Mulholland Drive is a 2001 mystery film written and directed by David Lynch that exhibits elements of film noir and surrealism. It stars Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring and Justin Theroux. The film was highly acclaimed by many critics and earned Lynch the Prix de la mise en scène (Best Director Award) at the Cannes Film Festival as well as an Oscar nomination for Best Director. Mulholland Drive also launched the careers of Watts and Harring and was the last feature film to star veteran Hollywood actor Ann Miller. The film is widely regarded as one of Lynch's finest works, alongside Eraserhead (1977) and Blue Velvet (1986).
Originally conceived as a television pilot, a large portion of the film was shot with Lynch's plan to keep it open-ended for a potential series. After viewing Lynch's version, however, television executives decided to reject it; Lynch then provided an ending to the project, making it a feature film. The half-pilot, half-feature result, along with Lynch's characteristic style, has left the general meaning of the movie's events open to interpretation. Lynch has declined to offer an explanation of his intentions for the narrative, leaving audiences, critics, and cast members to speculate on what transpires.
The film tells the story of an aspiring actress named Betty Elms, newly arrived in Los Angeles, California, who meets and befriends an amnesiac hiding in her aunt's apartment. The story includes several other seemingly unrelated vignettes that eventually connect in various ways, as well as some surreal scenes and images that relate to the cryptic narrative. The New York Times wrote that while some might consider the plot an "offense against narrative order ... the film is an intoxicating liberation from sense, with moments of feeling all the more powerful for seeming to emerge from the murky night world of the unconscious.
The story may not be linear and exhibits several instances of temporal disruption. A dark-haired woman (Laura Elena Harring) escapes her own murder when she is the sole survivor of a car accident on Mulholland Drive. Injured, she descends into Los Angeles and sneaks into an apartment which has just been vacated by an older woman with red hair. An aspiring actress named Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) arrives from Deep River, Ontario and takes a taxi to the apartment, where she finds the dark-haired woman confused, not knowing her own name. The dark-haired woman assumes the name "Rita" when she sees a poster for the film Gilda (1946), starring Rita Hayworth. Betty decides to assist her in discovering her identity, and they look in Rita's purse where they find a large amount of money and an unusual blue key.
A man in a diner called "Winkies" tells his companion about a nightmare in which he dreamt there was a horrible figure behind the diner. When they go to investigate, the figure appears, causing the man with the nightmare to collapse in fright. Later, a bungling hit man attempts to steal a book full of phone numbers and leaves three people dead. A Hollywood director named Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) has his film commandeered by apparent mobsters, who insist he cast an unknown actress named Camilla Rhodes (Melissa George) as the lead in his film. After he resists, he returns home to find his wife having an affair and is thrown out of his house. He later learns that his bank has closed his line of credit and he is broke. He agrees to meet a mysterious figure called The Cowboy, who urges him to cast Camilla Rhodes for his own good.
Betty and Rita try to learn more about her accident and Rita remembers the name "Diane Selwyn" after they are served by a waitress named Diane in Winkies. They call Diane Selwyn after finding her in the phone book, but she does not answer. Betty goes to an audition, where her performance is highly praised. A casting agent takes her to the set of a film called The Sylvia North Story, directed by Adam, where Camilla Rhodes gives an audition and Adam declares "This is the girl". Saying that she needs to meet a friend, Betty flees before she can meet Adam.
Betty and Rita go to Diane Selwyn's apartment and break in when no one answers the door. In the bedroom they find the body of a woman who has been dead for several days. Terrified, they return to their apartment, where Rita disguises herself with a blonde wig. The two women make love that night and fall asleep until 2 a.m., when Rita insists they go to an eerie theater called Club Silencio. A performer explains in several languages that everything is an illusion; a woman performs a song, then collapses, although the song continues. Betty finds a blue box in her purse that matches Rita's key. Upon returning to the apartment to open the box, Betty disappears, and Rita unlocks the box, and it falls to the floor with a thump.
