Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)


Naomi Watts (Betty), Laura Harring (Rita), Ann Miller (Coco), Justin Theroux (Adam Kesher). Screenplay by David Lynch. Directed by David Lynch. Rating: 15. Running time: 147 minutes.

Nobody could ever accuse David Lynch of not being intriguing, but those accustomed with his work will know his adventurous filmmaking always suffered significant flaws up until Mulholland Drive. For all its energy, Blue Velvet disappointed in its lack of meaning. Lost Highway didn’t even reach a level of coherency that allowed for appreciation. But in 2001, it seems that Lynch’s decades of experimentation decided to pay off in silver dollars. Everything – absolutely everything – that he has tried before comes together here. The creepiness of a world seemingly ran by oddball suited men; the Hollywood clichés and homages, consciously adopted to make a familiar yet completely new noir movie gift-wrapped with the obligatory femme fatale; the inevitable twists flowing from dream-based surrealism screwing everything up; the sexual undertones of Hitchcockian cinema becoming overtones in these liberal modern times, Mulholland Drive is enthralling and it is an enigma, and over the decades it will grow to be regarded as the high point of Lynchian art.

There’s the pitch to those who need Mulholland Drive sold to them. What follows is a minor analysis, so take this as your spoiler alert, unless you want to ruin the experience of a film that, like Psycho, asks you to follow it blind. The film’s success – on that first special viewing, at least- depends on the audience’s ignorance of its utterly wild logic and eventual direction, and so to approach it with eyes closed is a must.

I must disappoint any Lynch fans expecting originality in my interpretation, for the way I understand the film is in no way unconventional. I cannot see a better way to complete the jigsaw than to take the first three quarters as dream, the final sequence as reality. Everything fits perfectly, and quite magnificently, if Betty is a mental construction of how Diane wants to be, and Rita as how she wishes Camilla was. From the fact that Naomi Watts plays Betty so joyfully and innocently, almost as the Lisa Fremont type insofar as she is completely engrossed in the mystery she is a part of, to the way she gets Rita to be completely dependent on her whilst she successfully pursues her acting career, it’s the most elaborate defence mechanism imaginable for a woman who apparently has her ex-lover murdered out of jealousy, firstly on the sexual front, but also with regards to her acting achievements. Only in the movies and in dreams do events pan out this way. Think of the way Betty accepts Rita into her life with no questions asked; consider how she inexplicably opens the shower door in their first encounter. The rest – that is, all the evil conniving men surrounding this divine, insanely erotic relationship – can be understood as nasty projections of bad experiences Diane can only dream they suffer. The fantasy she concocts slowly unravels, culminating in the eerie Silencio scene, where the two women watch an opera performance in awe, before the woman singing collapses but her voice continues. The illusion becomes obvious; the dream disintegrates.

The texture here is indescribable: the beauty of the actresses not up for question, and the same going for Lynch’s command of the paintbrush, which is undoubtedly the right way of putting it when his control of the camera is even more masterful than his work on canvass. For the majority of its duration Mulholland Drive feels like an extremely polished noir that you know is going to end up different, and indeed it does, the overhaul of everything, from characters to chronology, arriving with an explosion. Watts moves effortlessly from blissful Betty to vicious Diane. Mulholland Drive arrives easily at its status as a work that is utterly watchable, without once betraying its Lynchian foundations. Thank you, David Lynch, for rewarding patience. The long wait for a film of beauty, genius, intrigue and insanity eventually paid off.

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