Mulholland Drive

Mulholland Drive ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

It's fair to say that David Lynch, whose body of work I've overlooked for the longest time, has been known for conveying the intangible to the point of confusion. So I was surprised to find that while his much-acclaimed Mulholland Drive IS confusing and intangible at times, it becomes quite easy to understand once you really look at it. And once I started to dissect the many themes it had to offer, I came to the conclusion that a lot of other people have: this is an amazing piece of cinema.

Certain things in the film, at first, appear for no reason, like the cowboy, the manic old couple, and the monster behind Winkies. But as the story unfolds, it actually clears some of these up. For example, that cowboy is an extension of the foolish portrayal of director Adam Kesher. We see that everything else is going wrong for him, such as becoming broke, being forced out of his own house, and his inability to get the actress he wants for his next project. Therefore the inclusion of the cowboy adds another layer of his struggle to take away that persona. Furthermore, that specific characterization is explained in the final half hour, where it reveals that he picked the lead of his film because of his relationship to her and not because of talent, much to the dismay of our protagonist, Diane (Naomi Watts).

Lynch performs a masterstroke by making this film about trickery and lies into a grand illusion in itself. Probably the most blatant proof of this is the scene at Club Silencio, where the presenter openly states "Il n'est pas de orquestra. It is... an illusion!". It's as if Lynch stepped into frame and warned people about everything that they just witnessed and what will happen later. Not to mention, the unconventional story structure puts us into the mind of Diane, who takes the name of Betty for the first two hours, because plot twists/turns are given exactly when she comes to those same revelations. And speaking of trickery and lies, it makes sense for the first two hours to be Diane's supposed dream only to conclude with the harsh reality she tries to hide herself from.

As strong as the narrative is in conjuring up a sense of discomfort, the filmmaking itself is just as adept in pulling off a nightmarish quality. Diffuse lighting and soft focus create a strong haze that makes it difficult to pinpoint what is real and what is not, even when we know if an event is or isn't. Diane herself mixes up the two, so the film goes along with that for a consistent, engrossing visual style. Further adding to the otherworldly atmosphere is Angelo Badalamenti's haunting score, where the constant humming provides a sensation of calming dread whenever appropriate.

The performances have a slight unnatural tinge for the most part, with Watts in particular being a bit too wide-eyed to work in any semblance of reality. And yet, they work to the film's favor as it too flows with the narrative and aesthetics to be completely distant from reality. In fact, once it does step out of the fantasy elements, the acting follows suit and becomes more naturalistic, barring a few intentional moments of hysterical overacting (the old couple ganging up on Diane in the final scene).

I already commend Lynch for making a mesmerizing illusion that excels on a visceral level, but that fact that this whole film is about such an illusion (in this case, cinema in general) makes it a triumph on an intellectual level as well. It works well enough on its own without the illusion context, but having it gives the nightmarish world view a semblance of truth, arguably making it more terrifying. For all those reasons and more, Mulholland Drive is a stone-cold masterpiece on its own terms, and holds up as one of the most engrossing and spellbinding movies of the 21st century.

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