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Mulholland Drive

David Lynch is one of the world’s most unique filmmakers, crafting unusual, dream-like movies, heavy on symbolism and atmosphere. Mulholland Drive is perhaps his greatest movie, second only to Blue Velvet; it’s a tormented, erotic, neo-noir fantasy, and it’s fascinating to watch. The movie actually started life as a television show – ABC wanted another Twin Peaks, and commissioned Lynch to shoot the pilot for Mulholland Drvie – a Hollywood-set story about a couple of actresses involved in a mysterious detective case of murder and missing identities. ABC ultimately didn’t like what Lynch presented them with and the project was scrapped, until Canal Plus approached the director with an extra 2 million and the desire to turn the pilot into a feature length film; Lynch just had to provide closure to the strange story he’d begun.mul7Mulholland Drive is, in standard Lynch fashion, unusual in terms of narrative. It follows, in a round-about-way, a young aspiring actress named Betty (Naomi Watts) who moves into her aunt’s Hollywood apartment with the dream of becoming a movie star. Meanwhile, another woman played by Laura Elena Harring loses her memory in a strange car accident on Mulholland Drive. Harring begins calling herself Rita after Rita Hayworth and with Betty, sets out to find her missing identity. Meanwhile, movie director Adam (Justin Theroux) faces a series of bizarre events – his latest movie is hijacked by an unusual crew who seem maliciously insistent on which actress he casts in the lead role; he catches his wife having affair, finds his bank account strangely lacking in funds, and is forced to meet up with a man referred to as The Cowboy. Various other unusual events conspire throughout the narrative, and its quickly apparent that not everything is as it seems with Mulholland Drive.mul6On first viewing its easy to dismiss Mulholland Drive – it’s essentially an aimless movie built on a cobbled together TV pilot. Some have argued that Lynch basically added a surreal ending to what he already had – complete with cinema-friendly sex scenes – hence why for some, the movie doesn’t make any sense at all; it’s a pilot promising bigger things with an ending it wasn’t designed for. Imagine if Twin Peaks had been a movie made up of its first and final episodes and you’ll have a good indication of how some people think of this film. There’s also the fact that it can be seen as rather transgressive – the movie works with many familiar Lynch tropes – slipped and shared identities, dwarves in red-curtained rooms – and doesn’t really do much we haven’t seen Lynch do before. However watching the movie a second time makes it far easier to take in, and the previously mentioned argument becomes void – yes Lynch did piece the movie together based on a failed pilot, but what he pieced together was a fantastic, dark and haunting movie about Hollywood and dreams. The method of reaching this movie may have been flawed, but the end result is a superior piece of art. Lynch makes his movies up on the spot anyway – he’s more interested in mood and style than narrative conventions – and its likely that even if Mulholland Drive had been picked up by ABC, it wouldn’t have reached audience expected conclusions. In terms of familiar tropes, Mulholland can be seen as the ultimate Lynch movie, something he’s been working towards his entire career, as all of the tropes here are used so well; this is a summation of Lynch’s filmography, essentially a love-letter to his fans.mul2The narrative can be split, fairly easily, into two distinct sections – the first is essentially watching someone else’s dream, hence the unusual plot-structure, the way characters fall in and out of the movie, and strange ways characters react to everything. The second section can be seen as what happens when the dreamer awakes to reality – this section built on visual and dialogue motifs from the dream – and finds that the real world isn’t as pleasant as the dream one. The second section is also told out of chronology and intercut with flashbacks, though Lynch refuses to let the audience know where they are within his character’s timelines, and across the whole movie, characters change, share, or lose their own identities. It’s a movie which requires numerous rewatches but gets stronger with each one. Breaking the movie down into two sections however is rather clinical and the movie shouldn’t be viewed in such a way – it’s an experience, the closest any filmmaker has come to putting a dream on screen, with a non-linear, looping, spiralling plot – you’re meant to get the vibe, without ever knowing why everything you’re watching is happening. Lynch doesn’t follow any kind of conventional plot structure or narrative pattern and so trying to analyse the movie in terms of ‘why’ is a fruitless endeavourer, and really, completely missing the point. The movie works on dream logic, the dazed, half-awake feelings when a sleeper wakes up and tries to hold onto the fragments of their dreams; it’s essentially an experience, and one to let wash over you.mul1And what an experience it is. Muholland Drive is one of the most atmospheric movies ever made, with a haunting soundtrack by Angelo Badalamenti – a man who understands Lynch’s dream-mind and puts strange music together