Universal // 2001 // 147 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // July 9th, 2002
A love story in the city of dreams.
"I do not know how to distinguish between our waking life and a dream. Are we not always living the life that we imagine we are?" -- Thoreau
"A dream is a wish your heart makes." -- Cinderella
We are told as young children to follow our dreams. Adults convince us that they are the road maps that lead us to adulthood, to completion, to happiness. It is emphasized that if we just believe in ourselves, our dreams will indeed come true. There is a flip side to dreams, however: a dark and musty place where monsters and madness dwell, where fear and anxiety blur and confuse the lines between self and selfishness. Here in the nether world of nightmares is where dreams come to die, to rot and mildew. Mulholland Dr. is a film about both dreamlands, about truth being mixed up with lust, lies being decorated with diamond paints. It's about fantasy controlling the waking world, and the crushing pain of reality compressing and condensing the imagination. It is a multi-layered work that asks us to accept, and then reconsider, everything we see and know, to formulate and identify with characters, simply to watch them implode and deconstruct before our eyes. It is a monumental and challenging cinematic tour de force that is truly one of the best films of 2001.
An enigmatic brunette is involved in a car accident. Stumbling from the wreckage with no memory of who she is, she wanders into the life of a perky blonde who has just arrived in Hollywood to seek glamour and stardom. Together, they try to uncover the mystery woman's true identity. To give away any more of the plot details, turns and twists involved in Mulholland Dr. would destroy the very purpose of the film. (See the SPOILER if you want more details).
There is a tired old chestnut in the catalog of Hollywood legends, one where the young ingénue arrives in the magical land of fantasy, only to have her hopes, dreams, and identity destroyed by the smooth talking, manipulative forces around her. In the end, it is usually a strong male presence, or a helpful ex-enemy, that guides the innocent child back from the gates of Hell and toward a sense of redemption (either personal or spiritual). Oh, if Mulholland Dr. only believed in such fairy tales. Maybe then, our heroine would find herself in the arms of the one she loves, and not totally and utterly destroyed. This is the universe of Lynch, however: a place where night crashes into and through day, and the surreal colors everyday existence. Mulholland Dr. is indeed that tired old tale of fame sought and infamy found. But it is also a puzzle, a Lament Configuration that parcels out its clues in delicate, cautionary steps and underwrites its themes in obvious, full-blown symbolism. Lynch has created a true cinematic masterpiece, one that blends his standard visual flair and aural intricacy with an inventive story and superb acting. Though he has had many detractors through the years, Lynch has crafted a true work of art, one that inspires as many questions (and thoughts) as it answers.
As a technical achievement, this film is unquestionably brilliant. Lynch has always been an artist, using his camera as a sculpture would a chisel to carve out the arcane and the inspired in everyday objects. He understands the nature of composition, the juxtaposition of light and dark, and the hypnotic wonder of color and texture. His camera work and framing make every shot in every scene come alive with inventive nuances and significance. His movies are like long walks through an exhibition, another surprising masterwork coming with each frame advance, every scene change. This DVD's image captures it all in full-blown anamorphic widescreen clarity. The picture here is so beautiful at times, it makes your sensibilities weep. The digital format really emphasizes and exploits Lynch's ideals. There are no chapter breaks for this film (a Lynch mandate), but this does not distract from Mulholland Dr. It makes perfect sense. One would not walk into the Louvre and expect to see only the smile on Mona Lisa, or only view a portion of a Picasso. Mulholland Dr. is a whole unto itself; a film that amplifies its impact when viewed in one massive, not several mini doses.
As for sound, Lynch has always understood the value of any and ALL noise in his films: the dialogue, the foley and the music. Take his use of classic songs from the early '60s to set tone, mood, and generally amaze the audience. The first instance, a rousing lip sync rendition of Connie Steven's "Sixteen Reasons" concentrates the overall theme of love and devotion into a two minute bit of fluff, fusing a forgotten pop gem with an over the top retro art presentation. Lynch also returns to a Roy Orbison song for what has to be one of the most sincere and painful scenes he has committed to film. An a cappella version of "Crying" (sung in Spanish) underscores the relationship and the pain present in the story, with a twist ending that makes it that much more raw and powerful. Angelo Badalamenti offers one of his best scores ever. When it comes to the creation of suspense, melancholy, or dementia, there is no other cinematic composer who can match him. The DVD audio here is an elegy to love lost, a sigh like dirge to dreams destroyed. Heard in either Dolby Digital 2.0 or 5.1 (DTS was unavailable to the reviewer), it is the final piece in this audio puzzle.
