Modern Classics — Mulholland Dr. (2001)

Posted: October 22, 2010 in Alex Miller, Film, Reviews
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[Reviewed by: Alex Miller]

Perhaps one of the best examples of how bad the Academy is at picking the best film of the year, Mulholland Dr. was not even nominated for Best Picture in 2001. Instead they chose Ron Howard’s competent but all too formulaic and forgettable A Beautiful Mind that year. Although Director David Lynch (The Elephant Man, Dune, Lost Highway) did win Best Director at Cannes, it took time for some people to give the film the acclaim it truly deserves. It’s understandable in that if there was ever a film that DEMANDED repeat viewings it is this one. It is the first and only movie I have ever watched and then immediately rewinded and watched again (mind you it’s a 2.5hr long movie). I was interested but confused the first time, understandably so I think. The second time I wanted to go erect a statue in my yard in dedication to this cinematic achievement. If you missed out on this film when it came out, STOP READING as it is impossible to discuss this movie at any level of detail without completely ruining it for you. Go watch it, then read this, then go watch it again.

****SPOILERS AHEAD — PLEASE STOP READING IF YOU HAVE NOT YET SEEN THE FILM****

I feel truly sorry for those whose experience watching this movie was ruined by a loud-mouth friend who had seen it before or an overly descriptive review. Luckily when I saw it I knew nothing about the film – except the Director’s reputation for the strange. I hadn’t even seen the trailer (and still haven’t). In recalling my first viewing I find my original criticisms almost laughable. “This isn’t like real life, it’s not believable.” I thought to myself attributing it to over-the-top writing. “Every once and awhile this feels like a made for television movie.” I noticed accusingly because of the close-in framing of the shots (television shows have more closeups to compensate for your smaller television set as compared to a movie theater). I figured the cinematographer just had a television background or something or that it was just a lower budget movie.

Well the truth is, as far off as I was, I was also sort of dead-on. Those scenes weren’t like real life, but on purpose. They were dreams/fantasies. Also, the film did occasionally feel like it was for TV because originally it indeed was for TV. It was supposed to be a pilot for an upcoming show on ABC but the execs found it to be too slow and confusing for their audience (and personally I think they were right). Luckily it was picked up by a studio who gave Lynch some extra money to film all of the “explanation” scenes that take place after the visit to Club Silencio. Now in retrospect, you can see why the film had to have so many characters, puzzles, and unanswered questions since the intent was to spend several television seasons answering them all slowly. If you are interested in a scene by scene breakdown of the differences between the final cut and the original pilot click here.

The second time I saw it, it was of course in a brand new light. Many may complain that a film that no one understands while watching (unless it was ruined for them), is not a very good film. Well I disagree, because it is not confusing for the sake of being confusing. It does say something, especially about our perceptions. You don’t get it the first time because you’re not supposed to. The ending is a “twist” but even moreso than that it’s a paradigm shift. You watched the whole film thinking about it one way, and now you are faced with the fact that you were totally and completely wrong. Sure other films have done this – The Sixth Sense, Dark City, Planet of the Apes, Inception, Fight Club, etc etc. Some of those blew my mind afterwards, sure. But this film was like a nuclear explosion blowing not only my mind but my soul. Not only did I have the events in the story wrong, I had the characters mixed up, their names wrong, and the meaning of it all completely ass-backwards until the very end. Even then I “got” what was one of only multiple possible explanations (see theories/explanations). It’s almost as if I walked up to a dirty homeless man in the street to donate money out of pity, only to find he was a Harvard grad and a millionaire doing a study to see how easily he could make me reexamine everything I believed. Well if you’ve seen the film then I guess you know all about homeless men you don’t ever want to see outside of a dream.

Just about everything in this movie is important, don’t blink. Also in order to fully understand it you might want to consider learning spanish (or reading this translation). Some of the most important scenes in the movie happen in the seconds before the credits start to roll. Hell, just the simple presence/absence of a piano shaped ashtray are crucial to comprehending your surroundings. You’re gonna wish you had that spinning top from Inception to help you figure it out but it’s not that easy here. Pay attention to the hair, the places where people live, who came to the dinner party, anytime someone says “this is the girl”, and think about who has really been dead the whole time and you’ll figure it out. Well maybe. It depends on if all of that was just another dream too. You can make a very strong case for that although that takes it one step too far for my taste. One theory I do buy into is that Diane was a prostitute in real life (and the prostitute in the dream was a reflection of her).

Sorry if this review came across as a rambling but what can I say. This film changed the way I think about movies forever but it’s confusing as hell. That’s also what makes it entertaining. It makes sense, but not too much sense. Make sense?

“It’ll be just like in the movies. Pretending to be somebody else.”–Mulholland Dr.

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Comments
  1. rorydean says:

    Hi Alex,

    Stumbling around the world wide blog-o-sphere of movie reviews and entertainment sites. I either found you through LAMb or maybe Richard of at Blah! or http://detailedcriticisms.blogspot.com/ but that’s irrelevant, really. This review caught my attention as I find it interesting the various interpretations mixed with likes and dislikes – all of which seem impassioned to say the least. I think you have some good, a bit rambling at times, points here and there, especially in some of the plot details without actually making a definitive stand – which can be good or bad depending on what one is looking for in a review about a David Lynch film. I think you’re right this film demands multiple viewings to extrapolate the fining tuned, often obscure, and purposefully complex story and characters but ultimately it proves fruitful. I actually feel that the inner weaving narrative and jumble plot points are at times jarring and distracting (which I know was the intent) but as far as a cinematic experience is concerned this proves more a problem for the average viewer than a cinephile or enthusiast and for that reason I think this kept the film from more award consideration.

    All in all a solid review which probably reads more like fan commentary but nevertheless many valid and interesting ideas about a very Lynchian flick.
    cheers->

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