Words by Matt Poe

“Mulholland Drive” (2001)

Netflix Star Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Poe’s Star Rating: 4 out of 5 (I don’t know what the hell I just watched but I liked it)

A woman suffering from amnesia because of a car accident enlists the help of an aspiring actress to piece together what happened in a tale of illusion and dreams.

Category: Mystery, Thriller, Psychological

Rated R for violence, language and some strong sexuality

Starring Naomi Watts, Justin Theroux and Laura Herring

Written and directed by David Lynch

Welcome back to another rousing edition of Poe’s Picks. As you regular readers have grown accustomed to, I like to start the blog by airing out any grievances or issues I see fit. But today, there is no time for that. Instead, we’re going to dive right into the review of this movie because I have been fundamentally shaken to my core after watching “Mulholland Drive.”

I wrapped this film up late last night and it is still lingering with me for a variety of reasons; I’m not the same man I was prior to completing this film. What little sanity and understanding of this world I had left was stripped away by David Lynch and “Mulholland Drive.”

At this point, I’m seriously questioning everything: Are there other realities existing and operating within our own? Am I who I really think I am? Where do babies come from? I’M LOSING MY MIND! Anyway, we’ll try to answer these questions and more. For now, let’s begin to weave through this strange, exotic film *throws smoke bomb, tries to disappear, starts coughing instead.*

“Mulholland Drive” is possibly the weirdest film I’ve ever seen and one of the hardest to critique. It comes from the mind of Lynch, the cult favorite director who’s made films such as “The Elephant Man,” “Blue Velvet” and “Eraserhead.” If you’ve seen any of his movies, you know they are uniquely their own, so much so that the term “Lynchian” has been used to describe other films that evoke his sense of style (more on that later).

The film begins with Rita (Laura Herring) who has been the victim of a traumatic car accident. She survives the incident and is immediately rendered an amnesiac, only able to find temporary refuge in a nearby house in suburban Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Betty (Naomi Watts) is a young, aspiring actress who moves to the City of Angels to embark in a film career.

Coincidentally, the house Betty’s aunt has rented for her is the same one Rita finds herself in post-car accident. Unable to remember her name or anything else, Rita enlists Betty’s help to piece together who she is and what happened to her. Oh, there’s another catch: Rita’s purse contains a massive amount of cash (from where, I say not), a box with no key and only her memory of a street called Mulholland Drive. What’s in the box, I also dare not say.

There’s a side plot involving a movie director (Justin Theroux) who slowly becomes unhinged in his attempt to get another film made. His story seems quite irrelevant through the first half of the film, but ends up importantly connecting to the main plot in several ways. From here, I refuse to say much else because it quite frankly wouldn’t make much sense.

That’s Lynch for you. He’s also the mastermind behind the critically-acclaimed 1990s show “Twin Peaks,” which is set to be revived sometime later this year. Trying to describe Lynch’s craft and style to someone who’s never seen his work is like trying to teach a monkey long division; it’s better left seen firsthand but I’ll give it a shot.

I’m fascinated by the mind of Lynch. He’s stated many times that he doesn’t know the meaning of his films and/or refuses to tell people what they mean, leaving wide interpretation for almost all of them. The only thing consistent with Lynch is the common theme of what lies beneath the surface. What the hell does that exactly mean?

You’ll often find in his work, as you do in “Mulholland Drive,” this illusion of a perfect, bright world that is the first layer of our perception. But as most of his films progress, they become darker and the layers of reality begin to peel and reveal ominous themes. This theme certainly applies to “Mulholland Drive,” where we begin to question more while more answers are simultaneously revealed.

Aside from his films, Lynch has been an advocate of transcendental meditation and his discussions on the subconscious mind are quite thought-provoking. His creative process on how ideas flow in and out of the mind, often discussing how ideas are fragmented into small pieces, are unlike any I’ve heard or read from other film directors. You’ll notice this in the film where some ideas seem to be left unfinished while others are completed.

“Mulholland Drive” is a film you will either love or hate. It’s progression and pace have a dream-like feel that perpetuates a feeling of drifting along a hazy ride into the subconscious. The performances are nicely done, especially from Watts in the lead role. She’s one of the best dramatic actors of the 2000s and this is the film that launched her career.

Whether you love or hate this film is entirely subjective, but I assure you, you will not be bored. It is romantic, brutal, erotic, terrifying, eerie, violent and genuinely unnerving at times, with two scenes in particularly leaving me legitimately frightened (don’t forget that I’m a burly-ass man).

What I love about Lynch (I’m a real fan boy, I know) is this idea of other realities existing. Everyday life can appear to be boring and the same, day in and day out. Lynch invites us to imagine another layer to our existence that is right up under our noses: an unnoticed door or a found key unlocking a mysterious box that opens an entirely new world.  

Think of many of the dreams you’ve had: that fuzzy feeling of being in a place where time and illusion are melded into one single entity, places that feel completely new but somewhat familiar at the same time. That’s Lynch’s films, and that’s “Mulholland Drive.” The only thing left now is to peel the layers back and buckle up for a ride unimaginable to most.  

Until next time.

In good movies we trust,

Matt ‘Roger Ebert wishes he was half the film critic I am’ Poe