Thursday, November 8, 2012

THURSDAY THROWBACK: Mulholland Drive (2001)

My affinity for David Lynch films comes in waves.  Things have to be right for me to challenge myself and plunge into the filmmaking of the most celebrated avante-garde director in history.  For years and years I resisted Lynch and his penchant to exude the befuddling and bewildering landscape of his mind.  I have seen Mulholland Drive now more than five times, and only my last time did the film click for me.  Much like Blue Velvet - which is entirely different in that it's a linear narrative - it took time and dedication to absorb the greatness of the work.  I always knew there was a great film inside Mulholland Drive, but for whatever reason - be it age or seasoning or film education - it wasn't working on me.  Finally, I approached the picture in the right way and was allowed to bask in its greatness.

The trick with understanding Mulholland Drive is to not try and understand it, not in the literal sense or in the way we all try and take in films.  It is human nature to try and connect the dots in a film, to put this image with that thematic background, this symbolism with that character.  With Mulholland Drive, once you quit trying to put the pieces together and allow the film to simply wash over you, the striking intensity, imagery, and impact of the Lynch artistry are right there in plain sight.  Here is a film not about dreams as a poor excuse to eschew sense or explanation; it is simply, a dream. 

Characters and situations appear and disappear, some are never seen again, some have strange tics or simple lines of dialogue that resemble those broken moments of a waking dream.  There is a plot lying beneath the images of the film involving the glitz and glamour of Hollywood.  Only that Hollywood sheen is polluted by business and corruption.  Naomi Watts plays Betty, a bright-eyed Midwestern beauty with aspirations of becoming a famous actress.  She is in love with the idea of Hollywood and the nature of celebrity.  Those ideas are slowly dissolved when she arrives at her Aunt's condo to find Rita (Laura Harring), a woman who walked away from a car accident as the film opened.  An accident in which she was going to be murdered by the limo driver before drag racers spoiled the plan.  Betty is intrigued by Rita's story, and she relishes the idea of being a Nancy Drew type sleuth in order to help Rita find out where she belongs.

All the while there is the story of a director, Adam (Justin Theroux), who is being manipulated to put a certain woman in his film.  Behind the scenes of this manipulations, there appears to be a strange small man pulling all the strings.  These two narratives intersect, but not completely, and not to a satisfying conclusion in the traditional sense.  And these two plots soon become secondary to the dreamlike atmosphere of the film.  Other stories float like satellites around the Betty and Adam stories, and bizarre happenings seem to appear out of nowhere.  There is the eerie man behind the diner, the cowboy behind the scenes of the film manipulation, the dead woman in the condo. 

And then, without any build up, characters switch places and identities and things truly spiral down into the rabbit hole.  The final moments of Mulholland Drive have no explanation in the real world, and no real explanation in the movie.  Nothing is explained as it doesn't need to be.  They simply happen, much in the way things simply happen in your dreams.  People look like other people, go by other names in dreams from time to time.  Lynch has his hand on the visual pulse of dreams, even as they dissolve into nightmares.

My resistance towards the artistry of David Lynch has since lifted, much as the cloud of confusion I had with Mulholland Drive.  Each of his films these days are a marvel of challenging and introspective filmmaking.  There is something decidedly freeing about not struggling to piece together the structure of a film which bucks the tradition.  Mulholland Drive is a challenging and beautiful film with its grip on dreamscapes tighter than any other film in history.