Mulholland Drive movie full length review - David Lynch, The Blue-Haired Muse and Master of the Macabre
Spoiler Alert - although this is a plot almost as impossible to spoil as it is to completely explain.
'Mulholland Drive' is by far the most successful expression of David Lynch's cinematographic style and vision since the first season of his 'Twin Peaks' TV series. As Lynch enthusiasts know, his is a style and vision uniquely blended from film noir, horror movies, surrealism, and parapsychology ? with a healthy dose of postmodern self-consciousness and black humor thrown in for good measure. All these elements are richly at work in 'Mulholland Drive,' making for a riveting, hair-raising, and highly satisfying film experience ? especially if one does not become overly obsessed with trying to make all the plot pieces fit into a logical, mystery-unraveling whole.
The film features wonderful performances by Naomi Watts and Laura Harring in the lead roles of young women whose lives intersect in various ways amid a Hollywood setting that is itself an hallucinated blend of contemporary reality, retro '50s nostalgia, and satirical self-aggrandizement. Their seemingly random initial meeting occurs after the film's opening scene, in which Harring's character escapes an attempt on her life thanks to a fortuitous, not to mention horrific, automobile accident. Staggering down the hillside from Mulholland Drive to Sunset Boulevard (the two most archetypal of Hollywood thoroughfares), she finds her way to the very apartment that Betty (Naomi Watts) is about to sublet from her 'Aunt Ruth,' a purportedly successful actress who is off to Canada to begin a new movie. As we later learn, Betty had herself arrived from Deep River, Ontario, shortly after winning a jitterbug contest.
A highly energetic and stylized flashback to the contest forms one of two pre-credit prologue sequences that frame Betty's descent from the clichéd would-be-starlet's bright-eyed innocence to the debauched madness of spurned lover and going nowhere bit-part actress. Unable to remember her own name, the Harring character adopts the name 'Rita' from a movie poster for the film noir classic 'Gilda' that adorns Aunt Ruth's apartment. (Actually, it turns out Aunt Ruth has long since deceased and whose apartment we're really in is a good question to be resolved in future viewings.) Anyway, Betty determines to help Rita find out what happened and to discover the source of the rolls of cash and a mysterious blue key that the women find in Rita's purse. The two women begin to piece together clues that would seem to lead to Rita's true identity. They also, by the way, become lovers, at one point radiating such an incendiary chemistry that I cannot recall its equal in mainstream treatments of Lesbian lover affairs (if a Lynch movie can ever be designated 'mainstream').
At the local Winkies restaurant (a recurring location fraught with dream-like significance behind its grubby realistic facade), Rita's attention is caught by a waitress's name-tag reading 'Diane.' This leads her to a recollection of someone named 'Diane Selwyn,' whose apartment the two women soon visit and, at Betty's insistence, break into. I won't reveal what they find within, but suffice it to say the scene is rendered with vintage Lynchian creepiness. Subsequently, Rita wakes in night sweats speaking Spanish and hurrying Betty to an all-night magic show/theater called 'Silencio,' where the arts of illusion and lip/instrumental- syncing are practiced with manic intensity and where the Blue- Haired Lady, as she is noted in the end credits, reigns as the presiding Muse. Framed by the blue-lit, red-curtained Silencio Theatre, the blue-haired lady occupies the last shot in the film, perhaps a symbol for the controlling artistic imagination ? rather like Steven's "man with the blue guitar" as filtered through bad- drug surrealism.
During the Silencio sequence, and as Rebekah Del Rio cameo lip-syncs her own powerful Spanish rendition of Roy Orbison's 'Crying'), a shattering epiphany occurs when Betty opens her own purse to discover a blue box with a keyhole that obviously matches the key in Rita's purse. Even if we do not delve too deeply into the Freudian sexual symbolism of purses, the moment is a singularly Hitchcockian one in that the matching of the key and box leads to a complete inversion of what we thought we knew and into a whole new set of character relationships and meanings. Not the least of these reversals is the discovery that Betty is the sought-for Diane Selwyn and the spurned lover of Camilla Rhodes (i.e. Rita). Camilla in turn is a Latin femme fatale movie star to whom Diane is indebted for the few minor roles she has managed to secure and, more significantly, to whom she is emotionally subjugated.
After these and other discoveries in the last third of the film, the problem of accounting for the first two thirds of the movie is not so straightforwardly resolved as in 'Vertigo.' While bits and pieces of imagery and dialog suggest that much, if not all, of the earlier material is projected and displaced from the fevered subconscious of Diane herself, other bits and pieces suggest the perhaps supernatural intervention of a cast of characters drawing direct inspiration from 'Twin Peaks,' including Michael J. Anderson reprising his unearthly dwarfish powers and a Bob- variant who hangs out behind Winkies and is the ultimate repository for the blue box and its id-like associations.
However one fits the pieces together, though, the whole of 'Mulholland Drive' is much greater ? and more mysterious ? than the sum of its parts. Lynch takes us on a wonderfully inventive, provocative, and pleasurably disturbing mind trip. What's more, the film's cinematography is stunning, the soundtrack filled with evocative atmospherics, the acting superb, and the directing /editing masterful. This may well have been the unacknowledged Best Picture of 2001 among major American releases.