I am extremely put out that I spent money on this film. It has gotten raves and hoopla from a variety of sources, more than David Lynch’s usual fringe freaks’ hullaballoo, so I thought I should see it before Oscar season gets going. My companion and I still trade articles about it in our fury to purge the experience. (PS thanks JW for some of the ammo below)
For the record, before I get carried away by my righteous hellfire, I must say that I am extremely impressed by Australian Naomi Watts: as an actor, as someone able to interpret an uninterpretable script while shooting out of sequence, and for her sheer bravery at some of the things she is asked to do and be and look like in this film. So kudos to Naomi, and my condolences that your breakout part could not have been in a more watchable film. She is an interesting Kim Novakian blend of super-modern and extremely old-fashioned, and occasionally other elements of the film follow suit. What she is asked to do in this film is very courageous – it’s good acting, but does good filmmaking automatically follow? Not at all. The film is performance art, it’s masturbation – apparently very fulfilling for the doer but pretty dang tiresome for the watcher.
Mulholland Drive is as elusive as the meaning of life, but far less interesting. Besides a few random non-sequitur scenes at the beginning (which are never resolved), the film kicks off with an almost Hitchcockian interest and tone, with old Hollywood archetypes meeting and greeting and immediately embarking on a fascinating mystery. Then, some weird randomness but it seems like reasonable randomness that will/should be explained later, a whetstone to keep us interested in what appears to be the central story.
Oh no! After a totally out of left field shift in priorities and mindsets on the parts of the two main ladies, a gratuitous and deus ex masturba sex scene is followed by a trip to a nightclub in the middle of the night, which immediately turns into something Salvador Dali might have painted after some bad paella. Not only does the movie and the plot take a very sharp turn, it does a bootleggers’ U-turn and dashes down an alley and shuts its headlights off while the unsuspecting audience drives by. It is an infuriating conceit on the part of Lynch to purposefully obscure any path to even interpretation, much less resolution.
Some have theorized that a fever dream (whose dream? Fever brought on by what?) begins at this juncture, but really, if it is a dream, what resolution is there? None! There are theories abounding (read the reader mail on salon.com for some serious amusement) as to what the various symbols mean, etc. What it boils down to, however, is that David Lynch enjoys sprinkling his work with obtuse randomness to make it seem deep and arty, with no intention of even providing the tools for the intelligent movie-goer to work it out. My companion loves art films and, as she puts it, can find a narrative in practically anything, and she was very disgusted by his blatant disregard for his audience. Yes, I am the first to admit that American movies are possibly the most guilty of the crime of dumbing down to the audience, but countless competent filmmakers (best recent example: Christopher Nolan, Memento) have shown that you can toy with the mind of the audience, withhold crucial information, and force them to come to their own conclusions about what they have just seen without being a pretentious sham-flanderer!
When an actor cannot possibly find the logic or justification for his dialogue in the script he reads, the dialogue cannot help but sound like a terrible student film. This is why student films largely seem as though they are ruled by the non-actor. With glaring exceptions on the part of Naomi Watts, who somehow can find a meaning in everything, most of the actors sounded like they were in physical pain, and therefore so were we. An early un-repeated scene in a diner somewhere felt like the worst entry in a contest. We are purposefully given no clues, visual or through dialogue, to know who these two men are, and the film decides never to resolve it.
And don’t get me started on Club Silencio and the Cowboy. It’s everything alienating about the weirdest of foreign films without the forgiving veil of the language barrier. And it lays it on thick.
Someone writing on Salon.com came up with this:
“Thematically, Lynch seems to be working out a number of things: the enticing but empty imagery of the movie screen; the accompanying imagery that is used as stardust to cover up the unpleasantries of the movie-making process; the imagery that the ambitious use to reimagine and remake themselves; and the imagery and imagination actors put to work to create their characters.”
Even taking that interpretation (which is not unreasonable) to an extreme, it does not forgive or excuse the sloppy filmmaking, horrible focus tricks, Myst I music track, wooden supporting characters forced to make a mini-scene real, and totally unjustified cross-back role changes. Yuck.
MPAA Rating R-violence, language, strong sexuality
Release date 10/12/01
Time in minutes 147
Director David Lynch
Studio Universal Focus