Mulholland Drive

Mulholland Drive ★★★★★

This is the girl.

Good god. I've seen, as some of you may know, a whole boatload of great films at my local cinema, The Texas Theatre, this year. Their lineups have always been good, but since re-opening in Q4 2020 they've been almost comically loaded with classics and rare opportunities to see some of my favorite movies. So it's with no measure of hyperbole that I say this experience, watching Mulholland Dr and spending last night bathing in the layers Lynch's greatest work, has also been, so far, the highlight of my trips to the movies in 2021.

Mulholland Dr, like Lynch himself, is basically synonymous with a certain level of cinephilia. Though not without detractors, among my followers, this film has more 5 stars than any other, because for 2.5 hours the film formally and conceptually will not let you go. And in addition, I think, the relative "ease" of wrapping your mind around the film's accepted read means even first timers can largely finish a first watch, blue key firmly in hand.

Past this point, I'm gonna get a lot more spoilery, talking about that accepted read and beyond. If you're spoiler-averse or want to keep my ideas out of your head, pack it in now, and come revisit me when you've seen the film!

As I left the theater, my friend, who had never seen the film, gave it a stiff, "Huh?" and we spoke for a bit on her perceptions and I illustrated what is the most popular interpretation. In short, like the works of Maya Deren, particularly Meshes of the Afternoon, Mulholland Dr is all about recontextualizing objects, dialogue, names, scenarios, in a surrealistic and directly dreamlike way. Somewhere near the two-thirds mark, a cowboy says, "Hey, pretty girl, time to wake up," and a haggard looking Naomi Watts morphs from Betty to Diane ("damn fine cup of coffee!"), heavily suggesting the entire first 100 minutes were an expression of Diane's subconscious.

Generally this read is accepted for a few reasons, most of which hinge on Watts' performance and the split characterization where Betty's part of the story is about naive hope, viewing Hollywood as a "dream place." In the second portion, the cynicism kicks into overdrive, and we see Mulholland Drive and the City of Angels as an emotional meat grinder, one where working girl actresses can afford an apartment, but never at Coco's. Additionally, the sheer volume of reicorporated elements and characters speaks directly to the two segments being reflections or inversions of one another, a dream and reality, expectations of fame vs the trappings of entertainment in the working world.

But, even with all that substance, Lynch's work is not done. For me, understanding all of the above is akin to Diane reaching out and taking that blue key. We have the best tool for understanding, but we've barely touched on what it opens (*Joe the hitman laughs*).

Whether we're tethered to Diane or Betty, Camilla or Rita, the narrative hones in on actresses, whether aspiring, successful, or suffering from amnesia. And the rest of the film has its fingers in the pockets of Hollywood as well. We see multiple auditions ("This is the girl."), directors, and headshots being tossed into tables for a variety of meanings ("It's a headshot, every girl in Hollywood has one.") During Betty's big audition, one of the film's greatest scenes, we see the casting director and Betty's scene partner each get extremely comfortable with her body, an act which Betty reciprocates to enormous approval. And it is here I think we find the purpose of Lynch's spiraling design.

Quickly, I just want to mention something about the conventional wisdom that part of this film is a dream, the other real. I have spelled out part of why this interpretation prevails, but I also think the metaphor can necessarily be read backwards. While the end of the film feels more drab and grounded, it also becomes more specifically nightmarish and still includes all manner of absurdity. The espresso ("I know how hard you are to please"), for example, reappears during the dinner scene where Adam and Camilla announce their engagement. It's a funny little insert shot, but it feels as dreamlike as anything in the first half. Upon seeing Camilla receive this affection, Diane has a bad taste in her mouth, just like the Castigliani brother in the more conventional and believable scene in the "dream half" of the film.

What that indicates to me is that each side of Mulholland Dr is like a fuzzed out metaphor for the other, the line between dreaming and waking, bliss and nightmare, being, if not invisible, then still permeable, particularly in the presence of strong emotions. And this style of representation matters a great deal for understanding the design.

In Mulholland Dr, I see Betty as a representation of all aspiring entertainers, in her overexposed jitterbug smile is the hope of not this girl but every girl, including Diane, Camila, Rita, Rebekah, the six top actresses who want Adam Kesher's part. Consider that amazing opening sequence where the limo is taking Rita, and eventually Diane, to Mulholland ("We don't stop here.") During these two scenes, the limo is frequently double exposed with itself, two nesting sets of taillights, two license plates, one road. How many girls have been up this hill? How many of them rolled back down it with no memory of how they got up? How many run out in tears, their dreams cut to tatters by taciturn men in suits?

Somewhere in the midst of this tangled noir, David Lynch packs in an incisive critique of Hollywood that hits at the same intensity, and the same suggestion as Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me ("Jesus Christ, Coop, you just described half the high school girls in America!"). That isn't remotely all it holds, with a huge number of scenes I've not even touched. But this is where I was left last night, chewing on a MeToo document over a decade before anyone uttered that phrase. In this, Lynch suggests a damaging, overbearing nature of dreams, and he illustrates just how easy it is to control a young girl blinded by the bright lights.

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