The woman with the red hair investigates the sound, but nothing is there. The Cowboy appears in the doorway of Diane Selwyn's bedroom saying, "Hey, pretty girl. Time to wake up." Diane Selwyn (played by Naomi Watts) wakes up in her bed. She looks exactly like Betty, but she is portrayed as a lonely and depressed failed actress, in love with Camilla Rhodes (played now by Laura Elena Harring), who torments and rejects her. On Camilla's invitation, Diane attends a party at Adam's house on Mulholland Drive. Her limousine stops before they reach the house and Camilla escorts her using a shortcut. Adam, who is a successful director, also appears to be in love with Camilla. Over dinner, Diane states that she came to Hollywood when her aunt died, and she met Camilla at an audition for The Sylvia North Story. Another woman (played by Melissa George) kisses Camilla and they turn and smile at Diane. Adam and Camilla attempt to make an important announcement, but dissolve into laughter and kiss while Diane watches, crying.
Diane meets with the bungling hit man at Winkies, where she gives him Camilla's photo and a large amount of money, and they are served by a waitress named Betty. The hit man tells Diane that when the job is done, she will find a blue key. Diane looks up to see the man who had the nightmare standing at the counter. Back at her apartment, in view of the key, she is terrorized by hallucinations. She runs screaming to her bed where she shoots herself.
Lynch described the attractiveness of the idea of a pilot, despite the knowledge that the medium of television would be constricting: "I'm a sucker for a continuing story ... Theoretically, you can get a very deep story and you can go so deep and open the world so beautifully, but it takes time to do that." The story balanced normal and surreal elements, much like Lynch’s earlier series Twin Peaks. Groundwork was laid for story arcs, such as the mystery of Rita's identity, Betty's career, and Adam Kesher's film project.
Filming for the television pilot began on location in Los Angeles in February 1999 and took six weeks. Ultimately, the network was unhappy with the pilot and decided not to place it on its schedule. Objections included the nonlinear storyline, the ages of Harring and Watts (whom they considered too old), Ann Miller's character cigarette smoking, and a close-frame shot of dog feces in one scene. Lynch remembered, "All I know is, I loved making it, ABC hated it, and I don't like the cut I turned in. I agreed with ABC that the longer cut was too slow, but I was forced to butcher it because we had a deadline, and there wasn't time to finesse anything. It lost texture, big scenes, and storylines, and there are 300 tape copies of the bad version circulating around. Lots of people have seen it, which is embarrassing, because they're bad-quality tapes, too. I don't want to think about it.
The script was later rewritten and expanded when Lynch decided to transform it into a feature film. Describing how he transitioned from an open-ended pilot to a feature film with a resolution of sorts, Lynch said, "One night, I sat down, the ideas came in, and it was a most beautiful experience. Everything was seen from a different angle ... Now, looking back, I see that [the film] always wanted to be this way. It just took this strange beginning to cause it to be what it is." The result was an extra eighteen pages of material that included the romantic relationship between Rita and Betty and the events that occurred after the blue box was opened. Watts was relieved that the pilot was dropped by ABC. She found Betty too one-dimensional without the darker portion of the film that was put together afterward. Most of the new scenes were filmed in October 2000, funded with $7 million from French production company StudioCanal.
Theroux described approaching filming without entirely understanding what the plot was about: "You get the whole script, but he might as well withhold the scenes you're not in, because the whole turns out to be more mystifying than the parts. David welcomes questions, but he won't answer any of them ... You work kind of half-blindfolded. If he were a first-time director and hadn't demonstrated any command of this method, I'd probably have reservations. But it obviously works for him." Theroux noted the only answer Lynch did provide was that he was certain that Theroux's character, a Hollywood director, was not autobiographical of Lynch. Watts stated that she tried to bluff Lynch by pretending she had the plot figured out, and that he delighted in the cast's frustration.
Giving the film only the tagline, "A love story in the city of dreams", David Lynch has refused to comment on Mulholland Drive's meaning or symbolism, leading to much discussion and multiple interpretations. Christian Science Monitor film critic David Sterritt spoke with Lynch after the film screened at Cannes and wrote that the director "insisted that Mulholland Drive does tell a coherent, comprehensible story," unlike some of Lynch's earlier films. On the other hand, Justin Theroux said of Lynch's feelings on the multiple meanings people perceive in the film, "I think he's genuinely happy for it to mean anything you want. He loves it when people come up with really bizarre interpretations. David works from his subconscious."
