Thursday, September 9, 2010

Day Sixty-Eight: Mulholland Dr.

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #240
Year: 2001
Director: David Lynch
Starring: Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring

In what was perhaps an act of God, the second disc of the copy of Schindler's List that I received from Netflix yesterday had a huge crack running down its center, and I was unable to watch the last hour of that movie and blog about it on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. I don't know when I'll get around to finishing the movie, but I will say that I thought the first two hours were excellent, and included a lot of the best things I've ever seen from Steven Spielberg. Alas, I'll be double posting today, and the first post is one that I thought I may wait a little longer to get around to since it is one of my favorite movies of all time and I want to give it a fair amount of attention. In any case, today's first post is about Mulholland Dr., a movie that makes my personal top ten, and one that stands as the masterpiece of its brilliant, eccentric director David Lynch. Here Lynch finds a perfect balance between the extreme esoterica of his early short films and first feature, Eraserhead, and the more accessible weirdness of later works like Blue Velvet and the Twin Peaks television series. Originally intended to be a TV pilot itself, Mulholland Dr. was extended and labored over by Lynch for two years for a theatrical release after ABC shot down his proposal. The result is the most coherent, satisfying work in David Lynch's catalog of cinematic mindfucks.

Mulholland Dr., on first viewing, appears to be a collection of unrelated and often surreal vignettes following three main characters – Rita, played by Laura Elena Harring (in what surely would have been Laura Dern's role had Lynch chosen to cast her), Betty, played impeccably by Naomi Watts, and Adam, played by a cool-as-a-cucumber Justin Theroux – as well as an enormous supporting cast. Simply following (and being freaked out by) everything that happens demands all of the viewer's attention the first time through, and it might be difficult to understand what's so great about it. But after future viewings, and a thorough reading of the cryptic "David Lynch's 10 Clues to Unlocking This Thriller" enclosed in the DVD case, and readily available online, the movie starts to piece itself together. As it turns out, it's not the super-complicated film that it appears to be at first glance. Instead, there's a very clear delineation in the movie of what's real and what's not – it just takes multiple viewings and studious patience to discover what that is. Even after that first, most rudimentary revelation, the film is still rife with mystery, and after countless viewings, there's still things I'm uncertain I fully understand. That's what makes the movie so rewarding. It's obscure and opaque like most of Lynch's work, but its full meaning feels within grasp. Unlike an Eraserhead or an Inland Empire, it seems very possible to know exactly what Lynch meant by everything in Mulholland Dr.

(Brief sidenote: When I say things like "most of Lynch's work," I'm really only referring to his short films, Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks (and Fire Walk With Me), Lost Highway, Mulholland Dr., and Inland Empire, not his more mainstream and, with the notable exception of The Elephant Man, worse fare)

In a relatively brief blog post such as this one, it's impossible to dissect a useful amount of the film's plot. It's told in a nonlinear fashion, and what's actually going on remains relatively unclear for much of the film. Instead, I want to focus on two particular scenes from this movie that are among my top five or ten movie scenes of all time and say more about what Mulholland Dr. truly is than any plot synopsis could. Because it's unavoidable, SPOILERS LIE AHEAD:

In the first of these scenes, two men are sitting in a diner, and one begins to talk about a recurring dream he has. In the dream, he explains, he and the other man are also sitting in the diner, and he's afraid. There's a man outside, he says. He's the one who's doing it. The second man, clearly skeptical and confused but not unsympathetic to his friend, suggests that they walk outside where he sees the man in his dreams, prove that he isn't there, and move on. In an agonizingly long shot, they walk to the back of the diner to the dumpsters, where the first man believes the man from his dreams should be. When he steps up to the dumpster, instead of seeing nothing like he should in the real world, a grotesque, filthy man emerges from behind it. The man starts to have a panic attack. Fade to black.

In the second scene, Rita and Betty lie in bed asleep after making love for the first time. Rita's eyes open. "Silencio," she whispers. "Silencio." Betty doesn't awaken. "Silencio," Rita says again. "No hay banda. No hay orquesta." The whispers turn to screams. Betty wakes up, and the two resolve to go where Rita insists on going. They end up at a seedy nightclub – not entirely unlike the one Isabella Rossellini's character worked at in Blue Velvet where a man on stage declares that there is no band, and that all the music that they hear is a recording. A trumpeter proves the point when he removes his instrument from his mouth and the music keeps playing. The stage goes silent, and an opera singer comes out. She sings a beautiful aria with the voice of an angel, becoming more and more emotionally unstable as the music progresses. Tears run down her face, but she keeps singing. Rita is crying, too. Suddenly, the opera singer collapses in a heap on the stage. Her mouth stops moving, but the music continues. Rita has an emotional meltdown. Fade to black.

I didn't have to watch the film again to describe these scenes. The movie leaves that strong of an impression on the mind. If I could go back and become a fan of one of my favorite directors all over again, I would have started with Mulholland Dr. It is a flawless piece of cinema, and I'm pretty sure it just made me write the longest blog post I've ever written. If you're still with me at this point, God bless you, and watch this goddamn movie.

The Good: Those two scenes that I described haunt me as much now as they did the first time I saw them.

The Bad: In my opinion, this film has no flaws.

The Skinny: I obviously think #240 is too low – it comes in at about #6 on my list – but I'm just glad that a piece of cinema this challenging is on the list at all.


  1. While watching this movie, I didn't understand it nor I didn't really care to do so much...
    I know I should watch it again, but I don't see why would I want to do so.
    And I guess from what I have seen and heard, Lynch isn't and won't be in my favorite directors list.

    Definetly not a movie for me, and obviously I won't be sad when it falls out from the list.

  2. No flaws? It was the most annoying thing I ever watched in my life. How's that for a flaw.

  3. Now it's MY turn to be "that guy"...

    You didn't get it.

  4. Hehe, there are movies that are hard to understand, but they need to be at least half-understood - like 2001 for example.
    But this one, I liked it's mysterious way, but the story doesn't really bother me much, I end up not really caring what that blue box is or what half of the characters are representing.

  5. hi brad,
    i totally agree with you, this is definitely one of the best movies ever made, and after watching it 3 times, this movie makes almost perfect sense to me. and that 'monster' scene really scared me, it was like a nightmare. another one of my favourite scenes is the songs scene.'15 reasons' and 'why havent i told you' are the weirdest songs i have ever heard. everything about this movie is just perfect, and naomi watts bacame my favourite actress after watching this movie, her acting as diane is heart-breaking and haunting.
    ps my most favourite movies are city of god, silence of the lambs, american beauty and mulholland dr.

  6. Saad, I think you found the perfect word for those songs - "weird." The whole movie has an air of weirdness about it, but Lynch really reins it in. I agree about Watts' performance as well. It's absolutely brilliant.

    I haven't seen City of God or Silence of the Lambs yet, I don't love American Beauty (if you saw my post on it you know that), but Mulholland Dr. is an all-time favorite of mine. It's perfect.

    Lastly, thanks for commenting! Not sure if I've seen your name in the comments section of any other posts, so if you're new to the blog, thank you for reading and welcome!

  7. hey brad,
    i have been reading ur blog from the very start but i was a bit hesitant to comment at first. honestly, blogging about imdb 250 is something that i would love to do someday. i live in Pakistan and i am a movie buff, and i love ur blog (although i disagree with a few things)& u r definitely doing a great job.

    another thing, i watched mulholland drive earlier this year, and i cant stop thinking about it, its embedded in my mind :O