Film Frenzy’s review published on Letterboxd:
MULHOLLAND DRIVE is written and directed by David Lynch, and stars Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring, and Justin Theroux. The film follows an optimistic woman named Betty (Naomi Watts), who chases her dreams of becoming an actress by moving to Hollywood. Along the way, she meets a shell-shocked, amnesiac woman (Laura Elena Harring), who refers to herself as “Rita” (After seeing a poster of classic Hollywood actress Rita Hayward). Rita is the sole survivor of a mysterious car crash and has awoken from the accident with absolutely no memory of her identity, or who she even is. Intrigued by both Rita and her very unusual plight, Betty decides to accompany her into the dark underbelly of Los Angeles to help her find out who she really is. Several other characters also cross paths with them, and different side plots play out along the way: They include a desperate, dejected filmmaker named Adam (Justin Theroux), a clumsy hit man, an enigmatic cowboy, a horrifying figure that lurks behind the dumpster of a local diner, and a strange blue key that Rita finds in her purse as the only piece of evidence in the search for her identity. While this may seem like a typical set-up for a classic Hollywood noir, there is a MAJOR twist… The rules of time and reality don’t apply here!
I think of all the great L.A. films: Sunset Boulevard, Kiss Me Deadly, Rebel Without A Cause, The Graduate, The Long Goodbye, Chinatown, The Player, Short Cuts, Pulp Fiction, Michael Mann’s HEAT, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, L.A. Confidential… I think of all these legendary movies and think of about how the City of Angels plays a massive role in both the story and characters in these films, and how the city literally becomes a character itself. Mulholland Drive easily stands with those films as one of the best films to ever be set in L.A. It’s quite rare that we get a film as original and as freaking awesome as Mulholland Drive! This film is in my Top 15 favorite films of all-time and is considered by many to be one of the greatest films of the 21st century so far. This film has been fighting Blue Velvet for the Number 1 spot on my list of favorite David Lynch films for the longest time now, and while I have referenced this film a number of times on here, I have never given an official review or analysis on it, so I think I’m long overdue! Let’s get started!
I first saw this movie when I was 13 years old (I certainly was WAY too young to have seen this film, obviously), and ever since then, I’ve watched it about six times. The first time I saw it, I enjoyed it for it’s dark visuals, and “trippy” storytelling (Using the language that adolescent me would use), but I never really knew what the exact meaning of this film was. However, this film always made me want to constantly revisit it, as there is so much left for interpretation. I recently gave this movie my sixth viewing, and I have to say, this film just keeps getting better and better! I’ve seen and read just about every exegesis and theory about this movie, and I’ve honestly never seen a film so thematically layered and narratively nuanced! Lynch doesn’t just throw out the rulebook of conventional cinematic storytelling here, he practically DESTROYS it! He plays by his own rules! He tampers with the viewer’s expectations, and completely flips them around to have them see things from a new perspective. The film’s themes of identity, lost love, and broken dreams that are far out of reach are simultaneously both compelling and bleak. “Mulholland Drive” seems to take a lot of clear influence from Ingmar Bergman’s film “PERSONA”, and it explores a lot of philosophical ideas of identity and the metaphysical. This movie is not only a bold critique of Hollywood, but a journey beyond the realms of human consciousness as well. Lynch gives us an existential vision of the “City of Dreams”, where both hopeful fantasies and desolate night terrors fully come to life and merge into one, forming a twisted symbiotic connection.
The film’s very first scene of Betty winning the ‘50s-style sockhop competition in her Canadian hometown, and the following POV shot of a person going to sleep immediately establish the film’s setting and tone. This film follows “dream logic”, meaning that this version of Los Angeles is not the Los Angeles that we know. This version of Los Angeles is straight out of the darkest voids of Lynch’s mind. ANYTHING is possible in this version of L.A. What I love about this film is the fact that this film’s time period is completely ambiguous. This film can take place in pretty much any era, whether it be the 1950s or present day. The characters don’t typically dress like how people in this modern era dress, there are posters and visuals of Golden Age Hollywood actors and actresses, many of the characters don’t necessarily talk like how people in our present day speak, and the phenomenal film’s soundtrack (Which I am going to get to later on) is comprised of hit songs from the 1950s and 1960s.
