David Lynch is known for making some weird films, but Mulholland Dr. may be his most weird that I have encountered so far. Let me first say that weird is never synonymous for bad, at least not with me. Weird happens in Mulholland Dr. when there isn’t much of a plot to follow, characters are acting strangely and everything seems flipped into a new dimension without warning, to name a few instances. Yet, through all these strange moments, I was intrigued, curious and let myself open up to the film’s vibe.
The opening of the film draws us in perfectly. Well, after a minute or so of purple-green screen sock-hop dancing that is. Anyway, we see a dark car going up the windy Mulholland Drive, and two cars full of yelling teenagers racing down the road. The first car has a dark haired woman (Laura Harring) sitting alone in the back. They make an unexpected stop. The driver points a gun at her and tells her to get out. Just as it looks like she’s done for, their car is hit head on by one of the drag racing cars full of teenagers. Only the woman in the back of the car survives, and she wanders away from the accident down to the lights of Los Angeles. She has amnesia and calls herself Rita, pulled off a movie poster for Gilda.
As Rita finds somewhere to go and clean up, Betty (Naomi Watts) arrives at the airport. She smiles and looks around with wide innocent eyes like she hasn’t arrived in LA, but Oz. She’s an aspiring actress. The rest of her is just as naive, saying goodbyes to an older woman she met on the plane with dialogue that feels plucked from a 1950s after school special. Betty finds Rita when she arrives at her new apartment, befriends her, learns of her amnesia and together they set out to find who she is and what happened to her. Suddenly, the film looks like it could be a mystery.
Along the way are some odd turns and side characters. The two women seek out a woman named Dianne’s apartment, thinking it may be where the Rita lives, but find a horrible sight. This scene made me think of Betty as one of Hitchcock’s classic blondes. They go to a show, are moved to tears by a song and engage in some girl-on-girl action. There’s a film director (Justin Theroux) who is threatened to cast an actress in his next movie and pours neon pink paint on his wife’s jewelry when he finds her in bed with another man. He has other temper tantrums. He meets the cowboy who has an ominous presence and no eyebrows. And there’s Billy Ray Cyrus pulling off a pretty clumsy murder or three.
This is all in a semi-normal world, after the blue box is opened (you’ll know it when you see it), it’s like falling down the rabbit hole. Suddenly, it’s like the characters are in an alternate dimension. Betty becomes Dianne, living in the apartment and all. Rita is both Dianne’s lover and with the director and it fuels insecurity in Dianne. Images are recognizable, but feel out of place. The uncanniness of it all is intriguing and can make the viewer feel very uncomfortable. It got more weird and shocking to the very end, and left me completely dumbfounded. I loved it.
I feel as though I’ve described this film too much, and yet not at all. Really, you won’t know what the hell I’m talking about unless you see it. I do feel that this was a little too out there for a best picture nomination (perhaps it could have been 2001’s Tree of Life with 10 nominations), but David Lynch’s nomination for best director was well deserved. There’s such a sense of the uncanny, a film that feel very noir yet modern, unsettling, yet intriguing that only a master director could pull off. Mulholland Dr. is not an easy film, or one most may enjoy, but it’s one hell of a hypnotic ride.
“It’ll be just like in the movies. Pretending to be somebody else.”