Awarded the position of ‘Greatest film of the 21st Century’ by a team of 177 critics, it is impossible to deny the worth of Mulholland Drive. Even someone as critical of director David Lynch’s work as Roger Ebert acknowledged the great achievements of the film, stating his feeling that Lynch had been ‘working toward’ the film his entire career.
It follows Naomi Watts’ Betty Elms as she dives deeper into the glamorous world of Hollywood. The life she leads has all the wonder and spectacle a bright-eyed aspiring actor could hope for as they start their career. Away from the sun-drenched land of dreams Betty finds Los Angeles to be, there are mysterious goings-on and dark and dodgy deals happening. When at last, these two worlds collide at Club Silencio, the result is devastating for Betty and her lover Rita.
At first promising a loving tribute to the golden age of Hollywood cinema, the creeping malevolence of certain aspects turns the film on its head. Even its name harkens back to Hollywood’s halcyon years, mirroring the title of the famed Sunset Boulevard, a film of the era from which Mulholland Drive borrows, both being significant and famed street of Los Angeles. Another tentative connection exists between the two films as Sunset Boulevard features a minor character called Gordon Cole, whose name Lynch appropriates for a character he himself plays in his famed television series, Twin Peaks.
The stunning success of this riddle-like film was never a certainty, however, as the film was initially produced as a pilot for a television series planned by David Lynch. The television executives rejected it, and so the open-ended nature of the film, whilst a staple of Lynch’s work, was not entirely planned. It also served to connect the film’s content to the reality of Lynch’s experiences as the power of creatives in Lynch’s Hollywood is surrendered to the moneymen and executives.
To help people in solving the film’s central quandary, or perhaps to further cloud the matter, Lynch released the film on home media with a series of ten clues. Whether anyone has truly solved the enigma is perhaps impossible. The film is woven through with Lynch’s familiar dream logic and denies easy answers. It’s surely fitting that a film set in the city sometimes called the city of dreams, and deals so much in fantasy, is this much of a conundrum. Only here, in this film, the dreams of the city are not all aspirations but also nightmares and horrors lurking around the corners.
Words by Liam McNally.