Crime · Criterion Collection · Film Noir · Mystery · United States

#779 Mulholland Dr. (2001)


Criterion Challenge #779

Mulholland Dr.

2001 // United States // David Lynch
Spine #779

“Are you watching a movie, or are you dreaming?” I heard my own voice asking just after my first trip to MULHOLLAND DRIVE years ago. The experience was hypnotic and confusing, my senses were aroused to an extent that I no longer sure it was emitting love or hate. This feeling was much more intense than, say, watching my favorite David Lynch film EARSERHEAD (1977) or Stanley Kubrick’s more abstracted philosophical work 2001: SPACE ODYSSEY (1968), which I felt like I’m drugged, like an addict. In MULHOLLAND DRIVE, the feeling of “knowing” you have to find the key, blue or not (yes pun intended, just as the blue key in the film), to unlock the mysterious Pandora box, in order to release all the logical senses and reasoning before being sucked into the dark hole of MULHOLLAND DRIVE.

Concurrently, an opposite force of emotion just told me to let it go, let my mind rest and not think about it, just use every pore on my skin to absorb the energy radiated from the screen. The battle between sense and sensibility, the desire and repulsion for logic, intermingled together and persisted up to this date, up to my “second” viewing of MULHOLLAND DRIVE (is it only “second”? Have I dreamt and played it in my mind subconsciously numerous times throughout all these years).

To think or not to think, that’s the question. The desire of knowing and understanding everything in chronological way, in phases of “before and after”, “because and therefore”, is probably inborn. It came with birth as metal capability, for learning and evolving. Once we encountered something we couldn’t explain, we felt frustrated, explanations were then made up for comforting, not for the truth. But sometimes truth is found in that way, by assumption and verification. In MULHOLLAND DRIVE, beyond the absolute truth, there was more than one interpretation. The truth in David Lynch’s mind, was not necessarily the same as the one in your or my mind. It all depends on the perspectives. So instead of analyzing the plot and solving the mystery like a detective, I much prefer to give some thoughts on the perspectives.

Arguably, MULHOLLAND DRIVE was told from the perspective of Naomi Watts’s characters, with Betty (along with other characters) in the first two-third of the show, and then with Diane Selwyn on the last one-third (maybe the one-minute prologue before the credits as well?). Which one is the reality, and which one is the dream? Maybe neither, maybe both. The standard “answer” could be easily searched in the Internet and IMDB page. But what’s the point of reading the “answer” and taking away the enjoyment in processing? Why not watch the film two or three more times in order to gather your own ideas?

We are so used to the storyteller giving us a straight forward question and answer, thanks to some money-making dumb movies. So first and foremost, let fine-tune the mind-set that Betty/Diane could be an unreliable narrator. Even though there was no narration in the entire film, the second part of the film was apparently told from her point of view alone. It was presented in a fragmented, disorienting trance like way, inclining to be a surrealistic nightmare. In contrary, the first part is presented with conventional, straight forward, multi-characters story-lines, with Lynchian touches everywhere. The grinning evil-looking old couple, or the expresso-spitting no-speaking Italian played by Angelo Badalamenti (the composer of the film itself), and the mysterious mini-man who presumably was behind the whole conspiracy of controlling the choice of actress in playing a movie’s lead role, not to mention the cowboy without eyebrows. The standard answer is the former part is a dream while the latter is the reality with flashbacks. However, I don’t find one segment more realistic than the other, so why not vice versa?

Apparently the first part came from the pilot episode David Lynch made for a proposed TV series, which unfortunately (or fortunately?) was not picked up by the studio. When it was funded to be made as a movie feature, the question was how to wrap up a pilot episode, which meant to be continued and developed with multiple story-lines, into a satisfactory ending? Hence even the true narrator, David Lynch the director himself, was “unreliable” too. A similar two-part structure was used in a less sophisticated but more structurally balanced way in LOST HIGHWAY (1997). But the circumstances were different, LOST HIGHWAY was intended to be a single movie, the story was consistently focused on the male protagonist (played by Bill Paulman and Balthazar Getty), with two faces (two actors) and two personas.

In MULHOLLAND DRIVE, things were more “chaotic”, the multiple threads spreading out in the beginning were converged into a single frame of mind, the mind of Diane Selwyn. So the perspectives of the movie director Adam (Justin Theroux), the amnesic woman Rita (Laura Elena Harring) and the cheerful rising star Betty (Naomi Watts), were all merged and metamorphosed into another personas, something that could only be shown from Diane’s point of view, making Diane, and Rita retrospectively, the most authoritative figure. But was she trustworthy?

Many story analysts claimed the first part was just a “dream” of Diane, Betty was a projection of a different persona Diane longing for. The bonding with Rita, as well as Adam’s misfortunes, were all Diane’s subconscious desire, fueled by hate and guilt she experienced in the “reality”. The relationship between Rita and Betty very much echoed Ingmar Bergman’s psychological masterpiece PERSONA (1966), with the two women looking more and more like each other, in appearance and psychological point of view.

I’m no Freudian expert, but in my own way of enjoyment, I consider the first part as a movie (within-the-move, MULHOLLAND DRIVE) produced and directed by Diane, the movie that was noir-ishly close and geographically identical to, say, CHINATOWN (1974) or SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950). The Silencio club scene, sandwiched between the first and second part, was some kind of a device that announced the existence of illusion (movie); while the blue key was used to open the blue box, the portal for transportation into/out of illusion, just like camera and film, the tools that are used by the illusionist (the filmmaker) to capture the illusion.

At the end, what really matter is the fact that something strike my emotional core, even with all the futile truth-searching in the illusion. Was it the lost Hollywood dream? Unrewarding human relationship (even woman-and-woman)? Or simply the wish of being sane in an insane world that we could all identify with? Once I have rode along the dark road of MULHOLLAND DRIVE, it led to nowhere and everywhere, there was no turning back, and it was beautiful.

Film score: 5/5

Supplement score: 4.5/5

The 40-page booklet contains a short essay and David Lynch interview from the book “Lynch on Lynch”, while the disk has several interesting and awesome interviews with the cast and crew, each around 30 minutes long. We also have a glimpse of how Lynch worked from the onset footage, and watching how Naomi Watts performed is truly amazing.

But if you want to find out how to “read” the film from these supplement, you should look elsewhere, as you may know David Lynch is opposed to direct explanations, as well as Chapter function, so watch the film in one sitting or you may miss something.

4 thoughts on “#779 Mulholland Dr. (2001)

  1. I have never seen this film, but now that I’ve read your post I can see I’m really missing out on something. I’m going to bookmark your page and come back and re-read your comments when I watch the film. (Your comments are like a Blu-ray Bonus Feature!)


    1. Every time I rewatch Mulholland Drive, and other Lynch films, I would note something new, something that I can’t believe I missed out last time. I think that shows how good it is, you will definitely like it.

      Liked by 1 person

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