Mulholland Drive

David Lynch
Release Year:
Length (mins):
Naomi Watts
Screening Date:
  • 31 Oct 2023
  • Categories:
    Drama, Mystery, Thriller

    Surrealist neo-noir mystery by David Lynch which tells the story of aspiring actress Betty (Naomi Watts) who befriends an amnesiac woman recovering from a car accident in LA.

    What's this?
    F-Rated Bronze

    Film Notes

    Mulholland Drive.

    David Lynch has been working toward "Mulholland Drive" all of his career, and now that he's arrived there I forgive him "Wild at Heart" and even "Lost Highway." At last his experiment doesn't shatter the test tubes. The movie is a surrealist dreamscape in the form of a Hollywood film noir, and the less sense it makes, the more we can't stop watching it.

    It tells the story of . . . well, there's no way to finish that sentence. There are two characters named Betty and Rita who the movie follows through mysterious plot loops, but by the end of the film we aren't even sure they're different characters, and Rita (an amnesiac who lifted the name from a "Gilda" poster) wonders if she's really Diane Selwyn, a name from a waitress' name tag.

    Betty (Naomi Watts) is a perky blond, Sandra Dee crossed with a Hitchcock heroine, who has arrived in town to stay in her absent Aunt Ruth's apartment and audition for the movies. Rita (Laura Elena Harring) is a voluptuous brunet who is about to be murdered when her limousine is front-ended by drag racers. She crawls out of the wreckage on Mulholland Drive, stumbles down the hill, and is taking a shower in the aunt's apartment when Betty arrives.

    Rita doesn't remember anything, even her name. Betty decides to help her. As they try to piece her life back together, the movie introduces other characters. A movie director (Justin Theroux) is told to cast an actress in his movie or be murdered; a dwarf in a wheelchair (Michael J. Anderson) gives instructions by cell phone; two detectives turn up, speak standard TV cop show dialogue, and disappear; a landlady (Ann Miller--yes, Ann Miller) wonders who the other girl is in Aunt Ruth's apartment; Betty auditions; the two girls climb in through a bedroom window, Nancy Drew style; a rotting corpse materializes, and Betty and Rita have two lesbian love scenes so sexy you'd swear this was a 1970s movie, made when movie audiences liked sex. One of the scenes also contains the funniest example of pure logic in the history of sex scenes.

    Having told you all of that, I've basically explained nothing. The movie is hypnotic; we're drawn along as if one thing leads to another--but nothing leads anywhere, and that's even before the characters start to fracture and recombine like flesh caught in a kaleidoscope. "Mulholland Drive" isn't like "Memento," where if you watch it closely enough, you can hope to explain the mystery. There is no explanation. There may not even be a mystery.

    There have been countless dream sequences in the movies, almost all of them conceived with Freudian literalism to show the characters having nightmares about the plot. "Mulholland Drive" is all dream. There is nothing that is intended to be a waking moment. Like real dreams, it does not explain, does not complete its sequences, lingers over what it finds fascinating, dismisses unpromising plotlines. If you want an explanation for the last half hour of the film, think of it as the dreamer rising slowly to consciousness, as threads from the dream fight for space with recent memories from real life, and with fragments of other dreams--old ones and those still in development.

    This works because Lynch is absolutely uncompromising. He takes what was frustrating in some of his earlier films, and instead of backing away from it, he charges right through. "Mulholland Drive" is said to have been assembled from scenes that he shot for a 1999 ABC television pilot, but no network would air (or understand) this material, and Lynch knew it. He takes his financing where he can find it and directs as fancy dictates. This movie doesn't feel incomplete because it could never be complete--closure is not a goal.

    Laura Elena Harring and Naomi Watts take the risk of embodying Hollywood archetypes, and get away with it because they are archetypes. Not many actresses would be bold enough to name themselves after Rita Hayworth, but Harring does, because she can. Slinky and voluptuous in clinging gowns, all she has to do is stand there and she's the first good argument in 55 years for a "Gilda" remake. Naomi Watts is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, a plucky girl detective. Like a dream, the movie shifts easily between tones; there's an audition where a girl singer performs "Sixteen Reasons" and "I Told Every Little Star," and the movie isn't satirizing "American Bandstand," it's channeling it.

