(2001) dir. David Lynch
As part of my personal retrospective of the films of David Lynch, I watched Mulholland Dr., one of his finest films, one that had everyone talking in 2001 when it came out about what really happened in the movie. It’s kind of funny, really, how confused everyone was by the way the film twists, the lack of clarity given to a definitive version of “story”, and the elusive segments and red herrings and mystery.
Knowing how the film came about, initially a pilot film for a new television series to follow his Twin Peaks show, a pilot that was abandoned by the studio, never picked up. And after a year of finagling, Lynch got backing from Studio Canal, and re-wrote the film to have a conclusion, shooting new material, driven by the loss of some elements, and making the film a complete internal experience. You can kind of see this as the film turns about 4/5 of the way in, and the characters take on different roles, re-cast, much as Lynch did the film, into a different narrative, but one that takes elements from the first one.
Lynch wouldn’t want an explanation, other than perhaps, the explanation of the story from the perspective of any one individual viewer. There isn’t meant to be a singular coherent explanation. Is the first and most of the film a dream, a dream before dying, of a jilted lover having hired a hitman to kill her former lover? And what is the mystery in the first segment, the bulk of the film? Who is “Rita” the amnesiac who finds herself in Betty’s aunt’s apartment?
Lynch is absorbed with Hollywood, with Los Angeles, as he carries over into Inland Empire (2006), a world echoing heavily of its past, of the Hollywood myth of starlets and stardom versus the reality of filmmaking requiring the “selling out” of one’s ideals. The apartment where so much takes place is a decorous deco era complex, and it’s even managed by a former movie star Ann Miller, though it takes someone familiar enough with film history to put that piece together. It’s a frightening, darkened room, where people are duplicitous, the world reeks of death, an ominous dream, a clandestine nightmare.
David Lynch creates a vision unlike any other filmmaker in the world, perhaps. His voice and style and subject matter, while diverse at times, is one that is uniquely American, yet utterly a-typical of America’s mainstream. His films achieve the power of visions, of dreams, that move and reveal themselves in memory, images, sensations, fear and in this case, tragedy.
It’s little wonder that Naomi Watts became a star after this film. Much like her script reading as Betty, the would-be starlet, evoking great power from her performance, wowing the crowd in the room, Watts’ Betty swings an arc, and ends with the types of tragedy of smaller lives, of jilted love, of murder and suicide. As if the bulk of the film is a last, frightening dream, envisioning her world through a strange refracted lens, yet finding the tragedy nonetheless, it’s quite moving. Much like the pair of women, moved to tears listening to the staged version of a Spanish rendition of Roy Orbison’s “Crying”, it pushes us to tears, the beauty, the sadness, the loss. And even the display of facade in the performance, it’s all a pretense, an illusion, like cinema itself.
I’ve noted that Lynch’s films have seemingly gotten stronger and stronger and I would argue that they have held up pretty well overall, too. There is no list of the most important directors in America, in the world. Or actually there are lots of those lists “Best Films”, “Best Directors”, aggregated opinions attempting to set a rating to a broad spectrum of art and entertainment. What I would say is that no such “list” means anything, and even my personal feeling about Lynch’s work is still just that, an opinion. But I do believe that he is more an artist, more a visionary, than most. He makes remarkable films, and I hope that he makes more.