Cult Classics: Mulholland Drive

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Following the early 20th century writings of Freud on dream theory, the similarities between dreaming and the experience of cinema has long been theorized; drawing comparisons between the movie goer and the dreamer in a sense that we are idly transported psychologically via the presentation of images. Few filmmakers have explored this quite to the level of David Lynch, whose work has mentally assaulted and disfigured the film experience on multiple accounts through twisted and often incoherent imagery. Considered by many as Lynch’s opus, Mulholland Drive acts as the ideal starting point on the ominously lit road towards his nightmarish grey area between film and dream which, once entered, proves hard to wake from.

Released in late 2001, Mulholland Drive proved successful in theaters but completely divided audiences, with some proclaiming it as a masterpiece and others totally dismissing it as a waste of two and a half hours of life. Both camps can be understood and though I am passionately in the former, a film which stores its true worth deep within the unconscious and hidden between the lines of a far from conventional plot, will never be for everyone.

On the surface the film is about Betty (or it may be Diane) with dreams of being a Hollywood actress who moves to LA and meets Rita (who may be Camilla, or even Diane too) who is about to be killed when her limo is ran off the road forcing her into Betty’s path. From here it is anyone’s guess as to what the story really is, as Lynch masterfully offers a frame of a narrative for us to inject (or choose not to inject) our own narratives into without alienating us entirely. It’s possible that the film is a commentary on Hollywood and the American dream (think La La Land‘s evil twin), it is also possible that it explores suppressed desire and sexual discovery, but the truth is that Mulholland Drive shouldn’t be watched with the conscious thought process that leads to such conclusions. Mulholland Drive is not a film which is awake, but instead a film entirely sleeping. This is where it gains its cult status, like a reoccurring dream, you can’t help searching it in an attempt to uncover new meanings and can’t resist reliving the experience.

What Mulholland Drive achieves is something unparalleled in the film medium outside of Lynch’s work, weaving the kaleidoscopic texture of a dream and lulling into a hypnotic state of nonsensical beauty. Few films successfully breach the borders of the screen, but Mulholland Drive escapes the projector and penetrates the subconscious in a way which will feel all too visceral as the theater lights come on, waking you like the sun through open curtains. Love it or hate it, Mulholland Drive embeds in the memory and with time has the odd ability to make you look back and question whether you dreamt the whole thing, enticing you to keep dreaming again and again.  I for one don’t want to wake up yet.

Mulholland Drive (2001), directed by David Lynch, is being re-released on April 14th through Studiocanal. Certificate 15. 

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Second year Film student. Twentieth year Film lover.

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