If I were to drink a bottle of high-quality vodka, chase it with a bag of heroin and then hit myself in the face with the “S” volume of an encyclopedia, I suspect it would produce a sensation similar to the one provided by director David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.
Part scathing satire of Hollywood and the demons that dwell within it, and part harrowing depiction of emotional and physical betrayal, Lynch’s latest is the ultimate in mind-bending entertainment. It’s a complex puzzler of a film, and while one screening might leave you baffled as to what it’s all about, trying to figure it out is arguably the most interesting activity any movie has inspired this year.
Past Lynch works—such as Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet and the wrongfully maligned Lost Highway—are mere warm-ups for the workout Mulholland Drive puts you through. Lynch has always created such beautiful, disturbing nightmares when he puts his unusual brain to the task, and this film is a genius going all-out. It’s in the tradition of classic “what the hell just happened?” cinema like Barton Fink, and it is the only movie released this year featuring a mobster barfing espresso.
The film starts with a mysterious woman (Laura Elena Harring) walking away from a car wreck with amnesia, who then wanders into a Hollywood apartment to take a snooze and a shower. Into that same apartment walks sunny Betty Elms (Naomi Watts), arriving in Hollywood for the first time, searching for movie stardom and blissfully eager to help the strange nude woman in the shower figure out her identity.
Across town, hot movie director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux, the only thing worth watching on TV’s lousy The District) is informed by a mobster type (Dan Hedaya) that he must cast an actress named Camilla Rhodes in his next film, or else. Kesher will eventually have a nasty confrontation with Billy Ray Cyrus and a strange meeting with The Cowboy (Monty Montgomery), who again informs him that he must cast Camilla Rhodes, or else.
The story of the amnesiac’s identity eventually combines with the cinematic underworld plot, and Lynch creates a swirling mystery that confounds at first, but starts to come together as you’re driving home from the theater. I have my own interpretation, and if you should corner me whilst I’m shopping for grapes at the local grocery store, I might share it with you.
The film started as a TV pilot that ABC flatly rejected, with Lynch finding financing to turn the project into a feature film. It’s basically a PG film until Watts and Harring participate in a steamy lesbian sex scene, as good a reason for an R that I can conjure. When the pair visits a theater called Silencio and a singer belts out an amazing version of Roy Orbison’s Crying, things get strange, even by Lynch’s terms.
The performances are all first rate. Theroux, excellent in the film’s only major male role, has a great moment with a golf club that acts as a nice homage to Jack Nicholson. He also has one of the more priceless reactions to infidelity that you will ever see. In regard to Naomi Watts, I would like to take this moment to request her presence in every film made from this date on. Even if the only role available is that of a potbellied pig, I want her in the damn film. This is the girl.
I’ve watched this film twice, and I can definitely assert that a second viewing of Mulholland Drive provides more clarity, if not all the answers. I will visit this film many more times, and while I may never fully get it, I will always really dig it.