10 April 2009

The Decade List: Mulholland Drive (2001)

Mulholland Drive - dir. David Lynch

I've always been of the belief that David Lynch is the perfect gateway drug for film enthusiasts. Those who grew up with Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, Wild at Heart or Mulholland Drive (Inland Empire was much less a cultural phenomenon) all found a film artist who played with cinema (and television) like a puzzle, indulging in your wildest nightmares and fantasies. If you were like me (or many of the other people I know), an early love for Mr. Lynch would easily branch off your cinematic curiosity, exploring similar filmmakers, like Jodorowsky, or the ones that marked a striking influence on the director, from Ingmar Bergman to Jacques Rivette, but never his imitators. I've heard Lynch claim he wasn't much of a cinephile, but like most of the great filmmakers of the past forty years, he wore his influences on his sleeve, all of which leading up to Mulholland Drive, his epic take on Hollywood and the dreams it would produce and destroy.

Lynch doesn't hold the same flame for me as he once did, but that doesn't render his finer works, of which Mulholland Drive is certainly one, any less bountiful. I find myself less concerned with unlocking the films' infinite mysteries than playing with the cards I'm dealt. I can't begin to decipher the intricacies (or fallacies, if you're of that party) of Mulholland Drive, nor can I defend its weaker moments, most of which involve Justin Theroux's "smart aleck" director Adam Kesher. I don't know whether the first two-thirds of the film stems from Diane's (Naomi Watts) wish fulfillment/guilt complex, the popular interpretation, or Camilla's (Laura Elena Harring) attempts to conquer her amnesia. But there's plenty I do understand about Mulholland Drive, and all of it is completely ravishing.

There are two significant elements of Mulholland Drive that never fail to impress me. The first concerns the central romance between Diane/Betty and Camilla/Rita. While I'm still unsure as to whether the first portion of the film exists in Diane's mind or Camilla's reality, there's no arguing that what follows happened chronologically before the fateful car crash. While their time frames may overlap depending on your take, Lynch clearly shows that things did not end well for our beautiful lesbians lovers. This structure, in addition to Watts' amazingly dynamic performance, provides the emotional satisfaction of repeat viewings, though I know many found themselves returning to Mulholland Drive in an attempt to solve its puzzle. Though it's hard not to sense the intensity of the first sex scene, it's even more heartbreaking hearing Watts moan, "I want to with you," knowing their doomed fate.

Though the list of clues Lynch included in the US DVD of the film might be misleading, the chosen tagline, "A Love Story in the City of Dreams," is the best tip one should need when approaching Mulholland Drive. You can set aside mythical cowboys, demons that live behind diners and creepy old folks and still find something magical about the film. For all its eccentricities, Mulholland Drive has the most humane romance out of all of Lynch's films, unless you're counting the cosmic love between Laura Palmer and Agent Cooper. Though it descends into murder plots and suicide, Diane and Camilla's affair sours because of their respected dreams. Camilla is jaded by Hollywood, though in scenes like the one where she walks Diane up the hill to the party it could be inferred that something romantic still exists inside of her. Diane is broken by the notion that her love for Camilla must always remain a secret. It doesn't appear as if Lynch is being overtly political, but there's something of interest in the way Hollywood projects the image of open-mindedness while still keeping its bankable actors in the closet. That Camilla could freely parade her affair with Diane is a dream, and it's one that's only felt by Diane, as she serves no gain for Camilla's career-oriented reverie.

The other element of interest is in Lynch's toying with the idea of illusion. He calls attention to his own apparatus in the film's best scene, at the Club Silencio. This, of course, operates well within the narrative, as it closes the lucid, or induced, dream of the first portion of the film, but it functions on a number of other levels. While it results in the discovery of the box to the mysterious blue key, it also illuminates the unveiled fantasy of its romance. And, possibly more than anything else Lynch has done, it breaks the fourth wall, similar to the burning of the film in Bergman's Persona, undoubtedly a huge influence on Mulholland Drive. In a way, this would be his justification for the later Inland Empire, his most obtuse film since Eraserhead. By addressing the fact that the film which holds a set of dreams is just much of an illusion, he permits himself to explore his own subconscious, with all of its pageantry, and with all of its red herrings.

Mulholland Drive provided me with what's probably the most majestic filmgoing experience of my life. No cinematic experience had ever made me beam with elation the way this one did, and I'm not sure any has done the same since then. I could chalk it up to youthfulness, but seeing it a month before it opened in Saint Louis with a crowd that eerily resembled Betty's airport escorts (many of whom left during the sex scene) and with only the prior knowledge of Lynch's previous works, I couldn't have imagined a more perfect scenario. It was, in a way, the end of an era for me, one which would give way to watching films on a computer screen and a jading similar to the ones that occur in the film's characters. In the film, my own illusions were satiated and unmasked in a single swoop, and with that, Mulholland Drive will always exist as something much more, a reflection and a requiem for a broken dream.

With: Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring, Justin Theroux, Ann Miller, Scott Coffey, Angelo Badalamenti, Dan Hedaya, Melissa George, Mark Pellegrino, Lafayette Montgomery, Michael J. Anderson, Robert Forster, Lee Grant, Katharine Towne, Scott Coffey, Billy Ray Cyrus, James Karen, Jeanne Bates, Missy Crider, Rebekah Del Rio
Screenplay: David Lynch
Cinematography: Peter Deming
Music: Angelo Badalamenti
Country of Origin: France/USA
US Distributor: Universal Focus

Premiere: 16 May 2001 (Cannes Film Festival)
US Premiere: 6 October 2001 (New York Film Festival)

Awards: Best Director (Cannes); Best Editing - Mary Sweeney (BAFTAs); Best Foreign Film (César Awards, France); Best Cinematography (Independent Spirit Awards); Actress in a Leading Role - Naomi Watts (LA Outfest)


Blake Williams said...

It's ironic/funny that one of the filmmakers who is most outspokenly against the non-theatrical moviewatching experience shifted you toward the computer screen.

I love this film, it was my intro to Lynch, though your experience with it sounds more like my experience with INLAND EMPIRE, especially in the 'most majestic filmgoing experience of my life' department.

Blake Williams said...

oh, like the new layout, too.

reassurance said...

Thanks, Blake. I'm not trying to suggest that Mulholland Drive was what switched me to watching films on my computer (nor that doing such is something I enjoy doing), by any means.

And if it weren't for the theatrical experience, I wonder if I even would have had the patience to trek through Inland Empire.

Joe Baker said...

Nice write-up on a great movie. I'll never forget my theater-going experience with this one. I was unnerved and deeply involved with the film's eerie vibe. During the scene where Watts seems to have her big nervous breakdown and small people begin climbing under the door after her, the projector in the theater broke. Me and the other four or five patrons sat there, stunned, for a minute or so before we realized this wasn't part of the movie. With Lynch, you never know. For a film to subvert one's sense of time and place like that, you know it's something special.

Blake Williams said...

Theatres are great, but long live the laptop and all of those AVIs that I watch on it.

James Hansen said...

Very nice post. I actually prefer to think of MD and IE as sort of companion pieces though. One as sort of the end of Film and one as the end of Hollywood but expansion of Le Cinema, as it were. I love both of them and think they complement each other in pretty monumental ways.

Anyways, I finally wrote about my MD experience (something that had been a long time coming since Lynch is "my boy" and MD my favorite work) so I thought I'd share that link here in case anyone is interested. Nothing like a little self promotion.