Director: David Lynch (France, USA). Year of Release: 2001
Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. A car carrying a pretty young woman stops unexpectedly. As she is asking why they’ve come to a halt, someone in the front seat pulls out a gun and aims straight for her. Two cars full of partying kids then speed into the car, leaving everyone dead apart from the young woman. She hauls herself out of the car and drags herself down to the porch of a house where a woman is loading a taxi with luggage.
LAX airport. Betty is arriving from Ontario, looking for acting work in Hollywood. She takes a taxi to her aunt’s house – her aunt is also an actor, but is away filming in Canada. But the house is not empty – there is a woman in the shower. It is the same woman who just avoided being shot, and she’s lost her memory. Seeing a poster from a Rita Hayworth film on the wall, she calls herself Rita.
A Hollywood board room. A hot-shot director is fighting mafia-type people who are trying to impose a female actor onto his next picture. You can tell he’s hot-shot because of his glasses. My knowledge of optical fashion is too limited to know if they’re designer, but let’s just say you could picture Bono wearing them. The director comes home to find his wife in bed with Billy Ray Cyrus of all people. He pours paint over his wife’s jewellery and Billy Ray throws him out of his own house.
The various plots meander and intertwine. There is a menacing dwarf in a wheelchair, a decaying corpse, a strange blue box with a key, a detective, a visits to a diner chain by someone who saw it in a dream, a hitman spiralling out of control and shooting the growing number of witnesses, and some gratuitous sex between Betty and Rita. They then visit a club where the MC introduces various acts including a woman singing Roy Orbison’s Crying in Spanish. It all just about coheres, but only just.
This is the point, with about half an hour to go, that the film goes completely out of control. Characters we recognise from previous scenes reappear, but with different characteristics, often different names, and different relationships with each other. Nothing makes sense. And then the end credits roll.
This was my third attempt at going to see Mulholland Drive in the last week or two. Twice I’d ordered tickets and something else came up, but that was only part of it. I also had a lingering memory that this was the film that made me slightly fall out of love with David Lynch and was reluctant to have this confirmed. Luckily, it looks like I was misremembering – Mulholland Drive came after Lost Highway, which was the one that really annoyed me.
So, first time round I saw it already deflated by the worry that Lynch had left behind the creativity of Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet, Eraserhead and the Elephant Man (we’ll leave Dune out of this discussion for the moment) and was already on a path to opaqueness for its own sake, where if a film contains enough quirk. it doesn’t have to make any sense at all. Looking back, I think I was over-critical and that there actually is plenty in Mulholland Drive to like.
This is not to say that it’s perfect, or even anywhere near. It’s meandering, it starts way too many plotlines and doesn’t even attempt to complete at least half of them. The final half hour is an unholy mess that makes no sense at all, as if Lynch was taking incoherence as something to be celebrated. This makes for a film that has its moments but is ultimately quite dissatisfying.
There seem to be two main explanations for this – that Mulholland Drive was originally intended as a series and that it’s all a series of dream sequences. Both arguments explain why Mulholland Drive is like it is, but don’t excuse it. Let’s take the easier one: “and then I woke up and it was all a dream” has long been a cliché used by writers who are unable to deal with little things like plot. To say something is a dream is usually to say it was too hard to write anything based in reality.
To the tv series aspect. Yes, this does explain why many characters are underdeveloped and many plot sequences just fizzle out. But the truth is, we are not watching a series. In the film it just looks like Lynch has had way too many ideas, thrown them all against the wall, and just ignored those that either don’t stick, or he’s just got bored with. The film would have not just more coherent if it had shed half its characters, it would also have been much tighter.
For all its good qualities (and there are many) Mulholland Drive is ultimately self-indulgent and a sign that by this stage in his career, not enough people had the power to tell Lynch “that doesn’t work”, or “this needs cutting”. Go and see it, but you may choose to leave on about the 2 hour mark. It should never have been longer than that in the first place.