Mulholland Dr.
directed by David Lynch
(Touchstone, 2001)

Three years ago, David Lynch gave us The Straight Story, a film so linear you could use it to tear paper. Now, as if to compensate, he's released Mulholland Dr.

Mulholland Dr. is billed as "a love story in the city of dreams." But be forewarned: the love is of the lusty variety and nearly all the dreams are nightmares.

It begins with a montage of swing dancers jitterbugging wildly before a blue screen, interrupted only by some monochromatic characters working their way through the crowd.

The plot, or what passes for it, kicks in a few minutes later, with an aspiring young actress about to be extricated from a limousine at gunpoint on -- you guessed it -- Mulholland Drive. But before she can get out of the car, it's rammed at high speed by a carload of joy-riders.

The actress (Laura Harring) survives, but her memory is gone. So she hoofs it down Mulholland Drive, hoping to escape from a nightmare she can't recall. Once back in Hollywood, she takes up residence in a recently vacated apartment, where she's soon joined by another aspiring young actress (Naomi Watts), who's just arrived from Deep River, Ontario. Or so she says.

After all, this is a Lynch film, so it's entirely possible -- almost requisite -- that all the characters fabricate as much of their background as possible. Otherwise you'd have some kind of a stable moral center, and where would that get you?

Like most Lynch films, is more about spectacle than storytelling. So it's no surprise that the two actresses' supposed attempts to uncover what's actually going turns up quite a few dead ends and an occasional dead body.

Along the way, Lynch -- who wrote, directed and helped score the film -- churns out some darkly funny scenes, most notably a casting conference in which the money man is more worried about the espresso he's ordered than who's to play the lead; and a badly executed assassination which turns into a triple homicide -- quadruple, actually, if you count the vacuum cleaner.

But the large question is what does it all add up to? And as in many previous Lynch films, the answer is: a whole heap of not much.

The parts, wonderful as they may be, are worth far more than any sum you might derive from them. But keep in mind, that's said more in the way of critique than criticism: if you enjoy watching a film that works scene by scene rather than end to end, you can't do much better than Mulholland Dr.

It's a work designed to give viewers a headache, one that makes Memento seem easy to follow: a horror flick in which there's no way to identify the beast, much less defeat it.

Viewed in this way, it's absolutely brilliant: a collection of odd-angle-images, strange stories and inexplicable events, all captured in breathtaking lighting and underscored with a minimum of slow-moving ominous chords. And every time you swear Lynch couldn't get one iota weirder, he triples the ante and lets the chips fall where they may.

And if that doesn't work for you, consider the advice director Adam Kesher (Justin Theoroux) gets from the pool cleaner (Billy Ray Cyrus), when Kesher finds him in bed with his wife: "Just forget you ever saw it -- it's better that way." Lynch fans will no doubt disagree.

[ by Miles O'Dometer ]
Rambles: 2 November 2002

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