Night. A black limo cruises up a deserted road. Its tail-lights glow, and a brooding score signals danger. The limo halts suddenly and its beautiful passenger (Laura Harring) is surprised. ""We don't stop here"," she says tentatively. The driver pulls out a gun, but before he can shoot, a carload of joyriders hits the limo head-on. The woman climbs out of the wreckage and tries to stand. Where is she? Who is she? And how did she get there?
In true David Lynch style, this scenario was the only thing he knew for certain when he pitched Mulholland Drive to ABC execs as a Twin Peaks-style TV mini-series. The rest was a mosaic of images and ideas that simply seemed like a good idea at the time. A man with a morbid fear of a dreadlocked creature living in the back yard of a coffee shop. An exploding magician. A gangster with a tiny head, too small for his body... It's entirely possible that Lynch had no idea how this story would pan out when he made it as a TV pilot, and when the network rejected the show, it seemed equally likely that we'd never find out either.
This feature-length `redux' gave Lynch the chance to resolve it all, sweeping up some of the loose ends but leaving most of them tantalisingly untied. The result is a delirious, kaleidoscopic nightmare, a souped-up Sunset Boulevard (the title is a dead giveaway) that weaves in and out of two distinct and opposing realities. The first is a world of mystery and wonder, where the concussed woman (Rita, she calls herself) meets a sweet girl named Betty (Naomi Watts) and sets out to find her true identity. Bonded by friendship, the two fall in love - - but something is hopelessly, tragically wrong.
Without warning the movie pulls the rug out from under the audience, and the soft-focus erotic thriller mood is shattered. Characters swap names and personalities, while situations shift into reverse perspective. The contrast couldn't be sharper: this new world is cruel and harsh, ruled only by betrayal, corruption and disillusionment.
At first sight it seems random and self-indulgent, but think it through and there's method in Lynch's madness. This is a murder mystery with a psychological skew, a film as bleak as Sunset Boulevard, camp as Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls and emotionally raw as Repulsion. There are red herrings and non-sequiturs for sure, and those who struggled with Lost Highway will probably give up with this, urging Lynch to remove his head from his arse. But Mulholland Drive finds the director at his purest and most fearless, trawling through one woman's delusion towards a shocking vision of mental collapse. Lynch has seldom been better or, indeed, more welcome.
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Lynch subverts the soap-opera glamour of the film industry with a nightmare logic and a wonderful cast, holding the manic, psychotic mood right up to the harrowing finale.