Film review: Mulholland Dr (2001)

Originally was going to be a made for TV production, ended up being a film. A star making performance by attractive Naomi Watts.

All his career, director David Lynch has made films that demand something from his audience. The story doesn’t have a traditional beginning middle and end. On the DVD, Lynch himself has reluctantly provided David Lynch’s 10 clues to unlocking Mulholland Dr (To be fair, I don’t know if you can ever fully understand a Lynch film, but some of the major structures may be solvable)

The movie makes detectives of the audience. For example, notice how the cup changes into a glass above. The story is like a dream most of the time, we must try and decode what’s reality and what’s a dream world.

Los Angeles is in many ways the main character in Mulholland Drive, and together with Angelo Badalamenti's music is a very atmospheric location. It’s a place where everyone dreams of being someone, or something else. It can make a few of those dreams come true, while shattering the rest. It’s the city where many would-be actors have two names – the one they were given at birth and the one created especially for their successful other selves.

Roads seem to appear often in Lynchs films.
Lynch: “And Fellini’s La Strada is one of my favourite films! A road, I’ve been thinking, is a moving forward into the unknown and that’s compelling to me. That’s also what films are – the lights go down, the curtain opens and away we go, but we don’t know where we’re going” (quoted from the book Lynch on Lynch)

Spoilers ahead: Lynch talks about the Naomi Watts character from Mulholland Drive in the interview book Lynch on Lynch:

“This particular girl – Diane – sees things she wants but she just can’t get them. It’s all there – the party – but she’s not invited. And it gets to her. You could call it fate – if it doesn’t smile on you, there’s nothing you can do. You can have the greatest talent and the greatest ideas, but if that door doesn’t open, you’re fresh out of luck. It takes so many ingredients and the door opening, to finally make it. There are jokes about how in LA everyone has got a resume and a photo. So there’s a yearning to get the chance to express yourself – a sort of creativity in the air. Everyone is willing to go for broke and take a chance. It’s a modern town in that way. It’s like you want to go to Las Vegas and turn that one dollar into a million dollars. Sunset Boulevard (1950) says so much about that Hollywood dream thing to me”

Interviewer: And you’ve included some specific references, or allusions to Wilder’s movie in your own?
Lynch: “There’s a shot in Mulholland Drive of a street sign that says Sunset Boulevard. I would have loved to put a small piece of the original music in there”.
Lost Highway seemed to occupy at least two completely different decades. Mulholland Drive is also defiantly contemporary and yet it has a feeling that it’s happening in the past – the fifties or even the thirties and forties. Lynch: “But that’s so much like our actual lives. Many times during the day we plan for the future, and many times in that day we think of the past. We’re listening to retro radio, and watching retro TV. There are all kinds of opportunities to re-live the past and there are new things coming up every second”

Asked about what genre Mulholland Drive fits into, Lynch answers:
“There may be noir elements in Mulholland Drive, and a couple of genres swimming around in there together. For me, it’s a love story (...) All the characters are dealing somewhat with a question of identity. Like everyone” (Lynch on Lynch, page 269-293)

I’ve also read the “cowboy” could be interpreted as a meta level, Lynch speaking directly to the audience through that character.

Cowboy: “You will see me one more time, if you do good, you’ll see me two more times, if you do bad”
In other words, talking about how many viewings it would take for you to better understand the ambiguity.

A lot of trademark Lynch can be observed, dreams, nods to the 50s, taboo sexuality, downright weirdness, the use of electricity and lamps, music provided by composer Angelo Badalamenti, etc. A clue to solving what’s going on I heard about in the actors studio, where host James Lipton says the name on the badge the waitress is wearing is different depending on who’s looking at her, so someone must be wrong.

Among my favourite Lynch films. Several scenes play out as comedy, which is part of the charm and appeal for me, the director shows he has a sense of humour and doesn't take everything too seriously.

Although not horror, to me, the film at times has the atmosphere of a video game like Phantasmagoria, where you play a beautiful blond trying to solve a mystery with dangers lurking around every corner, keys and secret doors, etc.



Readers, any thoughts on Mulholland Dr?


  1. This was one hell of a film-viewing experience for me. The film's uniqueness and the director's audacity really stunned me. And not to forget, what a superlative performance by Naomi Watts!

  2. @Shubhajit: Mulholland Dr certainly is special. One of Lynch's best - having said that he seldom makes bad movies- even Dune(supposedly the only film he made he is not happy with) is fairly interesting to me.
    Yeah, its strange how Naomi Watts' career took off, while we don't see much of Laura Harring,I can't recall anything else she's done?

  3. this is one of my favorite movies... to me there's something mesmerizing about lynch's idea of dreams and reality, and the interplay between the two, and awakening... how reality can effect one's dreams (how real experiences and people can manifest themselves in dreams), but dreams can't effect reality. like naomi watts has this dream to be successful but in the end her reality is much worse than what she had dreamed. her dream seems to make more sense plot wise (the first 2/3 of the movie) but in the final 1/3, when we see her dismal reality, all hell breaks loose, and she loses all control... her dream was the only thing she could control.

  4. @ William Brower: The way Lynch uses dreams , and how the american dream is examined in Mulholland Dr sure is interesting. I agree with that interpretation of Naomi Watts' character. I guess the film to me is about disillusionment at the end of the day. Comparable to Lynch's Lost Highway, the dreams sort of become her escape from her harsh reality. I think I disagree with you that "dreams can't effect reality", a number of artists have use their dreams to create art, "dr jekyll and mr hyde" was based on a dream the authour had I heard. It funny how you say she can control her dream, because normally dreams are very abstract and uncontrollable, I guess there is a difference between a day dream, and a sleeping dream. Watts' character is probably experiencing a day dream I think in the first 2/3.
    Anyway, thanks for stopping by and becoming a follower! ( :

  5. Great review. This is one of my favorite films too. I fell in love with the dreamlike atmosphere, and Naomi Watts.

  6. @Bonjour Tristesse: Great film indeed, the dreamlike atmosphere makes me forget time and place, which the best films can do.


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