9/10 (cheesy acting, uncomfortably weird)
If you haven’t seen any David Lynch films, reading a review will probably not be that helpful. You really have to see a Lynch film to understand what he’s all about. You can’t do him justice talking about him. Even after having seen all of his movies but for “Dune,” words still fail me. “Blue Velvet,” along with “Mulholland Drive” and “Wild at Heart,” would be solid places to start, although I’m not sure there’s really a best Lynch film to serve as orientation. They are almost all disturbing in their own ways.
Out of 10 feature films, Lynch has made 4 more-or-less mainstream movies with “The Elephant Man,” “Dune,” “Wild at Heart,” and “The Straight Story.” The other 6 vary in degrees of weirdness, but they all have it. In this weird majority of his films, I think I can best put it by describing the strong sensation I get from watching them. David Lynch appears to literally film his dreams, like he just scribbled down a particularly vivid dream after waking up in the morning and then decided to flesh it out into a feature length film. They all have a floating, detached quality, and they all include haunting imagery and scenery, and the narrative is often times incoherent. But they all leave you with the feeling that you’ve witnessed something unforgettable, and they stay with you afterwards.
“Mulholland Drive” is one of his most nightmarish films, and one of his best. It is the story of aspiring actress Betty (Naomi Watts), who arrives in L.A. and is staying at her vacationing aunt’s house when she finds “Rita” (Laura Elena Harring), an amnesiac who has stumbled into the apartment with nothing except a purse full of money and a blue key. In their search for the answer to the mystery, there is a director being blackmailed to cast Camilla Rhodes in his film, a monster living behind a diner, and main characters switching identities about 2/3 of the way through the movie. In short, Lynchian hijinks ensue.
What does it all mean? I have an idea, but it doesn’t really matter. Lynch wants it ambiguous, because dreams (and nightmares) are ambiguous. “Mulholland” is certainly a critique of the hypocritical Hollywood culture on some level, but it’s also a tragic love story. The most important parts for me are the images that Lynch creates: the blue box, the monster, The Cowboy, and most of all the incredible episode in “Club Silencio” when Betty and Rita (and the audience) are warned that everything is an illusion. Two minutes later, however, we are all shocked when the singer of a heartbreakingly gorgeous Spanish rendition of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” collapses on the stage. I would whole-heartedly recommend the entire movie to anybody just to see those two minutes of film.
Lynch’s ambiguity reminds me of the Coen brothers to some extent, in that both directing groups have acknowledged that they don’t create movies with a specific message in mind, but rather go by instinct. I have expressed my problems with the Coens on this front (see “Barton Fink”), but for some reason it doesn’t bother me when Lynch does it.
I think it’s because the Coens are more malicious with their ambiguity. They seem to try to trick the audience into believing there is a higher symbolic meaning to their films, only to cheerfully acknowledge afterward that there isn’t. This means they craft a film with a mainstream audience in mind, that for all intents and purposes seems coherent and like it should mean something. But then it doesn’t. This seems underhanded to me, like the definition of a tease.
Lynch doesn’t resort to such tactics, nor does he worry about disturbing people by going too dark. By staying true to his instincts on their base level, even at their most sinister point, and not trying to doll them up to be more palatable, he produces something on-screen that seems much more authentic (or much less contrived, whichever you prefer). Lynch’s films don’t feel like a tease. They feel like a steaming slice of some strange, subconscious pie that he slaps onto a cold plate and leaves for you to digest as you see fit.
“Mulholland Drive” is both deeply beautiful and disturbing, and it’s a must-see for any courageous filmgoer. If you are new to Lynch, I would recommend “Blue Velvet” before this, but you can’t go wrong with either — they are both hugely representative.
28 March 2010