There is a sequence at the end of the film’s second act where our two female leads attend the theatre known as the Club Silencio where the Magician comes out on stage and proclaims, “This is all a recording. It’s all a tape. It is an illusion!” That description can perfectly sum up the strange, mesmerising, dreamlike quality of David Lynch’s magnum opus, Mulholland Drive. This is a film that constantly has us questioning whatever we are experiencing is real or an illusion. What we are experiencing is dream or reality. Is there something behind the curtain or around the corner? What is the truth behind the words behind the words? Where will our dreams and desires take us in the end? Are dreams and nightmares one in the same? You are constantly lost and immersed in Lynch’s multi-layered and multifaceted take on Los Angeles and the characters that inhabit it, you can’t help but question the reality of the situation surrounding these characters, especially when it takes a very different turn in the last act of the film.
Lynch has refused to comment on the meaning and symbolism of Mulholland Drive in the years since its release, which has led to years of speculation, discussions, and various interpretations since. Justin Theroux, who plays the unfortunate director Adam Kesher, claims that Lynch really enjoys it when “people come up with really bizarre interpretations. David works from his subconscious”. That cerebral yet surreal approach to storytelling can put off casual viewers who were expecting a much more straightforward approach, but like it or not, this is how Lynch’s approaches filmmaking and storytelling. This isn’t a mystery that gets solved by the end, but instead something you must go away and think about once it’s over. Lynch utilises a fragmented chain of cause and effect to tell his story, which challenges the audience and has them thinking about what’s transpiring on screen.
Granted, trying to fully comprehend and understand every single detail of Mulholland Drive can be hard, and some have even warned about overanalysing it too much, claiming there is no mystery to solve, no explanation whatsoever. Maybe, to quote Clémence Poésy from Tenet, the other best way to approach Mulholland Drive is not trying to understand it but to “feel it”. There are many ways to approach this film, and granted, not everyone will be on board for it, but there is a reason why it’s stood the test of time since its release and it’s a testament to David Lynch that he keeps us engaged throughout thanks to the superb technicality and craft that’s on display. Peter Deming’s lucid cinematography is mesmerising to behold, capturing the beautifully dreamlike yet nightmarish landscape of LA, while Angelo Badalamenti fashions an ambient score that’s atmospheric and dangerously foreboding.
The performances delivered by its cast are all iconic and memorable, particularly Naomi Watts who gives the breakthrough performance of her career, being incredibly daring and raw as she perfectly conveys the feelings of happiness, sadness, frustration, hopefulness, sensuality, and depression effortlessly. Watts explained how much she greatly struggled breaking through into the acting industry prior to starring in this film, so this truly was the film that made Watts a star, and it’s not hard to see why. Also, equally as good and deserving of enormous praise is the enigmatic yet alluring Laura Elena Harring, who’s electrifying chemistry and dynamic with Watts provides the emotional backbone of the entire film and it’s a shame Harring hasn’t starred in roles as this since then.
In the BBC’s 100 Greatest Films of the 21st Century poll in 2016, Mulholland Drive was at the no. 1 spot and it isn’t hard to see why given its big reputation and the endless discussions about it since its release. This is a film you can approach from many different angles; you can either overanalyse every single aspect about it to find and discover the true meaning of it behind its symbolism or you can just relax and go with the flow, not thinking about it and just trust it. That is how Lynch works and why his work is much talked about and can be approached on many different levels. That’s the genius of his works and the genius to Mulholland Drive’s lasting legacy.
Mulholland Drive 4K UHD Collector’s Edition is available on December 6.