Originally conceived as a TV series à la Twin Peaks, Mulholland Drive is David Lynch at his most Lynchian: baffling, disturbing and cinematic. Set in a surrealist Hollywood, the plot follows Betty (Naomi Watts) as she arrives in LA to embark on a career as an actress.
No simple rags-to-riches tale of ingenues and showbiz dreams, however, Mulholland Drive layers Betty’s story with noirish intrigue when she meets Rita (Laura Harring), on the run after a car accident leaves her with memory loss. In between auditions the pair embark on a quest to discover Rita’s true identity. This being Lynch, of course, nothing is straightforward or even conventionally logical. Cue an early scene set in the recurring Winkie’s Diner that is arguably the most legitimately terrifying nightmare sequence in cinema and a second act twist that continues to have cineastes scratching their heads in intrigued bafflement.
Mulholland Drive’s genius is in its flailing narrative strands which, defying sequential coherence, weave an endlessly compelling whole. The intensely dark eroticism of Betty’s famous audition scene foreshadows her love affair with Rita, whereas the various humiliations of film director Adam (Justin Theroux) get a payoff of sorts in the final act. Elsewhere, typically Lynchian imagery abounds – shadowy lone figures reside in crimson rooms and strange cowboys issue enigmatic commands, while a mix of intentionally stiff line readings and disorienting sound design capture the unreality of dreaming.
A puzzle box with no answer, Mulholland Drive is as logically incoherent as it is experientially sublime. Knowingly exploiting the tropes and clichés of Hollywood film while eschewing its formal and logical boundaries, Lynch’s film strikes at the heart of cinema’s power to represent mood, sensation and altered states of perception. There are innumerable readings of Mulholland Drive’s abundant mysteries – the first half as a dream; the identity of the enigmatic cowboy; the nature of the blue box; the meaning of the film’s final spoken word. But trying to solve Lynch’s film, to impose linear sense on the surreal, is a fool’s errand.
Mulholland Drive knowingly invites nuanced analysis while defying logical explanation. A swirling evocation of mood, sensation and form, Mulholland Drive’s patterns endlessly shift like the yellow wallpaper of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story. Lynch’s film rejects cinematic conventions yet is rooted in cinema’s great narrative and metaphysical traditions; the voices of Hitchcock, Argento and Bergman all echo along Mulholland Drive’s celluloid highway, while its shadows conceal the faces of a hundred films noir.
Christopher Machell | @Dr_Machell