Nightmare on MULHOLLAND DRIVE
Trick or treat? That’s what I’m trying to decide about David Lynch’s latest movie, Mulholland Dr. Although the first part of this complex thriller enthralled me, I was infuriated by the trickery of its ending. For the only time in ReelTalk history, one movie has earned a place on both my “best of year” and “worst of year” lists.
Mulholland Dr. opens with compelling scenes of a beautiful woman (Laura Harring) suffering from memory loss. After surviving an attempted murder and a car accident on Mulholland Drive, she takes the name Rita from a Rita Hayworth Gilda poster. Betty (Naomi Watts), an aspiring young actress newly arrived in Hollywood, unselfishly befriends her. These two develop a strong bond while trying to solve the mystery of Rita’s amnesia.
So far, so good. Actually, more than good. Watts (Dangerous Beauty) and Harring (Little Nicky), each a stunner in her own way, deliver amazing performances. My heart went out to Rita, and I loved Betty for her optimistic outlook and willingness to help. Watts is sensational in an amusing audition scene showing Betty wowing a director, producer, lead actor, and casting agent. Adopting a seductive voice and sexy mannerisms, she says her lines like a potential Oscar winner. (I wouldn’t be surprised to see an Academy Award nomination for Watts herself this year). And, with those luminous brown eyes reflecting a poignant combination of confusion and despair, Harring’s Rita looks every bit the lady in distress.
I wanted things to work out for both women. Foolish me. Guess I forgot this is a film directed by the man behind such bizarre efforts as Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet, and Lost Highway. (Granted, Lynch also helmed The Straight Story, an outstanding mainstream movie, but that’s an exception.) Halfway through Mulholland Dr. a blue key is inserted in a matching box and everything changes. Betty and Rita become different characters entirely, and the film deteriorates into a lesbian soap opera tragedy. I understand Lynch originally planned this project as a television series, then changed it into a feature film. Could that explain the difference in the first and last sections of the movie? Maybe. But it doesn’t help me understand the film any better, although I do have a theory about what was really happening. (Check the title of this review for a clue.)
Filmmaker Lynch likes to reveal the dark side inherent in people and situations that appear completely normal. In so doing, he worries little about explaining his films. When I met him in Telluride two years ago, I asked for a clarification of the theme in Lost Highway, another mysterious film showing people changing identities. “It’s based on a condition called psychogenic fugue,” he stated. That didn’t help much, so I haven’t tried to contact him about Mulholland Dr.
To me, this movie represents a cinematic Rorschach test. Instead of interpreting inkblots, I find myself trying to discover meaning in scenes that still haunt me. The most bothersome involves an incredible singer in a weird nightclub called the Silencio. Although she dies while performing, her voice continues. Did Lynch simply intend to depict a woman lipsynching an emotional “Llorando” recording --- or was he communicating deeper implications regarding the immortality of art? Are there other possibilities I’ll probably think of tomorrow?
Okay, I know I should get a life, but I’m afraid Mulholland Dr. will intrude on my thoughts for a long time to come. Not many movies have such an impact on me. In this case, I’m not completely happy about it.
(Released by Universal Focus and rated “R” for violence, language, and strong sexuality.)