David Lynch is the most brilliantly innovative and interesting filmmaker working today, and Mulholland Drive is yet another masterpiece. It is beautiful, ugly, poignant, haunting, hilarious, dark, nightmarish, mesmerizing, thought-provoking, puzzling, and confounding. Is it a horror film? Like all things in the Lynchian universe, the answer is an emphatic: yes and no.
What's the story about? The more proper question is: Is there a story? Again, there is and there isn't.
Mulholland Drive is not so much a story as a series of events, veering off into divergent tangents, surrealistically (but only partially) interconnected, sometimes returning on a Mobius strip in new form, sometimes dropped and forgotten, or lingering on a subconscious level. Welcome to Lynch's dark and beautiful nightmare. You either love it or hate it.
Like Lynch's Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive opens in a hyper-idealized America. A perky all-American girl (from Canada) with stars in her eyes wins a jitterbug contest — 1950s kitsch in a contemporary America permeated with anachronistic sensibilities. She arrives in Los Angeles, seen resplendently through her naive eyes. That's Betty (from Archie comics?) played by Naomi Watts. In Mulholland Drive, Betty's brunette foil is Rita (Laura Harring). Rita hails from L.A. noir. A dark femme fatale riding in the back seat of a car, moving languorously, hypnotically, down Mulholland Drive. Rita's mysterious identity is compounded by her attempted murder. Then a strikingly brutal (and seemingly arbitrary) incident drastically alters the course of events.
As in a nightmare.
Lynch is one of the few filmmakers who can pull off such seeming arbitrariness. His films' narrative subtext, cinematography, art direction, and music create a surreal interconnectedness that fuses events together despite drastic and seemingly arbitrary plot detours.
I don't want to reveal too much. Mulholland Drive should not be spoiled for those who've yet to see it.
After driving down Mulholland Drive, Rita has amnesia. She wanders into Betty's house. Betty — who came to Hollywood to be star — takes Rita under her wing. Like Nancy Drew, Betty is an innocent drawn to adventure. Innocent, because no modern day Nancy Drew would last long in the dark and violent world Betty is set to enter (and Rita, re-enter).
This is a common Lynchian theme: The innocent who is drawn to dark strangers living corrupt lives under the Disney-fied surface of Americana. (It is tempting to see Lynch, raised in Montana, as that innocent.)
In Mulholland Drive, Lynch (through Betty) pokes underneath Hollywood's glitter. Naturally, we find lies, corruption, power plays, egos, and exploitation. The pain and heartbreak beneath Hollywood glitter is an old target, extending back to the similarly titled Sunset Boulevard. Yet remarkably, Lynch breathes starling new vigor into this well-trod tale.