP IT!

Sue travels to Billy’s house where she confronts her rival, Doris, Billy’s wife. The Sue we see is a much less demure, less controlled woman than that of the initial Blue Tomorrows scenes. She also uses the side entrance, rather than the main one, perhaps a demotion in class from earlier in the movie, a melding of her real identity and that of Blue Tomorrows. Yet she is not a stranger to these characters: they recognize her and know her by name. I read Billy’s expression as that of a man who most certainly is guilty of an affair with this woman.

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DORIS
Susan? What are you doing here?

SUE
What? I thought you were gone.

BILLY enters.

SUE
Billy? Something’s wrong. Bad wrong. Do you feel it?

BILLY
Sue.

SUE
Billy. Do you love me?

DORIS
What?

SUE
Billy.

BILLY
Sue.

SUE
Don’t you remember anything? How it was?

BILLY
I don’t understand what you’re talking about.

SUE
Are you listening?

BILLY
No. Now, you go on, Sue. You go on, now.

BUTLER
Would you like me to call the police?

DORIS
No. We can handle this.

SUE
Billy. Something’s wrong. I love you, Billy.

DORIS
I’ve had just about enough of you.

DORIS slaps SUE.

SUE
I love you.

Slapped again.

BILLY
Go away, Susie.

SUE
I love you.

BILLY
SUE!

SUE
I don’t care! It’s something more. I don’t care. It’s something more.

The circus drops by for the barbecue.

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Piotrek spills ketchup on himself, and it’s a reminder of the fatal wound inflicted on him in the past life.

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The Piotrek of this plot is as controlling a husband as the Phantom of the Polish one. He is good with animals, and I read in his long hard stare that his wife is one of those animals.

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PIOTREK
They are a group that performs in traveling shows…in the Baltic region.

SUE
What’s that got to do with you?

PIOTREK
I will take care for the animals. It was said that I have a way with animals.

While the circus is on tour, Piotrek is taken by Janek to the house where a séance calls up the spirit of his past wife. They give him a gun, or perhaps a magical weapon with only the external appearance of a gun, to kill the Phantom.

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LOST GIRL
There’s someone there…I have to tell you…There’s someone…

MAREK
Do you recognize her?

PIOTREK
I don’t see her…

MAREK
You understand she sent for you?

LOST GIRL
I don’t know where I am…

MAREK
I hear her now…

JANEK
Do you see her?

PIOTREK
No.

DAREK
It was…red…

MAREK
You work for someone?

PIOTREK
Yes.

MAREK
This is the one who she spoke of.

PIOTREK
The one I work for.

MAREK
So…you understand.

FFRANCISZEK
The horse was taken…to the well…

DAREK
Take the pistol…

JANEK
Let’s go!

FFRANCISZEK
Right away! It’s after midnight!

The Piotrek works for is the Phantom. “This is the one who she spoke of.”: this is the man who placed her under the spell to kill him. “The horse was taken…to the well…”: they are luring the Phantom into the trap. “It was…red…”: the Phantom has some affinity with red objects and red light.

The place where this session is held is where the murder took place. This is the view of the building where the killing took place in the first vision of the past:

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This is the exterior shot of the building where the sénce occurs:

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The old men transform into the rabbits.

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JANE RABBIT
I’m going to find out one day.

SUZIE RABBIT
It was red.

JACK RABBIT
Where was I?

JANE RABBIT
This isn’t the way it was. (laughter)

JACK RABBIT
It was the man in the green coat. (distorted)

SUZIE RABBIT
It had something to do with the telling of time. (distorted)

“I’m going to find out one day”: Doris, Sue’s rival, will find out about the affair one day. “Where was I?”, Piotrek has no idea if he is alive or dead. “This isn’t the way it was”: the re-telling of the story is going to go differently this time, which provokes laughter. Yes, this time things won’t go according to the Phantom’s plans, and he’ll be destroyed. “It was the man in the green coat”, this is Piotrek when Nikki runs into Smitty’s house: Piotrek is under the power of the Phantom, if not the Phantom in disguise. “It had something to do with the telling of time”: how the Lost Girl knew that Piotrek was dead, and that she had killed him. “It was red”: the color associated with the Phantom. This may also connect with Sue’s lamp, mentioned as an heirloom in one of Sue’s deleted monologues, the device itself carrying the spirit of the Phantom, and the curse.

