****/**** Image A- Sound A
starring Justin Theroux, Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring, Ann Miller
written and directed by David Lynch
by Walter Chaw
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music -- Do I wake or sleep?
- John Keats, Ode to a Nightingale
David Lynch's Mulholland Drive contends that the answer to the eternal struggle between what is real and what is fantasy comes in the form of a Keatsian confusion--it's the difference between Adam's dream and Eve rendered flesh, blurred in the mind of the creator and his audience.A film is a dream of the director made tangible, a conceit familiar from the fourth wall-breaking in Ingmar Bergman's Persona (banishing any mystery there might have been regarding the visual references to that film in Lynch's piece), and a movie's characters therefore become projections of its maker's sublimated longing (clarifying too the auteur's use of wardrobe and colour schemes from Hitchcock's meditation on objectification, Vertigo, as well as those of his first collaboration with inamorata Tippi Hedren, The Birds).
Mulholland Drive (and Lynch's Lost Highway, to a lesser extent), then, is the deconstruction of sense, a literal gapping of the divide between dream and not-dream, fantasy and not-fantasy, and signs and their alleged signifiers. Rather than trust in the Godardian conceit that if everything is equal then nothing is meaningful, however, Lynch takes the polarized position of everything--everything--being equal in significance--even the non-linear and the non-sensical. Mulholland Drive is a film that either wakes from a dream at one point, or falls into one. It is amazingly dense and receptive to scholarship (both psychologically and in terms of critical theory), and its visual decadence and thematic courage establishes itself at once as Lynch's most satisfying film and among the best satires of the Hollywood dream factory.
Bird-like, fair-haired, beautiful, and fond of a little grey suit like the one worn by The Birds' Melanie Daniels, small town naïf Betty (Naomi Watts) steps off a plane in Hollywood arm-in-arm with an elderly couple who wish her well with platitudes and an overabundance of uncomfortable mirth. Betty's a farmgirl hoping to fulfill her dreams of stardom in Hollywood, following in the footsteps of her veteran character actor aunt and staying in her aunt's posh apartment complex while she's out of town. But the apartment isn't empty, as the mysterious amnesiac Rita (Laura Harring) has taken up residence there after surviving a horrific car accident on the titular Mulholland Drive. As Betty and Rita begin to unravel the puzzle of what happened the night of Rita's accident, we're introduced to images of a dreamer behind a dumpster, an opening jitterbug that recalls (and subverts) the widow's waltz that opens Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (another film about doubling and personality changes), a rotting corpse of a woman in a filthy apartment, and a little blue box, whose key seems to be the vital element in unravelling the tale.
Betty and Rita are clearly intended to be shadow extensions of one another in appearance and action--note especially a scene in which Rita flees an apartment, mirrored closely and awkwardly by Betty. The two are set up in a situational cohabitation and syllogistic opposition the same way that Melanie Daniels and Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette) were in The Birds: similar in height and rough appearance, one is blonde and delicate while the other is brunette and smouldering; a sexual jealousy component involving a lesbian attraction and an inappropriate male suitor arises; and both function as cautionary examples of the ways in which femininity is forced by convention into strained and unnatural poses.
Mulholland Drive is nothing if not unnatural, its artificiality eventually recalling the affected monumentalism, lurid colours, and self-consciously forced fakeness of Vertigo (aping that film's Carlotta transformation with the third-act renaming of the cipher Rita Carmella). The comparison of the major subtexts and shared filmic conceits of Mulholland Drive with Hitchcock's The Birds and Vertigo is a useful analytical strategy in that it clarifies the tension/attraction between the protagonists, the introduction of an identity-shifting love triangle, the horror of the ways in which women are twisted by masculine expectation, and the tragic consequences--the spiritual cost--of corrupting identity.
A bizarre scene involving a megalomaniacal movie director Adam (Justin Theroux) at a long conference table with the Castigliane brothers (composer Angelo Badalamenti (also contributing his best score) and Dan Hedaya), a pair of terrifying, espresso-obsessed movie producers, introduces the second plot of Mulholland Drive. The two threads intersect twice, once mid-film when Betty gives up her dream of stardom by running out on an audition for Adam's doo-wop movie to attend to Rita, her budding love, and again in the final third. Tying them together is a mysterious figure known as The Cowboy (Monty Montgomery), who functions as another Lynchian inversion of a distinctly American archetype. Mulholland Drive can be read as a pithy expansion of the menace inherent in the picaresque idealism of Norman Rockwell--like many of Lynch's films, it brings the subtle macabre of studied perfection swimming to the surface.
