In L.A., a woman survives a late night car crash but loses her memory and can’t even remember who she is. Meanwhile, a plucky young hopeful arrives in town with dreams of being a star, and a director must deal with the demands of his powerful producers, who will stop at nothing to force him to hire their chosen leading lady. All three storylines will converge and attempt to merge into one another, at which point they turn into a completely different film that makes no sense. Trying to work out what is going on will result in crying, throwing things at the screen, substance abuse and, eventually, giving up and wondering just what the big deal was about. There are some films in this world that my initial instinct is to hate them. Sometimes that hatred is justified, and it’s an opinion shared by almost everyone that sees the film. Other times, as is the case here, the sheer popular regard for a film drives me to think on it a little more, and try to work out just what is so beloved about said movie. Mulholland Drive, for example, is not just on the 1001 Movies List, but also amongst Empire magazine’s 5-star 500, as well as two different polls of their readers, one of which ranked it as the 391st greatest film of all time, and the other as the 101st. So clearly, this is a well regarded film, but then why does the idea of giving it a ranking at the end of this review make me feel a little sick? It’s not that I want to give it a bad score, it’s more that I have no idea what to do with this film. I’m at such a loss for how to review it; I can’t even work out if it’s a Choose Life or a Choose Film.I’ll try and work it out as I go, which means there’ll probably be spoilers in this review, as much as I’m equipped to spoil what I think happened. I have pretty much no problem with the first two thirds of the film. It seems to be a relatively straightforward set of stories – amnesiac discovering who she is, aspiring actress going for her big break, director working out how the system really works – but just set in a heavily stylised world. There are elements of surrealism that I assumed would either eventually be explained (which I’m learning is not something I should expect from David Lynch) or would be irrelevant flights of fancy the director just wanted an excuse to film. The main one of these I come back to is the brief interlude of Patrick Fischler’s character in a diner, explaining his dream to his friend about the two of them being scared in that very diner, going out back and seeing a hideous man, the events of which are then lived out by these two guys. As far as I could see this sets up the world as being one in which dreams can become manifested in reality. Fischler’s character (if you don’t know the actor, he’s a weaselly character actor whose face you’ll probably recognise from the likes of Lost, Speed, Mad Men, Idiocracy, Old School and about a hundred other things) has a dream, explains the dream, then lives it out, which is then cemented when Hollywood is described as the place of dreams by Betty (Naomi Watts), the peppy, naive, innocent girl desperate to make it big. Her dream is to be a famous star, but be more known for being a brilliant actress, so naturally after seeing Fischler’s dream come true the wheels in my head spin that Betty’s dream will eventually be a reality too. Nuh-uh. Almost. Kind of.Betty lands an audition via a connection her out-of-town aunt has (whose house Betty is staying in), and despite the hokey nature of the script she nails it (in possibly the film’s best scene, although the acting is incredible throughout, particularly from Watts, who has to showcase a great deal of stuff in this film). After the audition, a veteran casting agent sitting in makes an attempt to poach Betty for a different picture, being directed by Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux), who is the director I mentioned earlier. Judging by the way Kesher looks at Betty, the role appears to be hers even before she auditions for it, but she backs out and runs away, to go help the amnesiac, going by the chosen name of Rita (Laura Harring), as they’ve got a clue to who her real identity could be. This is the point where the film begins to get away from me. The investigation leads the two women to an apartment owned by someone called Diane Selwyn – who might be Rita’s real persona – but isn’t, because Diane is dead on her bed when they get to the apartment. Rita has a late night revelation that they should go to a show featuring a recorded orchestra and an opera singer, during which she finds a mysterious blue box that fits the key in her handbag (that’s also full of money) that, when opened, causes the world to turn in on itself, up becomes down, roles are switched, realities become fantasies and my brain runs out of my third left toenail.We now see that Betty is Diane Selwyn – not Rita – but is in a relationship with Camilla Rhodes – the actress Kesher was being forced to hire – but Rhodes is no longer played by Melissa George, she’s now Rita, and is dating Kesher, who has broken up with his wife whom he found sleeping with the pool cleaner earlier in the film. However, how can it be after that point, when Diane is still alive, as she died before Kesher discovered the affair, so far before the divorce and court proceedings he