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'Mulholland Drive'

Surreal director goes into dream in 'Mulholland Drive'

Friday, October 19, 2001

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

After all those movies about characters who change identities as easily as they change socks, that expose the rot beneath the glittering surface, that make a fetish of referring to classic films, that are spun from the stuff of dreams, David Lynch has finally made a movie about "the unreal universe of Los Angeles." What took him so long?

 
 
'Mulholland Drive'

RATING: R for violence, language and some strong sexuality.

PLAYERS: Laura Harring, Naomi Watts, Justin Theroux.

DIRECTOR: David Lynch.

CRITIC'S CALL:

   
 

"Mulholland Drive," now at Destinta Bridgeville and the Squirrel Hill Theater, is the salvaged remnant of a TV series pilot, a showcase for some exquisite young talent and a return to form for Lynch, who surprised everyone with the G-rated Americana of "The Straight Story."

But Lynch is best known for the creepy "Blue Velvet," the bizarre but mesmerizing "Twin Peaks" TV series, the grotesque gallery of characters in "Wild at Heart," the maddening "Lost Highway."

Like a master fisherman or a lap dancer, he baits the hook with the most tantalizing of lures. But just when he has you all but reeled in, the boat lurches in another direction and he leaves you swimming in an entirely different ocean that bears little if any resemblance to the first one.

The sea remains the same but "Mulholland Drive" contains a new kettle of fish by film's end. The movie feels less like a narrative drama than a fevered dream filled with beautiful and often surreal images and colors as intense as the emotions of the characters pulling the strings -- angry men in suits, a dwarf sitting in a glass booth of a room, something malevolent in an alley. The main characters are like pawns unaware that they're part of someone else's game.

It's all justified by the setting: Los Angeles, the movie capital of the world. Any number of commentators have likened cinema to a collective dream shared by strangers who gather in the dark for a few hours to shut out the real world.

When "Mulholland Drive" takes its inevitable hard left turn into the unknown, is it really much different from actors moving from one role to another, a genre of movies repeating the same pattern in different ways, nightmares seeming all too real until we wake up to whatever terrors may await us in our conscious state?

The movie begins with a beautiful woman (Laura Harring) saved from an evil fate by a car crash that leaves her unable to remember her name or background. She takes refuge in an apartment that is about to be occupied by the tenant's niece, Betty (Naomi Watts), a budding actress on her first trip to Hollywood who has the wide-eyed exuberance of a '50s ingenue.

Betty wants to help Rita (the amnesiac has taken the name from a Rita Hayworth poster) regain her memory, leading the two women on an increasingly strange journey that ends up -- well, that would be telling, and I'm not sure I can explain it anyhow. The secondary plot involves a film director (Justin Theroux) who is compelled to cast an actress he has never met in the leading role of his next movie.

By the time it all comes together, we may feel like it has fallen apart. Expecting most Lynch movies to make literal sense is like hoping Nicole Kidman will marry you. You wish it were so, but it's not going to happen and would likely backfire.

So you may end up gnashing your teeth and scratching your head by the end of "Mulholland Drive," even as you realize you've taken the bait and fallen under its spell.

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