    This is a movie to surrender yourself to. If you require logic, see something else. "Mulholland Drive" works directly on the emotions, like music. Individual scenes play well by themselves, as they do in dreams, but they don't connect in a way that makes sense--again, like dreams. The way you know the movie is over is that it ends. And then you tell a friend, "I saw the weirdest movie last night." Just like you tell them you had the weirdest dream.

    Roger Ebert 

    Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

    Mulholland Dr.: No 2 best arthouse film of all time.

    Not many films have managed to have their cake and eat it quite like Mulholland Drive (technically it's "Dr." not "Drive", which is important). It is a movie about the worst of Hollywood and the best; the dark, brutal undercurrents and the sparkly celebrity froth, the dream and the reality. But it's the way it twists the two into some unfathomable Moebius strip that makes Mulholland Drive such a work of art.

    The film's greatest feat is to give us all the thrills of a classic Hollywood movie within an avant-garde framework – and to get away with it. First-time viewers unfamiliar with Lynch's ways will be taken in by the initial set-up: an amnesiac car-crash victim (Laura Harring) staggers into the house of an aspiring actress recently arrived in town (Naomi Watts), but three-quarters of the way through, having been drawn into a glossy noir fantasy, the rug is pulled out from under us completely. The same actors now appear to be completely different characters. The glamour has all evaporated. The relationships have all changed. Nothing's nice and sunny any more. Who's dreaming who? What goes where? What does it all mean?

    Piecing Mulholland Drive together is half the film's appeal – and there's still no guarantee it all makes sense. Lynch even issued a set of clues shortly after the release to guide people through the mystery – "notice appearances of the red lampshade" – which only made the story more cryptic. But even after we think we've deciphered it, the film somehow loses none of its power. That sense of being taken in, only to realise we understood nothing, gives us some emotional connection to Watts's character. And even as he's tying our brains in knots, Lynch is showing us behind the curtain in Mulholland Drive – showing us this is all really just his dream. But the illusions remain intact even after they've been dismantled. Lynch can still create charged scenes out of nothing but a few skilled actors and our own subconscious. He knows how to push our buttons, and he shows us that he knows how to push our buttons. And we love it.

    , The Guardian, 20th October 2010.

    By the way the film Steve Rose chose as the number 1 best Arthouse film of all time is Andrei Rublev, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky and released in, 1966.

    Mulholland Dr review: David Lynch’s masterpiece returns to the big screen

    The first great US film of the century still has us guessing 15 years later.

    There is a special place in hell for internet pundits who declare that they have found the "solution" to Mulholland Dr. This temptation to view works of surrealism – or any other branch of modernism – as a crossword puzzle has been lurking for a century. If we just answer a few troubling questions then we can construct the proper story that the author has concealed beneath all these diversions.

    This is not to suggest that there aren't helpful foot holes scattered about the forbidding face of David Lynch's most recent great film. Mulholland Dr (the title is always styled thus) may actually be about something we can write down in words. Like the protagonist of A Star is Born and, more recently, that of The Neon Demon, Betty (Naomi Watts) has come to Los Angeles with dreams of celebrity. The city she encounters is a real place.

    It is not Twin Peaks or the ghostly industrial wasteland of Eraserhead. You will learn more about the texture of Hollywood from Mulholland Dr than you will from the less forbidding frames of La La Land. Lynch is at home to aspiration and dreams, but he also believes in the monster that lurks round the dumpster.

    Few scenes so effectively convey the transformative power of cinema than the episode that sees Betty, working with a text that has hitherto fallen flat, conveying unsettlingly rich emotion in an audition. The passion is all the more unsettling because it is decontextualised.