A picture of the sinister lamp before Sue is visited by the prostitutes at her house:

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Piotrek travels with Janek to find the Phantom, but it is too late. The Phantom has already left for Inland Empire. This may be the gods’ intent: it is not Piotrek who must kill the Phantom, but Sue. A red vessel is tossed out containing dark liquid; maybe some raw essence the Phantom feeds on, like the creamed corn that the supernatural beings of Twin Peaks live off of.

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PIOTREK
Gordy!

GORDY
What do you want?

PIOTREK
Where is he?

GORDY
What’s the point? Are you blind? He’s gone!

PIOTREK
Everybody?

GORDY
Why should I answer your stupid questions? You’re nothing! You’ve done nothing!

PIOTREK
Where did he go?

GORDY
No idea. He talked…mumbled something about Inland Empire.

While Piotrek is gone, Sue receives a second visitor who reminds her of the unpaid bill, the deed from the past life which she must make right.

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VISITOR#2
I came about an unpaid bill that need paying.

SUE
Alright.

VISITOR#2
Do you know…the man who lives here? (softly) Do you know him?

SUE
Yes.

VISITOR#2
It is an unpaid bill that needs paying.

SUE
You already said that.

VISITOR#2
Do you know the man who lives next door? “Krimp” is the name.

Sue goes over to the house next door, and takes the screwdriver. She briefly spots the Phantom, who then disappears.

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Though we could put the next sequence in many places, it seems a good fit at this point. Sue picks up the phone to try and reach Billy.

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SUE listens while the phone rings. There is a change in tone, the line crackling, as if the call was re-routed. JACK RABBIT picks up the phone.

SUE (v.o.)
Billy?

The audience with the RABBITS laughs hard.

In this sequence, Sue wears the same night dress we see when she is beaten. A possible assumption is that Piotrek overhears her make this call, and realizes her infidelity. This is the phone call the rabbits were waiting for in their first sequence, when Jane Rabbit spoke of there being “no calls today”. This is the harbinger that the plot is nearing its end. It is this discovery of the affair which prompts the fight. Sue is beaten very badly by her husband, an echo of the beating the other woman got in the Polish plot.

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PIOTREK
I’m not who you think I am. Are you listening to me? I know it for a fact. I can’t father children.

After this night, her wounds from this beating still very visible, she travels into the city.

Her rival, Doris Side, falls under the spell of the Phantom.

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In deleted scenes, we see Doris travel to meet Sue to kill her.

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From the opening of this sequence, Sue is much closer to the cruel, crude woman of the interrogation. When she says “I’m a whore”, it is with a tone of defeated recognition: yes, this is how rough her life was all along. The rest of her opening lines on Hollywood Boulevard are a nasty, teasing echo of her own self entering the purgatorial room.

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MAN
Just take off your clothes. I’ll tell you what I want.

WOMAN
Fine. Where am I? I’m afraid. I’m afraid…

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SUE
I’m a whore. (mock whining) Wheeeeeeeere am I? I’m afraaaaaaid!

That she says one of the first lines in such a cruel, mocking way is perhaps because this figure is Sue with only her base, malicious qualities, all the traits the Phantom exploits in others to do his nasty work, whether it be Sue’s malevolence, the murderous envy of Doris, or the controlling rage of Piotrek. This is a movie of one set of doubles already, prim Nikki and vulgar Sue, now with another doppelganger brought in, a Sue that is not simply used to a coarse, difficult life, but one that is a dangerous lunatic. It is this Sue, who, in her former life as the Lost Girl committed murder before killing herself.

We are shown this Sue with the prostitutes, then given the original Sue walking down the other side of the street, before she sees her disturbed mirror image, and does, forgive me, a double take:

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This is an echo of an earlier moment, when Sue sees an early vision of this very double, and has a similar fearful reaction:

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A small, digressionary note: for a handsome man such as Willem Dafoe to make himself into a monster in, say, Wild at Heart is a matter of no issue. For a beautiful woman such as Laura Dern to make herself into a grotesque for this movie took some bravery, for there are no shortage of those who will use any moment of ugliness in a woman, however brief, even if by design, as an avenue for hurt. In a better world, it is a bravery that should be unnecessary, but in this one, in ours now, I note it.

Sue flees Doris, and ends up at a room at the top of a long flight of stairs where she speaks of her life with Mr. K, the Jack Rabbit in human form. We’re given the starkest vision of her life so far. Though these monologues are interspersed throughout the film, I place them all here. As the wounds from her beating are visible in every monologue, I put every one at this point, after the assault. As said before, the Sue who speaks here is a far cruder, tougher woman than we see at any point in the film. Her accent is far more country than the Sue of Blue Tomorrows or of the Smitty house.

