This is the movie.
No, seriously, ever since I started reviewing for this site, this is the movie I really wanted to talk about. However, everytime I tried, something stopped me. The phone would ring, someone would tap me on the shoulder, lunch time would stare me in the face, whatever. I was really dragging my feet with this review, and now I realise why. I was scared to review this movie. Why? Maybe because it's the best damn movie released in 2001 in my opinion, and I didn't feel qualified to review it. After all, I'm just an internet geek. Who am I to talk about a movie with such vision and such staggering quality? However, like I said, this is the movie, and I'm going to take a stab at it and try to do it justice.
David Lynch is not a populist director, nor do I think he aspires to be one. The main criticism that seems to surface over and over in regards to his work is that he is consciously "weird" in his attempt to mask a creative void. To me, Lynch is a writer and director who understands that human nature and behaviour are intrinsicly absurd, so his movies exaggerate the obvious in order to achieve the desired effect. In Mulholland Drive, a movie that was not so much released as it was unleashed, Lynch would appear to be up to his old tricks again. The first two thirds of the movie are basically a series of seemingly non-related scenes that grow increasingly more bizarre as the narative progresses. However, something is different this time around. The movie builds a belief in the viewer (actually, it's more like a faith) that there is a purpose to it all, that these unrelated events are somehow connected, that there will be a payoff in the end and it will be worth the wait. Events in Mulholland Drive unfold with their own sense of logic, and the effect is surrealistic, almost dream-like, as we are drawn into this world where nothing is as it seems yet everything matters. The film is all dark hues and muted sound, almost like a photocopy of reality. Yes, the effect is intentional, but you have to stick with the film in order to discover why. The entire movie is a masterpiece of construction, a beautiful melding of direction, scripting, editing and cinematography. This happy marriage has produced something that stands as one of the best examples of brilliant film making I have ever seen.
I can't conclude any discussion of Mulholland Drive's artistic quality without mentioning the acting. Although the film is populated with the usual Lynchian assortment of kooks (to wonderful effect), the movie really belongs to the two female leads. When we are first introduced to the achingly beautiful Laura Harring, she appears to be an important figure yet the movie teasingly refuses to establish her true identity. As it turns out, she is the catalyst for the rest of the events that will transpire in the film. As the amnesia victim Rita, Harring registers a combination of innocence and vulnerability that is absolutely irresistible. Never for a second do we doubt that this character could inspire obsession and passion in another person. Her's is a tricky role, and she plays it beautifully. However, as good as she is, in my opinion the film really belongs to Naomi Watts. As the starstruck Betty, she initially comes across as more irritating than anything else. "This girl is overacting horribly", I thought at first. "No one in real life is this perky and innocent"! And I was right, no real person is. But an idealized version of a real person...You will not really appreciate the role Watts is playing until the final act of the movie, but when the transformation occurs, you will be stunned by her performance. With Betty, Lynch achieves feelings with such sophistication that I was startled by the nakedness of her emotions. Previously, I was only familiar with this actress through the movie Tank Girl, and judging by her acting in that film no one could have predicted the talent that would emerge under Lynch's direction. Watch her audition scene for a mirror into her character's true self. And watch her performance during the love scene, one of the best ever committed to film. She is devastating in her sincerity. For anyone who has ever fallen in love with the wrong person, this scene will break your heart. It did mine.
To say that Mulholland Drive is "entertaining" is like saying the Sistine Chapel is "pretty". The movie is grotesque, haunting, disturbing, yet utterly compelling and mesmerising. Your eyes will be glued to the screen the entire time, whether it be the incredible performances or the depiction of a Hollywood we rarely get to see in the movies. This is a town that is predatory in nature, where under the pretty surface lies a rot and corruption that only the stong can cope with. For all it's virtues, though, Mulholland Drive is still very much a David Lynch film, and saying that it's his most mainstream effort to date really isn't saying very much at all. It is not a movie that was constructed to be embraced by the masses (its paltry box office can attest to that). If you do decide to rent Mulholland Drive, stick with it. You will be rewarded in the end.
Have you ever "discovered" a movie? You know, seen something that most people you know haven't and it suddenly becomes "your" film? For me, Mulholland Drive became that movie, and it was my personal quest for awhile there to make sure everyone I knew saw it. And, not surprisingly, the reaction was almost unanimous. "This is depressing"! "It's too slow"! "Good movies have happy endings"! Well, Mulholland Drive does not aspire to be a fairy tale. On one level it's about the destructive nature of obsessive love, on another it's about the disintegration of a dream. We all know that dreams are fragile things that can not survive in the face of harsh reality. We also know that as most of us get older, we surrender our dreams, one by one. While watching Mulholland Drive, I could actually feel myself growing older.