The 21st Century’s 10 Greatest Films: Mulholland Drive

Sean McGurk continues to list his top ten greatest films of the 21st century. Next up, Mulholland Drive:

Why do films need to make sense?

Pretty Woman once invented the infamous quote – “This is Hollywood; the land of dreams.” This line has never been taken more profoundly than in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, a torturing labyrinth of a masterpiece that transports you into the unconscious realm of Los Angeles’ broken dreams.

Mulholland Drive is like a weird dream”

We travel on an enthralling full-scale rollercoaster that examines Hollywood’s schizophrenic character – from its mixture of beauty and sordidness topped with naivety and immorality. An accurate metaphor for this mesmerising nightmare is visiting one of those strange Asian restaurants where they serve an enticing-looking dish yet you are still hesitant – the chef is Lynch, cackling eagerly.

Pieced together from scenes of a rejected TV pilot (because it was too complicated for producers), Mulholland Drive begins with the aspiring bubbly actress Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) who lands in Hollywood so that she can live out her dreams. There she meets the voluptuous Rita (Laura Harring) – a survivor of a car accident that has left her with amnesia; they set about discovering how she came to this exact predicament.

There are various subplots that play throughout the fascinating ride such as a young film director (Justin Theroux) being intimidated into casting a certain leading actress by superior powers; these potential powers could be Mr Roque, a shadowy figure controlling the corrupt film industry in his wheelchair. Characters are always coming and going. There is even a perplexing cowboy who turns up at random moments just to add to the utter madness of the so-called plot that I can only scratch the surface of. Throughout we are constantly drowned in inexplicable humour, theatrical incidents and the astounding unknown.

Lynch returns to his favoured twisted works of Eraserhead and Blue Velvet after his success in linear narrative films like The Elephant Man and The Straight Story. This distillation of Tinseltown oscillates bizarrely between modern times and the pop culture element of sixty-year-old flicks like Sunset Boulevard and 8 ½, paying tribute to the mystical film noir. Furthermore, the ominous score adds to the mystery while (at the time relatively unknown) Watts is stunning as the epitome of the typical innocent wannabe actress. She ties down every inflammatory instinct under Betty’s bright exterior, none more so than in the majestic audition scene.

Mulholland Drive is like a weird dream we want to get out of, but can only watch what is projected in front of us in awe until we’re let go from the clutches of our unconscious. Lynch plays on this theme – two-thirds through we wake up bewildered and are expected to link the puzzles together despite the jigsaw being seemingly impossible to solve. Lynch is teasing us – there is something infinitely captivating beneath its compulsively watchable dreamlike veneer that prioritises questions not answers. Maybe I’ve gone mad but this film works.

I do not recommend Mulholland Drive if you require logic, however if you want your brain cells scattered across the room then that’s a different proposition entirely. I’ve personally watched it a few times now, each time reading various internet theories to propel my knowledge for the next time I slip into the unconscious – yet I find myself back at the beginning of the maze every time. So I’ll admit it – I have no clue what the hell is happening in Mulholland Drive. But do I care? Ironically the less I understand it, the more I love it.


Sean McGurk

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Media courtesy of Les Films Alain Sarde, and Asymmetrical Productions

EntertainmentFilm & TV

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