Mulholland Drive (2001) review

Arguably David Lynch's masterpiece, this surreal, nightmarish crime-thriller, blending everything from soap opera melodrama to straight up horror showcases his immense talents as both a writer and director. Watching Mulholland Drive is an experience unlike any other film I have ever seen as it tests you on a number of levels, with its miasmic dream-world capturing your imagination in a way that few films ever manage. The real strength here is that so much is left unexplained. While the latter portion of the film helps to define and explain some of the apparent inconsistencies of the preceding story there are a number of moments, characters, and mysteries that are unresolved even on a third of fourth viewing.

The film begins with a dark-haired woman played by Laura Harring being driven up the winding road of the title, that snakes into the hills of Los Angeles. After being involved in a car accident, she stumbles downhill towards the sleeping town, taking refuge in the first house she comes across. We then meet Naomi Watts' character, an aspiring actress who has just arrived in L.A. with dreams of making it big. When she finds the stranger in her aunt's house, now suffering from amnesia, the two of them work together to discover her identity. In the other main interwoven story we follow a director, Adam, as he fights to make his movie with pressure from the studio and various shadowy figures to cast a particular girl in the lead role. The story of the amnesiac and the actress as well as the trials of the director serve as a thread on which are hung various peculiar scenes that seem to offer very little in the way of answers, while simultaneously feeling hugely significant. We are introduced early on to the concept of dreams and reality colliding, in a discomforting scene set in a diner. One man explains to another that he keeps having a recurring dream set in this same locale and that there is a figure waiting for them outside. This whole sequence, while being incredibly creepy, also offers a great key to enjoying this film. It is best to appreciate this, as with other Lynch movies, more as an emotional experience rather than a straightforward narrative where every loose end will be resolved. Many fans enjoy picking over the numerous details, such as the colour of the key, box and the woman's hair, the changing names and hair-colours of the protagonists, the pink paint and the oracle-like cowboy. While it is fun to attempt to sort out the connections, you will probably find that what you come up with resembles a jigsaw with several pieces missing. This is down to two major factors. Mulholland Drive was originally intended as a television series, with David Lynch later rewriting it as a feature film. It is possible that some scenes were reworked into this new form, that in the original may never have been intended to have a bearing on the central plot. The second factor is that Lynch often includes things that serve no other purpose than to be curious, weird, or make you think about something (possibly unconnected to what you think the film is about). Mulholland Drive operates on its own unique dream logic, with characters changing names, representing either themselves or someone else, being a projection, and while the central plot always seems to be there as you follow along it seems to make less and less sense. That is what makes the film so fascinating and rewatchable, as the full picture of what is happening will always elude you in the end, like a dream that you can't quite fully remember.

The film is bursting with thoughts on the movie industry and associated problems (most likely many from the director's own experiences), it also shows an affectionate portrait of Hollywood actresses and murder-mysteries, there are themes of paranoia, regret, jealousy, unfulfilled potential and unmet expectations, however all of these are addressed without drawing your attention specifically to them. It is clever and it expects its audience to be sharp enough to latch on to the significance of things without having to explain them. This is a world that you will spend a lot of time thinking about after you have finished watching, either attempting to solve the central mystery, unpick every last detail, or simply to deal with the emotional weight of it. The central performances by Laura Harring, Naomi Watts and Justin Theroux as the director are mesmerising. Watts in particular pulls off the difficult trick of switching between several personas throughout. The style of acting may seem jarring or unreal at first, until you realise that it is completely intentional and in keeping with what is happening. The entire film is beautifully shot and there are a number of memorable scenes, such as Club Silencio, that deserve to be held up as great examples of what can be achieved in the medium.

I could not recommend this film highly enough. The film is so unique that you are unlikely to have seen anything similar to it. For fans of film there are some of the greatest examples of acting and directing that I have ever seen, and to top it all off the fantastic score by Angelo Badalamenti (also responsible for the Twin Peaks music) perfectly captures the dreamlike mood. Truly great movie from a visionary filmmaker.