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David Lynch is rightly regarded as one of the most talented and strange directors of our time. From Eraserhead to Blue Velvet to Twin Peaks to The Straight Story, he swings the realism-surrealism pendulum from one extreme to the other. One of Lynch's main strengths is his unique engagement with film. He doesn't plot out a linear, easy story for his viewers; thus, he is not prone to creating flimsy stories (as so many filmmakers are). He isn't interested in spotlighting typical Hollywood talent, and so he is able to cast odd-looking, often brilliant actors and to give them room to shine. In Mulholland Drive, he doesn't use a lot of flash, and his pace is slow, making for a more realistic feel until supernatural, inexplicable things begin to occur. I give Lynch a lot of credit for doing things his own way.
Mulholland Drive is more about the city of Los Angeles than any story or character. Can you think of another non-documentary film that does that? Even Wim Wender's delightful Lisbon Story has a story to go along with its homage to Portugal's capital. In Mullholland, All the characters have more of a relationship with Los Angeles than they do with each other; and these relationships to the city provide the only thread one can cling to while struggling through the convolutions of this film. (I'm told that Sunset Strip is a film in a similar vein and that Lynch pays homage to that movie with this one, but I cannot confirm this myself.)
Los Angeles is a fickle lover. It drives some people to madness and lifts others to stardom. Jerks reap rewards. Purehearts are destroyed. There's the movie business, but there's also the menacing specter of power and money that makes that business happen. A director is forced to cast a lead role against his will, for example. A studio executive, confined to a wheel chair, gives orders without speaking by waiting in silence until his underlings assume his wishes, then offering no contradiction.
Enter into this world the fresh-faced Naomi Watts straight from Canada and with the typical dream of reaching stardom in L.A. It's an old story, but Lynch turns it on its head. There will be no million-to-one-but-completely-expected rise to fame for this girl. Instead, her life is sidetracked by the amnesiac woman who stumbles into her life (Laura Harring). It's another film cliché, but Lynch again does something unexpected. Early in the film, the viewer assumes the mystery will be finding out who this woman is and why various people want to kill her. The mystery, however, is subsumed by much larger mysteries until it is nearly forgotten--and never resolved, per se.
Subplots hatch. There's the director whose studio bosses demand that he pick a certain unknown actress as his lead. The director's wife is having an affair with the pool cleaner. There's a man with nightmares about the monster behind the diner. There's an incompetent hitman in a funny scene. But none of these threads get neatly tied off. Instead, everything swirls into an inexplicable mess of soul-swapping and madness.
SKIP DOWN TO "MY CONCLUSION" NOW if you do not want the ending "spoiled." CONTINUE READING if you've seen it already or don't mind the preview. Believe me, it won't really matter with this one.
That's because the movie is not about surprise endings. What happens about 60 minutes into the film is that the characters start swapping souls or waking up from dreams whose boundaries are vaguely defined. Reality shifts apace, and it's hard to tell who is who and why. The ingenue becomes a desperate slut before turning into the jilted lover of the starlet the director is supposed to cast. The waitress at the diner becomes the ingenue. The starlet becomes an extra. The amnesiac mystery girl becomes the starlet and marries the director. A suicide comes back to life only to go mad and commit suicide again (or maybe it's just that time is moving in both directions at once). The monster behind the diner makes some mysterious gestures. Two tourists return as homicidal delirium tremens.
With all of this noir existentialism going on, there are a lot of details that just don't make a lot of sense. Instead of plot holes, we get holes in the fabric of the film itself. Are these holes sewn in or the result of moths? Maybe a little of both. I did get the sense toward the end that Lynch had lost the reigns, or dropped them on purpose. Either way, I confess to being discomforted, a little irked, and maybe even disappointed.
Except for the thread about Los Angeles, which is a scary and heartless place, and the stylistic consistency of cliches being turned on end, the film has little cohesion. If you don't like cohesion, you'll love Mulholland Drive.
MY CONCLUSION: Lynch has made another weird film that's worth seeing at least because it is different than other films and will stick in your head with a satisfying meatiness. I feel there are images I may never forget. Mostly, I don't think I'll ever forget the disappointment at seeing Harring's full-frontal nudity masked and marred by Blockbuster Video's censors. Curse and hex upon those backwards-minded Puritanical lame-brains. You're spoiling it for everyone!
©1999 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All rights happily reserved.