David Lynch is a master at creating richly complex and empathetic portraits of civilization. From a decrepit and deranged Philadelphia in Eraserhead to the surreally intoxicating politeness of Twin Peaks, Lynch’s ability to peel back rigid veneers in order to look at what makes a town tick is unmatched in modern direction. In the early 21st century, he examined the sparkling glamour of Los Angeles and the deceitful mask that keeps the secret depths of its core hidden. Supervised by Lynch himself, the 4K restoration of Mulholland Dr. was re-released into UK cinemas on April 14th.
Veering down side streets and through back alley hovels, Lynch captures the nuanced minutiae of a town as monstrous and diverse as Los Angeles. Like confused tourists, audiences are left bewildered by this fake utopia, held up by wires and a balloon of smog blanketing the hilly scrubland. Lynch starts his picture with an incongruent dream, yet this seemingly unrelated intro looms over the rest of the film. Jumping quickly between characters and their tenuously intertwined lives, a taste for Los Angeles and its inhabitants is not enough, but a taste is all that Lynch provides.
So much of Mulholland Dr.‘s introduction feels like a television series in progress (because it was), darting from character to character, deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of Hollywood. Staunch defiance of plot “rules” and narrative ambiguity are what makes the film what it becomes. Led into a dangerous maze, Lynch’s audience grapples with the importance of characters and their space within the story as a whole, yet separating these chance encounters from meaningful clues becomes increasingly difficult. With each new twist and turn, the director challenges viewers by putting together an abstract puzzle of glittering Los Angeles. Will this character have a place among the cragged ruins of the city, or are they simply one of many anonymous pieces of sky that exist as background noise to give the foreground context? In many ways, Mulholland Dr. is a tone poem about Hollywood’s inexorable link to Los Angeles, and in many others, it is a daring, Hitchcockian mystery which refuses to play nicely.
In a system rigged to reward ambition, power and greed, Lynch plows into the blatant absurdity of an industry founded on the reinforcement of these base human drives. The diminutive kingpin of Mulholland Dr.‘s Hollywood is the Wizard of Lynch’s equally-dreamlike Oz. Living behind a pane of glass, this man rules from a distance, and with plenty of smoke and mirrors. His cohorts plot and toil under his watchful rule, while the makers and explorers of cinematic artistry scramble to appease this unseen force. And just as these clueless ants scurry around unknowing and uncaring of their true place in the world, so too does Lynch’s audience sitting rapt with awe at the director’s ultimate vision. To understand Lynch is to understand Buñuel, Jodorowsky, Russell or Greenaway — that is to say, one can never claim to “understand” the work of these surrealists without missing the point entirely.
Dazzling, disorienting and dripping with color, the 4K restoration of David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. is every bit as mystifying today as it was on its initial 2001 release. With a circle of narrative threads weaving around one another until they become entwined, Lynch’s Hollywood magnum opus turns on a dime at the opening of his mysterious blue box — a sharp knife cutting the tangled knot of a story to shreds; shards of memories, lengths of abstract McGuffins and disembodied clues heaped on the floor of some strange Sunset Boulevard condominium. The key to unlocking this puzzle box of a film is letting go of the need for there to be a key at all. Just as with life, Mulholland Dr. is unexplainable. The twisted beauty of it all is the constant drive for survival, for the next hurdle to overcome — if an answer was ever found, the game would stop. And in this way, Mulholland Dr. has secured its immortality.
The Blu-ray edition will be released on May 8th, just in time for Twin Peaks Season 3, premiering on Showtime May 21st.
Jordan Brooks (@viewtoaqueue) is an increasingly-snobby cinephile based out of London, England. As a contributor to several online publications, including his own blog, he has succeeded in fulfilling his life long dream of imposing strong opinions on others.