Few directors have such a cultural impact that a style of film is named after them. Hitchcockian, Kubrickian, Tarantinoesque are the few that spring to mind along with Lynchian. And no-one makes films like David Lynch.
From the bizarre industrial-existential angst of Eraserhead to the twisted American dream-nightmare of Blue Velvet, David Lynch’s films are a challenge to the norms of mainstream cinema, using its clichÃ©s and tropes to undermine the familiar. They are strange, unsettling, sometimes baffling and often brilliant.
Mulholland Drive is among Lynch’s most baffling and brilliant films, a meditation on the idea of stardom and the mythology of Hollywood where identities are fractured, reality and fantasy blur, and a parade of weird and scary characters make it uncomfortable if compelling viewing.
The narrative is far from straightforward but revolves around the character of Betty (Naomi Watts), an aspiring, wide-eyed starlet who’s just arrived in Tinseltown to try to make a name for herself. Staying at her aunt’s house, she finds there an amnesiac woman who takes the name of Rita from a movie poster.
The pair join forces to help Rita unravel the mystery of what has happened to her and to help Betty get her big break in the movies but as they do so they find themselves in deeper, darker places involving some seriously sinister figures including a cowboy, the gangsterish Castigliani brothers and the enigmatic Mr Roque, who seems to be controlling things.
At least that’s what seems to be happening but then Betty becomes Diane, Rita becomes Camilla and their relationship is very different. Where Betty was wholesome, innocent and hopeful, Diane is a washed up actress, needy, depressed and obsessed with Camilla who’s a successful Hollywood actress.
Many theories abound as to the exact meaning and symbolism of Lynch’s multi-layered, non-linear film and there are plenty of websites and essays that try to unravel it. To some it will be frustratingly abstract, nonsensical and wilfully weird¦ but that’s why I like it.
There’s a kind of dream logic to the film that defies simple explanation; you just have to go with it and enjoy it for its effect, a dark, disturbing look into the mind of a troubled young woman where you don’t know what is real, what is fantasy and what is nightmare.
The line of continuity through the dishevelled narrative of the film is an astonishing performance from Naomi Watts as Betty/Diane. Brave and unflinching through a succession of difficult and widely varying scenes, she is brilliant -this is the film that established Watts as a major acting talent.
Apart from the main narrative thrust of the film, there are a number of memorable scenes in Mulholland Drive. Justin Theroux’s director Adam Kesher’s chilling encounter with The Cowboy, the espresso tasting scene with the Castigliani brothers and, in particular, a scene at Winkie’s Diner in which one man tells another about a dream that has terrified him which then starts coming true. It seems to be a purely random scene and have no direct purpose in the story, but in tone it suits the film perfectly. It’s deeply disquieting.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Mulholland Drive is that David Lynch retrieved it from the ruins of a television pilot rejected by ABC. With funding from French production company Canal Plus, Lynch recut the material into a feature film and it’s now acknowledged as one of his finest. It’s not an easy watch, but it’s a film that haunts you for days afterwards.
If you want to read about the various theories about the film, there’s an excellent fan site called http://www.mulholland-drive.net/ which helps shed some light on it.