**If you’ve seen “Mulholland Dr.” and wish to delve deeper into its’ secrets, by all means this review- hopefully- will be for you. If you haven’t seen it yet, probably best to hold off until after you’ve seen the film…unless you want a primer to the film beforehand.**
David Lynch’s “Mulholland Dr.” works so completely as a feature film, it’s hard to imagine that it was once originally conceived as a pilot for a TV series. That isn’t to say that everything about it can be boiled down to a definite logical explanation, and that’s hardly a criticism of a film whose very allure is in its’ layers of illogic. If anything, it’s a compliment to Lynch for so capably being able to bottle the end of his mindbender in a way that makes us able to discern our own conclusions about the film’s events without feeling like anything is left out.
So what is this film about? Simply, it is about the characters played by Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring, both their conscious and unconscious incarnations, and the events that will play a major part in the lives of both, consciously and unconsciously. That’s as simple an explanation as anyone, I think, can make for the film. What is “real” and what is “dream” depends on the viewer’s interpretation, but an important clue to arriving to that conclusion for each viewer is to realize that at least some level of unreality is present in the film- not everything can be explained as happening in the “real world.” The realization that some part of this exists as someone’s dream is important to understanding the film, the best Lynch has ever made.
What confuses our interpretation of what is real and what is dream, however, is Lynch’s ability to make us believe that everything we see in the film exists on some level of reality. This isn’t the out-of-control surrealism of “Lost Highway,” the “Twin Peaks” franchise (admire it as I do), or- for me at least- the last 30 minutes or so of “INLAND EMPIRE”, but the careful storytelling of a master at the top of his form, capable of making us believe even the most outrageous ideas. Lynch is in absolute control of his gifts in this movie, leaving clues and images to guide us in figuring things out for ourselves. Tricky little bugger he is, Lynch leaves enough room for interpretation to where that conclusion will likely be different for different people.
What is that conclusion for me? It’s that what we’re witness to in the first two hours (give or take) of “Mulholland Dr.” is the dream of Diane Selwyn (played at this point by Watts, whose performance in the film is one of the best of any actress in the past 20 years or so), whose dreams of stardom were crushed when she lost a role to Camilla Rhodes (played at this point by Harring, who is hypnotically attractive throughout while playing both the woman with a lost memory in Selwyn’s dream and the manipulative star with ease), whom she also loved. But now her life and emotions are a wreck, cast off by Camilla as a lover in favor for the hot-shot director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux, whose character might be a doppleganger for Lynch perhaps?) who hired her. Devastated, Diane hires a hitman to kill Camilla, who tells her that he’ll leave a blue key for her, signifying that the job is done.
All this happens in the last 20-30 minutes of the film, by which point all of the following information has been neatly established by Lynch (who was rightly nominated for Best Director, but ignored for Best Original Screenplay), albeit in a different context. Up until that last pulling out of the rug from underneath us, Lynch has been following the exploits of “Rita” (Harring), who lost her memory in a car accident on Mulholland Dr. (where she was about to be shot) and who got her name off of a Rita Hayworth poster, and Betty (Watts), a chipper blonde woman just off the plane from Ontario and living in her Aunt Ruth’s apartment (her Aunt Ruth, meanwhile, is filming a movie in Ontario) as she tries to make it as an actress. It’s in the apartment where Betty and Rita meet, as Rita (who snuck in as Ruth was leaving) is in the shower, naked. It startles Betty, but instead of calling the police (which her aunt and landlady, played by Ann Miller in an enjoyable appearance, advise her to do), she wants to help Rita find out her identity (all that’s in her purse is bundles of money and a mysterious blue key). A visit to a coffee shop, where they’re waited on by a waitress named Diane, leads Rita to remember the name Diane Selwyn. Where that leads them, well, I’ll let Lynch take you there himself…
Meanwhile, a seemingly unrelated B storyline is established with Theroux’s Adam Kesher, in the middle of recasting the lead in his next film. At an early meeting, he’s offered not so much a suggestion but a demand by a pair of terse brothers (Dan Hedaya and Lynch composer Angelo Badalamenti, whose ambient underscoring nails both the danger and erotic tenderness in the film) that he cast a talentless blonde named Camilla Rhodes by saying at the audition, “This is the girl,” when she comes in; since they shut down production and freeze Adam’s accounts when he objects at the meeting, one doesn’t want to thing of the consequences if he doesn’t comply at the audition. He does, in fact, when the moment comes, even if it means passing over Betty (who has been brought in to audition after a smoldering audition of a melodramatic scene with a past-his-prime older actor) for the role. You can see how the two fit together just by that basic summary of the Adam story. As much as it is about the mystery of its’ character’s identities, “Mulholland Dr.” is also Lynch’s sly jab at Hollywood; what’s frightening is the notion of how spot-on he nails it.
The audition scene- the payoff of which is all the more satisfying when coupled with Betty’s earlier rehearsal with Rita- is just one of the great ones in this film. Others include Betty’s arrival to L.A. and goodbyes with an older couple who aren’t quite what they seem; a sequence in the diner with a man telling his friend about a nightmare he had about the diner that carries a hallucinatory feel to it; a bungled hit for a black book (arguably the film’s funniest moment); the meeting Adam takes with a cowboy; the late-night journey Betty and Rita take to a rundown, old Hollywood club where the music continues even without a musician there to play it, and where they discover a blue box that may fit the key found in Rita’s purse. Of course I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the love scenes between Watts and Harring, which carry a genuine erotic charge, blending lust and longing with a delicacy that wards off charges of exploitation. True, they may be the only scenes people watch the movie to see, but if they’re like me, they’re not the only reason one would watch the film again.
I’ve explained a lot more about “Mulholland Dr.” than I normally would about a film whose very success is dependent of knowing (preferably) as little as possible about it going in. Certainly more than I did in my original review six years ago, which was a one paragraph summary of basic elements and shouldn’t really be given another glance. That said, there’s still much to discover about the film for someone who hasn’t seen it before; I haven’t connected all of the pieces, and like I said at the outset, this review is more for those who have seen it anyway. Me? I can’t wait to see it again to see how the pieces fit the next time.