Mulholland Drive (2001)Rated R for violence, language and some strong sexuality.
Starring Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring, Justin Thoroux, Ann Miller, Dan Hedaya.
Photo ©Universal Pictures. All rights reserved.
Note: This page includes review and revision entry.
I haven't done this before. I am specifically writing a review of a movie after having read other reviews of the movies. Frankly, became annoyed at what I had read. Mulholland Drive is being called a masterpiece by a great many critics who say they enjoyed it even though they couldn't make sense of it. Does that make sense to you? It doesn't make sense to me.
What happened along the way to becoming a seasoned movie critic? Are critics so tired of wallowing in the muck of studio rehash that they'll blindly praise anything that dares to be different, even if it's incomprehensible? I feel as though I could become a director, create a movie with strange but inviting imagery, and as long as nobody can understand it yet there are enough pieces in it for thinking viewers to try to piece together, my work will be praised. Would it really be that simple?
Dreamscape movies, which Mulholland Drive is, especially seem to be able to get away with this. These are the kind of movies that can hypnotize you with their imagery, indulging your senses with standout scores and cinematography, but often have little other appeal, particularly in the narrative sense. The main problem, however, with dreamscape movies is that opinions of them are entirely subjective. Yes, every opinion of a movie is subjective, but the audience's subjectivity can be second-guessed, as with, for example, a comedy, which can often be fashioned to appeal to the overlapping portions of people's different senses of humor. By contrast, dreamscapes can't second-guess; they either draw the viewer in sensually or they don't, and if they appeal to one viewer they probably do so in a much different way than they did for another. However, even if one liked such a movie, one would most likely have an impossible time making sense of it. My favorite dreamscape movie is 2001: A Space Odyssey, but I can't guarantee that it will cast a spell on you as it did on me; there's as much chance that you would find it utterly boring and its ending bewildering. Eyes Wide Shut was a movie that divided critics, but search among the praises and you'll find the same statements -- that the film's haunting dreaminess was enough to make one like it, thus one didn't feel the need to be able to explain it. Those who didn't like the movie would find that logic infuriating. The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover was another film that was labeled "a feast for the senses," its atmosphere praised and its narrative deemed a political metaphor; but be in the wrong mood for it and its artsiness will feel pretentious while the rest of the movie will disgust you. The critics who enjoy these movies rate them at the top of their scale, but one filmgoer's four-star dream movie is another filmgoer's one-star incomprehensible garbage. Such ratings are totally personal because objectively a dreamscape movie is hard to defend against the criticisms of a viewer who hated it. If one asks, "why did you enjoy it?", the answer may truly be, "just because it worked for me."
Mulholland Drive may or may not work for you. It makes little sense, asks that you really give it some thought, and even then you may not make sense of it. If you like it, you won't care that you can't make sense of it. It's David Lynch at his usual, filling this tv-pilot-turned-theatrical movie with eccentric characters like old ladies and old men, a midget in a body suit, a cowboy, a starlet, a hit-man, and a scary bum. Fans of Lynch will no doubt enjoy his latest movie, which is essentially more of the "Twin Peaks" game of throwing out a bunch of pieces to a puzzle that hold no promise of coming together at the end. To non-Lynch-fans, a warning: watch at your own risk.
I did. I'm not a David Lynch fan, and I admit that I don't consistently "get" him. I was, however, into "Twin Peaks," and, when I'm in the right mood, I like some of the things Lynch does. In Mulholland Drive, I like his usage of Angelo Badalamenti's haunting music. I liked the character of the young sardonic director (Justin Theroux), and I liked the two female leads (Laura Elena Harring as a gorgeous and mysterious amnesiac, and Naomi Watts, who shines as a Hollywood ingenue). I liked the dark humor in the scene where the hit-man's job goes a little longer than planned. I liked the intensity of the audition scene, where Watts has a chance to surprise all onlookers. And, yes, I liked the erotic lesbian sex scene (because it was surprisingly tender. Really!).
I can not, however, explain the movie. The last half-hour turns everything topsy-turvy, and I slapped my forehead when the credits rolled. David Lynch had done it again. He took me for an intriguing ride, and then left me confused, angry, and annoyed. Afterwards, I did some reading about the movie, found some attempts at explanations, and alleviated my confusion and anger but not my annoyance. Certain parts of Mulholland Drive appealed to me, but as a whole it did not. Thus, I can not recommend it. The best suggestion I can give is: watch at your own risk. You'll either be satisfied with its surreal craziness, or you'll react like the audience member who got up and said, "There's a few hours we'll never have back!"
©Jeffrey Chen, Oct. 19, 2001
In my 2001 Hindsight article, I wrote about Mulholland Drive:
I have great contempt for the praising of a movie without the attempt to make some sense of it, and that was why the initial love heaped upon David Lynch's Mulholland Drive ticked me off. I felt that that's what the critics had done. Add this to my own experience of watching Lynch's television series "Twin Peaks" and the critical drubbing of his reportedly nonsensical movie Lost Highway, and I personally wanted to write off his latest movie as a pretentious pile of garbage. I was fascinated by the theories that attempted to make sense of the story, but became even more fascinated when those theories actually revealed how skillfully Lynch was able to use what he had -- a rejected pilot for an ABC television series with no particular direction in mind -- and resolve it with a heartbreaking picture of an actress's destroyed dreams. But was this what Lynch meant to do? Or was he just being random? I read more and more about what others thought of the movie, yet I still refused to change my mind on the matter, even though I admitted to myself that there were many things I liked about the film.
I've now determined that I was unfair to him. Recently I picked up an independent film magazine and read an interview with Lynch, who revealed the creative process he went through to complete Mulholland Drive. I was relieved to find out that he was indeed going for something, and that coming up with an ending to his pilot was one of the most exciting and challenging experiences he has had. It was the last straw that finally shattered my notions that this was just some pretentious auteur who had made his living by stringing audiences along with directionless stories that happened to feature great atmosphere. It is with a sigh and a smile that I upgrade my rating for this movie to a 7/10 -- it's still not perfect, and I'll never forgive Lynch for that ludicrous final scene with the tiny old people, but I look forward to watching this movie again one day to re-experience it.
Revised Rating: 7/10
©Jeffrey Chen, Jan. 13, 2002