MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001) / Drama

Running Length: 147 minutes
MPAA Classification: R for violence, language, and some strong sexuality.

Cast: Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theroux, Ann Miller, Robert Forster, Melissa George
Director: David Lynch
Producer: Tony Krantz, Neal Edelstein, Michael Polaire, Alain Sarde, Mary Sweeney, Joyce Eliason
Screenplay: David Lynch

A David Lynch film is one of the easiest kinds of films to recognize and one of the hardest kinds to forget. The man is an auteur; an artist, using a camera instead of a paintbrush. He perplexes the audience and challenges us to think, making us his own personal guinea pigs as he thrusts us into a world of obscurity. His aim is to disorient and confuse us until we lose any semblance of reality. And then, just when we think we might have a clue about what’s going on, he pulls the rug from underneath us, leaving us stranded in a sea of bewilderment.

There’s no doubt that a Lynchian film is an acquired taste, and even then it’s still hard to understand exactly what it is that he’s trying to say. He is a hustler. He lures us into a false sense of security with innocent characters and a cheerful atmosphere, but then turns his back on us when the mood changes. Don’t bother asking questions; you’ll get no answers. Lynch never feels the need to bother us with an explanation. He makes it our job to determine what happened, and that task borders on the impossible.

Consider Mulholland Drive, one of his most critically-acclaimed films. I won’t go into detail about the plot because frankly, there really isn’t one. What we have are an innocent protagonist, a series of seemingly unrelated storylines, and a tragic event to tie them all together. Of course, those who have never experienced a Lynchian film will automatically assume that everything will be solved by the end and they can leave the theater satisfied. But those of us who have know better.

I’ll admit that for a while, I actually thought that Mulholland Drive was going somewhere. The film is wonderfully atmospheric, with captivating cinematography and a haunting score. It is so enveloped in detail that we are forced to give it our absolute and undivided attention, making sure that we fully grasp and understand the importance of each scene. Lynch is such a superb director in the way that he makes certain actions and objects stand out, forcing us to question their relevance to the story line. We become intrigued, but only because we want answers.

Then, with roughly 45 minutes to go, it starts to go downhill. Mulholland Drive is so distant and slow-paced that we begin to question why we’re so involved, and it requires such a large amount of concentration that watching it becomes tedious after a while. Lynch is never quite clear on what happens and there are scenes that are so strange that it almost seems pathetic on his part. It’s as if he’s trying too hard to be weird in an attempt to keep us attentive and interested and in his attempt to do so, we become detached and bored. But oddly enough, we’re willing to venture a little bit further. It’s the big payoff that fuels our desire. If Lynch can orchestrate a good ending, then it would surely compensate for what he’s put us through. Is that too much to ask for?

Well, if you know Lynch, then you should know better. Instead of giving us what we want, he does the exact opposite. He throws not only one curveball, but fifty, and throws them all at once. We are not given an answer, but rather a hundred more questions. The final half hour is so convoluted and nonsensical that I left not only confused and dissatisfied, but disgruntled and frustrated with the cruel charade I had endured for over two hours.

The “twist” ending that Lynch supplies us with is a hasty and hackneyed maneuver — a final and desperate attempt to tie everything together. The result is a chaotic and disorganized mess that many people mistake for “brilliance”, which it is not. There is no logic at all involved. Lynch has one goal and one goal only, and that goal is to confuse us. Not even he understands what he is doing.

And that ruins Mulholland Drive for me. Do I recommend it? Well, in some respects, yes, I do. Not as a whole, but as bits and pieces. Realize that I can handle weird, but only when it is done tastefully. David Lyncch is an admirable director, and a lot of that will show here, but directing alone cannot save his film. A decent ending might’ve.

Final rating: ★★ (out of ★★★★)

© 2011 Stephen Earnest

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