An early interpretation of the film uses dream analysis to explain that the first part is a dream of the real Diane Selwyn, who has cast her dream-self as the innocent and hopeful "Betty Elms", reconstructing her history and persona into something like an old Hollywood movie. In the dream, Betty is successful, charming, and lives the fantasy life of a soon-to-be-famous actress. The last third of the film presents Diane's bleak real life, in which she has failed both personally and professionally. She arranges for Camilla, a cold ex-lover, to be killed, and unable to cope with the guilt, re-imagines her as the dependent, pliable amnesiac named Rita. Clues to her inevitable demise, however, continue to appear throughout her dream.
This interpretation was similar to what Naomi Watts construed, when she said in an interview, "I thought Diane was the real character and that Betty was the person she wanted to be and had dreamed up. Rita is the damsel in distress and she's in absolute need of Betty, and Betty controls her as if she were a doll. Rita is Betty's fantasy of who she wants Camilla to be." Watts' own early experiences in Hollywood parallel those of Diane's. She endured some professional frustration before she became successful, auditioned for parts in which she did not believe, and encountered people who did not follow through with opportunities. She recalled, "There were a lot of promises, but nothing actually came off. I ran out of money and became quite lonely."
The Guardian asked six well-known film critics for their own perceptions of the overall meaning in the Mulholland Drive. Neil Roberts of The Sun and Tom Charity of Time Out subscribed to the theory that Betty is Diane's projection of a happier life. Roger Ebert and Jonathan Ross seemed to accept this interpretation, but both hesitated to overanalyze the movie. Ebert stated, "There is no explanation. There may not even be a mystery." Ross observed that there were storylines that went nowhere: "Perhaps these were leftovers from the pilot it was originally intended to be, or perhaps these things are the non-sequiturs and subconscious of dreams." Philip French from The Observer saw it as an allusion to Hollywood tragedy, while Jane Douglas from the BBC rejected the theory of Betty's life as Diane's dream, but also warned against too much analysis.
Another theory offered is that the narrative is a Möbius strip, a twisted band that has no beginning and no end. Or Betty and Rita, and Diane and Camilla may exist in parallel universes that sometimes interconnect. Or the entire film is a dream, but whose dream is unknown.
Regardless of the proliferation of theories, movie reviewers note that no single explanation satisfies all of the loose ends and questions that arise from the film. Stephen Holden of the The New York Times wrote, "Mulholland Drive has little to do with any single character's love life or professional ambition. The movie is an ever-deepening reflection on the allure of Hollywood and on the multiple role-playing and self-invention that the movie-going experience promises ... What greater power is there than the power to enter and to program the dream life of the culture?" J. Hoberman from The Village Voice echoed this sentiment by calling it a "poisonous valentine to Hollywood".
Mulholland Drive has been compared with Billy Wilder's film noir classic Sunset Boulevard (1950), another tale about broken dreams in Hollywood. Apart from both titles referring to iconic Los Angeles streets, Mulholland Drive is "Lynch's unique account of what held Wilder's attention too: human putrefaction (a term Lynch used several times during his press conference at the New York Film Festival 2001) in a city of lethal illusions". The title of the film is a reference to iconic Hollywood culture. David Lynch lives near Mulholland Drive, and stated in an interview, "At night, you ride on the top of the world. In the daytime you ride on top of the world, too, but it's mysterious, and there's a hair of fear because it goes into remote areas. You feel the history of Hollywood in that road." Watts also had experience with the road before her career was established: "I remember driving along the street many times sobbing my heart out in my car, going, 'What am I doing here?'"
One critic cautioned viewers against a cynical interpretation of the events in the movie, stating that Lynch presents more than "the façade and that he believes only evil and deceit lie beneath it." As much as Lynch makes a statement about the deceit, manipulation, and false pretenses in Hollywood culture, he also infuses nostalgia throughout the film, and recognizes that real art comes from classic filmmaking, as Lynch cast, thereby paying tribute to, veteran actors Ann Miller, Lee Grant, and Chad Everett. He also portrays Betty as extraordinarily talented and that her abilities are noticed by powerful people in the entertainment industry.
Laura Elena Harring described her interpretation after seeing the finished product: "When I saw it the first time, I thought it was the story of Hollywood dreams, illusion and obsession. It touches on the idea that nothing is quite as it seems, especially the idea of being a Hollywood movie star. The second and third times I saw it, I thought it dealt with identity. Do we know who we are? And then I kept seeing different things in it ... There's no right or wrong to what someone takes away from it or what they think the film is really about. It's a movie that makes you continuously ponder, makes you ask questions. I've heard over and over, 'This is a movie that I'll see again' or 'This is a movie you've got to see again.' It intrigues you. You want to get it, but I don't think it's a movie to be gotten. It's achieved its goal if it makes you ask questions.