Lynch has a deliberate style; his actors languish in scenes filled with
controlled movements and long, calculated pauses. He intends to walk us through
this world, and makes sure we stop at each and every place along the way to view
and hear what he thinks and knows is important. He never gives complex
explanations, just points and shoots, and asks us to draw our own conclusions.
Most of his intentions are inadvertently obvious: the filthy dark demon bum in
the alley behind the cosmetically clean and commercial kitsch of Winkies; the
pop art pastiche of the movie sets and the gothic grace of the apartment
complexes. Slow camera moves build untold levels of suspense and foreboding. But
mostly, with his characters, he devises symbols of good and evil (sometimes
encompassing both), and twists them to add yet another layer to the dense fabric
he weaves. In his actors, he finds talent equal to his vision. Naomi Watts
deserved an Oscar nomination for a role that requires her to move from friendly
to fierce to frightened, all in one mesmerizing performance. Laura Harring is
also good, shimmering as every Hollywood prima donna truism rolled into one.
Lynch even manages to make mannered moldering matinee mainstays like Chad
Everett and Ann Miller seem alive and vital.
But what most people will be questioning (and arguing about) is what this film means. What does it stand for? What is it trying to say? Just what the Hell was going on here? There is a SPOILER filled explanation at the end of this review that clarifies the sequence of events. But there is always more to a Lynch film than plotting (or lack thereof), and these cues are of equal or even more importance than the solving of a mystery or determining what really happened. Thematically, the film functions on four different levels. They form the basis for the Lynchian cosmos, a place were evil lurks just under the white picket fence and abuse has an incestuous, paternal face. To understand Mulholland Dr., one must rely on these themes, as they stress the dynamics involved between the characters, the plot, and their surroundings.
"You will see me one more time if you do good. You will see me two more times if you do bad." -- The Cowboy
Duality states that, in all things, there are two, competing and opposite facets. In goodness, there is evil. In beauty, there is ugliness. Lynch began his career in the testing of dualistic nature, be it black and white or love and hate. In Mulholland Dr., every character has two versions of themselves, a true and a dream nature, a real persona and an imagined, or desired one. Just as Hollywood is a land where deception and tricks are used to recreate the real world on screen, it is also synonymous as a place that feeds as well as smashes dreams. All the characters here exist in a dualist world, one where they are individuals first, performers playing individuals second. Yet they are still one whole, one entity. Lynch employs dualism to misdirect the audience. He wants no character set, no personality option left unopened. He wants every character to move beyond three dimensions and into the fourth, into a world where they transcend their true nature and display their fullest hearts, their guarded inner being. Lynch wants us to see every facet, so that we can decide for ourselves what is true/wrong and what is false/right. He wants us to know that love incorporates hate, and that the balance can be thrown toward either one at any given time. This is the dual nature of the human being. This is Mulholland Dr.
"I'm not (Rita). I don't know what my name is. I don't know who I am!" -- Rita
No on has a set identity in this film. Everyone assumes names, or has names given to them. How typically Hollywood. Famous people start out with some humble or aesthetically uninteresting nom de plume, and before long, they erase their previous life and create a new celebrated entity (and the name to go along with it). Rita is indeed a Hollywood creation -- a name pulled from a movie poster. She exists as an empty shell, searching for her true identity. It is an identity that she needs to regain her sense of self. It is an identity that serves as the narrative plot device for the audience. Through the course of the film, personalities switch. This also undermines identity. Betty is a helpful happy person. Diane is a sick, twisted lover/stalker. Rita is a helpless, loving flower. Camilla is a heatless, manipulative bitch. Diane wants to control Camilla, and she cannot do that as long as she is the real world Camilla (dominant) and she is the real world Diane (obsessed). So the creation of Rita and Betty is necessary to formulate the idealized fantasy relationship, one where Diane is the caregiver and Rita the dependent child. Lynch plays with the audience's sense of identity, for and with whom we identify. We suffer with Rita, and become giddy along with Betty in her wide eyed optimism. That this shifts suddenly and we are asked to again identify with both characters in new guises is the ultimate personality test in Mulholland Dr.
