Sunday, May 24, 2009

Inland Empire Connections: The Marine's Sister

Despite having only a few seconds of screen time before exiting with a pleasure droning ‘Sweeeet’, the character known simply as "the Marine’s Sister" is a far more revelatory key to David Lynch's Inland Empire than she initially seems.

Indeed, this crutch bearing figure is actually identified a long time before her appearance. In her angry monologue to Mr K, while describing a marine from North Carolina* known as the Phantom, Susan Blue (Laura Dern) makes reference to the Phantom's one-legged sister "with a car stick for a leg". She also mentions that his sister killed three kids in the first grade. Considering how central the Phantom is to Inland Empire - he first appears looking for an opening and is then shot by Blue at the end - what does his sister reveal about his role in the film?

Here, it is Lynch's previous films that hold the clues to the Marine's sister, most noticeably in the character of Juana Durango (played by Grace Zabrinskie) in Wild At Heart.

Juana is the hit-woman called upon to assassinate Johnnie (Harry Dean Stanton). Like the Marine’s sister, she is somewhat incapacitated and need crutches to walk (the sister with no leg, Juana with one foot bigger than the other). Echoing the Marine's sister's long drawn out 'Sweeet', Juana is a figure of obscene enjoyment, perversely circling around her object (counting to ten) before finally killing him. But what’s important here is that Juana is not the one actually doing the killing. Although her partner Reggie warns Johnnie that "he can't stop her", it is in fact Reggie who is doing the killing in order to serve her enjoyment.

Closer examination of this scene reveals further clues. As Juana is harassing Johnnie, the character of Dropshadow holds a gun over Johnnie's shoulder, calling it "a marine issue". In a previous scene from the script (deleted in the film), Reggie reveals that he owns an appliance store but also works for the government in the Secret Service. The dialogue also states that he has a sponsor (General Osvaldo Tamarindo y Ramirez) and that he requires permission to kill. I will explain these clues further in my next post, but at this point merely make note that Bobby Peru (Willem Defoe) also has a US Marine Corps (USMC) tatoo on his hand and is said to have served in Vietnam where he killed "lotta women and kids and old people". Peru is not only the recipient of the second silver dollar but he also works with Juana's similar looking daughter (Isabella Rossellini).

This brings us to the connections with Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. The relationship between MIKE, the Man From Another Place (MFAP) and BOB is an even more revealing clue as to the nature of Juana and the Marine's sister. Echoing Reggie's statement that he owns an appliance store, Man From Another Place, MIKE and BOB "live above a convenience store". As with Reggie's subservience to Juana, the character of BOB (who appears so dominating and threatening) is eventually shown to be subservient to MIKE and the Man From Another Place. As critic Todd McGowan points out in his book 'The Impossible David Lynch', instead of possessing the source of enjoyment, BOB's actions actually allow MFAP to enjoy (symbolised by the corn MFAP eats). After BOB has killed Laura Palmer, MFAP puts his hand on MIKE and both ask for “all their garmonbozia (pain/suffering)”.

Here, one should recall MFAP's earlier statement - “I am the arm” - and the connection between MIKE and MFAP, Juana and the Marine's sister becomes clearer. Each of the characters are somehow disjointed, incomplete. As McGowan explains using Lacan's theory of subjectivisation, the body detached from itself is a result of the subject's submission to the signifier, the social symbolic sphere, which imposes itself as a cut on the body. The detached body part then functions as the libido for the subject, the source of drive. As we continually seek our detached body part, we continually return to and repeat the experience of loss (the movement of drive as such) and it is this that provides enjoyment. With their detached body parts, MIKE/MFAP, Juana and the Marine's Sister can be seen as representative of drive, a drive whose enjoyment BOB, Reggie and the Phantom ultimately feed.

What does this then reveal about Inland Empire's key character - the Phantom himself? I'll take this up in my next post.

*North Carolina happens to be the state in which Blue Velvet takes place and the violent opening of Wild At Heart also took place "somewhere on the border between North and South Carolina".

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Blogger Donovan said...

Absolutely brilliant stuff. More please. Lifelong fan of Lynch's work here.

12:26 PM  

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