Movies We Like
Like all great cities no one film best sums up Los Angeles. The city is too fractured, the personal narratives of its citizenry too outlandishly varied, for any one film to seize on everything. But if you want a sense of what the city can do to a person – a starry-eyed, beautiful, blonde, female person with dreams of Hollywood – this is probably the most artful and poignant one you could find. On one level it’s a mysterious love story involving a sparkling ingenue from “Deep River, Ontario” (I have no idea if such a place exists) and a gorgeous brunette with a head injury who doesn’t know who she is or how she got to the ingenue’s apartment (technically her aunt’s apartment). They meet awkwardly but soon become each other’s trusted confidante. The possibilities of a new romance and the thrill of being in the most magical slash sinister city on Earth, new to them both (since one is an amnesiac), set us up for a strange, hypnotic love story. But this is David Lynch’s movie and things get really dark really quickly.
A film director (played by Justin Theroux) with a wife who cheats on him (with Billy Ray Cyrus, in fact) has his Hollywood career ruined in a day by nefarious forces he doesn’t understand. Betty (Naomi Watts) and Rita’s (Laura Harring) relationship, at first so full of the giddy, dangerous thrill of a new romance, turns into something obsessive and horrifying as the characters mutate into different people, or different versions of the same people. The ingenue becomes a frightening, jaded shell of who she was. The mysterious brunette becomes a cold, calculating, and manipulative trophy wife (at least I think that’s what happens).
There are scenes that seem spliced in from some different, yet connected film (Lynch originally developed it as a TV series). A man discusses the traumatic impact of the nightmares he’s had with a friend in a diner only to have the nightmare come to life, in the form of a very dirty homeless person in the parking lot. There are all kinds of fantastic characters: a sinister cowboy with no eyebrows, a former hoofer with heavy makeup who works as the building manager of a swank group of courtyard apartments in Hollywood (played by real life former hoofer Anne Miller). There’s a scene that seems so imbued with emotion where Betty and Rita go to a downtown theater in the dead of night and see a woman sing Roy Orbison’s “Crying” in Spanish before collapsing onstage. There are sleazy hit men and sleazy Hollywood producers.
It all gets weirder and weirder and the plot takes off into territory that may seem incomprehensible. But worrying about how it all adds up never works for a David Lynch film. It feels right. If you go along for the ride and stop trying to piece it all together it will give you one of the essential truths of the city, which is, that people come to reinvent themselves in Los Angeles. It doesn’t always work out the way they wanted it to though. Still, for all its darkness and despair Mulholland Drive is essentially, as Lynch himself put it, “A love letter to the city of dreams.”
Mulholland Drive was nominated for one Oscar for Best Director.