Director: David Lynch
Cast: Justin Theroux, Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Ann Miller, Robert Forster, Dan Hedaya
MPAA Rating: (for violence, language and some strong sexuality)
Running Time: 2:26
Release Date: 10/12/01
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Review by Mark Dujsik
Director David Lynch is known for his bizarre worlds, characters, and plotlines, and Mulholland Drive is no exception from his routine. That it plays as well as it does is impressive, because when it all ends, it adds up to nothing and nothing adds up. You can feel some of Lynchís previous experimenting and it works much better here than in some of his earlier films, but once again, thereís nothing behind it. The film works solely as an experiment in atmosphere and confusion, and on that level, it succeeds magnificently. Itís a surreal nightmareódarkly realized and frequently disturbing. Lynch is definitely one of the more unique directors out there, and itís nice to see someone who doesnít appear to compromise his vision. I just have a feeling that if he put his mind to actually saying something or making sense, he could achieve consistent greatness. At the level heís at now, we just get provoking intrigue.
As the film opens, a woman played by Laura Harring is being driven in a limo. The driver stops and points a gun at her, and in a lucky coincidence, some kids speeding down the same road hit the limo head-on. The woman wakes up with amnesia and wanders around LA. Enter Betty Elms (Naomi Watts), an aspiring actress whoís come to Hollywood to stay at her auntís house while sheís off working on a movie. Much to her surprise, she discovers the woman from the limo in her auntís shower, and much to her naivetť, Betty doesnít think of calling the cops. The woman calls herself "Rita," after noticing a poster for a Rita Hayworth movie. Who is this woman? Why were people trying to kill her? How do two men talking in a diner, an inept hitman, and a film director fit into these two womenís lives?
These questions may kind of, sort of be answered, and as the exposition slowly reveals the essential details, the film becomes more and more involving. We slowly begin to see where the story could be going, and each new turn reveals enough to carry it to the next revelation. Eventually, the movie completely flips reality as the characters know it, and itís around this point that the movie begins a gradual descent into frustration. Loose ends are tied up, but new ones arise. The conclusion manages to simultaneously clear everything up and topple everything down. Tiny details contradict the overall structure of what Lynch is trying to do, and other wholly insignificant details are presented. It brings up a lot of questionsójust not the kind I want to be asking. Itís ambiguous in the way it leaves much open, to be sure, but itís also ambivalent in the way it never completely offers a way to figure everything out. I may not have minded this so much, except for the fact that the ambiguity exists solely on a plot level. Itís thematically empty, leaving us only to ponder a purposely confusing story.
And all of this makes it sounds as though I disliked the film, which is only somewhat far from the truth. Up until its downward spiral, I was slowly taken aback by what Lynch was doing. He successfully exaggerates reality to the point of division from it, and then very slowly brings it back down to his own distorted world. Once we get to this point, the film is enthralling with only minor missteps taking us out of it. The film has moments of incredibly dark humor. Example: a scene in which the inept hitman shows his ineptitude or the scene in which the director discovers his wife in bed with another man. Both of these sequences build to a point where Lynch destroys all expectations, and we await the next step. The whole film kind of has a similar build, but never pays off as these individual scenes do.
The acting takes a strange journey as well. It starts off either amateurish or exaggerated, and, in retrospect, I think itís the latter although watching it felt like the former. It gets much better as the film advances, and eventually a nicely developed relationship between Harring and Watts develops. Harring successfully hits the right notes throughout, although Watts doesnít seem to have it until her incredibly acted audition scene. Both actresses are unfortunately prey to Lynchís exploitation, but only a bit of the misogyny present in his other works is here. As the movie director, Justin Theroux is successful at playing believably exaggerated from the beginning, making his character one of the more interesting in the film. Once reality flips, cross-characterization (a device poorly attempted in Lynchís Lost Highway) shows up, and suddenly the lead actors really shine, even though their performances are overshadowed by the overall confusion.
Ultimately, Mulholland Drive raises a lot of questions but only about its structure and plotting. Is this all about dreams? Reincarnation? Time travel? Parallel universes? Itís never clear, but itís Lynchís show and he pulls it off as well as he can. Mulholland Drive is a puzzle of a film. Can it be solved? Not completely. Do I have the desire to figure it out as much as I can? Not really. Did I enjoy watching it play out? Yes.
Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.