Review of “Mulholland Dr.”

Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring in Mulholland Dr.

Have you ever had a wild dream that leaves you wondering if maybe you should receive a psychiatric evaluation? Have you then tried to explain that dream to someone, only to realize that there is no possible way you can properly articulate the random events, images, and timeline?

Mulholland Dr. (2001) is the cinematic equivalent of one of those dreams. Writer/director David Lynch (Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet) delivers a noir-esque film that incorporates everything from the jitterbug to steamy lesbian sexual encounters in a plot that, at first glance, makes practically no sense. When you look deeper, however, you see what a truly fascinating and dark story Lynch is telling.

Despite having seen Mulholland Dr. at least seven times and having read several different theories on exactly what it's all about, I must admit that I still do not completely understand it. In fact, instead of a list of chapters, the DVD comes with “David Lynch's 10 Clues to Unlocking This Thriller.” Too bad those clues don't offer much help.

The movie begins with a woman (Laura Elena Harring) in the backseat of a limousine as it follows the curves of the street that lends its name to the movie. But soon, the leisurely drive through the Hollywood hills turns into a gruesome car accident that leaves Harring's mysterious woman with a severe case of amnesia.

We then meet Betty (Naomi Watts in her first major Hollywood role), a plucky and naïve Canadian who has come to L.A. to realize her dream of being a movie star. When Betty arrives at the apartment that her traveling aunt is letting her use, she is shocked to find the amnesic car crash victim in the shower.

The uber-trusting Betty offers to help Rita (the name the lost woman gives herself after seeing a Rita Hayworth poster) solve the mysteries of her true identity, what she was doing on Mulholland Dr., and why she has a purse full of nothing but cash. What Betty does not know is that her kindness will lead not to answers, but to an attraction to her new friend. All the while, a young director, Adam Kesher, finds himself embroiled in a studio conspiracy to cast a very specific girl, Camilla Rhodes, in his movie.

The movie carries on, bringing us things like a dead woman, Billy Ray Cyrus as a pool man, the name “Diane,” and ominous foreboding from a nutty psychic who wanders around Betty's apartment complex. Then, one night, after a full day of sleuthing, Rita climbs into bed with Betty and the two begin to make love in the most sensual and tender scene in Mulholland Dr.

It is from here that the storyline gets really, really weird. Without spoiling it, let's just say that Watts and Harring suddenly become completely different people, and in the rest of the movie, you're trying to figure out exactly how, and why.

Several explanations of the movie exist, the two most popular involving dreams. My favorite is the theory that the first half of the movie is just a dream one of the character's is having, and everything afterwards is her real life, shown in flashbacks and “real time.” This leaves the viewer with a plethora of questions to ponder and figure out.

Lynch masterfully allows the movie's mysteries to suck you in as you turn them over in your mind and try and solve them. It is a very heavy film, especially on first viewing, and so is easily categorized as something you either love or hate. If you made it at least halfway through the synopsis in this review then the movie in all its baffling glory would probably be worth your while.

But it's no wonder that ABC executives passed when Lynch presented an original version of Mulholland Dr. as an idea for a television show. Because just when you think you might be wrapping you head around Mulholland Dr., it becomes a different movie.

Watts's performance is impressive throughout the film. Even when she's playing a cliché (the small-town girl looking for her big break, and the crazed lesbian or bisexual hell bent on revenge), she infuses the characters with believability and nuance. Watts knows that Betty is naïve, but she never makes her stupid or unrealistic, and she similarly sidesteps clichés in the second half of the film.

The romantic relationships in Mulholland Dr. are central to the plot, especially considering the lesbian affair had such a deep influence on the first two-third s of the movie, and led to the disasters of the last third. Unfortunately, Lynch spends too much time trying to
confuse his audience with unexplained imagery and not enough time developing these
crucial relationships.

But if you allow yourself to accept that this movie is not meant to make much sense,
you will better be able to enjoy it. In fact, if you are anything like me, the perplexing storyline will make you want to watch Mulholland Dr. again and again, just to try and figure it all out.

It's near impossible to do, but it sure is fun to try.

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