Treatment of the relationships between Betty and Rita, and Diane and Camilla varied between those who were honestly touched by their sincerity and those who were titillated. A review of the film by Premiere stated that the relationship between Betty and Rita is "possibly the healthiest, most positive amorous relationship ever depicted in a Lynch movie." Another pointed out that the pivotal romantic interlude between Betty and Rita is so poignant and tender by Betty's "understanding for the first time, with self-surprise, that all her helpfulness and curiosity about the other woman had a point: desire ... It is a beautiful moment, made all the more miraculous by its earned tenderness, and its distances from anything lurid." Another review stated the scene's "eroticism is so potent it blankets the whole movie, coloring every scene that came before and every one that follows".
An analysis of the film in terms of the lesbian as a tragic figure noted the media response to the film: "(r)eviewers rhapsodized in particular and at length about the film's sex scenes, as if there were a contest to see who could enjoy this representation of female same-sex desire the most." The author, Heather Love, wrote that the film used a classic theme in literature and film depicting lesbian relationships: Camilla as achingly beautiful and available, rejecting Diane for Adam. Popular reaction to the film suggests the contrasting relationships between Betty and Rita, and Diane and Camilla are "understood as both the hottest thing on earth and, at the same time, as something fundamentally sad and not at all erotic" as "the heterosexual order asserts itself with crushing effects for the abandoned woman".
Media portrayals of Naomi Watts' and Laura Elena Harring's views of their onscreen relationships were varied and conflicting. Watts said of the filming of the scene, "I don't see it as erotic, though maybe it plays that way. The last time I saw it, I actually had tears in my eyes because I knew where the story was going. It broke my heart a little bit. However, in another interview Watts stated, "I was amazed how honest and real all this looks on screen. These girls look really in love and it was curiously erotic." While Harring was quoted saying, "The love scene just happened in my eyes. Rita's very grateful for the help Betty's given [her] so I'm saying goodbye and goodnight to her, thank you, from the bottom of my heart, I kiss her and then there's just an energy that takes us [over]. Of course I have amnesia so I don't know if I've done it before, but I don't think we're really lesbians." Heather Love agreed somewhat with Harring's perception when she stated that identity in Mulholland Drive is not as important as desire: "who we are does not count for much—what matters instead is what we are about to do, what we want to do."
Betty Elms (Naomi Watts), the bright and talented newcomer to Los Angeles, is described as "wholesome, optimistic, determined to take the town by storm", and "absurdly naïve". Her perkiness and intrepid approach to helping Rita because it is the right thing to do is reminiscent of Nancy Drew for reviewers. Her entire persona at first is an apparent cliché of small-town naïvitée. But it is Betty's identity, or loss of it, that appears to be the focus of the film. For one critic, Betty performed the role of the film's consciousness and unconscious. Naomi Watts, who modeled Betty on Doris Day, Tippi Hedren, and Kim Novak, observed that Betty is a thrill-seeker, someone "who finds herself in a world she doesn't belong in and is ready to take on a new identity, even if it's somebody else's". Film critic Amy Taubin suggests that Betty is a reincarnation of Sandy from Lynch's Blue Velvet: Betty's hometown shares the same name as the apartment building of Blue Velvet's femme fatale, Dorothy. Having been freed from her small-town constrictions, Sandy is reborn as Betty, drawn to a dark-haired mystery woman like Dorothy, and falls in love with her and loses herself.
Betty, however difficult to believe as her character is established, shows an astonishing depth of dimension in her audition. Previously rehearsed with Rita in the apartment, where Rita feeds her lines woodenly, the scene is "dreck" and "hollow; every line unworthy of a genuine actress's commitment", and Betty plays it in rehearsal as poorly as it is written. Nervous but plucky as ever at the audition, Betty enters the cramped room, but when pitted inches from her audition partner (Chad Everett), she turns it into a scene of powerful sexual tension that she fully controls and draws in every person in the room. The sexuality erodes immediately as the scene ends and she stands before them shyly waiting for their approval. One film analyst asserts Betty's previously unknown ability steals the show, specifically, taking the dark mystery away from Rita and assigning it to herself, and by Lynch's use of this scene illustrates his use of deception in his characters.