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MONOLOGUE #1

SUE
I don’t really understand what I’m doing here. That’s one hell of a fucking climb getting up here. So I was told you can help me. I guess I’ll just tell you the thing. I’m just gonna catch my breath. There was this man…I once knew. His name was…it doesn’t matter what his name was. A lot of guys change. They don’t change, but they reveal. In time, they reveal what they really are. You know what I mean? It’s an old story. Well, this guy…he revealed something. Looking back on it…all along it was being revealed. He was planning something. Planning something with me in mind. When I get mad, I really get mad. I gouged a man’s out when I was fifteen once. He was trying to rape me. I mean, the fucker had it out. He was pushing my legs apart. I got a finger in his eye socket. Pretty quick, rape was a long way off his mind. He was crying and screaming like a baby. “What a fucking man you are,” I said. There was goo. But he could still see me with the one eye…see me coming at him…grabbing his nuts and tearing at ‘em. He seen that, all right, and felt it, too. He was screamin’ and wailin’ like a little baby, sittin’ in the corner and crying…moaning and hugging his nuts till the ambulance come. The ambulance guys…they say, “What the fuck happened here?” I say, “He come to a reaping what he been sowing, that’s what.” They say, “Fucker been sowing some kind of heavy shit.”

MONOLOGUE #2

SUE
Seen a guy come at me with a crowbar once. Guess he figured I was two-timing him. I was coming home, we were shacked up at the time. He was waiting for me in the half-light. Waiting for me to come home. Guess he had worked himself into some kind of frenzy. I open the fucking door…and I see this fucking shape burst out of the chair…and a crowbar going up. I scream, and turn. Fucking crowbar comes down, smashing in that fucking door, cheap piece of shit. It just splinters into a thousand pieces, like it was glass, shit flying everywhere. I don’t take this kind of behavior. I see what this fucker was up to. BAM! I kick him in the nuts so hard he go crawling up inside his brain for a refuge. He goes down like a two dollar whore. Crying and shit, telling me he’s done nothing but love me and bullshit.

INTERROGATOR
Were you in fact seeing another man?

SUE
I screwed a couple guys for drinks, no big deal. This one guy was kinda cute. Fucker had a dick like a rhinoceros. He’d fuck the shit out of you, I tell you what. He’d buy me a couple of drinks after. We’d talk, he’d tell me about the town he grew up in. All the little girls he fucked. There was a chemical factory in this town, and he’d tell me it was putting so much shit in the air you couldn’t think straight. It got to a lot of the people. There was a lot of crazy shit going on there. People having weird dreams, seeing things that wasn’t there. This one time, this one little girl. She was staring off at something one time. Starts screaming. The people hanging round come to her and ask what’s wrong, and uh, she says she sees the end of the world. All fire and smoke and blood running. You know, like they say, the wailing and the gnashing of the teeth.

MONOLOGUE#3

SUE
Fucker went to some Eastern European shithole. With the fucking circus. Can you fucking believe that? That circus. Talk about carnies. Carnies, gypsies, con men, you name it. A real fucking ball of shit. There was this guy they had working there. He’d start talking. You know, real regular. Talking up the crowd. They’d start listening. Pushing in closer. He did some sort of thing on people. They all called him “the Phantom”. He got into a barroom fight one night. All the bar was arrested. A lot of them fucking circus clowns. So when they take them all down to the station? Guess what? The Phantom’s done gone and 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 sorta car stick for the other one. She killed three kids in the first grade. This is the kind of shit…Fucking funny. People. They all got their own peculiarities. Their own way of living.

The Phantom, who may be able to change his outward form, has taken on the appearance of a North Carolina marine.

MONOLOGUE#4

SUE
It was a funny name…they was called “Krimp”.

