An Alternative Guide to Great Movies: Mulholland Drive (2001)
PUBLISHED: 22:57 22 December 2017 | UPDATED: 15:30 03 January 2018
Films with re-watch value, movies with a unique quality, will become the classics of the future. Arts editor Andrew Clarke presents a series of idiosyncratic suggestions for movies that may entertain if you are in the mood for something different.
Mulholland Drive; dir: David Lynch; starring: Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring, Justin Theroux, Ann Miller, Robert Forster, Dan Hedaya, Mark Pellegrino, Lee Grant, Michael J Anderson, Billy Ray Cyrus, Chad Everett. Cert: 15; (2001)
Mulholland Drive is a movie that exists outside time. Is it set in the 1940s, ‘50s, ‘90s, now? Who knows and frankly, who cares? It’s, quite simply, an astonishing, bewildering, compelling piece of film-making. You’ll love even though you will have no clue as to what is going on.
If you remember that this engagingly surreal movie comes from the same mind that gave us both Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet then it will start to make some kind of sense and also make it easier to navigate.
The story centres on Betty (Watts), a young girl from Canada who travels to Hollywood to become an actress. Betty projects an aura of naïve innocence and attends auditions in a state of nervous, almost giddy excitement.
Meanwhile, Rita (Harring) survives a bizarre assassination attempt and a car wreck, staggering over the desert-like landscape, she stumbles across the expensive mansions off Mulholland Drive. Quietly she slips through an unlocked door of the empty apartment belonging to Betty’s aunt.
Rita has no idea who she is, or how the day started. She sees a picture of Rita Hayworth and thinks she is looking at herself. Betty and Rita are swiftly brought together and, in between auditions, Betty helps Rita figure out who she is but with increasingly creepy results.
Meanwhile, a young filmmaker (Theroux) is being strong-armed by Italian mobsters to cast their girl in his new film. All three feel that they are not as in charge of their destinies as they would like to be.
Displacement is recurrent theme in Lynch’s work and no more is it more evident than in Mulholland Drive. Using a terrific score from composer Angelo Badalamenti, Lynch cleverly ensnares us in a world of humour, three-dimensional characters before propelling us headlong into a story of utter terror.
Only a film-maker like Lynch could have the guts to leave his audience seemingly stranded as he flips his carefully constructed world into an alternate reality of swapped identities and confusing sequences that hint at time travel and who knows what.
As an audience we may be scratching our head but we never feel entirely abandoned because the characters in the story are also equally bemused so clinging to them we all feel that we are in this together.
Harring, Theroux and Watts are all terrific, but it is Watts who really delivers the powerhouse performance. If you pardon the pun, she is the Lynch-pin around which much of this surreal craziness revolves.
The fact that Naomi Watts failed to land a best actress Oscar nomination is a mystery worthy of the twilight world of Mulholland Drive itself.
Set in Los Angeles, it is unsurprising that Mulholland Drive is a film about dreams, desires and strange worlds of illusion and make believe. We are never entirely sure what is real and what is just an entertaining piece of misdirection.
In the hands of a less skilled artist or craftsman all this cinematic sleight of hand would swiftly become very annoying and ultimately alienating but Lynch knows exactly what he is doing. The characters and the mystery keep you hooked and there is a genuinely erotic love story which develops that adds another dimension to the story just as you feel you are getting a grip on what it is all about.
One of the strengths of this brilliant film is that it will provide a different experience for everyone who sees it. You can watch it with a large group of mates and as the final credits roll everyone will have seen a different film because the narrative has been filtered through our own life experience and our own tastes.
It’s a film that exists in a world of smoke and mirrors – a dream-state that is always on the verge of lapsing into a nightmare. By the end you are still not entirely sure what has happened but it has been a very enjoyable two-and-a-half hours and your brain is buzzing as you try and make sense of it all.
Mulholland Drive started off as a failed pilot for a television series but I suspect works better on the big screen as it is the closest thing cinema has ever got to experimental theatre. It’s unique, audacious and quite brilliant.