Rated R - Running Time: 2:26 - Released 10/19/01

It is altogether fitting that Mulholland Drive debuted at my local theatre on November 30, on the day of the second full moon of the month, because only once in a blue moon does a movie like this come along. Written, directed, and produced by David Lynch, who has given us such freaky mind-benders as Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, this movie is what Eyes Wide Shut and The Cell both wanted to be. Combining the excellent performances of a varied and sometimes surprising cast with Lynch's wildly conceptual cinematic art, Mulholland Drive tells a circular story that twists and turns and doubles back on itself and sometimes even switches actors around between parts. The result is a dreamy, nightmarish, highly contemplative piece of celluloid that, while it will certainly not appeal to everyone, is just the kind of thing critics love: something different.

Although explaining the plot of this movie is like trying to describe the nature of existence using only hand motions, it begins with two young women: Betty Elms (Naomi Watts), a talented but innocent young actress who has just moved to Hollywood to seek her fortune, and "Rita" (Laura Harring), who only takes the name "Rita" because she is suffering from anmesia after receiving a concussion in a car accident. They meet when Betty arrives at her vacationing aunt's empty apartment where she's going to stay until she finds her own place. Rita is there, having found her way in after the aunt left town. Betty thinks at first that she is a family friend, but when she learns the truth, she agrees to help Rita try to find out her true identity.

As the women get to know each other, their friendship grows into something more intimate. In between Betty's auditions, where she meets a young director (Justin Theroux) who will figure significantly into Rita's story, she accompanies the confused girl on her quest to find out who she is. As they begin investigating possible leads, they discover a woman named Diane Selwyn (Missy Crider), whom Rita apparently knew before the accident. That is, they discover Diane's body. And with that discovery begins a chain of events that unravel the very fabric of time and space, reality and fantasy, waking and dreams, rendering our two co-protagonists as alter-egos of themselves, or perhaps mere figments in the mind of another. That's all I'm going to say, although that barely begins to scratch the surface.

This film, which Lynch originally produced as a pilot for a television series that was rejected for being too dark, went on to win Lynch the Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival. Pushing the envelope of ingenuity the way Being John Malkovich did, it forces the viewer to unravel many barely explained nuances of theme and character. I mean, you practically need a sliderule to figure this thing out. But besides being compelling in its complexity, it contains some amazingly real performances and hauntingly creepy plot devices, boasting everything from casual murder to supernatural whimsy to lesbian sex to hiccups in the space/time continuum. In addition to Watts, who won Movieline's inaugural "Breakthrough of the Year" award for her work, and Mexican-born former Miss USA Harring, who puts forth a performance no less compelling, it features a multitude of fascinating supporting parts and some surprising casting choices, like Ann Miller, Billy Ray Cyrus (of "Achy Breaky Heart" fame), and Chad Everett. Added to their varied and surprising performances, Peter Deming's cinematography and Angelo Badalamenti's compelling musical score add significant depth.

You should definitely see this film if you're interested in the art of cinema, but you're going to have to buy the DVD if you really want to understand it. *****

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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