    Are these answers? Let’s pretend they’re not. Originally conceived as a television series, Lynch’s gorgeously mounted film hangs around the relationship between Betty and the more mysterious, more potentially dangerous Rita (Laura Harring). Halfway through, something happens and they become a dream in the mind of two people who look very like them. Or they may be that? If that works then run with it.

    Mulholland Drive (the thoroughfare) skirts Hollywood without quite becoming part of it. In sections it almost enters the wilderness. We probably shouldn’t pretend that this tells us anything about the film’s relationship to that part of Los Angeles, but we drop the hint anyway.

    Mulholland Dr is reissued some 15 years after it was released. It was rapidly hailed as the first great US film of the century. None since has been any more powerful. (Answers at the bottom of the page.)

    Donald Clarke, The Irish Times, April 12th 2017.

    Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist

    What you thought about Mulholland Drive

    Film Responses

    Excellent Good Average Poor Very Poor
    7 (21%) 13 (38%) 11 (32%) 2 (6%) 1 (3%)
    Total Number of Responses: 34
    Film Score (0-5): 3.68

    Collated Response Comments

    86 members and guests attended the screening of Mullholland Drive. 34 of you gave a response which makes a 40% response rate and delivered a score of 3.68 making it the least popular film of the season so far. Previously that was Return to Seoul with 3.79.

    All of your comments are collected below.

    Hollywood, where the clamour of desperate dreamers is enough to warp reality and bend time back on itself. Or so it feels here, 'Wild at heart and weird on top' to quote another Lynch movie. A plot as obtuse and opaque as Raymond Chandler's whisky sodden nightmares and styling as richly shadowy as a puddle of blood. I have read the explanations of the plot and am trying to forget them, not everything in our lives should be explicable, I prefer this as a reverie, a memory only partly recalled, a mystery it remains amusing to pick over rather than solve. It has all your favourite Lynchisms; eerie soundscape, ordinary objects given arcane significance, a sense of an increasingly tenuous grip on sanity, a Badalamenti score, a wide-eyed innocent and a femme fatale. It is, after many viewings, still satisfyingly gorgeous and still impenetrable.

    “Wonderfully made film. If you need a helpful explanation on youtube and if I am allowed to show the link, it's:- and the youtuber is called Twin perfect”.

    “Everyone knows that David Lynch has a reputation for making weird movies and I have enjoyed a couple of them in the past (esp. loved the Elephant Man). Mulholland Dr. has great cinematography, strong acting and a continual sense of foreboding underpinning the storyline. However, maybe I'm being obtuse here... when you need to google a movie to find out what the plot actually was (after you've seen it!) I think the Director has not done their job properly. I would have given it a 'good rating' (if available) but, despite reservations about the unfathomable plot, on balance it was certainly better than average”.

    “It's my own fault, really.    Never was a film more deserving of being "pre-reviewed" on the GFS website than this one. At home afterwards, cries of "that's what it meant" and "oh I see now" echoed along the corridors.  We left, somewhat stupefied, but aware we'd seen something pretty impressive, without understanding exactly what or why, and I'm sure many others did too, judging from the reactions around us.  A great film, well worthy of a second viewing.  5 stars.  Excellent”.

    “I read the reviews, I watched the film, I found it visually intense, but I lost the plot. Director’s view of the madhouse of Hollywood perhaps?”

    “It was all an illusion! Left feeling I'd just experienced someone's nightmare-ish decline into madness. Kept being reminded of twin peaks. Very stylish and haunting - would I have given it the no2 slot...not sure”.


    “Confusing and too much pseudo – significance. Too much melodrama both in character and theme! Too self-important. Incoherent”.

    “I very much enjoyed the surrealist, dream/reality nature of the film and don't need a solution. It is sufficiently engaging as it stands. Are we like the detective trying to solve an unsolvable crime? However, I did feel that the first two thirds are too realistic and internally consistent - not sufficiently dream like. Dreams are not like that, or did I miss something? Have to watch it again!”

    “Good to look at but I find the older I get the less time I have for surrealism. Standing at the top of the stairs wondering why I came up here, daily life is odd enough. A great pity that its length makes Andrei Rublëv directed by Tvardovsky a non- starter for the Society. Now there is a classic art house film that has a story line and leaves us with a difficult question to ponder (why and how can art flourish in impossibly hostile conditions?)”

