Many years ago I watched “Mulholland Drive” on video. (Yes, it was that long ago.) And I hated it. As far as I was concerned, it made absolutely no sense, and was a waste of time to watch. Over the years since, I kept on hearing about how good this film was from various sources, so, thinking I had been a lot younger and possibly missed something, I decided to watch it again.
I have since discovered that when the director David Lynch first made this film in 1999, he was actually making a pilot for a TV series. This was never picked up by any network. As a response, Lynch shot an extra 40 minutes or so of footage and prepared the film for cinematic release. Why is this relevant? Well, because I found when I rewatched it that what I had seen all those years ago was the TV pilot. Now, having watched the full movie, I have a different take on the result.
As with all David Lynch’s films, it can be a little tricky to briefly explain what this is about. A woman loses her memory after a car accident in Hollywood, meets another woman who has come to Hollywood to make her fortune, and together they try to unravel what is going on. Only that’s not quite what’s happening at all, though saying more would be be spoiling the film.
The film stars Naomi Watts as Betty, the aspiring actress, and Laura Harring as ‘Rita’, the amnesiac woman who we see in the opening scenes being threatened with a gun and then moments later being, essentially, saved by a car accident. Later in the film it appears that Naomi Watts is really Diane, and Laura is really Camilla. So both actors are playing dual roles here, always a difficult proposition in a movie, and both actors do extremely well in their parts. Watts is especially good as the protagonist, both as the naive and enthusiastic Betty and the jaded and depressed Diane.
I see this film as being about the psychology of a character who is driven by her feelings to take revenge on someone she purports to love, and what this ultimately does to her psychologically. See all dialogue, characters, settings and actions as pertaining to her state of mind, and you will have a better handle on what is going on.
David Lynch is well known for directing very weird movies, and “Mulholland Drive” is no exception to this. Much of the movie does not appear logical, and the viewer needs to have patience to finally understand what is happening. (Hence my difficulty with it originally – there was no payoff and therefore no understanding occurred). He is a master of the surreal and that is very much on display in this movie. Use of sound and music enhance the brightly coloured visuals. Los Angeles is garish in colour, making scenes in broad daylight still creepy and unsettling. His characters, too, are often off centre, even the apparently normal ones acting in a way that you would not expect. For example, when a director returns to his home he finds his wife in bed with the pool man. You would expect anger and embarrassment, maybe the pool man running out, but he sits there quite calmly as the wife berates the director for returning when he is not supposed to be there and is very matter-of-fact about the whole thing.
Lynch uses minor characters as mystical and mysterious entities who seem to be controlling or furthering the action. Mr Roque (played by Michael Anderson, who also appeared in Lynch’s series “Twin Peaks”) is a mysterious and powerful figure in a dark room who seems to be able to listen in to all conversation and control all actions. The Cowboy appears to make mysterious pronouncements that the person to whom he is speaking does not understand at all, and is creepy and threatening. Lynch had the actor shave his eyebrows to make him a little weird-looking to enhance the creepy effect. The third character is the dirty person in rags behind the diner, who carries a blue blox that is central to the plot. Lynch does this in other films (“Lost Highway”’s ‘Mystery Man’ for example). The characters are meant to be threatening, but obscure in their intentions. It’s a typical technique of his, but an effective one, keeping the audience both unsettled and invested in finding out what is going on.
It has been suggested that there is some supernatural elements at play here, and the events cannot all be put down to the psychological torment of the protagonist. I don’t know about that – the psychological explanation seems to fit well enough for me.
As in several other of Lynch’s works, the film involves the use of long red drapes when the girls go to a club. I don’t really know why Lynch has used this motif in so many of his works. He is purported to have said he just likes curtains and how they open (for example in a theatre) to reveal another world. I have reached the point where I’m always on the lookout for the drapes when I watch a Lynch film. In this film,they appear just before the mystery starts to become clear.
“Mulholland Drive”, and the works of David Lynch in general, are not for everyone. Those who would prefer a chronological, linear narrative, might find this kind of film frustrating and unrewarding. I find that if you are interested in a film that does not display all the answers, and you may have to puzzle out its meaning for yourself, then you are more likely to enjoy this. According to the director, ascribing concrete meaning is not necessarily what he wants, so you may watch “Mulholland Drive” and decide I’ve got it completely wrong and the answer is something else entirely. It’s all up to you.