Mulholland Drive Review (2001)

by "Penguin" Pete Trbovich on September 14th, 2018 | |

Mulholland Drive was directed by David Lynch (who also directed Lost Highway and Blue Velvet) and stars Naomi Watts (from Funny Games), Laura Harring (from Inside) and Justin Theroux (from The Legend of Lucy Keyes). It’s about a woman with amnesia stumbling through the seedy underbelly of modern Hollywood.

An actress longing to be a star. A woman searching for herself. Both worlds will collide… on Mulholland Drive.

Mulholland Drive ReviewJust Bask In The Awesome

The hell with dancing around: Mulholland Drive is my favorite David Lynch movie of all time. Yes, pop your monocle and say ‘Egad!’ all you want to. Yes, Eraserhead is arguably David Lynch’s signature work. Yes, it may not be everybody’s favorite.

But it’s my favorite because at this point in his career, David Lynch was at last comfortable enough in his own skin that he took to deconstructing himself with this movie. Not many auteurs even reach that level of Zen.

The Plot?

Oh no no. Forget trying to recap the plot, we’re just going to slap a big SPOILER tag on it and say “See it yourself!” first.

I mean, there’s an aspiring actress who discovers a woman running around Hollywood with amnesia whom she tries to help solve the mysteries of her past, meanwhile there’s an enfant terrible director down on his luck whose fate is intertwined with the above. But what do we really care?

David Lynch Knows Why You Watch His Movies

…and it ain’t for the plot. Instead, this time Lynch runs his movie like he’s throwing a house party. Don’t see it as a linear narrative, see it as a series of highlights:

  • * The nightmare man behind Winkie’s. Unconnected to any other event in the movie, it works as a stand-alone short.
  • * The humiliation congo of Adam Kesher. Between getting cuckolded by Billy Ray Cyrus, having the Hollywood system screw him out of control of his movie, and being put in his place by a sternly sarcastic Cowboy, Adam is a brightly-painted clown of comic misfortune.
  • * “NO HAY BANDA!” The hammy Silencio club host. Don’t pretend you never quoted him. Followed by that show-stopping rendition of “Llorando”! (Roy Orbison’s “Crying”)
  • * The songs “Sixteen Reasons Why I Love You” and “Every Little Star.”
  • * The world’s clumsiest hitman. “Something bit me BAD!” Again, there’s not much connection between him and the rest of the plot. There’s a dark chain of criminal underworld events going on in the background pulling puppet strings on the movie-casting subplot, but like most Lynch bad guys, they’re just evil in a general way without much specific purpose.
  • * The scary Diane Selwyn body in the apartment.
  • * Steamy lesbo makeout scene!
  • * Coco and the apartment tour. Classic Hollyweird wackiness. When Betty’s psychic neighbor Louise Bonner shows up and tells Betty she’s not Betty, that’s a point that goes un-refuted. Then Coco leads Louise away while Louise raves about a strange woman in her own apartment. Maybe she’s dealing with another amnesiac femme-fatale.
  • * “This is the girl!”
  • * The Vertigo reference, culminated when “Rita” puts on the blond wig. Not a bit accidental, by the way.

And so, when Betty and “Rita” discover the box and march back to her apartment to open it with the obviously matching key, let’s face it: That box could have contained “Rita”‘s ID so she gets her memory back, and the ending would be a letdown. So instead, as a door prize, Lynch gives you the puzzle of the movie’s third act. Have fun! Thanks for coming to the David Lynch show.

The famous “ten clues” is just Lynch toying with all us schmucks. When has he ever explained himself before? Why start now? For the same reason John Lennon recorded “I Am The Walrus” and left the recording room snickering “Let’s see them figure that one out!” That’s Lynch telling you to quit trying to audit his movie with a spreadsheet and just enjoy the damn thing.

Mulholland Drive is David Lynch’s most humorous movie – and I watched it in a packed theater, I heard everybody laughing. It was originally intended to be a TV series in the same vein as Twin Peaks, but the studio system gagged on it.

Gatekeeping About Lynch

David Lynch movies are especially frustrating to research, because there’s something about this guy that drives people window-licking, chair-humping, grass-eating crazy. So I’ll reapply Penguin Pete’s Pet Peeve #1: If you’re analyzing a Lynch movie and the phrase “it’s all a dream” comes out of your mouth just one time, you are disqualified from discussing Lynch. This is your head down here, and this thing way up here above your head, you know what this is, it’s the movie. Yes, I’m gatekeeping now, and whiny snowflakes will be fine as soon as they eat a couple Tidepods and get over it.

