Mulholland Dr. (2001)

David Lynch is a strange, strange man.

Lynch is famous for focusing on the very outskirts of humanity, on the horrors that make up our worst, most surreal nightmares. In fact, many of Lynch's movies are like a long nightmare. Mulholland Dr. is no different.

The plot, such as it is, begins with a dark-haired woman (Laura Elena Harring) who survives a car accident on the famous Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles. She sneaks into an apartment and is met by an aspiring actress named Betty Finn (Naomi Watts) who has come down to California from Deep River, Ontario. The dark-haired woman, who calls herself "Rita," has no memory of who she is and how she got where she is; Betty, being the kind-hearted soul she is, decides to help Rita piece together the shattered fragments of her memory.

Mulholland Dr. is a rarity -- a great movie where the story does not matter at all. The plot is incredibly confusing on first watch, with many random scenes that appear to have no direct correlation with what is supposed to be happening, and a sudden shift during the final half-hour that takes the movie in a completely different direction than how it began. I actually have a decent understanding of the plot, but that is not why I like the movie at all.

Lynch is perhaps the best crafter of mood in Hollywood today. He works best when his scenes inspire fear, dread and paranoia, and there is plenty of that in Mulholland Dr.. The movie unfolds like a faraway dream; it presents the audience with incoherent scenes filled with images of pure fright.

Take this scene in a diner that happens after Rita and Betty begin their detective work: A man is talking to another man, describing a nightmare he had where a horrible figure appeared behind the diner. The man's companion scoffs at the silliness of this, and he proposes they take a look behind the diner to ease the man's fears. From there, the scene unfolds slowly, with the camera essentially taking on the point of view of the man who had the nightmare -- it approaches the back of the diner slowly, knowing that is crazy to be afraid of something in a dream but frightened nonetheless. And, when the camera finally turns the corner, the man sees the figure of his nightmare -- a crazed, filthy old woman who is living behind the diner -- and faints.

This sounds amazingly silly, and, believe me, it was silly to write, but when you're watching it unfold onscreen, it's actually a superbly intense, well-crafted and scary scene. Mulholland Dr. is filled with scenes like that. While the movie follows around Rita and Betty as they get deeper into the mystery, Lynch is also content to throw in a scene where, say, a dwarf commands an army of Hollywood tough guys via cell phone.

These scenes don't make sense; in fact, they are not supposed to make sense. Lynch is not interested in creating a typical movie where the heroes move from point A to point B and everyone goes home happy. He would rather work the emotions -- burrow deep into the soul of the viewer and shake it up a bit. Lynch's technique is admittedly manipulative. He presents mystery where mystery may not even exist. He dangles hints of important plot points when there may not even be a plot. He gives the audience intriguing characters, and then changes them completely by the end of the movie.

But none of that matters. That manipulation is exactly what makes Mulholland Dr. worth watching. It's about letting oneself go and giving in to the dream. It's about letting the images wash over you and work their magic. It's about letting go of all logical analysis and feeling things on a purely primal level. That sense of feeling primal emotion deep in the gut is what makes Mulholland Dr. work so well.

It is not a movie for everyone, clearly. I would liken it to film noir, where the plots were intricate, confusing and folded in on themselves many times before the end of the picture. However, the plot was not the reason to watch film noir -- it was the style. It was the way the movies looked, and the way the characters spoke and carried themselves. It is the same with Mulholland Dr.. The only difference is you are not watching to see how people carry themselves; you are watching to see how a nightmare carries itself.

EDIT: Still going with the videos. In this scene from Mulholland Dr., the man describes his disturbing dream and confronts it.