Other surreal elements and scenes that establish this film’s outlandish status include a scene in which two men meet at a diner and discuss a very disturbing dream that one of the men had, in which he encountered a very dark, terrifying figure behind the diner’s dumpster. They go behind the diner to see if this figure is real, and while the audience may be expecting to see something completely different, the figure literally jumps out from behind the dumpster! Another aspect is the fact that this version of Hollywood is shown to be somewhat dystopian, with the mob completely calling the shots and with the industry literally being run by a man in a control tower (Played by frequent Lynch collaborator Michael J. Anderson). Little scenes like this may seem like non-sequiturs and not relevant to the films’ story, but they very much do establish the fact that this world is certainly not grounded in reality.
I also really like the dark humor in this film as well. The funniest scene, in my opinion, involves an inept hitman who becomes involved in a murder gone completely awry. After he kills his intended target, and attempts to make it look like a suicide, his gun accidentally goes off, and a bullet flies through the walls, hitting a woman in the rear. He is forced to kill her off as well, as he cannot allow any witnesses to live. After getting hilariously beat up by this lady, he eventually shoots her, but a janitor comes inside and sees her dead body. The hitman then kills the janitor, then accidently sets off the fire alarm after attempting to destroy the janitor’s noisy vacuum by shooting it. This whole scene is literally something out a Coen Brothers film and is by far one of the more goofy moments in the film.
There are two significant scenes that stand out to me, which I think are the two best scenes in the whole film: The audition scene, and the “Club Silencio” scene. The audition scene involves Adam holding auditions for his upcoming film after his gangster bosses pressure him to cast a specific actress. Diane arrives to the audition, until she locks eyes with Adam, and fearfully retreats. This scene easily gives us the best foreshadowing I’ve seen in any film, and I’m not even kidding: The shot in which Diane and Adam lock eyes is not only my favorite shot in this movie, but one of my all-time favorite shots in ANY film! The sheer beauty and tension in this scene have this odd, symbiotic juxtaposition to it that surprisingly makes everything work! In addition, the editing here is easily the best-edited scene that Lynch has made yet! The “Club Silencio” scene, however, is directed to an absolute tee! Rebekah Del Rio’s somber Spanish cover of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” is just so phenomenal, and Peter Deming’s beautiful cinematography (Which is comprised almost entirely of the color blue, representing mystery and secrecy) just completely shines here!
The performances in this film are also easily some of the best in any of David Lynch’s films, with Naomi Watts taking center stage, and giving us a very nuanced character who starts off the film as an innocent, hopeful young actress wanting to make it big, to a lonely, depressed woman whose dreams are completely shattered. Laura Elena Harring also gives a massively understated performance in this film, and the fact that her career sadly never completely took off after this film was released is criminal on so many levels! Justin Theroux also works great with what’s he’s given, as he plays a character who is constantly running into bad luck, with his unfaithful wife cuckholding him by having an affair with his pool man (Who for some strange reason is played by Billy Ray Cyrus), and the fact that he constantly has mobsters breathing down his neck at every turn.
I absolutely adore the film’s soundtrack as well, as Lynch’s go-to maestro Angelo Badalamenti (One of my all-time favorite composers) absolutely kills it here as usual, and the film’s selection of classic ’50s and ‘60s hits from Connie Stevens and Linda Scott are also perfect! Badalamenti’s composition, Mary Sweeney’s editing, Peter Deming’s cinematography, and of course, Lynch’s writing and direction, all form an unstoppable superhuman team of talent, and they all make the perfect masterpiece here!
As much as I would like to analyze this film a lot more to uncover it’s true meaning, I unfortunately have to save that for another future post. Overall, this film is David Lynch working at his artistic peak! This film is SO many elements in one: A surrealist art film, a tribute to classic Hollywood mystery and noir films, a heartbreaking story of a tragic romance, a love letter to those whose dreams never came true, and an exploration into the unknown. I just find it so hard to believe that a film could possibly be all of these things at once! This is an absolutely daunting but gorgeous film with powerful performances, otherworldly visuals, BRILLIANT editing, a haunting score, and a twisty, intelligent story! David Lynch reigns supreme as the king of unique visual storytelling, and this film is practically his magnum opus! Take a ride into the twisted mind of a genius madman: This is… MULHOLLAND DRIVE!
My final rating: 10/10