Well, here I am again, reviewing a film I’d have rather avoided. As I’ve mentioned before, sometimes I’ll cover a film that’s in the upper tier of film making. A film that has been studied and discussed so many times that whatever I have to write about it will have been discussed before. Also, there’s a good chance I’ll interpret something one way that many disagree with. Luckily for me hardly anyone ever bothers commenting on this blog so I suppose I can interpret Mulholland Drive anyway I want. Except I kind of can’t because Mulholland Drive is a film that I studied years back in College and so I am one of those people that have written and discussed it’s themes and story telling devices already. So, click the link below for my review… or go download Surgeon Simulator 2013 cos it’s really quite hilarious. Surgeon Simulator 2013 has nothing to do with Mulholland Drive, I just wanted to share how funny that game was. Anyway, on with the review.
So, Mulholland Drive… what’s it all about then? I could give you my interpretation of the film here, it would likely sync up with many other peoples interpretations, but that would be too easy for you guys. See, there’s certain films that I review on here that I cover because I want you folks to see them and enjoy them fresh, the way they should be. I don’t want to be telling you too much about what the film is truly about or what the answers may well be because I’d like you to try to figure that out yourself and then come back here to discuss it afterwards. But, as mentioned, hardly anyone comments on here so I’ll likely mark a paragraph for spoilers later and lay out how I see the film.
Plot wise Mulholland Drive is about a young woman called Betty (Naomi Watts) who has arrived in Hollywood to pursue her dream of becoming an actor. She is staying at her aunts apartment but soon finds someone else is living there, and amnesiac who says she’s called Rita (Laura Harring). Betty likes the idea of uncovering an mystery and so the pair set out to find out just who Rita really is. Meanwhile, film director Adam Kesher is having trouble making his movie as some strange men in power have decided that he must cast a certain girl in the lead role. When he refuses he finds his life starts to crumble as unseen powers seem determined to force him to cast the actress they want. Also, there’s a weird guy behind Winkies diner, a bumbling hitman and cowboy all mixed up in the films events. All those disparate elements do come together though in the films final, and very unique, final act.
Like many of Lynch’s works Mulholland Drive forces you to ask questions about it’s reality and the depiction of the events on screen. It takes you from one event to the next at seemingly random only to tie it all together in the films final act whilst also making sure you leave with the intention of discussing what you just saw. For the first 90 minutes or so the film uses light and dark to contrast various scenes whilst performances shift between being bright and breezy to being quiet and understated. The film manages to toy with spine chilling scenes of horror, and then a few scenes later, toy with farcical comedy sequences. Scenes occur that seem to have absolutely no relation to the actual mystery involving Betty and Rita, yet in the final act you can begin to tangentially link the reasoning behind these scenes to the events you witness. It’s like Lynch I presenting you with half an answer, to which you’ll ask a question, only for Lynch to provide you with the other half of the answer later. He wants you to make the connections out of order rather than the usual approach of dripping you the information at certain intervals so you come to the answer at the right moment. He wants you to even piece it together after the fact as when you get to the third act the scenes become short, characters act like entirely new characters, and the walls of reality are stretched even further to the point where you don’t have time to be thinking about what you just saw. Half this films themes occur after you are done watching it when you now have time to piece it all together.
Mulholland Drive has it’s roots in television as a pilot for ABC. It was to be David Lynch’s follow up to the really quite successful Twin Peaks. The pilot was screened to ABC bosses who turned it down. Apparently this was partly because when they asked Lynch what would happen next he, rather awesomely said “You’ll have to buy the show to find out”. To a TV studio boss this is akin to saying “Fucked if I know”. It also didn’t help that the cut he showed them was over 2 hours long and only lead up to about the 90 minute mark in this film version which lead to it having a very slow pace. Anyway, a while later David rose an extra $7 million to get the cast back together to shoot a conclusion to the pilot and turn Mulholland Drive into a full feature film. This film went on to win a whole ton of awards and got Lynch nominated for a Best Director Oscar in the process. Now there is no doubt that the film we got does not play out in the way the series would have. But man does this film play out well. Spoilers up ahead!!!!
Seriously, the next paragraph discusses what the film is about and how it’s narrative is structured to a degree that it would ruin your first viewing experience to read this paragraph before hand. So, skip it if you don’t wish to be spoiled. I warned you.
The very first scene we see is a group of people dancing in a jitterbug contest mixed in with shots of Betty smiling. Following this is a first person shot that heads into a pillow in a darkened bedroom. This is your first clue and one you’re likely to forget about but keep in mind the theme of sleep. Many of the scenes that feel out of place happen when a character has gone to sleep. Rita has a strange blue key in her possession, an item that has a realistic parallel in the films final act. About 90 minutes into the film Betty and Rita believe they have found the address that belongs to a Diane Selwyn who they believe to be Rita’s real identity. They break in and discover the decomposing body of a blonde woman on a bed very similar to the one in that first scene. This shocks Betty and Rita and they immediately run from the house. This body on the bed is Betty asleep… or at least it’s actually Diane Selwyn who is Betty. See, the story we have been following is Betty’s dream. In it she meets Rita, who we later learn is actually Camilla Rhodes (who’s name was that of the girl Adam was told he must pick). After this event Rita and Betty begin a sexual affair. Shortly after they visit a bizarre club named Silencio and find a box for the strange blue key. When the box is opened the camera swoops into it in a manner similar to that of the shot at the start of the film that led into the pillow. Suddenly we see Betty wake up, but now she is Diane and is in the apartment the pair had recently been to. She is an actress who’s been having an affair with Rita/Camilla in real life but has had her dreams of becoming a Hollywood star crushed. Camilla strings Diane along as she is also dating the director of a film being made by Adam Kesher, a film Diane also auditioned for but lost the part to Camilla. The first two acts of the film represent Diane’s desire to have that Hollywood dream still be alive and to have Camilla all to herself. She doesn’t have any of that though and feels humiliated and as such hires the hitman we saw earlier to kill Camilla. He says he’ll leave a blue key in a place they agreed on when the job is done. You’ve already seen the blue key in this third act, which plays out in a non-linear fashion, so we know that Camilla is now dead. The final act is far more disjointed and shot in a much more raw and unsettling style that the first two despite being the part of the film we could determine as being “real”. This can be put down to Diane’s gradually degrading mental state. The film ends with Diane back in her bed, except now she has put herself into a more permanent sleep. When you view the first two acts as being a dream of the Diane we see in the third act the entire story comes together. This is one of the most complex and detailed pieces of narrative to have come out of Hollywood in the modern era and it deserves to be one of only two films made in the 21st century that made it onto BFI’s top 50 films list last year.
There’s another overly long paragraph by me. Mulholland Drive is a rich and densely packed film that almost requires multiple viewings. If you’ve never seen a David Lynch film I probably wouldn’t recommend seeing this one first, it maybe be too much to handle. But if you have been introduced to his works then this is a film you certainly have to see. I’ve barely scraped the surface of the thematics this film toys with, such as the idea of having true control of art in a system that treats art as a product or the matriarchal role of an old Hollywood star in the form of Ann Miller in her two varying depictions of the character of Coco. I could write a fair few thousand words on what this film does with storytelling and what it does to encourage how we view and discuss films. In fact, I actually might some day soon. For now, why not discuss this film in the comments? Let’s just say that all comments will contain spoilers right here though. Because to discuss Mulholland Drive with someone before they have seen it is to spoilt the experience for them.