Mulholland Drive: The Debate
David Lynch’s Oscar-nominated Mulholland Drive. After a traumatic car crash, Rita (Laura Harring) finds she has no memory of who she is. Befriending Betty (Naomi Watts), the two set on a journey to discover the mysteries of Rita’s life… and just why her bag is crammed with money and a mysterious blue key.
With its confusingly non-linear storyline, Mulholland Drive split audience opinion. Throwing an array of realities into the mix, Lynch managed to alienate viewers with his story’s lack of explanation and unnecessary dips into psychedelic tosh. The sexual tension that rises between Betty and Rita adds a strange twist to the proceedings whilst it toys with the supernatural and deranged for no apparent reason. Although the performances are well-played the film is ultimately pretentious and unrewarding. We may be alone in our disappointment with Mulholland Drive, but making no sense whatsoever does not constitute a classic film. [Read our rather critical review here]
In David Lynch’s career, three films in particular stand out as being similar in structure and theme – Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire. These films are all mysterious and non-linear odes to the shadows of Hollywood and show business, and are probably the films people think of when they think of David Lynch. Of these films, Mulholland Drive is almost certainly the best of these.
But why? Well, while it doesn’t set out to completely destroy the viewer in the same way that Lost Highway does, and isn’t anywhere near as epic in scope as Inland Empire, Mulholland Drive is the film in which Lynch perfected his vision and completely nailed every aspect of it. It keeps the heavy and oppressive tension of Eraserhead, his earliest film, and borrows its setting from Lost Highway. The central character, a misfit in a glamorous city, could even be seen as a sort of The Elephant Man. While this may stretch the comparison slightly, the point is that Mulholland Drive was, at the time, the climax of his work to date.
People say the film is pretentious, which is the perfect criticism. Any attempt to counter a charge of pretension only serves to make the person accused seem even more pretentious. It can’t be argued. While the film does play fast and loose with its structure and content, and certainly isn’t an easy watch, it never once feels out of control or unnecessary. There’s always a sense of internal logic and everything in the film can be justified. Even the lesbian scene. Almost.
Another reason this film is brilliant is that it features one of the scariest moments in the whole of cinema. Forget Psycho, forget The Exorcist – never, in the entire history of film, has a scene been so heart-stoppingly terrifying as a bizarre sequence involving two men in a diner, and the dumpster round the back. The scene opens and the two men are discussing a dream that one of them had the previous night. He describes a horrible woman who lives behind the diner, and they head out the back to investigate. They find the woman there and the man collapses with fright. For some reason, the appearance of the horrible woman – wheeled out like some bizarre mannequin, reduces hardened viewers to screaming babies. The scene is so stupid, so ludicrous, but somehow more horrifying for that. It’s the definition of the inexplicable horror that can arise from the simplest things, which in a way represents David Lynch’s work as a whole.
In conclusion – the film is brilliant. If you don’t like it, you just don’t understand it. Pretentious enough?
It seems fair to say that Mulholland Drive will forever divide viewer opinion. To claim that if you don’t like it you don’t understand it seems a little preposterous as there’s little to understand amidst the ill-executed revelations and questionable twists but, if you’re a fan of Lynch, you’re not going to be disappointed. Lynch is as Lynch does which means Mulholland Drive is set to continue its marmite effect long into the future.
Robert Batchelor and Naomi Barnwell
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