Wednesday, February 10, 2010
In many ways, David Lynch's Mulholland Drive is a cinematic achievement for the ages. It is a magical film, with sets sure to take the breath away of any film lover. The soundtrack from Lynch regular Angelo Badalamenti is nothing short of brilliant, and the cinematography of Peter Deming is on the same artistic level. There is an immense feeling of captivation while watching this film, and that is the cornerstone of the experience. Lynch is really not attempting to tell any form of a legitimate, logical story, but rather he is attempting to immerse the viewer in a dream-like atmosphere, and for the most part, the film works. Many people consider this to be the film of the 2000s, and while Naomi Watts' lead performance is worthy of that kind of recognition, the storyline is so weak that it nearly ruins the experience as a whole. It's certainly one of the most memorable films I've seen in years, but the staggering lack of coherency kept it from being a historic achievement in my eyes.
Like I said before, there really isn't a story to this film. There are characters, however, and they start with Betty Elms (Watts), an aspiring actress who, at the beginning of the film, is making her fateful trip to Hollywood. When she arrives at her aunt's beautiful place, there is a strange woman in the shower (Laura Elena Harring). Earlier, in the film's opening scene, this woman was involved in a brutal car accident, and she is presumably experiencing amnesia. Unable to explain her presence to Betty, the two decide to go on a journey to find the truth.
Lynch sets this film up like a mystery, and it's a big reason why the ending is so unsatisfying. It is similar to the problems I have with a few of Michael Haneke's films. Lynch really has no desire to provide any answers by the end of this 147 minute journey, yet he still chooses to have the film play out like a puzzle. Throughout the mesmerizing first two hours, various hints are dropped along the way, leading the viewer to believe that all of these pieces will somehow come together by the end. Well, not only do they not come together, but Lynch doesn't even make an attempt to bring them together. He ends the film in such a way that suggests everything we have just seen is meaningless. While this might work for some on a "mind bending" sort of a level, it doesn't work for me.
I was not surprised to read that the writer/director had initially pitched this story as a pilot for a TV series. If I had watched this film as a TV pilot, I would have been itching to see the next episode because it is such a brilliant set up. However, in the world of film, writers and directors are afforded much less time to resolve their stories, and Lynch has seemingly not made this realization (or he just doesn't care). There are times when ambiguous endings are effective, but this is not one of them. At about the two hour mark, Mulholland Drive becomes a completely different film, and for me, it did so in a distasteful manner.
With all of its issues and problems, Mulholland Drive still succeeds as a gripping two-and-a-half hour piece of suspense, and completely engrossing an audience for that long is no easy feat. A lot of its success is due to the previously mentioned score and dreamy cinematography, but there is also a performance by Naomi Watts that will live on for some time. It's a daring, haunting piece of acting, certainly among the most ambitious efforts of the past ten years. There is a scene where her character Betty is auditioning for a role in a film, and that scene in itself is reason enough to see this picture. I can't remember a time when an actor has displayed such range of emotions in such little time, and it seemed to me like that her entire audition was accomplished with a single take.
I will remember Mulholland Drive as one of the most symbolic make or break films of modern cinema. The third act is the type of twist that -- depending on the viewer's interpretation and response -- will either make the film an undeniable masterpiece, or, in my case, a muddled effort. In my heart of hearts, I still think Mulholland Drive is an experience worth taking, and I don't want to be the person to tell you not to see this film. This whole exercise is one big, epic dream, and everyone should have the chance to take it all in. It is a massive film, to the point where it demands multiple viewings, but the lingering sense of incongruity goes a long way towards compromising the entire project.