NOTE: The original rating for this film was ***1/2, but after a second viewing and careful consideration, the rating has been bumped up to ****.
David Lynch is a piece of work, isn't he? He is a shock artist and a ringmaster, a jester and a magician. He specializes in the strange and frightening, the kind of stuff that could scare and confound at the same time. Although he did take a short departure from the abnormal with "The Straight Story", his latest film, "Mulholland Drive", bounces him back in full force. How can one summarize this kind of film? I might say it is "Waking Life" crossed with "The Exorcist". Whatever it is, it is purely Lynchian. Welcome to David Lynch's latest screaming nightmare.
It is hard to sort out what a synopsis of the plot of this movie might contain. Most obviously, we have Laura Harring as a Hollywood actress suffering from amnesia after being a victim of an enormous car crash. She calls herself Rita (after Rita Hayworth) and eventually finds her way to the apartment of Betty Elms (Naomi Watts in a profoundly disturbing performance), an aspiring young actress whose dream is to make it into the movies. Together, they try to put together the pieces of Rita's past. Oh yes, there is also Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux), a film director being pressed (that is the polite way to put it) by Mafioso to put "their girl" into one of his pictures. And then there's the two in the bar that discover a nightmare come true, a hit man who isn't having a very good day, a fuzzy creature in the back of a Winkies coffee shop and a club named Silencio. What do they all have to do with each other? There are many possible interpretations of "Mulholland Drive". Below is mine. If you have not seen the film and don't wish to have the surprises ruined (or just don't want to be completely and utterly confused), skip the next couple of paragraphs.
The film revolves around Diane/Betty. The first half of the film is complete fantasy; revolving around everything Diane wants and wishes to be. Or is it her afterlife? The second half of the film shows the real world as Diane saw it. Hollywood treats Diane terribly. The one person she loves is going around with other men (and women). Her dreams of becoming a Hollywood superstar are crushed in the shadow of Camilla Rhodes. In real life, Diane orders for Camilla to be killed. In her fantasy world/afterlife, the hit never happened. Instead, Camilla is the only survivor of the car crash that saved her from being shot. All she has with her is a bag full of money and a strange triangular blue key. She becomes the ideal Camilla (now Rita), one who can't remember anything about her former life and can only focus on Diane. Diane also pictures herself as the ideal, an innocent starry-eyed dreamer who has real talent ("Betty Elms"). The director who stole Camilla away from her is a stupid klutz who is now getting what he deserves, being followed and harassed by menacing mafia agents. With all other "distractions" out of the picture and a mystery to bring her and Rita together, things could not be more perfect for Betty. Perfect, until clues of her real life start to invade her little fantasy.
First, little (seemingly unimportant) things start to happen. We see a waitress named Diane, a hit man hanging around a girl whose name happens to be Camilla Rhodes. In one key scene, Betty also gets a good look at Adam Kesher. She does not know yet, but that is the beginning of her awakening from the illusion she has created for herself. She finds a dead body that may or may not be hers, and after her fantasy night with Rita, she arrives at Club Silencio. If this is indeed her afterlife, then Betty's coming to Club Silencio is like the judgment day, with the lady up in the balcony as the judge. The leader of ceremonies remarks upon how life is but an illusion. This may seem like a harmless musing to the first-time viewer, but it's true meaning will reveal itself in time. Invisible lightning seems to strike Betty and shake her violently. Here is her key moment of realization. She finally can look at her life honestly; see the cold, harsh truth without sugarcoated optimism. So when she arrives home, there is nothing more left for her to do; she vanishes. However, Rita, still in her jaded state, is not able to see the truth just yet. When she finds a small cube with a lock to match her blue key (note the parallel to Pandora's Box), the truth shall be revealed to her then. Now we see what really happened, the demons that led Diane to end her life and the pain that Camilla inflicted upon her. By the end of the film, both have fulfilled their duty in the afterlife and entered the silent state. To see beyond themselves, to see how the world really treated them and how they dealt with it was what their purpose was after death.
"Mulholland Drive" gives no clear meaning to the dreams we see onscreen. Much of the film still does not make sense. Who is the monster living in the alley behind Winkies? Why did the hit man steal a black book from a screenwriter? What does this all have to do with everything? One thing is for sure, the whole affair is quite remarkable. Little optimism is to be found amongst the horror, unless it is a figment of a character's imagination. Sometimes, maybe a dream come true is really a nightmare. Maybe we will not know until it is too late. Silencio.