Fresh off the back of being voted the best film of the 21st Century last year, Mulholland Drive—that creeping, curious, oppressive enigma you didn’t understand first time round, and thought you understood second time round but still checked google to be sure—is back in cinemas this 14 April. David Lynch’s puzzling masterpiece receives a 4K restoration, supervised by the director himself, and a full cinematic release by ICO distribution. Maybe sixteen years on, we’ll finally wrap our heads around this LA-fantasy-come-(maybe)-murder-mystery…
The film begins on its titular avenue, twisting and turning through the Hollywood hills. A limo carries an unnamed starlet (Laura Harring) to an unknown destination. The ride, it turns out, is a hit job; the beautiful passenger is the target. Before the deed can be done, however, a car crash sends the assassins flying and the concussed femme staggering through LA’s empty streets. She ends up in the plush apartment of an ex-movie producer, currently occupied by niece and wannabe actress Betty (Naomi Watts). The two form a friendship and attempt to repiece the victim’s lost memories. The search leads them through the grim back alleys and perplexing studio sets of the west coast metropolis. No sooner do they find clues than the narrative spirals into further mysterious intrigues and alternate realities.
Attempting to explain the plot of Mulholland Drive is in many ways a thankless endeavour. You can outline the progression of events and you can describe your emotions, but actually summing up the entity as a whole – the crushing, bizarro world, busting at the seams with non-sequiturs and spin-off scenes – is impossible… and just when you think you’ve got it, the plot slips through your fingers and into a Pandora’s box. The nightmarish characters that loom from behind parking lots and within claret rooms are as much the centre of the film as Naomi Watts and Laura Harring.
Mulholland Drive. Independent Cinema Office.
A waking nightmare is currently the going explanation for the Lynch’s masterpiece. Diane Selwyn—Naomi Watts’ character in the film’s second half—slides into a drug-induced sleep following the order of a hit on her once lover Camilla (Laura Harring’s second performance) and imagines an alternate reality (Mulholland Drive’s first half) where she is a young ingénue (Betty) arriving in Hollywood who then becomes entangled in a lustful mystery with an alter ego of her former flame. (Don’t worry if you are confused: you’re meant to be.) The film’s peculiarities—the philosophical cowboy, the intercommed mob boss and the disfigured woman—are all fleshed-out versions of the surreal horrors one perpetually encounters in fever dreams.
There is a patchy lucidity to Lynch’s fantasies, however, that fan-theories less frequently embrace. Although one half of the film is ‘real’ and another is a ‘dream’, the line between the two states is blurred. The opening act of this oddity—the dream half—is dotted with scenes of pretence – script readings, auditions and rehearsals. Yet these moments of clearly earmarked theatricality are shot so as to appear more cinematically credible to the viewer than Mulholland Drive’s intentionally ironic day-time soap aesthetic. We, as an audience, are led to believe in moments we know to be ‘false’. That which is false can also become true. As the petrified Tom re-enacts his haunting dream in Winkie’s diner, the events start to become ‘real’, and he is confronted with the very monster he pictures in his dreams. Who is to say that Diane’s drugged nightmare isn’t made real through being acted out? “There is no band” proclaims the mysterious club Silencio compere, “and yet we hear a band.” In this hellish city of phonies dreams are as, if not more, real than reality.
Mulholland Drive. Independent Cinema Office.
Looking back at MulhollandDrive’s spiralling debates a decade and a half on adds a new element to the cryptic spectacle. To our modern eyes, Lynch’s Los Angeles of the early noughties – itself an homage to the film noir metropolises of the post-war era – now feels like a distorted time-capsule. You recognise everything – the street design, the cars, the fashion. It’s basically the same now, apart from it all feels just a little… off. You know you used to wear that style of clothes, but did it really look like that?! Caught between the present and the past, the 2000s have a slight dream-like quality. You remember a time when you embodied this former world you can now only access through memories and the screen, but like remembering a dream once awake, the solidity of that experience is fading out of consciousness into ‘history’.
Most people will remember the first time they watched Mulholland Drive. It’s one of those epoch-defining films where you can recall which cinema you saw it in and who you tried to unravel the plot with afterward. Watching it again will serve the same function – you could spend your lifetime pouring over this teaser and still always finish with something new to say. Catch Mulholland Drive again on this rerelease and remember all those things you thought you’d dreamed and were glad you’d forgotten.
Mulholland Drive is screening in selected theatres from 14 April.