Rita (Laura Elena Harring), the mysterious and helpless apparent victim, is a classic femme fatale with her dark, strikingly beautiful appearance. Roger Ebert was so impressed with Harring that he said of her "all she has to do is stand there and she is the first good argument in 55 years for a Gilda remake". She serves as the object of desire, directly oppositional to Betty's bright self-assuredness. She is also is the first character with whom the audience identifies, and as viewers know her only as confused and frightened, not knowing who she is and where she is going, she represents their desire to make sense of the film through her identity. Instead of threatening, she inspires Betty to nurture, console, and help her. Her amnesia makes her a blank persona, that one reviewer noted, is "the vacancy that comes with extraordinary beauty and the onlooker's willingness to project any combination of angelic and devilish onto her". A character analysis of Rita asserts that her actions are the most genuine of the first portion of the film, since she has no memory and nothing to use as a frame of reference for how to behave. Todd McGowan, however, author of a book on themes in Lynch's films, states that the first portion of Mulholland Drive can be construed as Rita's fantasy, until Diane Selwyn is revealed; Betty is the object that overcomes Rita's anxiety about her loss of identity.
After Betty and Rita find the decomposing body, they flee the apartment and their images are split apart and reintegrated. Immediately they return to Betty's aunt's apartment where Rita dons a blonde wig—ostensibly to disguise herself—but making her look remarkably like Betty. It is this transformation that one film analyst suggests is the melding of both identities. This is further illustrated soon after by their sexual intimacy, followed by Rita's personality becoming more dominant as she insists they go to Club Silencio at 2 a.m., that eventually leads to the total domination by Camilla.
Diane Selwyn (Naomi Watts), the palpably frustrated and depressed woman, who seems to have ridden the coattails of Camilla, whom she idolizes and adores, but who does not return her affection. She is considered to be the reality of the too-good-to-be-true Betty, or a later version of Betty after living too long in Hollywood. Diane is the personification of dissatisfaction, painfully illustrated in a scene where she is unable to climax while masturbating, crying tears of frustration. One analysis of Diane suggests her devotion to Camilla is based on a manifestation of narcissism, as Camilla embodies everything Diane wants and wants to be. Although she is portrayed as weak and the ultimate loser, for Jeff Johnson, author of a book about morality in Lynch films, Diane is the only character in the second portion of the film whose moral code remains intact. She is "a decent person corrupted by the miscellaneous miscreants who populate the film industry". Her guilt and regret are evident in her suicide, and in the clues that surface in the first portion of the film. Rita's fear, the dead body, and the illusion at Club Silencio, indicate something is dark and wrong in Betty and Rita's world. In becoming free from Camilla, her moral conditioning kills her.
Camilla Rhodes (Melissa George, Laura Elena Harring) is little more than a face in a photo and a name that has inspired many representatives of some vaguely threatening power to place her in a film against the wishes of Adam. Referred to as a "vapid moll" by one reviewer, she barely makes an impression in the first portion of the film, but after the blue box is opened and she is portrayed by Laura Elena Harring, she becomes a full person who symbolizes "betrayal, humiliation, and abandonment", and is the object of Diane's frustration. Diane is sharp contrast to Camilla, who is more voluptuous than ever, and who appears to have "sucked the life out of Diane". Immediately after telling Diane that she drives her wild, Camilla tells her they must end their affair. On a movie set where Adam is directing Camilla, he orders the set cleared, except for Diane—at Camilla's request—where Adam shows another actor just how to kiss Camilla correctly. Instead of punishing Camilla for such public humiliation, as is suggested by Diane's conversation with the bungling hit man, one critic views Rita as the vulnerable representation of Diane's desire for Camilla.
Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) is established in the first portion of the film as a "vaguely arrogant", but apparently successful director who endures one humiliation after another. Theroux said of his role, "He's sort of the one character in the film who doesn't know what the [heck's] going on. I think he's the one guy the audience says, 'I'm kind of like you right now. I don't know why you're being subjected to all this pain.'" After being stripped of creative control of his film, he is cuckolded by the pool cleaner (played by Billy Ray Cyrus), and thrown out of his own opulent house above Hollywood. After he checks into a seedy motel and pays with cash, the manager arrives to tell him his credit is no good. Witnessed by Diane, Adam is pompous and self-important. He is the only character whose personality does not seem to change completely from the first part of the film to the second. One analysis of Adam's character contends that because he capitulated and chose Camilla Rhodes for his film, that is the end of Betty's cheerfulness and ability to help Rita, placing the blame for her tragedy on the representatives of studio power.
Minor characters include The Cowboy (Lafayette Montgomery), the Castigliani Brothers (Dan Hedaya, Angelo Badalamenti), and Mr. Roque (Michael J. Anderson), all of whom are somehow involved in pressuring Adam to cast Camilla Rhodes in his film. These characters represent the death of creativity for film scholars, and they portray a "vision of the industry as a closed hierarchical system in which the ultimate source of power remains hidden behind a series of representatives". Ann Miller portrays Coco, the landlady who welcomes Betty to her wonderful new apartment. Coco, in the first part of the film represents the old guard in Hollywood, who welcomes and protects Betty. In the second part of the film, however, she appears as Adam's mother, who impatiently chastises Diane for being late to the party and barely pays attention to Diane's embarrassed tale of how she got into acting.
The filmmaking style of David Lynch has been written about extensively using descriptions like "ultraweird", "dark", and "oddball". An author of a book on Lynch wrote, "One cannot watch a Lynch film the way one watches a standard Hollywood film noir nor in the way that one watches most radical films. Through Lynch's juxtaposition of cliché and surreal, nightmares and fantasies, nonlinear story lines, camera work, sound, and lighting, he presents a film that challenges viewers to suspend belief of what they are experiencing. Many of the characters in Mulholland Drive are archetypes that can only be perceived as cliché: the new Hollywood hopeful, the femme fatale, the maverick director, and shady powerbrokers that Lynch never seems to explore fully. Lynch places these often hackneyed characters in dire situations, creating dream-like qualities. By using these characters in scenarios that have components and references to dreams, fantasies, and nightmares, viewers are left to decide, between the extremes, what is reality. One film analyst wrote of him, "Like most surrealists, Lynch's language of the unexplained is the fluid language of dreams."
David Lynch uses various methods of deception in Mulholland Drive. A shadowy figure named Mr. Roque, who seems to control film studios, is portrayed by dwarf actor Michael J. Anderson (also from Twin Peaks). Anderson, who has only two lines and is seated in an enormous wooden wheelchair, was fitted with oversized foam prosthetic arms and legs in order to portray his head as abnormally small. During Adam and Camilla's party, Diane watches Camilla (played by Harring) with Adam on one arm, lean over and deeply kiss the same woman who appeared as Camilla (Melissa George) before the blue box was opened. Both then turn and smile pointedly at Diane. Film Critic Franklin Ridgway writes that the depiction of such a deliberate "cruel and manipulative" act makes it unclear if Camilla is as capricious as she seems, or if Diane's paranoia is allowing the audience only to see what she senses. In another example of an illusion, in a scene immediately after Betty's audition, the film cuts to a woman singing without apparent accompaniment, but as the camera pulls backwards, the audience sees that it is a recording studio. In actuality, it is a sound stage where Betty has just arrived to meet Adam Kesher, that the audience realizes as the camera pulls back further. Ridgway insists that such deception through artful camera work sets the viewer full of doubt about what is being presented: "It is as if the camera, in its graceful fluidity of motion, reassures us that it (thinks it) sees everything, has everything under control, even if we (and Betty) do not."
The first portion of the film that establishes the characters of Betty, Rita, and Adam, presents some of Lynch's most logical filmmaking of his career. The later part of the film that represents reality to many viewers, however, exhibits a marked change in cinematic effect that gives it a quality just as surreal as the first part. Diane's scenes feature choppier editing and dirtier lighting symbolizing her physical and spiritual impoverishment, that contrasts with the first portion of the film where "even the plainest decor seems to sparkle", Betty and Rita glow with light, and transitions between scenes are smooth. Lynch moves between scenes in the first portion of the film using panoramic shots of the mountains, palm trees, and buildings in Los Angeles. In the darker part of the film, sound transitions to the next scene without a visual reference where it is taking place. At Camilla's party, when Diane is most humiliated, the sound of crashing dishes is heard that carries immediately to the scene where dishes have been dropped in the diner, and Diane is speaking with the hit man.