mentions could have gone through. Also, HOW THE FUCK IS BETTY NOW DIANE? TIME TRAVEL? THAT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE! AND WHY ARE THERE TINY OLD PEOPLE CLIMBING UNDER HER DOOR? WHAT’S GOING ON? WHY? HOW?The problem I’m having is that I’m trying to make sense out of a film that has never been made sense of, probably because it does not, will not and for the sake of my sanity cannot be made sense of. Actually, the problem I’m having is not that I’m trying to solve a Rubik’s cube with 14 sides and squares of 37 colours, it’s that I don’t know why other people like the fact that it cannot be solved. Maybe the people that like it have some hope that they will be the ones to finally crack the mystery. Personally, I think David Lynch is just fucking with us all (he even released a few “clues” a while ago that, if anything, make it all even more confusing). I’m sure this would be recommended to me as being a film I’d only appreciate more and more with every re-watch, but I also think the more times I saw it, the more frustrated it would make me. Hence, I don’t intend to watch it again. If there is a solution, then I don’t care about it.However, this doesn’t solve my initial predicament of not knowing where I sit with the film, and whether or not I’d recommend it. Acting-wise it is superb, there’s a great deal of colourful characters and interesting goings-on to keep you engaged, and had the three straightforward storylines continued as they were and accomplished a logical, sensible and satisfying conclusion then I’d probably be sat here raving about it all, because up until the whole thing got screwy I was interested and somewhat committed to the plot, as long as the plot remained somewhat committed to making sense. Seeing as I therefore enjoyed most of the film, I suppose I would have to rate it a Choose Film (there I go trying to apply logic to Mulholland Drive again). Also, for some reason I keep coming back to the scene of Adam Kesher coming home and finding his wife in bed with the pool cleaner. Her reaction is to blame him for coming home, the pool guy advises him to forget he ever saw it – both of which are unusual reactions in this kind of event, I assume – but then Adam very directly picks up his wife’s jewellery box, takes it out into the kitchen and pours a tin of luminous pink paint over it, ruining everything inside the box. There ensues a scuffle, and Adam spends the next few scenes in an all-black suit, splashed and splotched here and there with neon pink. I can’t really say why, but I really liked that scene. For that, I give it an extra mark.
Choose Film 7/10
About a week ago, I played my rather skeletal review of it and had much the same reaction. I rated it lower, but the sentiment was the same. Several bloggers I love then commented what a masterpiece it is and, of course, I should watch it again (watched it twice, btw). I’ll pass on subsequent vie wings, at least for a few years.
I need to talk to some people who love this movie (fortunately I should be doing just that tomorrow night) and work out what I’m missing. I can’t imagine a 2nd viewing enlightening me on anything I may have missed. It’ll just add question marks.
I read that the clue to the film should be religion. That everything in the movie is religious allegories and that it critizises Christianity in very subtle but insidious ways. There was a comment on Squish site that had it all worked out. Wether or not I actually buys it I do not know, but it was rather convincing.
Hmm, not sure I buy the religious aspect. I couldn’t find the comment on Squish’s site (his search engine wouldn’t work) but thinking back I don’t remember anything obvious that criticised Christianity. I’ve recently been swayed by the theory that the first 2/3 is all a dream. That makes a great deal more sense to me.
The key to enjoying this film, and most David Lynch films, is to realize they are an Emperor’s New Clothes situation and we have to be the little boy to point out the obvious to all the people blindly paying homage to him. The truth is the scenes are not intended to make sense. Lynch just puts a bunch of stuff in that amuses him, waits for his fans to come up with theories of what it all REALLY means, then drops dark hints to send people in another direction all to keep them talking about it.
I like Mulholland Drive, but not because of any deeper meaning in it. I thought Naomi Watts was great. And the reason she’s two different characters is not any deep meaning; it’s simply a result of Lynch having shot the first episode of a TV show, it was rejected, and he needed to add more footage to what he had to make it feature length. He really liked working with Watts, so he simply cast her as another character without caring that it would confuse people. Or more likely that was an added bonus for him.
If the failed pilot theory is valid, then I think Lynch got around it masterfully. I’ve recently been informed that apparently the whole “Betty” section of the film is a dream had by “Diane” which looking back pretty much answers almost every question I had, and allows for the more surreal moments, because they’re occurring in a dream or drug-induced hallucination.
Watts is amazing here, better than I’ve ever seen her.
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