Everything contained within David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001) seems ornamental and meticulously arranged, its creativity stylised with mystery at its core. Electricity whirs around every static object and every canned phrase, and its terrified audience is reminded that this is just a film, just a film, ‘just a tape’. As its narrative follows hopeful actress and amnesiac through fractured realities of Hollywood, Mulholland Drive becomes an apparition that progressively retracts further in on itself and away from its own construction of reality. And by the film’s end (also understood as its beginning), we arrive at its internal, twisted centre.
Though it presents a familiar devotion to insatiability and a fervency for Neo-Noir, Mulholland Drive is considered by some the apex of Lynch’s career. Lynch’s films are characterised as distinctly hypnotic in their half-conscious, disorientating terrain, yet these qualities are especially refined in Mulholland Drive. Establishing its exceptionality further, Mulholland Drive presents an emphatic exhibition of sacrifice that surpasses its precursors. There is a highly dramatised sacrifice of cinematic convention and narrative formula, made visible by its replacement with illogic, aesthetics and impulsion. Enervated and disturbed by this disorder, its audience forcibly uncovers something compellingly insidious that permeates and shapes the tangled, fatalistic lives of Betty/Diane (Naomi Watts) and Rita/Camilla (Laura Harring).
It is both empty and overflowing, insufficient and intoxicating. Mulholland Drive illuminates an instability of perception, filmic and real, as its audience is pulled through a temporal and spatial kaleidoscope with unnerving rapidity. They are constantly tempted and perplexed, tempted by whatever is in that blue box, perplexed by the converging beginning and end, though both threads of speculation yield more unanswered questions.
Theorising Mulholland Drive requires a process of abstraction. It is exhaustively unending, as affirmed by its cult following, to try and piece this film together in a way that mirrors our own conceptions of linearity and experience, and this is its ingenuity. Mulholland Drive doesn’t capture realism, rather it captures a perversion of realism and its uncharted spaces, along with its literal and continual assertion that it is a film, it is grotesque, it is abstract art.
Mulholland Drive experiments with technical and critical ideas of filmmaking, as Lynch dangles a narrative before his audience yet resists quenching their appetite for familiarity. He poses questions rather than answers, offers intrigue rather than information. Though to call this film a master of intrigue would inhibit its complexity, clamp its creative parameters. Rather, Mulholland Drive captures all that is excellent in filmmaking by honing in on its antithetical, darker ego. It robs its audience of security and linearity, it redefines how we consume film and generates a crowd of infiltrators who peer inside a private, perplexing game between Lynch and cinematic meaning.