Excuse me David, can I have my brain back please?
March 24th 2002. Oscar night. The triffling awards out of the way, we are down to the biggies, and of particular interest to this article is Best Director. Amongst the familiar faces gurning for the cameraman as the nominations are read is a little man with a shock of grey hair. He, like many of the television audience, is wearing a slightly dismayed look. His name is David Lynch and he's wondering exactly the same thing as everyone else; How the hell did he get there?
It must have come as a shock for many when the nominations were announced that the surrealist's director of choice was up for selection thanks to his efforts behind the megaphone on Mulholland Drive. Initially envisaged as a TV series for ABC, shooting was already well underway when the executives of said corporate behemoth told our Mr. Lynch in no uncertain terms to beat it. Presumably they had ignored his C.V. and were expecting Will & Grace. Lo, it was decreed that instead, with new financial backing, Mulholland Drive would become a feature film, and ABC must still be reeling from the results.
Possibly Lynch's most commercially accessible film since Wild at Heart (Straight Story aside), Mulholland Drive starts off in a fairly linear and decidedly un-Lynch style. Betty Elms (the delectable Naomi Watts) arrives in Hollywood from Ontario seeking stardom, and discovers amnesiac brunette Rita (Laura Elena-Harring, marry me pleeeease...) hiding out in her Aunt's apartment. Having unknowingly survived an attempted hit, Rita has no idea who she is, where she is, or what she's doing with a purse full of cash. At the same time, bemused young film director Adam Kesher (a spot-on, super-cool Justin Theroux) is incensed by the Mob's intrusion into the casting session for his new movie, and finds his life disappearing piece by piece after taking childish revenge with a golf club on their limo.
Various other plot threads involve a young man having terrifying visions of a homeless bum who seems to be evil incarnate, and an incompetent hitman who causes quite a fracas in a seedy motel when one hit inadvertently turns into three. Having been lulled into a false sense of security by the vaguely comprehensible events thus far, we the audience stupidly assume all this will tie together nicely for a fitting denoument. Oh, how silly we are. Half an hour in and the rollercoaster has but reached the zenith of the plunge. Goodbye traditional plot logic, hello Mr. Headache.
Yes, the realm of linearity goes all tits-up about halfway through and we find ourselves in traditional Lynch territory. What distinguishes this from most other Lynch films, however, is that in Adam Kesher we have a character to associate with and who seems just as bewildered by all this as we are, which at least gives us some anchoring in the belief that all this might be some sick pantomime that will eventually resolve itself. By the final reel, however, everything goes completely mental, and we find key members of the cast suddenly playing different characters after some interaction with a mysterious blue box. It's at this point you will give up all hope of a sensible ending, but that's not to say you won't be enjoying yourself immensely.
There is much to savour in the performances, especially those of the characters involved in Theroux's thread who largely provide the quirkiest moments (witness Angelo Badalamenti, long-time composer for Lynch spewing coffee over a napkin in a bizarre bit-part). Taken as separate entities, many of the scenes themselves are hugely entertaining, and for much of the film the overall impression is more of a series of vaguely interconnected vignettes than a comprehensible whole. Highlights for this reviewer are the Camilla Rhodes audition, a bizarre scene involving the equally bizarre 'Cowboy', Adam Kesher wreaking revenge on his cheating wife via her jewellery collection and some suitably gaudy paint, and, naturally, the lesbian love scene between Harring and Watts which unusually for a Lynch film results in satisfaction for both parties.
Special mention must also go to the afore-mentioned Badalamenti for his exceptionally atmospheric score, which, coupled with an eclectic soundtrack choice, gives the film a unique and alluring musical canvas that somehow fits the mood perfectly. Why was there no Oscar nomination for that man? The cinematography too is first-rate, with a rich pallette the likes of which Lynch fans have probably not seen since Wild at Heart. Lynch afficianados will also be pleased to see the return of 'That Dwarf Bloke', although he displeases by not talking backwards even once. Bah!
There's no easy way to guage a David Lynch film. Many have tried and most have failed. Personally, I think the point Lynch has been trying to make all his life in challenging traditional narrative structure is that you don't have to understand something to like it. Atmosphere and character are as much a part of film as plot exposition, and Mulholland Drive triumphs with a home run on just about every facet (except plot and narrative, of course).
Nowhere else will you see character depth, atmosphere, scoring, lighting and cinematography of this ilk without a damn concurrent thread to piece them all together. When David Lynch dies I want his brain in a jar on my mantlepiece as the ultimate ornament to the belief that nothing need make sense to, well, make sense. Mulholland Drive is more than the sum of it's beautiful parts, and despite the fact none of it makes any kind of sense whatsoever, somewhere in your subconscious it all fits together, and that's the Lynch master-plan. Forget what you think you know about film and open your mind, man. In the words of Big Arnie as Quaid; "That's the best mind-fuck yet".
Craig Disko left the pool of his own insanity-induced saliva long enough to whisper something into his assistant's ear, before sinking back into a quagmire of oblivion. 'Twas a score, and that score was nothing less than his first...
Five out of five Arbitrary Disko Units.
Laura Elena-Harring (Rita/Camilla Rhodes)
Justin Theroux (Adam Kesher)