by RISHI AGRAWAL
Mulholland Dr. evolved out of a failed television pilot. And, ironically, what would have made a terrible TV show is one of the greatest films of the decade. Mulholland Dr. would have failed on television because one of its defining characteristics is its incomprehensibility. Some see this as a fatal flaw, but part of the reason it’s a great film is because of its ambiguities. This is a difficult film, and one that requires repeated viewings to enjoy. But what really resonates for me is that Mulholland Dr. has become a film that makes sense to me. I have an interpretation, and every time I watch the film, more pieces fall into place.
I don’t understand everything. I think that would go against David Lynch’s design. But as the characters unravel the mysteries of their own lives, I unravel the intricacies of the film. But like a life, there are difficult edges, parts that cannot be explained. And like a life, the interpretation is personal. As I said, I have my understanding of the film, but I am aware it’s not the only interpretation. There is no “correct” way of looking at the film. This is its beauty. The film can become what you want it to be.
So, if the film is difficult and requires repeated viewings, how is someone new to the film supposed to find inroads? First of all, there is one thing that I am sure of: that there is a change about three-quarters through the film, which divides the film into two realities. Perhaps the film starts in reality and becomes a dream after the change or vice versa. Perhaps the change signals a shift in time. Awareness of this change, however, is integral to finding meaning.
Secondly, on a first viewing, I would almost look at the film as a series of related vignettes. This is what initially drew me to the film. Each individual scene is brilliant with the film’s shadowy overtones and dark humor. And did I mention the intensity? Mulholland Dr. was filmed on a knife’s edge.
Finally, anyone who is at all interested in the film industry can enjoy it as Lynch’s toxic valentine to the business of making movies. We get many perspectives: from the wide-eyed Betty Elms (Naomi Watts), stepping off the plane to discover herself a brilliant actress to the hotshot director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) to the amnesiac outsider Rita (Laura Harring). But after the change, we get new perspectives. Naomi Watts becomes Diane Selwyn, a jaded actress consistently passed over for roles. Laura Harring becomes Camilla Rhodes (played by Melissa George before the change), a rising star who has romantic ties to both Diane and Adam and who possibly owes her success to a wide-reaching conspiracy that relies on intimidation.
But, alas, this is only one way of looking at the film. And perhaps that’s what makes the film intensely personal for me. It’s not as if I feel a deep connection to the characters or see pieces of my own life in the story. But, in a way, I feel like I built my own story from the Legos that David Lynch has provided.
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This review was published in conjunction with the Commentary Track “Best of the 2000s” series.