"It is no longer your film" -- Vincent Castigliane
Everything is controlled in a Lynch world: it is a setting where unseen forces are at work molding and shaping reality and lives. He, himself, is molding and shaping the reality we see from behind the camera. This is clear from his set up shots. Los Angeles and Hollywood are viewed from postcard and awkward, skewed perspectives, presented as at once beautiful and menacing, elegant and maze-like in complexity. And all the while the soundtrack quietly hums with the noises and artifacts of machinery. We hear the great cogs moving and shaking within the industry. Here, Lynch makes the cities of Los Angeles and Hollywood into breathing, calculating forces, two towers of corruption and salvation, a Scylla and Charybdis for all the characters to pass through. Everyone in this film is a master of and a victim to manipulation: Betty to Rita, the Castigliane brothers and Cowboy to Adam, Adam to his actors, Camilla to Diane. Manipulation is also to blame for everything: why Camilla gets the role Diane wanted; why Camilla leaves Diane; why Diane acts in such a self destructive manner. Lynch is the overlord, pulling the strings and setting the players in motion. He is always in control. The actors and characters in the film are doing exactly what he wants. There are no accidents, or found moments in Mulholland Dr..
"I mean, I just came from Deep River Ontario, and now I'm in this...dream place." -- Betty
Lynch films live in the place of dreams, a twilight town where the subconscious sets up a cranial production company, hires memories and half-observed images from the real world, and green lights projects. Dreams always come packed in their own special language. They have their own stylistic and aural clues. Sounds are muted, half heard, or muffled. Voices change and deviate. Lights arch and seize like a solar flare, images press into stark whiteness with an eerie hyper reality. Scenes abruptly end without explanation, and actions occasionally turn slapstick, or infantile. But it is in the dream world where hopes and desires come true. People who are mean and thoughtless in reality are kind and nurturing in the dream world. Life's little setbacks are easily overcome, or part of a conspiracy so vast that it's pointless to fight them. There is no band, the little people are literally so, and fight scenes are as phony and staged as cartoons. In the dream world, nothing is what it really is...except emotion. The dream world is where true passions reign, where love is pure and blinding and happiness as lasting and profound as life itself. It's a drug-induced chemical high, and when it crashes back down into the real world, the withdrawal is just as painful. Lynch is Dreamworld Inc.'s #1 director. Mulholland Dr. is the dream world brought to life.
Mulholland Dr. is really a testament to the power, both beautiful and destructive, of love. It is the catalyst for all things in the movie. When it goes wrong, or is rejected, everything changes and always for the worse. People die, fantasies are shattered and lives are irrevocably altered. David Lynch should be commended to taking a tired old subject and breathing fresh new life into it. Sleazy mass-market fiction has made a mint out of fading glamour and the stories of Hollywood dreams gone amiss. But in Mulholland Dr., Lynch focuses on the people, not the formula, and provides more insight, more beauty and more sadness than this material ever created before. Mulholland Dr. is a film to be watched, to be absorbed, to let it's power wash over you and it's questions confuse you. It is a film that will challenge your perceptions. It's an evocative and hypnotic trip down that lost California highway and into the real city of magic and dreams.
For those looking for a linear plot dissection:
This film documents the last few hours in the life of Diane Selwyn. She came to Los Angeles after winning a jitterbug contest with the hopes of becoming a star. Instead, she has wound up used and abused at the hands of actress Camilla Rhodes. After meeting on the set of "The Sylvia North Story," they begin a relationship. Through the course of their hypersexual lesbian love affair, Diane has grown more and more obsessed with Camilla, bordering on the psychotic. Camilla can take no more and breaks up with Diane. Diane is left empty, hurt, and angry. The final indignity occurs when Camilla invites Diane to a party she is having. Diane thinks it's a gesture of friendship and love, but it turns out she wants Diane to be present for her engagement to director Adam Kesher. She also wants Diane to see (through a friendly whisper and long kiss from another female friend) that Diane was not the one, but simply one of many. This last act of insult drives Diane over the edge, and she gathers together some money and asks Joe, a hustling street thug, to kill Camilla. Joe accepts the job.
That night, Diane lies down to rest. She begins to dream. In this dream, her name is Betty Elms. She is arriving in L.A. to live in her famous aunt's apartment. She dreams that a beautiful brunette (Camilla) is hurt in a car accident on Mulholland Dr. (Where her fiancé Adam lives). The mystery woman wanders from the crash site down to an apartment complex, and hides out in a random unit. She suffers from amnesia. It turns out that the apartment she hides in belongs to Betty's aunt. Betty stumbles upon the brunette and takes her in. The woman assumes the name of Rita (after viewing a poster of the film Gilda, starring Rita Heyworth). They begin to live together as roommates. Betty goes out for auditions while Rita convalesces from her accident. Rita is helpless and Betty is loving and kind. While trying to discover who Rita really is, the gals uncover a huge sum of money and a blue key in Rita's purse. They explore L.A. for clues and Rita remembers a name...Diane Selwyn. The girls go to visit this "Diane," and find an abandoned apartment. Abandoned that is, except for the rotting corpse inside.
