Losing My Virginity: Mulholland Drive


[In celebration of the forthcoming release of L.A. Noire, Flixist has teamed up with its sister sites Japanator and Destructoid to give a bit of background on what noir (we’re spelling it that way) is all about. Throughout the next week and leading up to L.A. Noire’s release, we’ll be reviewing/analyzing classic noirs set in L.A., explaining exactly what noir is and a few more awesome things.]

Would you believe me if I said I had not seen a single production by David Lynch until I started trying to watch Twin Peaks occasionally on Netflix Instant? In fact, the closest I had even gotten to a Lynch film was purchasing the soundtrack to Lost Highway in middle school because it has that one Nine Inch Nails song that I didn’t hate. Wonderful choices all around.

So, as we approached Noir Week on Flixist, I knew it was time to fix this. Thus came Mulholland Drive, of which I knew little outside of its inclusion of weirdness and lesbian love. Luckily, I found much more in the film than these two qualities, but even today my mind struggles to put them together, and I’m left to piece together not only the film but my own thoughts.

Losing my virginity is an appropriate title to this particular exploration of Mulholland Drive, as this film thoroughly f*cked my mind.

Mulholland Rita

Anyone who has already viewed Mulholland Drive knows how little sense much of the film makes. It’s a fact that there are multiple scenes that go nowhere, and characters that really don’t have a place in the overall story. This is a film that consistently feels like multiple films crammed together into one, or perhaps a television show that was forced to become a movie.

Oh, wait, it actually is a television show that was forced to become a movie? Indeed, the first realization of the film was a television pilot that ended up being rejected entirely. While unaware of this while watching, even this small factoid provides insight into exactly what we can take away from the film and exactly how impressive it is that it makes sense at all. Imagine all of the dead-end plot threads of a television show like, say, LOST. It’s a wonder that Lynch found a way to make the film comprehensible at all.

Remarkably, I found the basic plot of the film to be entirely comprehensible, though often mired by some overly cryptic symbolism and red herrings. When broken down to its most basic elements, it’s a simple tale of a woman’s journey into Hollywood and the havoc it unleashed upon her life and her mind. Diane (Naomi Watts) longs for her big break and only finds success by proxy, an outsider watching another person find that same life that she has always wanted. She also happens to be in love with the woman whose career she covets, which is never a good thing. Her failures pile up, her depression worsens, and we move toward the film’s conclusion.

The funny part about this film, however, is that the story I just summarized really only plays out in the film’s final thirty-or-so minutes. The rest of the film presents a story that does not exist, an illusion that plays out as fiction within the greater fiction that is the film’s “true events.” It is here where we find those plot threads that lead us astray, serving on a plot level to promote a sense of surrealism and essentially lead us away from the truth.

Mulholland bushes

The fact that the fantasy story of Mulholland Drive can be interpreted to have never happened should not reduce its value, as its effect upon the overall plot is perhaps greater than those final scenes. While the mystery of the car accident is not a mystery worth solving, the journey taken by the characters reveals a world that we long for by the end of the film. We pity Diane for her weakness and failure and hate Camilla for her coldness and undeserved success, and without seeing the talented and upbeat Betty and the fragile Rita, Mulholland Drive would simply tell the story of a whiny girl who loved a bitchy idiot.

Still, there are many faults to find with the way mystery and absurdity are presented in the film’s first half. Minor characters come and go and are almost always unsatisfying in their role in the story. The cowboy is especially ridiculous, and while theories can be thrown to and fro regarding who the cowboy is and what his presence means, they’re all lacking. And the old couple at the end? Sure, maybe it means something, maybe it’s a totally deep and brilliant representation of her parent’s disappointment of their daughter’s life, but it’s all just a little too ridiculous to support microanalysis. Much of the movie just doesn’t make sense, or even work, but we have to deal with that.

Many connections must be made to film noir (as well as other film styles and Hollywood in general) in order to really understand the film. In many cases, I think references to other film styles and genres were thrown in simply for the sake of throwing them in, to show Hollywood as it was and as it is. It most certainly has its dark moments, and the beginning “mystery” is as classic noir as they come. But in many ways, noir can be seen as a red herring for the film, as the noir elements are just another illusion — another element of Hollywood that Diane longs to be a part of but can never realize. She’ll never be the leading lady, the femme fatale, or the damsel in distress (at least not the kind of distress one can be saved from). 

Mulholland Monster

To me, it seems that Lynch wants to say that all of the film is fantasy, and some of it just appears more fantastical than the rest. But it’s all an illusion. Just as Betty and Rita sit crying while they watch a woman sing a beautiful song only to find out she wasn’t singing at all, we sit down for something like Mulholland Drive to discover how it makes us feel. How does this illusion affect us, and do we enjoy it?

For me, the answer is a resounding yes, and even if I don’t find it to be a perfect story, film, or experience, it’s a wonderful illusion that is hard to force from your mind.

Overall Score: 8.35 – Great. (Movies that score between 8.00 and 8.50 are great representations of their genre that everyone should see in theaters on opening night.)

Blade Runner award