Mulholland Drive

David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive was supposed to be an ABC television series, but the network backed out after Lynch delivered the pilot episode. Given some French money to turn the pilot into a theatrical film by shooting new footage to make it self-contained, Lynch, bless his perverse heart, used it as an opportunity to make it ever more tangled in Lynchian symbology and mystery. He doesn’t even pretend to bring the film — or the various subplots designed for a TV season’s worth of exploration — to any conventional or even sensible closure.

I don’t think David Lynch will ever work in television again; Mulholland Drive feels like a vicious slap at ABC (the home of his cult hit series Twin Peaks) and any other network that would try to tame his wild-at-heart vision. But I hope his enthusiastic fan base in France and Japan will keep the wheels greased for more movies (since no American studio will back him), because Mulholland Drive, oblique and baffling as it is, is still the only English-language movie this year to use the film medium to challenge, provoke, arouse, and confound, often all at once.

Some dislike being confounded. They will find no solace in the “story,” which begins rather network-ishly, as aspiring actress Betty (Naomi Watts) and an amnesiac who’s named herself “Rita” (Laura Elena Harring) sift through Los Angeles for clues to Rita’s identity. For a while, that’s the film’s main throughline; we meet other characters — a frustrated, cuckolded movie director (Justin Theroux), a typical Lynchian Man of Mystery called The Cowboy (Monty Montgomery), two men in a diner discussing ominous dreams — who are neglected or entirely forgotten; Lynch uses them as divertissements but doesn’t bother tying them into the dominant narrative. It’s a bit like the European theatrical version of the Twin Peaks pilot, wherein the killer was revealed but subplot threads were left dangling.

Indeed, Mulholland Drive starts out all-American — it kicks off with images of jitterbugging, for God’s sake, and employs a classical American mystery arc — and then turns on a dime into European territory, complete with lesbian erotica and freak-out surrealism. I can only applaud the moment when the movie quite merrily decides to go lesbian (“We’re now into the R-rated portion of the evening,” you can almost hear Lynch say); this director specializes in the beautiful/evil sweetness of sin, the attentiveness to breath quickened by lust or dread or both. When lips brush together and hands explore the undiscover’d country of same-sex flesh, the screen trembles and burns.

After that, Lynch goes spelunking in the caves of his own pet obsessions. Rita’s identity crisis is also the film’s. As we saw in Lost Highway, Lynch has a taste for left-brain/right-brain narrative with no easy connective link — he wants you to climb into your own head and finish the work yourself, and so there are an infinite number of ways to read Mulholland Drive. I need to see it at least seven more times, armed with interviews with the notoriously unhelpful Lynch (who refuses to kill his mysterious babies by dissecting them), preferably on DVD where Peter Deming’s lit-from-within-by-hellflame cinematography and Angelo Badalamenti’s sad, menacing score can work their magic on me most efficiently and repeatedly.

As moviemaking — as pure abstract art writ large — this is a classic, a thing of dark mystifying beauty. What actually happens during the last half hour, and what does it all mean? I really couldn’t tell you (yet). Mulholland Drive demands to be chewed over obsessively, revisited devoutly, until its secrets unlock themselves — much as Lynch’s characters (and their creator) circle around a central mystery only to find an enigma inside. Those who are willing to put that much effort into a David Lynch film — or are at least willing to give him the benefit of the doubt — will enjoy Mulholland Drive; those who aren’t, won’t.

Explore posts in the same categories: art-house, based on tv show, cult, drama, lynch, one of the year's best, thriller

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