In retrospect, Lynch seems to have been working up to it: Blue Velvet
presented imaginative curiosity as treacherous but, subversively, essential
to rough sex and pure love alike. Even Dune, ever harder to dismiss these
days, is suffused with dream prophecy made real; Lynch correctly identified
the core of Frank Herberts waddy epic in a mantra shifted to his scripts
heart: The sleeper must awaken.
Mulholland Drive has its own variation, spoken by a mysterious pardner
known only as The Cowboy: Hey, pretty girltime to wake up.
But here, and its thrilling to behold, Lynch is finally beyond such distinctions
of consciousness; hes freed himself up like never before by placing his
action at the Great Fakeness proper, where the process of becoming is, itself,
a slip of the skin. From the first scene on, a violent limo wreck out of which
emerges a dazed brunette (Laura Elena Harring) who starts down the ravine in
heels toward L.A.s twinkling sprawl, Lynch seems willing and able to go
further into the void than even that granddaddy of Hollywood oblivion, Sunset
After those first nocturnal impressionsfloating red tail-lights and smoke
carried off by midnight breezesthe menace never lifts, even at warped
high noon. Enter Betty (Naomi Watts), a quaking young hopeful fresh off the
plane and ready for her three-picture deal. (Hers is a perkiness heightened
to dementia: Watts manages to outbeam even her pink sweater.) She cant
believe her posh new digs vacated by a traveling aunt, or her showbizzy landlord
Coco, or the nice cabbie at the airport who loaded her bags in the trunk. She
doesnt even seem to mind that nude stranger in her shower, our mystery
B-girl from the car crash. Rita, she calls herself, after eyeing a poster for
Gilda, and it soon becomes clear that she didnt quite make it out
of the accident whole. Ritas amnesia works like catnip on Betty; Lynch
lingers on her sympathetic reaction long enough for it to ripen into something
slightly impure, à la Look what I got! Betty has come all
the way from Deep River, Ontario for the movies andwouldnt you know
ittheyve found her.
But this being Lynchs Hollywood, we know were not being primed
for high-spirited sleuthing but something closer to nasty urban legend. Already,
a perfectly healthy neurotic has elsewhere collapsed at the sight of a grinning
monster lurking behind the local diner; these Nancy Drews in search of Ritas
identity are wandering unwittingly into a horror film. Gothic courtyards and
shadowy hallways become close to unbearable, and a rotting corpse sends the
women shrieking. Its here, about halfway in, that Mulholland Drive
would have ended, had it not been dumped by ABC as the television pilot it was
originally intended to be. But I ask: Has there been a more promising first
act since Laura Palmer cracked the spine of her diary in Twin Peaks?
Still, given the radical expansion that follows, you have to wonder if the
gods werent smiling as network-safe elementsnotably a confident
detective on the caseare terrifyingly aborted and the movie teeters into
apocalypse. There are plenty of sad stories of visionary genius dulled by trim-happy
producers (Greed comes to mind); less known are the careful refinements
that come out of liberation. Lynch, up to now, builds slowly, episodically,
deepening Betty and Rita with conspiratorial glances and the subtle casualness
of roommates. So the bloom of their attraction is the most tender surprise yet:
Im in love with you, Betty whispers in the blue glow of their
embrace, and its the natural extension of her own hunger for self-revision.
Ritas mental haze, her full-figured aloofness, is just about the sexiest
thing she can handle.
Lynch has long been a card-carrying romantic. He has technical lusciousness
down to a science, but the swoon always makes more sense when linked to the
wild at heart or even out-of-body yearnings of elephant men. And sure enough,
something does shift here: Betty and Ritas kiss is so pure, it sends the
picture reeling. Suddenly, one of Ritas few possessionsan ominous
blue key found at the bottom of her pursefits into in a bizarre box they
take home from a nightclub and, with a twist, all bets are off: Betty is gone,
or perhaps reborn as a strung-out failure named Diane. (Watts range in
the double-role is breathtaking.) Rita is now a glamorous star named Camilla
Rhodes, long over Betty or Diane or whoever shes become. Even by lesbian
standards, it feels like the shortest affair on record: Diane, forlorn, brews
coffee in her dingy, mold-green kitchen and mourns a career that never materialized;
Camilla basks in the attentions of some jerk director with a goatee.
Is it much later? Or earlier? The answer may lie somewhere in between; a large part of Lynchs daring is in his confidence that youll want to figure this one outand to his credit, I think hes got us squirming on the hook. (I have my own theories, but dont drop me a line unless you want to be wrecked.) As far as altered states go, the last 45 minutes cant be beat. Camilla invites the frustrated Diane to a party; as she leads her through a dark glade, a shortcut to her mansion and success, you feel the power dynamic in full reversal, confidence and humiliation swapped. Lynch is pulling off nothing less than a Buñuelean tour de force by turning his surrealism into psychology; he knows our expectations and uses that command to secretly establish a yawning madness. With Mulholland Drive, the trance that comes so easily to him is finally charged with the doom of a classic.