Magazine article The American Prospect

In Dreams Begin Responsibilities. (the Critics Film)

Magazine article The American Prospect

In Dreams Begin Responsibilities. (the Critics Film)

Article excerpt

MANY PEOPLE WILL LOVE Mulholland Drive, I am sure; and the fact that my admiration is mingled with profound annoyance perhaps says more about me than about the movie. It is David Lynch's best film since The Elephant Man (which remains, for me, the pinnacle of his achievement). It is better than the goofy Eraserhead and the creepy Blue Velvet, and far, far better than Lynch's terminally confused TV show Twin Peaks. It is so good that it raises unbelievably high expectations, which it then dashes to the ground in a display of bravura narcissism. "What? Me fulfill expectations? Who do you think I am?" it seems to say. Such behavior may be acceptable in a Quentin Tarantino or a Curtis Hanson or a Joel Coen; but in David Lynch, who is more talented than most of his peers combined, it is disappointing.

The movie is nearly two and a half hours long, and it is often deliberately slow, in the manner we have come to expect from Lynch (the unzipping of a purse, for instance, may take an agonizing five seconds--complete with an overly loud zipping noise set against suspenseful silence). But it is never dull. From the smashing credit sequence, which consists of jitterbugging dancers shadowed by cloudy white faces, to the final moments of the film, when a fatal shot is fired, you will find yourself gripped by the unfolding narrative. The problem is, it unfolds more like a vast, unwieldy tarp--the sort of ragged plastic sheet you keep in your basement and never get all the kinks or crinkles out of--than it does like a neat map or a carefully drawn puzzle. David Lynch has a fine disregard for plot: He thinks of it as a mere springboard for emotionally rich images. This is all very well if you are making Last Year at Marienbad or some other piece of modernist tripe; but if you are aspiring to the level of the great films noirs, as Lynch's movie explicitly does, then the approach has serious shortcomings.

For most of its length, Mulholland Drive seems to be a fascinating mystery centered on two women, Betty and Rita. Betty, played by the astonishingly versatile Naomi Watts, is an aspiring actress fresh from Ontario, Canada; she has come to Los Angeles to live in her aunt's temporarily vacant Hollywood apartment and break into the movies. But when she reaches the apartment, it is already occupied by a beautiful woman (played by the sultry Laura Elena Harring) who calls herself Rita, after Rita Hayworth; she can't remember her real name because she's just been in a terrible car accident that rendered her completely amnesiac. We saw the accident, and we saw Rita nearly get killed by men with guns just before that, but we have no idea why this is happening to her. In her purse she finds a wad of cash and a strange blue key that doesn't seem to unlock anything obvious; gradually, she recalls a few things, like the name Diane Selwyn and the street Mulholland Drive. Piecing these elements together, Betty and Rita jointly try to solve the mystery (which also includes demonically powerful gangsters, a smart-ass movie director, an untalented starlet named Camilla Rose, an odd young man who sees visions of death, a cowboy who makes poetically worded threats, a Spanish-flavored nightclub featuring lip-synch acts and weird magicians, and a host of other clues too numerous and bizarre to list). …

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