Mulholland Drive is brilliantly surreal in that it is surprisingly literal, an illustration of the process of disillusionment and character deconstruction that occurs in any process of constructing fictional stories and inhabiting manufactured personalities, using, as do Lynch's Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, the literal stage to express a narrative transition between representational stages of consciousness. In Mulholland Drive, a stunning Spanish rendition of Roy Orbison's "Crying" at a midnight burlesque cabaret serves as a turning point--the song of sorrow demonstrates the power to create symbolic reality in the process of performance. If there is one scene that encapsulates the main themes of the film and Lynch's recurring concerns as an artist, this is it, as it seems to be saying that if reality is art, and art is a dream, then reality is dreaming.
Mulholland Drive is thought-provoking and beautiful, disturbing and sticky. It ranks high among the best films of the year, not for its elitist obscurity, but for the extent to which it understands the sexual undercurrents implicit in the Master/Margaretha interplay between director and actor and the ways that art and dreams function on a level other than the rational--although they're no less powerful vehicles for storytelling for all their irrationality. The movie expands consciousness, inducing an inebriated state that pulses with the power of poetry while insinuating itself in the storehouses of existential fear.
Mulholland Drive is a horror film, a satire, a treatise on sexual politics and the male gaze, a black slapstick comedy, and a post-modernist treatise on the slipperiness of truth and identity. It is the best film of its kind since Begotten (essentially a Hitchcock picture by Luis Buñuel), and the quintessence of a genius-level filmmaker at his most introspective, confident, provocative, and mature. Mulholland Drive works in the space between the screen and the audience--a rare work that demands to be viewed through a different level of consciousness and yet requiring an active participation that it wilfully and instantly defies. With an astonishing audacity, David Lynch's Mulholland Drive is the dread eloquence of the subconscious brought to flickering reality. As with any dream-product, it's possessed of endless rewards for the patient, the curious, and the courageous.
by Bill Chambers Mulholland Drive (or Mulholland Dr.) is currently leading FILM FREAK CENTRAL's poll for the most-anticipated DVD of April; no doubt puzzled viewers want a chance to study the film at their leisure. While this review pertains to the Canadian release from Columbia TriStar/TVA, note that it is identical to Universal's stateside disc--right down to the dual packaging--save proprietary logos. (In a sour-tasting stunt (it is perhaps presumed that die-hards will buy both), the Mulholland Drive DVD has been outfitted in North America with separate covers featuring either Naomi Watts's or Laura Harring's visage.)
Mulholland Drive is presented in an outstanding 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer whose sole weakness is a lack of detail in the darker areas of the lower-lit images. (No, I'm not referring to David Lynch's decision to digitally obscure Harring's pubic hair in a silhouetted shot of Rita.) Blacks lacked a certain depth on the big screen and so periods of low contrast did not come as a surprise to me, but Harring's lovingly-styled brunette hair, for instance, blots together into an unwieldy, ill-defined weave in one dim moment. Everything else about the video is delicious, especially the colours.
Mulholland Drive's 5.1 mix--in Dolby Digital and DTS options--is loud. Lynch's sonic genius makes nearly every second of this film demonstration material, and he appears to have made an exception in this case to his "ten-percent rule" (which mandates that no more than 10% of the total soundtrack be directed to the rear channels), such as in the opening jitterbug number and subsequent car accident, both of which in any case put the subwoofer to thrilling use. I found the DD and DTS tracks all but indistinguishable from each other since the Dolby track has a little more juice than usual. No surprise, given that this is a Lynch title, the disc is not chapter-encoded--a particular shame here as the film's episodic structure lends itself to piecemeal viewing. Bios for Lynch (his classically kooky) and cast, the theatrical trailer (in DD 5.1), and a keepcase insert--"David Lynch's 10 Clues to Unlocking This Thriller," with which he essentially dares you to call his bluff--cap the disc. Originally published: April 14, 2002.