Saturday, March 3, 2012

100 Movies - No. 64: Mulholland Dr.

64. Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Drama, Mystery, Thriller, 147 minutes
Directed by David Lynch
Starring Naomi Watts, Laura Harring and Justin Theroux

Mulholland Dr. is a wild ride and it's best to experience it without knowing anything the first time you see it. The plot is non-linear and the ending isn't typical Hollywood fare. Most of my friends hated it and thought it was a waste of their time, but for those who like it, the experience is up there with the best that film has to offer.

If you are analytical and curious enough to watch the film two or three times in quick succession, you're the type of person who may end up loving this film. If you haven't seen it and think you fit that description, I hope you will give it a try.

Mulholland Dr. is my favorite film of all time.

The story is full of mystery and unfolds like a detective story for the first two-thirds of the film. Betty (Naomi Watts), an aspiring actress, wins a jitterbug contest and uses it as an opportunity to fly to Los Angeles to seek out an acting career. Immediately after, we see a car crash in which Rita (Laura Harring) suffers amnesia and seeks refuge in the home where Betty is staying. The two soon meet and Betty tries to help Rita remember who she is.

The film was intended to be a television series and the first two acts were formed by the aborted pilot. Eventually, new funding allowed Lynch to finish the film and it evolved into an entirely different story. As the story progresses, the distinction between dream and reality becomes increasingly blurred.

This is a complex puzzle that is very hard to take in on the first viewing and is therefore not for everyone. It's probably impossible to enjoy every aspect of the film the first time you see it because key information in the final act changes your perception of everything that comes before. If you enjoy mysteries and being confused and unsettled, it may interest you. If you like fast-paced action and straightforward stories wrapped up neatly by the end of the movie, you probably won’t appreciate the film

It changed the way I watch movies.

This is the kind of film that possesses you. The best way to view it is to let it carry you along and wash over you. Save your analysis for repeat viewings. And if you have an inquisitive mind, there will be many repeat viewings.

I first saw this film without understanding all of it, but I found myself going over it in my mind and watching it again the next day. Then I wanted to tell all my friends about it. Over time, it has surpassed everything I have ever seen. It’s full of intrigue and makes me feel so many different emotions. It’s quite brilliant and Lynch’s best work, although all of his projects are valuable and important.

Watching one of Lynch’s films takes you on a journey into a different world. There’s something not quite right with that world, but it’s hard to identify exactly what it is. It all contributes to the feeling of unease. In Mulholland Dr., he uses interesting camera angles to show you a glimpse of what is ahead. As a result, you become part of the story and see it unfold as the main characters do. A good example is the scene in the diner and the events that immediately follow.

There’s a lot going on in this strange world. We are shown several different characters, initially unconnected, with no explanation of their overall role in the story. This probably happened because the threads were meant to be explored further in the television series. You will meet film directors, detectives, a hit man, and a whole host of minor characters.

The film is punctuated by moments of bizarre humor. Some of the comedic scenes make me laugh out loud, and that’s not an easy thing to achieve. There are also moments of violence and mystery and, ultimately, true desolation. These elements are present in most Lynch films and will feel familiar if you know his work.

The final act turns everything on its head. Betty and Rita become Diane and Camilla. It’s initially confusing, but everything becomes clear when you think about what you have seen and felt. 
Naomi Watts gives the performance of her career thus far. The first two acts show her as almost impossibly bubbly as she helps her friend search for her identity. The final act sees Watts portraying complete desolation as we learn the truth about her character.

Even though you know she plays both Betty and Diane, it appears as though they are played by different actresses. I would like to go back in time and correct some of the Oscar decisions, and one of the first things I would do is reward Watts for one of the best performances I have seen in any film.

Lynch creates a mood better than any director I have ever seen. The colors, settings and actions of the characters all enhance the atmospheric presentation, and Angelo Badalamenti’s haunting score completes the experience. Mulholland Dr. has many of the elements that made Twin Peaks my favorite television show of all time. If you like one, you will almost certainly like the other.
The film is full of symbol and metaphor and has an underlying theme which examines the Hollywood industry as a whole.

I’m not going to expand any further on the plot, such as it is, because it may put you off seeing the film. It’s complex, but it’s very rewarding when you examine the experience after the fact. It’s the kind of film that encourages people to develop their own theories. Lynch refuses to explain it, preferring that you develop your own idea about what it means to you.

The film can be viewed as a series of interesting scenes. In fact, that’s probably a good way to view it for the first time. The final act isn’t a predictable occurrence. If you’re someone that finds that refreshing, like me, then you should check out Mulholland Dr. if you haven’t already done so. Several film magazines voted it the best film of the last decade. It’s certainly something that can be appreciated even if you have other favorites. 

If you like Mulholland Dr.:

There's no other director quite like David Lynch. His films are challenging and they don't feel the need to spell everything out for the audience. If you are open to that kind of experience, Lost Highway is another film dealing with the loss of identity. It's a little messy and doesn't flow quite as well as Mulholland Dr., but you can see where Lynch got the idea to explore identity. These themes are also present in Blue Velvet and Inland Empire.

I wouldn't recommend seeing Inland Empire before Lost Highway or Mulholland Dr. because it works better if you understand the themes explored in Lynch's earlier work.

If you have 22 hours to spare, I would also urge you to check out Twin Peaks. It changed TV back in 1990 and it's still unmatched in my opinion. The blend of humor and drama is just about perfect. You'll laugh often and some parts are genuinely frightening. Angelo Badalamenti's music is present throughout and the whole experience really is like stepping into another reality.

Love him or hate him, you can't deny that Lynch has a unique vision.

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  1. Nice review. David Lynch is so wonderfully weird. I've only seen three of his films (Mulholland Dr., Lost Highway and Blue Velvet) but this is definitely my favorite. Stunning performances. That scene at the theater with the singer still haunts me; so beautiful.

  2. I'm pretty sure those three are my favorite Lynch films, but I like everything he has done.

    The theater scene is very chilling, and the blue box incident which follows :)

  3. I love the film. Couldn't explain it to anyone if tried. Like many of his films it really is a film to just sit back and experience and let flow over your mind. The complete opposite to The Straight Story, his most charming and simple film.

    1. I've never actually watched Mulholland Drive with anyone else who liked it, but that won't change my opinion of it. I came close to re-watching The Straight Story last night.

  4. Very Nice Review. This is one mystery I enjoy getting lost in. Each time you watch it you discover new things about it. I would have loved to see this a televison series and wish it got picked up to be one

    1. Yeah, a full TV version would have been great. I wonder if it would have explained the black book? It would have been nice to see Robert Forster in another meaty role. Mulholland Dr. does such a good job of creating a mood.