Mulholland Drive is the type of film that you can watch ten times in a row and still not know if you really understand it. Even if you study director David Lynch’s carefully crafted clues on the insider cover of the DVD case and read the many interpretations online, there is no real way to decipher what Lynch was aiming for with the film.
Mulholland Drive was originally pegged to be a follow-up television series to his previous cult following, Twin Peaks. When Lynch’s funding was cut midway through filming, the revolutionary director decided to film a new ending and condense some 16 hours of footage into just one. When asked how he could possibly make sense of such a film, the director’s response was a flippant “who cares?”
This explains how Mulholland Drive seems to be split into two stories that are bizarrely connected – or not, depending on how you interpret it. The film gives you bits and pieces of what you assume to be a plotline and then lets you fill in the gaps – which is just the way Lynch likes it. What makes the two stories irresistibly enthralling is that while you can guess at what is happening, each scene gives you some new character or strange occurrence that leaves you scratching your head. In essence it is these odd but genius moments that define Lynch’s style of directing.
Mulholland Drive takes you on a disjointed journey through what we can guess is Betty Elms’ (Naomi Watts) journey from Hollywood newcomer to broken has-been. We are introduced to the pretty and (let’s face it) painfully naïve Betty just as she lands in Hollywood. She is put up in her aunt’s empty apartment, gains the immediate attention of Hollywood agents and ends up in the lead role of her first film. It’s all a bit too perfect. But something strange is going on. Betty is on a Nancy Drew-esque mission to find out where the naked woman in her apartment has come from. Meanwhile, the director of Betty’s first film (Justin Theroux) is being bullied by hired goons to put someone else in her role.
In essence, the storyline at this point is still linear but the menacing undertones, the shallow dialogue and the wooden acting give the game away a bit early. None of it is real. Lynch doesn’t waste time in making this point clear. In fact, halfway through the film (following some hardcore lesbian scenes, the discovery of a dead body and the appearance of some guy known as ‘The Cowboy’) the whole film turns on its head and jars the glossy fantasy sequence to a halt. Betty transforms into an entirely new character known as Diane – a hateful woman later on in her life, unsuccessful and delusional.
This second part is a little harder to grasp which is why it’s almost essential to watch the film at least a second time. We can only assume what plays out after this point is the reality of Betty/Diane’s life situation. Without giving too much away we see everything (sort of) fall into place.
Although coming up with an explanation for some of the stranger things that happen isn’t quite as simple. For example who is ‘The Cowboy’? What’s the deal with the gun-happy assassin? Why is there a caveman behind the diner? The weirdest scene is probably when the elderly couple we spot at the beginning of the film (at the airport in case you missed it) emerge in miniature from a paper bag in the street and chase Diane through her house. Sound logical? Of course not. It’s a David Lynch film.
So there’s my interpretation. It’s one of many out there. Make sure you have several hours to watch this one because once is not nearly enough to make your own sense from it.
In terms of filmic genius, I give Mulholland Drive five puzzle pieces out of five.
Mulholland Drive is available on fetchtv Movie Box until April 15.
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