GREAT MOVIES ESSAY: Mulholland Drive (2001)


Mulholland Drive is a film where most of the drama occurs in our minds rather than on the screen. As Roger Ebert said in his review of the film “There may not even be a mystery.”

The absolute power of this film is David Lynch’s ability to draw us into a false sense of security. One event leads to another and the film folds on itself multiple times whilst driving, spinning and plunging through plot loops in such a vague dreamlike way that make us feel as if we’re clinging onto reality and just about ‘got it’ and understand what’s going on. Until of course, the rug is pulled from underneath our feet, and the characters we thought we recognised well…are they even real? Are they the same person? Who knows.

I rewatched Mulholland Drive yesterday, and that was the second time I had seen Lynch’s uncompromising mystery about dreams and Hollwood. The first time I saw it I had absolutely no idea what was going on in the last 30 minutes, yet oddly I really liked it. The last 30 minutes felt like an abstract piece of art where there is no plot but it’s all about emotion. I was reminded of Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou, where nothing happens, and if you try to piece it together, you’ll only get more frustrated. This is how I felt about Mulholland Drive.

Confusion: the 'character swap' in Mulholland Drive...

Confusion: the 'character swap' in Mulholland Drive...

After re-watching it, it’s not as random as it seems after initial viewing. During the final act of the film, the characters ‘switch around’. Betty becomes Diane. And Rita becomes Camille. A bizarre logic is also applied as well – halfway through the film, Rita (who got her name from a poster with Rita Hayworth on it) thinks that she may be called Diane Selwyn, as she is reminded of this name by a waitress with her ‘Diane’ nametag on. At the end of the movie, Naomi watts, who is now Diane, sees the same waitress as before, but now her nametag says ‘Betty’. Later on, we see a similar scene to the opening scene of the movie where Laura Herring’s character is in the car going down the infamous road which this film is named after. In this similar scene it is now Naomi Watt’s character. In the party sequence where we watch Naomi Watt’s get angered and teary-eyed as she watches her lover kiss hotshot director Adam Kesher, in the background we see ‘The Cowboy’ leaving from a room in the background through the exit of a door. There’s a dreamlike symmetry to this film, and perhaps, if you fit all of the pieces together, it will all make sense. But at the same time, none of it may make sense. And the fact that initially none of it makes sense; is oddly part of the beauty of this film. You know a film’s great when it doesn’t make sense, yet it’s still as compelling – if not more – as a film that does.

Mulholland Drive...

Mulholland Drive...

The other half of the mystery of Mulholland Drive is what does it mean. It’s a film by David Lynch, so it’s clear that it’s very much open to interpretation. David Lynch has said that nobody has ever come close to his own personal interpretation of his debut cult-classic Erasorhead. Perhaps, the same is true with this film. In my opinion, it’s a parody, a dreamlike parable, a subtle satire oozing with complexity and sizzling with ideas and concepts about the corrupt nature of Hollywood. It does this by mocking Hollywood clichés and using them to mock conventional cinema and to mock the industry which churns them out. Naomi Watt’s and Laura Harring’s characters are both conventional characters thrown into an unconventional world: Naomi Watt’s is the perky blonde star with dreams, aspirations and a determination so big that she’s convinced that she’ll be the next Marilyn Monroe; Laura Harring is the woman in trouble and the character who doesn’t know her past, who doesn’t know who she even is. When they first meet each other, their conversation is stilted and awkward, it’s almost as if they are acting; they then quickly fall in love, and they have sex. All of this occurs in the space of around two days. Is David Lynch using the clear fake nature of their relationship to comment on the fake nature of Hollywood? There’s more, after they have sex, Laura Harring’s character chants out foreign words, waking up her lover, she says that she needs to go somewhere, to ‘Club Silencio’.

The man in the Silencio bar says that it’s all “an illusion”, and when the mysterious singer enters on stage, we see her singing. We are entranced, hypnotised not only by her beauty but by her powerful operatic voice. She then faints and collapses, yet the singing continues. All of the singing is actually a “tape recording”. Is David Lynch saying how some of the A-Listers in Hollywood don’t have any talent, and how the unseen and the unnoticed back stage workers are the people that really make the stars of Hollywood shine brighter than they would do on a bare stage?

A harrowing head-trip: Club Silencioin Mulholland Drive

A harrowing head-trip: Club Silencioin Mulholland Drive

Either way, Mulholland Drive is no doubt the most mysterious and ambiguous film of the past decade. It poses questions, confuses us, baffles us and challenges us. The ‘character swap’, poses theories: do the last 30 minutes occur in the past or in an alternative reality? Critics have offered their ideas on the film. Fan pages have been made attempting to analyse the events of the film.

Naomi Watt’s gives a great performance, especially toward’s the end of the film where we see her have her mental breakdown as she doesn’t know what’s real and what isn’t and the fact that Rita/Diane has fallen in love with Adam Kesher. Her performance is intense, and something you’d only see in a nightmare.

Naomi Watt's gives a truly chilling and powerful performance in Mulholland Drive

Naomi Watt's gives a truly chilling and powerful performance in Mulholland Drive

I bet, the person who’s already solved the mystery of this film (if it can be solved) is envious over me, as I get to solve the jigsaw-puzzle of this film like they once did. Mulholland Drive is a great film because it’s a film that needs to be watched more than once. Perhaps even 10 times. Who knows…


2 thoughts on “GREAT MOVIES ESSAY: Mulholland Drive (2001)

  1. Yes, a complete mystery, indeed! What does it all mean? Who really cares! Just sit back and enjoy the wonderful performance of the great Naomi Watts! She acts every emotion possible……..happiness, sadness, sexy, calculating/murderous, bewildered…..has there ever been a better performance by anybody? The audition scene with Chad Everett is just mind-blowing……..she’s soft, loving, sad, ruthless and full of vengeance…….all in the space of five minutes. The viewer and the other people in that scene all seem to be suitably overwhelmed by her. Awesome! The masturbation scene is just heart-breaking!
    Naomi, I take my hat off to you!
    Don’t try and understand this film……..just wallow in a superb experience!

  2. Is interesting how this movie generates the coming out of the ego… Doesnt it.

    Is very interesting what you said about the names of the waitress, casue is one of the keys of the movie, thats why the Master LYnch uses a key in that specific scene. But to really understand the meaning of this movie, we have to get very deep into the the directors work as long as we go deep in to ourselves. As any work from him it tells you very clear…. Are u ready?

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