accordingly – the score is both soaring and terrifying and comes with a sense of ultra, heightened reality, strengthened in long takes where characters look at and seem to know one another – a style which heavily influenced Drive years later. This is a dream on film and comes across as such, with all the necessary diversions and comedic surrealism – the scene with the hitman’s botched job is hilarious for example, as is the studio exec discussion and resulting expresso-focused meltdown. Of course, there are the nightmare moments too. The scary scenes in Mulholland Drive come from nowhere and tend to be much more frightening than most horror movies – the man behind the diner is horrific, as are the creepy old couple in the climax. There’s wonderful imagery and symbolism throughout, and an amazing scene set in a nightclub with recorded music – an extension of the same-idea seen in Blue Velvet, but it’s taken further here, becoming something both beautiful and unsettling. The dream atmosphere means the movie is laced with both elevated highs – Betty landing in Hollywood – and inexplicable moments of dread – such as when Betty and Rita find the mysterious Diane’s apartment. The dual plot and shifting realities and timelines means that all the images, dialogue and events in the movie take on a greater significance on a second viewing. The easiest way to explain Mulholland Drive is to imagine a recent dream featuring people you know, and then think about how that those people were similar, yet completely different, from their real life counterparts.mul8That said, the movie’s strength doesn’t come entirely from its unusual dream-plot and atmosphere. The individual plots which make up the first half of the movie in particular are fascinating – even when you’ve seen the movie before and know what’s going to happen, it’s hard not to get involved in the various plot threads here – you want to know who Rita was, you want to know why Adam’s movie is being shut down, why those in charge demand such a particular leading lady. In a lesser director’s hands, this kind of plotting could frustrate the audience, but Lynch is so sincere and committed that it’s hard not to be swept along with him. The movie also works as a great commentary on Hollywood and has a great, neo-noir vibe, a throwback to an older style of filmmaking, with numerous homage’s and references throughout.mul4Mulholland Drive can be viewed as a parody of Hollywood, with the ending a possible representation of the harshness of the town, how it chews people up and abandons them in their time of need. The scene in which Betty auditions for a movie is possibly the most fascinating in the film and the best example of the Hollywood theme – we see Betty practising her performance with Rita and it’s fairly standard – when it’s time for the real thing however, Betty is sexy and seductive and utterly sells the scene, acting in a way we’ve never seen her before, in a way which we didn’t believe capable of her. The scene can be read in two ways – is Betty smarter than she looks, deliberately playing seductively in order to get a movie role? Or is her new-found acting ability representative of how Hollywood corrupts innocence? Lynch leaves the answer ambiguous and the scene makes for very interesting viewing. mul5The movie also works via its central love story, the relationship between Betty and Rita, which comes with a fragmented, dream-like atmosphere and is both funny, sweet, and incredibly erotic. Mulholland Drive can be seen as both an exploration of new love, and primarily, a look into the devastation of a break-up, how to deal when your ex moves on, and for such a unique and strange movie, is one of the sharpest commentaries on post-breakup anguish. The final scenes between Betty and Rita, or Camilla and Diane, are crushing. It can be argued that Lynch writes fairly exploitive roles for women – his heroines tend to be embroiled in sex, nudity and violence – but he certainly writes roles in which actresses can flourish, by pushing them through a range of emotional states. Harring is very likable as Rita and utterly hate-able as Camilla, and has amazing chemistry with Watts throughout, who steals the show here. This is Watts’s best role – going from innocent and sweet, to plucky detective, and then sexually charged, broken lover. Her face literally changes as the movie progresses – all the joy and happiness washes out of her, and Watts towards the end of this movie is haunting and sad. It’s rare to see an actress make such a switch, from the campy, deliberately over-the-top old Hollywood acting style at the start, to the horrific breakdowns and horrors of the ending. It’s an amazing performance and should have provided an Oscar nomination.mul3Mulholland Drive is David Lynch’s gift to his fans and a stunning, eerie movie to watch. It’s a summary of everything about David Lynch and the best film he’s ever produced. Inland Empire, his follow-up movie, covers a lot of same ground but is somehow more indulgent than Mulholland, and far less interesting to watch. This is the director at the top of his game and certainly one of the best movies made this century. It’s arguably one of the greatest movies ever made, and one which everyone needs to see.


4 thoughts on “Mulholland Drive

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