My fascination with David Lynch began with the show Twin Peaks. Little did I know the creator of that way-out ahead of its time TV series had directed some incredibly bizarre movies. Films like the surreal horror film Eraserhead, which I still haven’t seen. And, based on what I hear about it, sounds utterly creepy.
Lynch directs his work in a way that creates a distinctive dreamlike ambiance. In Twin Peaks and the movie Blue Velvet, he hints at the darkness beneath the innocent façade of small town life. In Mulholland Drive, Lynch turns his gaze to Hollywood.
The story, such as it is, consists of a series of disjointed and seemingly unrelated vignettes. At the center, is aspiring actress Betty Elms (played by then newcomer Naomi Watts), who comes to L.A. and befriends an injured and confused brunette with amnesia (played by another newcomer, Laura Harring), who’s hiding from the men who beat her in Betty’s aunt’s apartment.
Now, trying to describe this story coherently is well nigh impossible, without giving everything away. Basically, Betty tries to help the brunette (who wants to be called Rita – as in Rita Hayworth – because she saw Rita in a poster for Gilda, a film noir!) figure out what’s going on with her.
Betty also has the most amazing audition that everyone just loves. Then Betty visits the set of a film in which Hollywood director Adam Kusher (played by Justin Theroux) is threatened by the Mob with dire consequences if he doesn’t hire Camilla Rhodes (played by Melissa George) to sing in his picture.
What does this have to do with anything? Who knows? I told you the plot was disjointed.
Anyway, Betty and “Rita” go investigate an apartment where Diane Selwyn (a name that just popped into Rita’s head, after seeing “Diane” on a waitress tag) lives, except no one’s home. Well, actually, someone is, but she’s in no condition to have visitors.
I haven’t even mentioned the monster hiding behind the diner, the strange Cowboy who meets with Adam to warn him about signing Camilla, or the scene where Rita insists that she and Betty attend a wacky performance at Club Silencio (but not before Rita dons a blonde wig).
And I still haven’t reached the strangest part.
To go into any further detail would not only spoil the movie, but require a tedious reconstruction of events better witnessed than described. I’ll only say that the story, cinematography, imagery, and ethereal music suggest themes like duality, alternate universes or timelines, the rotten core beneath Hollywood’s glittery surface, the price of ambition and fame, and God-knows-what-else.
Frankly, I think the movie is fascinating, imaginative, and edgy in the best noir tradition. It’s also creepy, bordering on the horror genre. And even though the film shudders to a less-than-satisfying ending, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Whether you care for this film will largely depend on your capacity to enjoy the enigmatic, the surreal, the nightmarish … and the use of non-sequential narrative structure. For my part, I found the movie unique and refreshing. Well deserving of two thumbs up!