Mulholland Drive (2001)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #447


Number of Views: Two
Release Date: May 16, 2001 (Cannes), October 12, 2001
Sub-Genre: Cult Film
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $15,000,000
Box Office: $20,100,000
Running Time: 146 minutes
Director: David Lynch
Producers: Neal Edelstein, Tony Krantz, Michael Polaire, Alain Sarde, Mary Sweeney
Screenplay: David Lynch
Special Effects: Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger
Cinematography: Peter Deming
Score: Angelo Badalamenti
Editing: Mary Sweeney
Studios: Les Films Alain Sarde, Asymmetrical Productions, Babbo Inc., Canal+, The Picture Factory
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Stars: Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring, Justin Theroux, Angelo Badalamenti, Ann Miller. Melissa George, Billy Ray Cyrus, Jeanne Bates, Michael J. Anderson, Robert Forster, Patrick Fischler, Dan Hedaya, Lori Heuring, Chad Everett, Scott Coffey, Lee Grant, James Karen


Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Angelo Badalamenti “Mulholland Drive”

[2] David Lynch & John Neff “Mountains Falling”


“What are you doing? We don’t stop here”

If you ask me, David Lynch has a lot to answer for. I was a regular everyday bandy-legged child not adverse to sporting dimples on my cheeks when gleeful and prone to skipping whenever I heard the elusive ice cream van approaching. Then, in an instant, my whole world came crashing down around me and my innocence was shattered. At ten years old I decided to watch Eraserhead on the brand new family VHS toploader and nothing has been the same ever since. Back then, I had no idea who Lynch was or what he wanted with me. Thirty years later I still haven’t the vaguest inkling. You see, we all sit and watch films, whether for recreational purposes or for the purpose of learning as was the case with me growing up, but whenever I sit down to attempt at fathoming Lynch’s cinematic conundrums, it is I who feel under the microscope, almost as though his films are watching me.


His films certainly aren’t for just anyone. Those with a baseline requisite for throwaway entertainment will likely be left incensed by his unconventional approach to storytelling and refusal to spoon-feed his audience. You are required to do the legwork each time you choose to embark on a journey into this man’s subconscious, which means playing detective and being prepared to draw blanks regularly, as he is not obliged to spell a single thing out for you. Even in his interviews, he remains cryptic, and it would be easy to assume that this would prove a nightmare for any actors looking to work under his direction. On the contrary; Lynch is one of the kindest, most attentive, and humble filmmakers on the circuit and could coax a lengthy monologue from a mime artist.


To many, Mulholland Drive represents the very top of this man’s game. He originally dreamed up the basic idea in the early nineties as a spin-off for the hugely successful Twin Peaks and, in 1999, began to shoot a TV pilot with the intention of turning it into a series. ABC network executives rejected it, claiming that its two female leads were too old amongst other reasons, but Studio Canal offered to provide the additional funds to turn it into a feature film. Lynch smelled a rat and gracefully declined but eventually decided to take them up on their offer a year later. To his bemusement, all sets had been dismantled, props and costumes released, and he was swiftly delivered back to square one. Most filmmakers would likely have lost heart at this point but not he. For Lynch, it proved to be a sign, and provided him the inspiration to shape his vision further. The result is a movie which is often regarded as one of the decade’s finest and with sound reasoning.


You don’t need a degree in quantum physics to know that this man’s work emanates from some place decidedly deep within the glorious sprawling metropolis inside his cranium. Well, it just so happens that I’ve always regarded myself as something of a deep thinker myself so it stands to reason that I am here today to provide answers right? Not so fast Grueheads, I have absolutely no intention of unraveling the mystery for two clear reasons. Firstly, it’s not part of Lynch’s design for his work to be successfully deconstructed and labelled accordingly. Every viewer must come to their own assumptions and there is no right or wrong way, only your own way. Secondly, I have watched Mulholland Drive twice and paid particular attention to even the most seemingly insignificant detail and I am still left scrambling for meaning like a squid on a cargo net. Sure, I have my theories, but these would likely differ markedly from the next man’s. This is exactly as he intends it to be.


“You want me to make this easy for you? No fucking way! It’s not gonna be. It’s not easy for me”

I feel obliged to throw you a bone at this point and offer the uninitiated amongst us some form of synopsis. Call it the blind leading the blind if you will as, at any given moment, Lynch reserves the right to plunge us into darkness and spin us around on the spot until we vomit through our noses but, for the first two acts at least, it is possible that you will feel like you have a loose handle on events. Small town blonde Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) arrives in Los Angeles in wide-eyed pursuit of stardom and heads straight to her actress aunt Ruth’s apartment, which has been offered the run of while she is off filming. Here, she discovers a mysterious brunette (Laura Elena Harring) taking up temporary digs whilst recovering from an incident which clearly has her shaken. She appears to be suffering from amnesia and Betty cannot bring herself to turf her out, initially believing her to be an acquaintance of her aunt’s.


