A hellish take on the other side of Hollywood, the place where dreams go to wither and die.
The film opens with a failed murder attempt and violent car crash on Mulholland Drive. The intended target, a beautiful brunette (Linda Garling), is the only survivor of the crash. She stumbles away from the wreckage with a purse full of $100 bills, but no memory of who she is, where she was going or what has happened. Back on the streets of Hollywood she befriends Betty (Naomi Watts), a lively if naive blonde who has just arrived in L.A with stars in her eyes and dreams of becoming a famous actress. The crash survivor adopts the name Rita from an old ‘Gilda’ poster and together, using clues from her handbag, they attempt to discover her identity and what happened on the night of the crash. After a couple of successful auditions Betty’s acting career seems to be going incredibly well, but as she works with Rita to uncover her identity, she is immersed into the dark, seedy underbelly of Hollywood.
Mulholland Drive isn’t set in the sunny Hollywood, the place where dreams are made and the magic of the movies spills over into the streets. Oh no, it’s set in the brutal, twisted Hollywood, the place where dreams are shattered and corruption is rampant.
Lynch creates a refreshingly disjointed narrative as we are introduced to several interesting and peculiar characters. There are pimps, hitmen, detectives, a director being forced by Italian mobsters to cast a particular actress as leading lady in his new film and most memorably of all, an outrageously sinister cowboy who seems to have some overarching authority over all the dealings in this Lynchian Hollywood. At times the scenes involving these characters seem totally unconnected and the narrative incoherent, but it almost doesn’t matter. There are several passages that are so mesmerizing and spectacular that it seems inconsequential whether they are going to be coherently explained or not. Rita and Betty’s late night visit to ‘Club Silencio’ is one of the most haunting and remarkable scenes i’ve ever watched.
There is always an underlying sense though that all the threads will be untangled to unveil a Hollywood conspiracy that pulls together all the characters and the events on Mulholland Drive. This sense, combined with the relentlessly dark and foreboding atmosphere and several wonderful scenes drive the first 100 minutes of the film along. It’s constantly intriguing and exciting.
But just when it appears that everything is about to resolve itself, Lynch pulls the carpet from under us. The whole film completely collapses in on itself, the glossy tint disappears and suddenly the characters are almost unrecognisable. The film spirals from being dark and foreboding, into a hellish nightmare. The chronology of the whole thing is thrown into question and we’re no longer sure who is who or what is real and what is imagined. We’ve been Lynched. The most remarkable thing about it all though, is that somewhere lost within the labyrinth there’s a logical explanation for everything, well just about everything.
There are strong performances from everyone in the cast, but Naomi Watts’ compelling performance in a very challenging role is the stand out. Elsewhere Monty Montgomery has a memorable cameo as the expresionless and sinister cowboy (see below) and Justin Theroux gives a good turn as the under pressure director (also see below). The score is also beautiful in a terrifying sort of way.
From its first second to its last, Mulholland Drive had me enthralled. Rarely do films as audacious as this work so well. It’s a film that can be interpreted in many different ways, it’s complex and fascinating, it rewards multiple viewings and it strikes the perfect balance between the surreal bizarreness you would expect from Lynch, and the trappings of a more conventional thriller. A masterpiece that should be seen by everyone who loves films.