Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring, Justin Theroux, Ann Miller, Robert Forster
Director:  David Lynch
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Universal
Features:  Theatrical Trailer, Talent Files
Length:  147 Minutes
Release Date:  April 9, 2002

“Camilla…you’ve come back…”

Film ****

A beautiful dark haired woman escapes a horrific car crash outside of Hollywood in a daze and with amnesia and meets a sunny blonde who arrives in Hollywood with a Sandra Dee aura and bright ambition.  A movie director is being bullied into a casting choice, and his decision might affect the rest of his life.  A club bearing the Spanish word for “silence” hypnotizes its audience on both sides of the screen, before the entire story changes gears so rapidly, we’re no longer sure what is fantasy and what is reality.  All in a day’s work for David Lynch.

Mulholland Drive is an avenue of nightmares weaving through the City of Dreams with surrealistic humor, eroticism, and fury.  Writer/director David Lynch has spent the best part of his career lurking in our subconscious minds and toying with the knobs.  He played with our sensibilities in Blue Velvet, ravished our innocence as filmgoers in Wild at Heart, and shattered our fragile illusions in Lost Highway.  But in taking us on this noir-ish trip down Mulholland Drive, he does all of this and a lot more.

Roger Ebert called this the picture Lynch has been leading up to for his entire career…quite a compliment from a critic who found much of the director’s movies to his displeasure.  As for me, I’ve been a devoted fan of David Lynch for about twenty years, and I don’t think of Mulholland Drive as the film where he suddenly lived up to his potential.  I think of it as the film where his audiences started living up to theirs.

Watching a David Lynch movie is akin to being a guest (or a prisoner) in someone else’s dream.  To leave the theatre is like a strange awakening, where you start to wonder if all the pieces you perceived actually fit together into something coherent or not.  Did it in fact have a more elusive, significant meaning, you might ask?  Maybe, maybe not…after all, do dreams?  What you take away might depend on what you brought with you in the first place.

Mulholland Drive may have benefited from the huge following another playful noir piece gathered earlier last year.  Memento proved that audiences were willing to follow a mystery, assemble it in their minds piece by piece, and enjoy the experience to the tune of repeated viewings and a great word-of-mouth campaign.  To a smaller extent, Lynch’s film followed the same course.  The resulting movie was even more challenging, but equally as good, as film fans seemed ready to pick up an even tougher jigsaw puzzle than Memento and sift through the pieces.

I won’t go into too many details here…the less you know going in, the better.  Once you come out, though, you’ll be more than ready to discuss the picture in minute detail…you’ll be anxious to compare notes with other viewers and see what solutions you come up with!

The film begins with a dance sequence that’s both a little funny and a little disturbing.  The credits run, and we are introduced to a beautiful woman (Harring) in the back of a Cadillac, being driven by two men down Mulholland Drive at night.  Hollywood, like a glimmering piece of costume jewelry, lights up the landscape below.

There is an accident (did it thwart a murder attempt?) that leaves the woman dazed, wandering through the Hollywood hills until she ends up cowering in an empty apartment room.

Arriving in Hollywood the next day with big dreams and cheery disposition is Betty (Watts).  She is going to be staying at her Aunt’s apartment while trying to make it as an actress.  Yes, it just so happens to be the same apartment where our mysterious brunette has ended up.

Temporarily christening herself Rita, she befriends the perky Betty, who in turn delves into the mystery of trying to find out A) who Rita really is, and B) why she’s carrying such a large wad of cash in her purse! 

At the same time, other story threads are being woven into the plot.  A hotshot young director, Adam (Theroux) is seeing his world coming slowly apart as he’s being pressured to hire some unknown ingénue for his latest film.  Two men share a conversation in a coffee shop, and one nervously tells the other about a strange recurring dream.  There is a menacing cowboy, a dwarf calling some heavy shots, and a nightclub that emphasizes illusion over reality…an a cappella Spanish version of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” will mesmerize you.

Lynch toys with humor, mystery, and sexuality…in fact, be prepared for some of the most titillating scenes you’ve yet seen from him…and constantly juggles them all between two hands; one reality, one illusion.  How much so?  Let me put it this way:  nothing you will have seen in the first two hours will prepare you for the jarring third act.  You will question everything and everyone you thought you knew.  There is no safety net in a David Lynch movie.

Enigmatic doesn’t even begin to describe the overall results, and a second viewing will be immediately in order, especially if you’re convinced the movie didn’t make sense.  Watch again.  Look for the trail of breadcrumbs.  If needed, read the liner notes, and David Lynch’s ten clues for unlocking the mystery in time to watch again.  Be ready to be stunned.

Mulholland Drive may be off-putting to the casual filmgoer.  It requires complete surrender from frame one…if you’re not willing to completely hand yourself over to David Lynch in faith, you might as well not even push play.  If you are, as Lynch fans generally always are, you might find your trip down this street of dreams and nightmares one of the most rewarding cinematic journeys you’ll ever take.  At the very least, you’re likely to find it the best mind blow you’ve had in some time.

Video ****

This is arguably David Lynch’s most beautiful looking film to date, and Universal’s anamorphic transfer delivers the goods.  The imagery is a vast expanse of bright, rich colors, dark, dreamy landscapes, substance and smoke, and reality and illusion.  Notice after the car accident how many layers of space seem to exist, from the flickering fires to the billowing smoke, to the woman, to the background, and so on.  Each object plays against the other for maximum effect…lines are sharp without being drastic, visuals range from crisp to deliberately soft depending on the director’s concepts, while colors range from natural and bright to ravaging and overly indulgent…again, all orchestrated to an intended effect.  This is one of the year’s best offerings.

Audio ****

The 5.1 soundtrack (Dolby Digital or DTS) is equally impressive.  As the film starts with a low, potent note from Angelo Badalamenti’s score, you’ll know you’re in for a treat.  Listen to that bizarre opening swing number…how clear and crisp the music sounds!  Listen to those jolting moments of dynamic range that will shake the breakables in your living room if you’re not careful.  Listen to the ominous rumblings from the .1 channel echoing through most of the movie, adding to the unsettling effect.  Listen to how open the front and rear stages are during the “Crying” number…it’s a scene with no instruments and no effects, yet it’s one of the most memorable listening experiences I’ve ever enjoyed with my audio system.  Reference quality all the way.

Features *

Only a trailer and some talent files…though you’re liable to get a kick at the amount of information included for David Lynch!


Mulholland Drive is a masterpiece from a maestro filmmaker.  David Lynch has been drawing his fans into worlds of dreams and nightmares, of fantasy and illusion, of beautiful surfaces and dark underbellies for decades, and he is at the top of his game with this film.  This reference quality disc is a must-own for the adventurous film lover, or for those who loved the puzzle of Memento and are ready for an even bigger challenge.