Why I Love Mulholland Drive
In retrospect I am glad that the synopsis misled me...
This was far from my initial reaction to Mulholland Drive. It took me some time to sway towards admiration. A few years in fact. While I could ruminate about the genius of Lynch and unpack the endless riddles abound, I will rather discuss it as I experienced it. Alright, kick in hippocampus...
First, some context. Mulholland Drive is the story of an amnesiac car crash victim who meets Naomi Watts, (character name would hint at the plot), and is sent on a spiralling escapade through Los Angeles as she tries to piece back her memory. It is one hell of an intriguing logline and mainly the reason my teenage, ‘I’m going to watch every film ever made’-self chose it. David Lynch directed this one, and yeah, this should have been a pretty huge indicator of what I was getting into, but I had no idea who he was at the time. His name recently saw a return to the spotlight with the aptly named Twin Peaks: The Return. Seeing it advertised everywhere felt like a return to the 90s. Or was that the Will & Grace revival poster? Or The X-Files? Anyway, in terms of critical acclaim, and according to the BBC, Mulholland Drive has been named the number one film of this century, which I get, but is also a bit too restricting in my opinion.
So, Mulholland, as with Lynch’s other works gives true meaning to mindf*ck. Would really recommend if you’re voluntarily up for being confused and unsettled. When I first watched it, I painstakingly tried to connect every single scene and moment. "Oh, well this must be linked to the red dress from earlier, because it is also… red." This process will only leave you frustrated. It’s that moment when you know there’s a puzzle piece missing but start to build. Not worth it. Let the pieces amass and once you’ve found them all, then start building, or attempting to build. I also remember it being very tonally strange. We open at a jitterbug contest, the swing drums rattling on, and then moments later we catch chilling synth. Even the composer of the film makes an appearance, but it feels oddly normal here.
In terms of faces, the most recognisable here would be Naomi Watts and Justin Theroux, and oh, Billy Ray Cyrus. I suppose the familiarity of them made me feel assured. It’s not quite the same experience of watching an arthouse film with an unknown cast. There are also a few cameos from Golden Age stars that work perfectly in this portrait of broken dream L.A. By choosing Ann Miller and Lee Grant, who had visual adjustments in their later years, I wouldn’t be surprised if Lynch was making a point. Not too far from the opening of the film, there is a truly terrifying scene that takes place behind a diner. Most first-time viewers will mention this somewhere down the line in their reaction. It’s the tipping point that completely derails everything you expect, and made me especially anxious about everything that followed.
There’s also a character penned 'The Cowboy', an eyebrow-less figure who wears a massive cowboy hat. A cowboy in Los Angeles. Yep, nothing concerning here. He is also quite philosophical and relays a meta speech about the state of the entertainment industry. Years later, when I would revisit Mulholland, I managed to fall asleep just after his first appearance. True story... He showed up in my dream, or my literal nightmare, because there he was chasing me down in a park. I’ve never had a nightmare after watching horror; I’ve also never understood how someone can have nightmares that last for weeks. Now, I empathise. This hasn’t happened with any other films since, so how did this film intrude itself into my psyche like this? Plenty of moments happened during my viewing, but these are the few that really stood out. Not to discount the rest of the film because it is just as impressively twisted. An hour or so later, the credits ran.
I knew I had watched something astounding, but I was just so perplexed and unsettled. I was turned off by the film. Thinking about Mulholland would make my skin crawl.
As an active and very official iMDB member at the time I rated it a measly six! Years later, I would revise it to a ten, not because my ratings matter, but maybe out of a sense of guilt. I took my ratings thoughtfully at the time, though if I tap into my decision, I recall Mark Kermode’s experience with Blue Velvet, another of Lynch’s films. After originally reviewing it poorly, he states in reconsideration, because he was so disturbed by the piece, he reacted emotionally, which impacted his analysis. He continues by saying he didn’t walk out of the film because it was bad, but instead because it provoked such a reaction, and got under his skin, which in his opinion made it worthwhile. The same could be said with my experiences, although my reaction was more restrained. Mulholland certainly got under my skin, and years later, I still think about it. This article, case in point. It turned me off the idea of L.A. as a dream bucket, which for an impressionable and film-obsessed teen was a punch in the gut. It also made bubblegum pop from the 1960s seem wicked and kitschy and tapped into the literal and figurative sense of dreaming in a violent and dark way. It is a true testament to the power of storytelling but also how consumers are affected by media. Any avid viewer or reader would have their own Mulholland Drive. Watching and discussing film (and other artform, for that matter) is a part of a society's dialogue. I suppose this effect could be interpreted as outlandish and fatuous, but it is also a part of a striking conversation about the way films can impress on a viewer.
This particular film has been discussed into an abyss of depth since its release. I’m sure there are many people out there who can’t stand it, and they only help make the conversation more interesting. Strangely enough, despite my love for the film, I think breaking it down into a coherent plot diminishes its point. So, with that being said, there stands Mulholland Drive, as, or even more elusive than it was that many years ago.
So, in retrospect I am glad that the logline misled me, otherwise I would not have this special experience. Lynch has achieved what every filmmaker craves; years later I’m still beguiled and moved by his work. Find a film, or even watch Mulholland Drive for that matter, and let the doors open wide.
Mulholland Drive, Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks