Mulholland Drive is a movie that I’m glad I waited to watch in theaters. It always loomed there on Netflix, temptingly accessible but it wasn’t actually until Nitehawk’s ambient brunch screening – complete with “David Lynch coffee” worthy of Dale Cooper’s approval – that I was immersed into its labyrinthine, chimerical world.
And that’s fitting, because it’s partially a love letter to Hollywood (at least we think anyway but who the hell knows for sure) – twisted and warped of course, but a love letter all the same. This is a movie of disparate parts, made up of plot lines that devolve and delude or even trail off into the ether, but they do have one uniting factor: an inherent awe and reverence for the magic of film-making. Perhaps mostly for its ability to construct stories about our lives, to arrange and rearrange as we see fit, to twist reality into something we like better, and then blur that line completely. Watching it in the dark with a bunch of strangers, connected only by our reverence for what’s on screen, feels only fitting.
Take its palette of gorgeous Lynchian red, for example – evocative of plush movie theater seats and starlet lipstick and rouge, that washes over the film in a glaze that’s luscious and indulgent, an emblem honoring a life in celluloid.
Last year, BBC pronounced Mulholland Drive “the greatest film since 2000.” It earned this accolade for a cascade of reasons, but writer Luke Buckmaster puts it best when he says, “Whereas Orson Welles’ great film begins with a brief moment of surrealism – involving a snow globe and the cryptic word ‘Rosebud’ – but then proceeds in a more straight-forward manner, Lynch maintains the surreal atmosphere throughout. In this sense Mulholland Drive picks up where Citizen Kane left off.”
If you haven’t seen it, some would argue that the plot isn’t even important, that it would be irrelevant to explain here. It’s often compared to a mobius strip, that it contains two sides and two realities at once, and believed to have no beginning and no end. New York Times critic A.O. Scott aptly said “its tangled story will be experienced by some as an offense against narrative order, but the film is an intoxicating liberation from sense.”
It’s not even just the main plot itself that has confused, provoked and flabbergasted viewers, it’s a dozen other little things. Who is the cowboy? What’s in the box? What the hell is that monster (and how is a jump scare shot in daylight so utterly terrifying?) Who is the old couple that chases Diane to her bloody end? Roger Ebert said that “There is no explanation. There may not even be a mystery.”
But I would argue that it’s the search for an explanation that makes Mulholland so great. Even those that say there is no plot are still theorizing about it, the wheels are still turning. It’s human to demand a logical order to a chain of events, however disjointed that chain may be. This is why we talk about our dreams to anyone who will listen. What we’re really doing is thinking out loud, asking others for an explanation where we have come up short, to dig into that collective unconsciousness. Maybe someone knows what we don’t.
Mulholland demands this from its viewers. It plays with us and perplexes us. It’s a vicious cycle of needing to make sense of things, and Mulholland Drive defying that notion, but luring viewers in again with its terrible beauty and impenetrability. So on second glance, it’s a love letter but also a “fuck you” to cinema where everything is supposed to make sense. Here, art doesn’t imitate life, but does something more like usurp it.
Check out Nitehawk Cinema’s brunch movies here.