It isn’t long before the pair have become as thick as thieves and a friendship starts to develop, with Betty determined to assist her in reclaiming her misplaced identity. Sounding pretty orthodox thus far? This being a Lynch film, there are many other sub-plots to fathom, some of which will likely still feel inconsequential come the conclusion. They’re not of course; it’s all part of an intricate puzzle which will have you tossing away your Rubix Cube for want of a sterner challenge. We are introduced to disenchanted filmmaker Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) who is struggling in vain to retain final cut of his project under immense pressure from his producers and their less than kosher associates. In addition, we break bread with an inept hitman, a less than cordial vagabond who dubiously lurks behind the local diner, a cowboy with no eyebrows, and a couple of senior citizens whose mischievous grins alone could court perpetual night terrors.


Up until a certain point, we feel as though we are making headway, albeit labored. But still many unanswered posers remain. What is the relevance of the blue key found in the brunette’s purse? Why do I keep spotting that red lampshade? What is so critical about the contents of that little black book? What’s in the box? Why am I standing on a rug? And who’s that shady looking character about to pull it out from under my feet? Come to think of it, how does he get his quiff to stand so defiantly? Does he use Brylcream? It’s exhausting and so it should be. Think of it as a more accessible alternative to Cluedo which doesn’t require you to root around in the attic only to discover that the dog chewed up Colonel Mustard and three of the murder weapons have melted together. Film need not only be simply a spectator sport when it can be so much more besides.


“I’m scared like I can’t tell you. Of all people, you’re standing right over there… by that counter. You’re in both dreams and you’re scared too. I get even more frightened when I see how afraid you are and then I realize what it is. There’s a man… in back of this place. He’s the one who’s doing it. I can see him through the wall. I can see his face. I hope that I never see that face, ever, outside of a dream”

One thing which Lynch can do in his sleep is to scare us witless. Mulholland Drive is not a horror movie, yet rarely have I felt as exposed and vulnerable as I did taking that slow walk behind Winkie’s or settling into my seat in Silencio. He knows precisely how to burrow beneath our skin and does it effortlessly, with audio playing a key part in creating ominous menace and chilling us through to our very pulp. He did so in Lost Highway and my primary introduction to the mysterious man in black will be etched on my psyche forevermore. Likewise here, there are moments so subliminally disturbing that no words could ever hope to do them justice. In that respect, it’s a horror movie through and through.


One thing which doesn’t take a whole heap of deduction skills to recognize is that it offers a fairly conclusive indictment of Hollywood as the dream factory. Beneath the dazzling lights and counterfeit smiles are a number of unscrupulous rogues pulling the purse strings and converting said dreams into nightmares. This superficial Eden is prodded and poked as Lynch lifts the lid on the bacteria which has long since corroded the industry from the inside out. Watts is perfectly cast as Betty as she knows the feeling of being a struggling actress only too well. She actually faced eviction shortly after shooting wrapped and was ready to leave the bright lights of L.A. way behind her before being talked around. Her performance is startling, but no more enigmatic than that of the entrancing Harring as the object of her intense fascination.


Mulholland Drive represents a stunning achievement in filmmaking and is, in my opinion, Lynch’s most pronounced piece of work thus far. It may seem incoherent at times, muddled at others, and out of its tree with regularity, but there’s a method in every last dash of madness. It also provides compulsive viewing and its 146 minute duration appears to go up in a great puff of smoke, leaving you desperately craving more time to solve his elaborate riddle. Then weeks later, when you’re least expecting it, you’ll find yourself back in the think tank at high tide and the realization will sink in that you never actually left the place.


“I hate you. I hate us both”

There is much to be said about a film which has the ability to stay with you long after it has unspooled. I trust that Lynch will take these secrets to his grave and therefore ensure that Mulholland Drive remains forever young for future generations to scratch their heads at, soundly discombobulated. Bastard had me at Eraserhead and, three decades on, that hemorrhaging roast chicken still gyrates in my waking dreams. Now it’s accompanied by a smirking pair of pocket geriatrics, a sketchy gunslinger with no frowning tools, and a vagrant I wish never again to be reminded of for as long as my grandchildren live. Thanks a bunch David!


Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 10/10

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Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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