As often as filmmakers reflect upon Hollywood, they denounce it (witness
Roman Polanski, Raymond Chandler, Nathaniel West, Billy Wilder and
countless others), condemning the very system that enables the indictment. Nevertheless, extraordinary films have come from this dark genre, and David Lynchs latest effort is one. Mulholland Drive is a cocktail of innocent blonde hopeful makes good in Hollywood, and the paranoid, evil, flip side of innocence -- a nightmarish portrayal of Lynchs Hollywood and how its perceived corruption influences the lives of people living and working there.
Fade in: Night, exterior, high above Hollywood. A stretch limo pulls onto a isolated ridge overlooking city lights. At gunpoint, a gorgeous brunette (Laura Harring), is ordered from the car.
Suddenly, the limousine is struck head-on by joyriders, killing the occupants of both cars -- except for the brunette, who walks from the smoldering tangle miraculously unscathed, and scrambles downward into the overgrown sage, sumac and eucalyptus covered hillside toward the lights of Hollywood.
Questions are posed: Who is she? Why was she ordered from the car at
gunpoint? How did she manage to escape unhurt? There are no answers now
and few later.
Cut to squeaky-clean blonde ingenue, Betty (Naomi Watts), disembarking at Los Angeles International Airport. A taxi transports Betty to her aunts unoccupied Hollywood apartment where she finds the dazed brunette showering and seeking sanctuary. But from what? Were not told. The brunette calls herself Rita (from a Rita Hayworth Gilda poster on the wall), but she recalls nothing of her life before the crash, and her purse contains nothing to identify her, just cash -- plenty of it -- and an odd blue key. More unanswered questions.
Betty is sympathetic but driven, and her career is already in gear. At an unnamed studio, Betty is auditioned in a scene with a male actor -- easily 3 times her age -- who plays the part of her fathers best friend, with whom Bettys character has been having a torrid affair. Watts abrupt shift from Betty to her audition character is breathtaking, and her whispered entreaties are seductive and erotic.
This scene alone is worth the price of admission.
Ritas amnesia becomes Bettys project, and as the two women set out to uncover the riddle of Ritas past, bizarre characters enter their lives: Adam is a young director with a philandering wife and Mafia connections. Theres an odd bloodless cowboy, whos insanely glacial and frighteningly reasonable. Two L.A. detectives are more menacing than reassuring, and two mysterious women -- Diane and Camilla -- whom we meet later as the metamorphosed Betty and Rita -- forebode who knows what?
Unsettling images float in and out: A grisly corpse rots in a pile of vermin-infested mattress ticking in a dim bedroom; a contract killer kills twice more to cover up an earlier bungled murder.
One night, Rita finds herself sharing Bettys bed. In the shadows, their growing devotion becomes passion, and a fiery lesbian relationship begins. It may be that during these moments, Lynch would have us believe that Betty and Rita lose their innocence, because afterwards, characters and circumstances turn more grotesque and diabolical, and Mulholland Drive becomes a montage of personalities running wild in a catastrophic illusory future.
The story and its characters are turned back to front, upside down and inside out. Rita becomes Adams lover, while Betty is changed from the confident, enthusiastic ingenue into a strung-out bit player who desperately obsesses over the indifferent Rita with whom she is wretchedly in love.
Mulholland Drive has little to do with any one character except perhaps Lynch, whose epic vision is of a nightmarish Hollywood. If life is a hodgepodge of unrelated events about which we make up personal stories with selective snippets to generate linear continuity and in some sense protect our sanity, Lynchs psychedelic yarn illustrates this masterfully.
Mulholland Drive poses more questions than it answers. Its last 45 minutes, and the embarrassment of rich images therein, may be best viewed as contemporary art. But finally, were left with Lynchs enigmatic vision as ours to reconcile.
Written and directed by David Lynch Winner, Best Director, 2001 Cannes Film Festival); director of photography, Peter Deming; production designer, Jack Fisk; edited by Mary Sweeney; music by Angelo Badalamenti; produced by Ms. Sweeney, Alain Sarde, Neal Edelstein, Michael Polaire and Tony Krantz.
WITH: Naomi Watts (Betty/Diane), Laura Harring (Rita/Camilla), Robert Forster (Detective McKnight), Ann Miller (Coco [yes, THE Ann Miller]), Justin Theroux (Adam), and Dan Hedaya (Vincenzo).
Released by Studio Canal/Universal Focus. Nudity, violence and profanity. 146 minutes. Color.