    “I came out confused, but after some sleep concluded that I had been duped - what seemed real was fake and the surreal was the truth! Very clever stuff. Good to see something so different!”

    “Fascinating film noir that floats between the early 2000's and the 1950's in terms of look and feel. It starts with Betty pursuing her dreams in Hollywood and works its convoluted way to Betty/Diane ending up in a nightmare. The language of the film emulates our sleep dream world - colours, camera work, pulsating soundtrack and a claustrophobic feel throughout. And what are almost cameos / stereotypes from the Hollywood world: the director (probably David Lynch having fun with styling Justin Theroux to look a bit like himself), the bored wife and pool guy, Ann Miller (and other recognisable actors from bygone eras), the waitress at the diner, the mafia, etc. My first David Lynch film and well worth it!”

    “We need another film to explain what happened here”.

    “Rather overlong. Interesting use of close-up photography”.

    "Give me Andrei Rublëv every time”.

    “It was a good recommendation to read the reviews before watching, as they certainly managed my expectations. As a result, I found the majority of the film more cohesive than I was expecting, with moments of drama, tension, humour and confusion. Strong performances from the lead actresses. As it progressed towards a conclusion it became more confusing as identities switched and I was unsure what it really was about. I did read something afterwards which said it had been produced as an open-ended pilot for a TV series which was rejected and so David Lynch wrote an ending to make it into a feature film. That's how it felt to me! Thanks for another interesting choice”.

    “When Mulholland Drive was created, such a story must have been ahead of its time within the film industry (though not entirely new when considering literature). However, in 2023, it doesn't stand out as groundbreaking or one of the best films of all time. The story, often described as complex, certainly had moments of confusion and incompleteness while watching it, but it struck me as fairly simple when looking back and piecing things and main themes together. The film's strength lies in the performances of the two main actresses and the artistic teams. It created a sense of 'Avant-Garde', but I felt the script was weaker than other great masterpieces. Personally, I found it comparable to Martha Argerich playing a superb rendition of a random composition, but it can never surpass Mozart or Bach. (I apologise if this seems harsh, but I'm expressing my honest opinion because I couldn't comprehend this as one of the best films ever made.) While it wasn't entirely to my liking, it was undeniably interesting and left an impression. I'll explore David Lynch's other movies to see how he has evolved as a filmmaker in the future”.

    “I loved this film. The acting was sultry, the photography was outstanding, with moments that generated real tension. The way in which the storyline (if you can call it that) shifted halfway through the film was intriguing. It's the sort of film you don't forget seeing”.

    “So very entertaining – wonderful cinema but would have loved to know what it was all about”.

    “It’s one of the finest films ever made. David Lynch is better at directing horror than all horror directors. It is a film that only gets better on repeat viewings…. of which I have had far too many…masterpiece”.

    “Very strange but riveting! What a plot line!”

    “I was absolutely drawn in! Spellbinding!”

    “Glorious”. “Creative and complex”.

    “Wasn’t looking forward to it, but thoroughly enjoyed it – I just stopped worrying about the ‘plot’. Now I understand the view that it is a masterpiece”.

    “Wild and wonderful but hard to comprehend”.

    “One to think about! Enjoyed a lot of it with some great performances and cinematography”.

    “A good film society film but too long”.

    “Gripping, but then I got lost. I want to look it up”.

    “A bit of a curate’s egg – good in parts. Parts of the tension over egged”.

    “Well. Simply ‘That’s Hollywood’ or its an incredibly difficult maths problem – the answer of which is within your grasp - but it just disappears. Might take a month to work out the plot”.

    “Entertaining but meaningless!”   “Really”.   “Confused”. “Too long and a bit implausible”

    “Intense, scary and very, very weird! What was that?”

    “Great actors and actresses. Absolutely confusing and utterly stupid ‘story’ – far too long“.    “Too weird for me”.


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