When David Lynch”s “Lost Highway” hit theaters back in 1997, its advertisements bragged “Two Thumbs Down! Siskel and Ebert two more great reasons to see “Lost Highway.”” This declaration reveals Lynch”s opinion of critics, especially their thoughts on his own mysterious, challenging films. While “Lost Highway” may have been an intense test of the limits of weirdness and inexplicability, “Mulholland Drive” treads similar territory but this time there is meaning shining through the darkness and maybe even a coherent structure depending the interpretation one adopts. Whatever meaning lies behind the madness, it is still exhilarating to sort out (or just plain view) the amazing puzzle of scenes and images that constitute Lynch”s latest film.
“Mulholland Drive” originated as a pilot for a show on ABC, but after completion ABC executives passed on the strange episode and no other network picked it up. Lynch went on to make “The Straight Story” and then later filmed new footage to craft “Mulholland Drive” into a feature film. Lynch shared the Best Director prize at this year”s Cannes Film Festival for his modern masterpiece.
After one of the most entertaining and bizarre opening sequences in recent memory (don”t worry, its inclusion will make sense later in the film), comes a violent car crash that leaves one survivor. The dazed and confused woman (Laura Harring) wanders into an empty apartment to rest and shower. At this same time, Betty (Naomi Watts) arrives in Los Angeles to achieve her dream of being an actress. When Betty arrives at the apartment of her aunt, who is in Canada shooting a movie, she finds the woman and instead of calling for help, she gives help herself. The car accident has left this woman with amnesia, not knowing who she or even what her name is. After she adopts the name Rita, Betty assists her in searching for her true identity.
Meanwhile, young successful director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) is recasting his lead actress role in a new film. The eccentric Brothers Castigliane, apparently affiliated with the mob, pressure Kesher and the studio to cast a certain Camilla Rhodes in the part, or else. Stripped of assets by these powerful men and then finding his wife locked in an affair with none other than a pool cleaner (Billy Ray Cyrus, of “Achy Breaky Heart” fame), Kesher”s future in this mad world of Hollywood looks dreary if he does not succumb to their demands.
There are various side plots as well that tie together the lives of Betty, Rita and Adam and may or may not shed light on who Rita really is. Several supporting characters pop up in scenes never to reappear it must be assumed that these are the faces that would have populated the continuous story lines of the TV series. However, even with a running time of two and a half hours, we only briefly witness the extraordinary world that might have been.
The largely no-name cast pulls off their roles with excellence. The unfamiliar faces leave no room for character connotations, they must be judged purely on the material presented. The anonymous status of each role enhances the mysteriousness of the characters and the situations they encounter.
Limiting “Mulholland Drive” to only one theme or narrative interpretation is a viewer”s shortcoming this film has the capacity for a different understanding after each viewing. Is it a satire of the manipulative and corruptive world of Hollywood as seen through the initially innocent, ambitious Betty and the film-auteur Adam? Or does it plainly question what is reality through the use of dreams and/or amnesia? Both? Neither? The point of the film is that there are no easy answers to these questions, and whatever a viewer takes from it is his own unique version.
Lynch spends his spare-time painting, sometimes incorporating dead birds and raw meat. Like his paintings, Lynch”s films can be controversial, abstract, but also endlessly intriguing. Art should not always be easily comprehensible, that is what makes it art.