Classic Movie Review: Mulholland Drive (2001)

Title: Mulholland Drive
Release Date: October 12, 2001
Director: David Lynch
Production Company: Les Films Alain Sarde | Asymmetrical Productions | Babbo Inc. | Le Studio Canal+ | The Picture Factory

Mulholland Drive starts off appearing to be one of David Lynch’s more straightforward films, but ends up being one of the most surreal. The main story is about Betty Elms (Naomi Watts), an effervescent young woman who arrives in Hollywood to pursue her dream of acting.  Betty takes advantage of using her Aunt Ruth’s unoccupied apartment but discovers that there is a woman living there, an amnesiac car crash survivor who calls herself “Rita” (Laura Elena Harring). Betty tries to help Rita discover her real identity and the mystery of a large amount of cash and a blue key in her purse.

Betty’s story is intercut with vignettes of other events in Los Angeles, some of which never intersect with the main plot. But a storyline that does continue involves the movie directory Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) having a bad day where mobsters take over his film and cut off his bank account and he discovers his wife having an affair.  In a normal movie these two plotlines would come together in a neo-noir caper that exposes the seedy underbelly of the Hollywood dream.  In a David Lynch film, things get extremely surreal.

Lynch obviously has his own style, but I feel like this movie is also a tribute of sorts to Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard. Both movies are named after a significant road in Los Angeles and both deal with Hollywood myths and crime. The action of Sunset Boulevard begins with Joe Gillis hiding his car in a Hollywood mansion while the action of Mulholland Drive begins with Rita hiding herself in a Hollywood apartment. There also feels to be some influence from Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction in that they deal with the seedy underbelly of Hollywood and play with chronology.  A scene in which a bungling hitman ends up having to kill three people and its played for comedy feels particularly Tarantinoesque.

But the heart of the movie, especially its most surreal final third, is pure David Lynch at his best.  I read that Lynch originally envisioned Mulholland Drive as a tv series and I can see the movie being a tv pilot with scenes from various episodes, including the finale, cut into it.  And yet somehow it works. A lot of credit needs to be given to Watts and Harring for the range of their performances, capturing different aspects of their characters or perhaps entirely different characters. I’m kind of glad I waited until now to finally watch this movie as I’m more able to simply enjoy ambiguity and consider multiple interpretations than I was when I was younger and wanted to know what it “means.”

Rating: ****

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