Review by Kim Hollis
October 24, 2001
It’s been five days since I watched Mulholland Drive and I’m still not completely sure what I think of it.
I’ll start by saying that it is most certainly a David Lynch show. In high school, I saw my very first “non-mainstream” film. That film was Lynch’s Blue Velvet, and it made an indelible impact that has stayed with me throughout the years since. After seeing the trailer for Mulholland Drive, I had serious high hopes. It looked stylish, original and intriguing, not to mention quirky and unusual. While the film certainly possesses all of those qualities, I can’t say that I came away from it totally pleased with the end result.
The movie clocks in at a rather lengthy 146 minutes, and the first 115 or so of those minutes are terrific. The characters in the film are seemingly unrelated and only haphazardly connected, but are actually skillfully meshed together in a sort of stream-of-consciousness that honestly makes me wonder if Lynch could possibly have any random thoughts remaining in his brain.
The main storyline ostensibly deals with two women, Rita (Laura Elena Harring) and Betty (Naomi Watts), as they attempt to solve the mystery of Rita’s amnesia. Betty has just arrived in Hollywood to pursue an acting career, and is staying at the apartment belonging to her aunt while she is there. When she arrives, she immediately encounters Rita, who has just been in a car accident and has no idea who she is or what has happened to her.
Interwoven throughout this primary plot are several noteworthy side stories. Justin Theroux plays Adam, a hot-tempered director who is attempting to cast and shoot a film his way despite the ominous meddling of the financial backers, and there are also two other vague peripheral characters, a hit man and a cowboy, who figure into the action. The hit man in particular has an incredibly memorable scene that is as funny as anything I’ve seen in a film this year.
Part of the reason the first portion of the film worked so well is that the performances, particularly those of Watts and Harring, were exemplary. Though both actresses have appeared primarily in small films and made-for-television movies up to this point, I expect they may move on to bigger things after showing an ability to fully embrace the characters they played. Watts imbues Betty with a perfect combination of fresh-faced earnestness and naïveté, yet is able to show the chinks in that “armor” at very appropriate moments. Harring’s Rita takes her name from a poster of Rita Hayworth that she sees hanging on the apartment wall, and she is the very embodiment of that type of seductive, buxom, smoky woman.
Theroux is also terrific, as he gives Adam an erratic and volatile temperament which is established very early in the film. Another bit of inspired casting is (believe it or not) Billy Ray Cyrus, who has a brief role that simply seems to fit right in with the other eccentric characters appearing throughout the movie.
The film itself has a dreamlike quality. It shifts from scene to scene rather rapidly and not exactly seamlessly, which is probably why the final act of the film is somewhat blurry and vague. Reflecting over the whole of the film, this quality is actually quite consistent with the most common interpretations I’ve read, but I do think it’s safe to predict that each viewer is going to be affected quite uniquely by what happens in the final act
In fact, I mentioned stream-of-consciousness early on and if that quality is merely present in the first 2/3 of the film, it absolutely saturates the final half hour or so. Suffice it to say that very little is as it appears, and not everything is resolved clearly in a nicely wrapped package by the end. For people who require closure, no doubt Mulholland Drive is going to be supremely dissatisfying.
On the other hand, for those who enjoy an ambiguous challenge, this film absolutely delivers. Mulholland Drive provides an excellent stepping off point for discussion and analysis for people who enjoy movies. Even though the finale left me a little cold, I always appreciate any movie that doesn’t pound me over the head with its themes and conclusions, but rather lets me apply my own thoughts and impressions to complete the circle.