A DELETED MONOLOGUE FRAGMENT ON THE LAMP

I got a lamp. I keep it by my bed. It’s my sister’s bed, but the lamp is mine. Same damn lamp’s always been with me. It’s my sister’s bed, but my lamp. I won’t go anywhere without that lamp. It’s a lamp from my family. On my momma’s side. She was the one who changed it to the red shade it’s got now. It was a floral pattern one before. I seen a picture of it. It had that floral pattern shade. Picture was black and white, so I couldn’t see the actual color of it. Picture was really weird. It had a…man’s hairy arm on the edge of the picture. It was sorta coming in on the side. I asked my momma…if that was my daddy’s arm in the picture. She said, no, dear, that ain’t your daddy there. I asked, who is it then? She said, it’s none of your business. Why wouldn’t she just tell me it was my daddy? I would have forgotten all about it. This way, I keep wondering who the fuck it was hanging around our house. It could have been anybody. Sorta makes you wonder.

This is the previously mentioned lamp that occasionally flashes with sinister light.

MONOLOGUE#5

SUE
There was this man I once knew. I’m trying to tell you so you’ll understand how it went. The thing is, I don’t know what was before or after. I don’t know what happened first. And it’s kinda laid a mind-fuck on me. My husband…he’s fucking hiding something. He was acting all fucking weird one night before he left…he was talking this foreign talk…and telling loud fucking stories…

(intercut with her being beaten by her husband)

SUE
Like this, his face all red. His eyes bugging out. I figured one day I’d wake up and figure out just what yesterday was all about. I’m not too keen about thinking about tomorrow. Today’s slipping by. I guess after my son died…I went into a bad time…when I was watching everything go round me while I was standing in the middle. Watching it…like in a dark theater, before they bring the lights up. I’m sitting there…wondering, how can this be?

INTERROGATOR
Hello? Yeah? She’s still here. I don’t think it will be too much longer. Yeah. The horse to the well. Yeah. Huh? Yeah. He’s around here someplace. That’s for sure. Czerwone time.

It won’t be much longer until the confrontation with the Phantom. “The horse to the well”: the trap they’ve set. “He’s around here someplace”, the Phantom is nearby. “Czerwone” is polish for red. Red time might be Phantom time or blood time.

After this, Sue flees to the street where she is stabbed by Doris.

Inland Empire

From a deleted scene, Doris goes on to kill Billy, just as Piotrek was killed in the first plot.

Inland Empire

Doris is fighting these impulses just as the Lost Girl did, so she turns herself in to the police, but it is too late. The last person she is supposed to kill is herself, and she’s already done the job, sticking the screwdriver in, an echo of the very wound of the Lost Girl’s suicide.

Inland Empire

Inland Empire

Inland Empire

Inland Empire

Inland Empire

DETECTIVE HUTCHINSON
Take a seat. What’s this all about?

DORIS
I’ve been hypnotized or something.

HUTCHINSON
Hypnotized?

DORIS
I’ve got a…I’m gonna kill someone.

HUTCHINSON
Oh yeah? Who ya gonna kill?

DORIS
I don’t know.

HUTCHINSON
Who hypnotized you?

DORIS
I saw him looking at me once…when I looked around the bar. He then moved his hands and he said I would know who it was.

HUTCHINSON
How are you gonna kill this person?

DORIS
With a screwdriver.

Sue wakes from the movie set, with, I believe, her two selves joined. The point is left ambiguous: it is her accent which lets us know whether she’s Nikki, Sue, or the coarse, truest, Susan of the interrogation, and she never speaks again after this point. The deaths of Billy and Doris may be as impermanent as Sue’s, part of the ruse to lure in the Phantom, something like when an elaborate con game in a movie is played on a mark, the mark calling some police at the end, a shoot-out taking place, the mark fleeing in panic, and then there is the big reveal: the police are con accomplices in disguise and the would-be victims rise from the mess of exploded squibs.

She gets the gun given to Piotrek.

Inland Empire

Inland Empire

She kills the Phantom. She sees in him a brief reflection of herself, distorted by lunatic hate, the very feeling that caused her to kill her husband and herself in a previous life. The Phantom bleeds the dark bile that was in the red cup thrown to the ground in Poland.

Inland Empire

Inland Empire

Inland Empire

She goes to the gods’ haven and opens the door. She frees her earlier self from purgatory. Her former self is reunited with her dead husband and Sue’s child, the child the Lost Girl could not have. The gods applaud her for her work. She has taken the path to the palace. That this is a merger of the two selves, the refined Nikki of the early section, and the coarse tough Sue of the interrogation is suggested in her final appearance: the demure pose of Nikki with the hair style of the later Sue, not the hair worn long or pony-tailed by the actress.

Inland Empire

Inland Empire

Inland Empire

Inland Empire

Inland Empire

(All images and script excerpts copyright Absurda productions.)

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