Mulholland Dr.

mulhollanddrHe’s famous for thwarting the basic desire of an audience (we never did find out who killed Laura Palmer), so it comes as a surprise that David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. does give us, at least in one scene, exactly what we want: Billy Ray Cyrus punched in the face.

Mulholland Dr. is full of little such pleasures, and it has some of the most arresting scenes of humor, drama and suspense I’ve seen in a thriller. None of the scenes add up, but neither do they collapse into a mishmash, like the execrable Lost Highway (1997). Lynch has hit the right note; he has perfected his anti-formula. Though it makes about as much (or little) sense as anything he’s done, he’s finally made a film that is a joy to watch.

Just as there is a story told, of a sort, there is some sense to be found – of a sort. Naomi Watts is a small-town girl who, after winning a jitterbug contest in Ontario, comes to make it big in Hollywood. At her aunt’s apartment, she finds a strange woman who doesn’t remember her name and who has a wound on her head. Justin Theroux is a director whose life breaks down when he refuses to cast a specific girl in his film – later he is told by an enigmatic cowboy that everything will be fixed if he plays ball. And the amnesiac woman has a purse full of money and a mysterious blue key… And it may be that the two women are not who they think they are, but they could be each other; or perhaps they’re in their own separate hells…

It is, seemingly, typical Lynch madness. But the manner in which he constructs the scenes, and consequently the overall narrative, is so individually compelling that this time we feel we can go along with him. Rather than alienate us with the oddity of the whole picture, the apparent isolation of each scene helps us to stay in the film.

Let me illustrate. Early on, just as we’re sure we know where it is going, the movie jumps to a scene with characters we haven’t met, right into the middle of a conversation for which we have no context. The dialogue is between two men about a dream, and afterwards they walk outside. But it is more suspenseful, and ultimately more terrifying, than any scene I’ve watched since Se7en. In the last few moments of the movie, the scene is given a bolder context, but until then it rests atop Mulholland Dr. as an interesting digression, a piece to darken the mood of everything after.

Using small moments of simple ideas, the film meshes a narrative that is wholly inscrutable. Despite one frightening and effective scene (that involves Robert Blake, ho ho ho), there was nothing to relate to in Lost Highway. Though interesting, it was never emotionally investing, mainly because it loved its weirdness a bit too much. In Mulholland Dr., when an Italian gangster orders an espresso and a napkin, drinks the espresso, then drools it out onto the napkin, it is shown as weird – as something out of the ordinary – and we are thus clued in as to how we can relate to it.

Having curbed his need to show bizarre and distasteful violence, Lynch makes the movie funny and frightening, and ultimately very human. This trace was absent in most of his previous films, and to me they felt kind of empty. Mulholland Dr. may be weird, but it is not empty.

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