Mulholland Dr. (Spine #779) is a 2001 psychological-horror film written and directed by notorious auteur David Lynch, starring Naomi Watts and Laura Harring. Currently, Lynch has only one other film in the collection: Eraserhead (Spine #725).
It begins with a car crash. A woman (Harring) stumbles from the smoldering wreckage of a limousine into a lush Los Angeles apartment, wholly bewildered. There, she finds perky and wide-eyed Betty (Watts), and together they embark on a hazy, surreal journey for identity and that elusive fiction known to most as the truth. As is the norm for a Lynch artwork, nothing is clear-cut and everything and everyone carries an ulterior motive. What follows is one of the most soporific and unsettling films of the past half century.
Lynch comes from the school of artists who “show rather than tell,” and his films benefit exponentially from this method of storytelling. For example, in around the middle of the movie, Lynch’s camera descends into the inky nebula of an enigmatic blue box (not totally unlike the similarly penetrative and investigative shot into a severed ear in Blue Velvet). Lynch is explicitly illustrating the type of cinematic “rabbit hole” the audience is about to travel into but simultaneously giving the vaguely distressing feeling that something sinister is about to take place. The very start of the film shows a group of what seem to be Midwestern teens dancing a sort of jitterbug, set against an ever-shifting purple backdrop with flickers of light pulsing in and out until the scattered image of Betty and two elderly people become visible. Eerily old fashioned dance music escalates steadily in the background, going from harmless to beyond uncomfortable. As a whole, the sequence is positively disconcerting. The 1950s-era wholesome Midwestern vibe of the teenage dancers is juxtaposed with the sheer absurdity and surrealism of the backdrop and soundtrack. Much of Mulholland Dr. is about taking the tropes and well-worn themes of the past (i.e. old Hollywood; noir; romance) and subverting them into something new, terrifying, and deliberately ominous.
What begins as an almost quotidian “detective” story evolves into an intricate tapestry of some of the darkest undercurrents of the world: deceit, lust, and murder. Though there isn’t much in terms of a traditional conclusion, the unshakable feeling of fear and confusion–abandonment, even–serves as the bow, tying the whole film together. Every shot adds up to this. In one scene, a horribly disheveled man–the stuff of nightmares–lurks behind a fast-food establishment. Is he the seedy underbelly of the elite Hollywood culture? The representation of everything those people fear? Is he the human subconscious? Lynch doesn’t make it clear, and it’s better that way. It is the unnamed, looming shadow in the corner of one’s eye that makes the pit in one’s stomach grow heavy. Putting a name to it lessens the effect. Lynch understands this nature of fear better than anyone, and he utilizes it better than anyone.
In terms of Criterion’s extras, the director and DP Peter Deming supervised digital restoration of the film and that is really all that one needs. The picture is sharper than it ever has been, allowing for a much more immersive and engrossing viewing experience. Other than that, the release is fairly run-of-the-mill with the supplements. The boxes for interviews and behind the scenes footage are checked off, with little else to dive into. However, the Criterion booklet for the film has a wonderful interview between Chris Rodley and Lynch, from Rodley’s book Lynch on Lynch. It’s utterly revealing stuff, filled with Lynch’s trademark dry sense of humor.
Mulholland Dr. is a thickly atmospheric and darkly beautiful exploration of the human desire, identity, and Hollywood. Both horrifying and occasionally hilarious, it can and should be certainly designated as David Lynch’s ultimate masterpiece.
Film Grade: A+
Criterion Grade: B