Interspersed through Diane's dream of Betty and Rita are other facets of her life that reflect her reality and the mess she is in. A man (whose name is Dan...Diane...Dan?) knows there is evil at work behind Winkies, the local diner (This is where Diane orders the hit). Director Adam Kesher is pressured by the studio, the mafia, and an ethereal menace named the Cowboy to hire an actress named "Camilla Rhodes" for his film. (This is Diane's rationale for why she did not win the part.) Adam's mother Coco becomes the friendly manager of the apartment complex Betty lives in (she sympathizes with Diane and can see that Camilla is only using her son).
Eventually the dream comes to an emotional climax at the Club Silencio,
where fantasy is stripped away and the truth, in the form of a blue box, waits
to be revealed. Rita and Diane return to the Aunt's apartment with the box. Rita
grabs the key from her purse. Betty disappears. The box is opened. The truth is
Diane rises from her dream to discover that a blue key, the symbol from hit man John that the deed is done, lies on her coffee table. An ex-lover/roommate knocks on the door, wanting her things back from Diane, and warning her that the police have been looking for her. In her guilty state, she envisions Camilla's return, only to understand that there is no homecoming from death. Tormented to the point of dementia, she masturbates and replays the last few weeks in her head: the breakup with Camilla, the embarrassment at the party, and the hiring of John. Unable to handle the horror of her actions, hounded by her naïveté and her dream of fame (represented by the little people, the audience, the elderly couple from her dream) and she goes insane. She puts the business end of a gun in her mouth and pulls the trigger. Smoke fills the room, and she is dead. As pure white light fills the screen, she is reunited in heaven with Camilla, and together they look out over a vanishing city of dreams known as Hollywood.
End of Spoiler
Mulholland Dr. plays exactly like what it is: a smart assed excuse for a talented director to save his botched TV pilot. ABC passed on this passive/aggressive version of the Nancy Drew Mysteries on the Isle of Lesbos and Lynch was given money (by French investors) to turn it into a film. Funny thing, he had created 90 minutes of open-ended plot, half-started story lines, underdeveloped characters, and yet another patented Laura Palmer-esque puzzle. So what did our proverbial genius do to get his panties out of this bunch? Well, he pulled a Dallas on everyone and said, sorry, it was all a dream, and here is the real story. Then it takes him another hour of kanoodling just to resolve everything semi-convincingly. Or does he? One of the things that is most unsatisfying about Mulholland Dr. is the notion that there could actually be an answer to everything here (Lynch even goes so far to offer 10 clues in the pamphlet enclosed with the DVD). If there is indeed a clear answer, then it must take a recent MIT graduate with a thing for Hollywood has-beens to decipher the hieroglyphics Lynch hammers out. The performances are indeed fine, and Lynch is a master of creating style and mood. However, a seedy dive bar also has a lot of atmosphere and dread and you wouldn't want to watch a 2 and 1/2 hour DVD of that now, would you?
Perhaps because his name is on the project, people want to read more into a movie by David Lynch. Not that this is without warrant. Lynch hides his strategies in multi-layered narratives and oblique symbols. Unlike Eraserhead and Lost Highway (two films cited as Lynch's most disjointed), Mulholland Dr. glides through a world we recognize, and a story we trust. Sure, the colors seem too bright, the darkness too deep. But in a society where ideas are simplified and spoon-fed to an audience like baby food, Mulholland Dr. is refreshing. Like a fine wine, or a decadent chocolate truffle it requires savoring, indulging, and enjoying. It demands attention and careful handling. It does not give all its secrets away on first consumption, the bright notes and the mellowness arriving from multiple samplings. While it may not be the direct, straight ahead narrative that provides instant gratification but little sustenance, it is an important, thought provoking work that will last longer than any blockbuster. Like Pulp Fiction or Memento before it, Mulholland Dr. plays with the conventions of the narrative form. And like said films, it will long be viewed as a benchmark of the medium.
David Lynch is thoroughly acquitted on all charges. Naomi Watts is given special recognition by the court for her outstanding performance. Mulholland Dr. is declared one of the year's best films and a must own DVD.
Review content copyright © 2002 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Golden Gavel 2002 Nominee
* Top 100 Films: #61
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 147 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailer
* Production Notes
* Cast and Crew Biographies
* "Hints" in Liner Notes