If you must have somebody else’s theory…

Remember my old “Moralist” theory (AKA “sinner in the hands of an angry god”) from the Eraserhead review? The blue box is Betty’s punishment, because Mulholland Drive‘s god this time happens to be a trickster. The box is another kind of Pandora’s Box, stirring the whole world and changing it forever just because she meddled in things that were none of her business. Is it unfair? Yes, just like countless deities from ancient Rome to modern Lovecraft are.

And what is Betty getting punished for? Why it’s simple: VANITY!

Yeah, nobody ever discusses this, but Betty is an entitled, self-glorified dick. She waltzes into Hollywood and thinks she owns the place day one. She never shows the slightest humility; going into one, single audition expecting that it’s her guaranteed ticket to worldwide fame, and it’s about damn time! When she finds “Rita,” she takes her in like a stray cat. If it were made ten years later, she’d be posting pictures of “Rita” on Instagram: “Found this poor human behind the dumpster! ZOMG I’m such a hero!” Betty exploits “Rita” like an accessory in her life, by using her to rehearse for her part, bolstering her ego by playing Nancy Drew with “Rita”‘s past, and yelling at her “Don’t drink all the Coke!”

Just listen to her self-indulgently prattle at “Rita,” who’s far too busy trying not to faint from her injuries to pay much attention: “I’d rather be known as a famous actress than a movie star – but you know, sometimes people end up being both!” Yeah, Betty, you’ll just have to compromise those standards, what a shame. Betty even snidely comments later about her audition movie, “It’s such a lame script!” Suddenly she’s the expert – she still played a good scene off it anyway, didn’t she? Well, apparently it’s not that impressive, because her two catty gal-friends dismiss it in the hallway minutes later, albeit careful to avoid bruising Betty’s delicate ego. But for a consolation prize, they figure to pitch her at Adam Kesher filming across the hall, doubtless hoping they’ll keep each other busy.

And when it comes time for “Rita” to express her gratitude, why yes, Betty would love to help herself to some sexy lesbian funtimes, don’t mind if she does! Nobody seems to appreciate the fact that Betty is abusing a power differential over “Rita” when they go for some grab-titty. Betty does weakly express a token protest, but she keeps on a-bendin’ those principles as soon as she thinks of the slightest justification. For that matter, the right thing to do when you find a confused stranger with a concussion who can’t remember who they are is to call an ambulance. “Rita” is in no condition to consent. She might not even have enough marbles left in her noggin to know it.

So when “Rita” opens “Pandora’s Box,” the universe gets shuffled. We’re now all living in an alternate reality where all of Betty’s squandered blessings have been taken away from her and redistributed to those around her. “Rita” gets Betty’s fame and stardom and gets to marry the successful director. People in her life have now hopped around to different roles respective to each other; they all get a happier ending than she does. Coco is the director’s mom now. Betty alone is cursed with the knowledge of how it used to be. A waitress at Winkie’s even gets her former name, as Betty glumly notes.

And like any Narcissist, Betty, far from learning her lesson, tries to get revenge on “Rita.” It backfires on her and the crazy little old people come to get her. They are the muses of morality. That’s why they’re so tickled in the prologue after they leave her at the airport; they can’t wait to see the haughty princess get her comeuppance.

But Where’s The Horror?

As with Lynch’s previous Lost Highway, the horror here is the psychological, existential uncertainty that our lives may be one big delusion. We may not be who we think we are, we may not be as sure of ourselves as we appear to be, and the universe doesn’t care. All our hubris and vanity can’t save us if the universal cosmic powers flick us off their backs like a flea.

Now, as always with a Lynch movie, I bid you farewell and good luck. This movie belongs to you now. Ride it yourself, take it on your own adventures. Look back someday at my interpretation and laugh, because there’s sometimes a buggy, and neither you nor me are its driver.

The Verdict:

What do You think of Mulholland Drive? (post a comment)

What do others think?

http://www.penguinpetes.com/

Writer, artist, prophet, cult leader. Take good care of my memes. I’ve raised them since they were daydreams.

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