Director: David Lynch
There’s been a slight hiatus in assembling the watching party, but last night we sat down to enjoy the eighth best film ever made – which according to the Sight and Sound 2022 poll is Mulholland Drive (or Dr). It’s place as the apex of the Lynch canon appears now unquestioned, above Blue Velvet and er Dune. All the more mysterious that this was his last film that in any way could be called a mainstream feature film. Inland Empire, his next, was shot on digital film and independently distributed.
The basic structure of Mulholland Dr. is straightforward: after a car crash a nameless young woman wanders through LA in shock, eventually ending up at new-actress-in-town Betty’s flat. Staring at a poster the amnesiac calls herself Rita and the two women investigate the circumstances behind her crash. In a parallel plot, maverick film director Adam is trying to prevent a mysterious gang taking control of his current movie, including insisting that an unknown actress called Camilla Rhodes play the lead.
As ‘Rita’ and Betty follow the trail, there are a host of familiar Lynch tropes, including the small man who spoke backwards in Twin Peaks , a nightclub with mysterious acts and diva singers, a strange object (blue key), several diner restaurants, and flashes of horrendous monsters and ultraviolence. That and Billy Ray Cyrus.
What evolves as an amnesic noir thriller takes a truly sharp and Lynchian left-turn two hours in, in an apartment where Betty and Riita find a dead body. The remainder of the film tells an alternate story: Watts/Betty is now a struggling actress called Diane, in a relationship with a successful actress called Camilla Rhodes – played by Harring. No more spoilers as to how this version of the story ‘ends’.
So why is it so highly regarded?
It’s incredibly well-acted. Not something that several of Lynch’s movies can say. Watts gives a career-making performance first as newbie Betty, and then as down-on-her-luck Diane. Harring floats through the movie giving off full enigmatic vamp vibes as Rita/Camille. Justin Theroux is hilariously needy and up himself as the ‘why me’ Adam. Old Hollywood Royalty Anne Miller is great as a faded landlady, again picking up an alternate role in the last reel. There’s a full supporting cast in typical Lynch style, though the absence of Harry Dean Stanton feels like a loss – as room was made for Billy Ray Cyrus.
The script is tight, twisty and engrossing. Hard to credit that it started life as a TV pilot and appears to be some sort of assemblage. Actually not hard to credit at all for the Lynch-heads. The film sub-plot and a brief sub-sub-plot incompetent hitman appearance both cry out for follow-ups they don’t really get, though we find out how they link into the main Rita/Betty plot.
The film business doesn’t half love a film about the film business. If films are dreams at 35 frames per second, then Mulholland Dr puts us squarely in the position of judging what is reality and what is dream. There are reams and reams of online theorising about this film – including that the whole film may be a dream of the unseen person in bed at the very start of the film. Or ‘reality’ is the first story and the dream the second story, or vice versa (the most conventional explanation). There are theories on the queerness of the film, and on whether it is a love letter or poison pen to the movie business. There are a lot of theories.
Might appeal to people who enjoyed:
Other Lynch obviously, but also the ‘dark Hollywood’ movie from Sunset Boulevard and A Star is Born to Maps to the Stars.