Another recurring element in Lynch's films is his experimentation with sound. He stated in an interview, "you look at the image and the scene silent, it's doing the job it's supposed to do, but the work isn't done. When you start working on the sound, keep working until it feels correct. There's so many wrong sounds and instantly you know it. Sometimes it's really magical." In the opening scene of the film, the dark-haired woman stumbles off Mulholland Drive, silently it suggests she is clumsy. After Lynch added "a hint of the steam [from the wreck] and the screaming kids", however, it transformed Laura Elena Harring from clumsy to terrified. Lynch also infused subtle rumblings throughout portions of the film that reviewers noted added unsettling and creepy effects.
The soundtrack of Mulholland Drive was supervised by Angelo Badalamenti, who collaborated with Lynch on previous projects that include Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks. Badalamenti, who was nominated for awards from the American Film Institute (AFI) and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) for his work on the film, also has a cameo as an espresso aficionado and mobster. Reviewers noted Badalamenti's ominous score contributed to the sense of mystery as the film opens on the dark-haired woman's limousine, that contrasted with the bright, hopeful tones of Betty's first arrival in Los Angeles.
Lynch uses two pop songs from the 1960s directly after one another, playing as two actresses are auditioning by lip-synching them. According to an analyst of music used in Lynch films, Lynch's female characters are often unable to communicate through normal channels and are reduced to lip-synching or being otherwise stifled. Connie Stevens' "Sixteen Reasons" is the song being sung while the camera pans backwards to reveal several illusions, and Linda Scott's version of "I've Told Ev'ry Little Star" is the audition for the first Camilla Rhodes, that film scholar Eric Gans considers a song of empowerment for Betty. Originally written by Jerome Kern as a duet, sung by Linda Scott in this rendition by herself, Gans suggests it takes on a homosexual overtone in Mulholland Drive. Unlike "Sixteen Reasons," however, portions of "I've Told Ev'ry Little Star" are distorted to suggest "a sonic split-identity" for Camilla. When the song plays, Betty has just entered the sound stage where Adam is auditioning actresses for his film, and she sees Adam, locks eyes with him and abruptly flees after Adam has declared "This is the girl", about Camilla, thereby avoiding his inevitable rejection.
At the hinge of the film is a scene in an unusual late night theater called Club Silencio were a performer announces "No hay banda," (There is no band) "But yet we hear a band", variated between English, Spanish, and French. Described as "the most original and stunning sequence in an original and stunning film", Rebekah del Rio's Spanish a cappella rendition of "Crying", named "Llorando", is praised as "show-stopping ...except that there's no show to stop" in the sparsely attended Club Silencio. Lynch wanted to use Roy Orbison's version of "Crying" in Blue Velvet, but changed his mind when he heard Orbison's "In Dreams". Del Rio, who popularized the Spanish version and who received her first recording contract on the basis of the song, stated that Lynch flew to Nashville where she was living, and she sang the song for him once and did not know he was recording her. Lynch wrote a part for her in the film and used the version she sang for him in Nashville. In the Club Silencio scene, before the song ends, del Rio collapses onstage although her powerful voice continues to ring throughout the theater. The song tragically serenades the lovers Betty and Rita, who sit spellbound and weeping, moments before their relationship disappears and is replaced by Diane and Camilla's dysfunction. According to one film scholar, the song and the entire theater scene marks the disintegration of Betty's and Rita's personalities, as well as their relationship. With the use of multiple languages and a song to portray such primal emotions, one film analyst states that Lynch exhibits his distrust of intellectual discourse and chooses to make sense through images and sounds.
Mulholland Drive premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2001 to major critical acclaim. Lynch was awarded the Best Director prize at the festival, sharing it with co-winner Joel Coen for The Man Who Wasn't There. It drew positive reviews from many critics and some of the strongest audience reactions of Lynch's career. Universal Pictures released Mulholland Drive theatrically in sixty-six theaters in the United States on October 12, 2001, grossing $587,591 over its opening weekend. It eventually expanded to its widest release of 247 theaters, ultimately grossing $7,220,243 in the United States box office. TVA Films released this film in Canada theatrically on October 26, 2001. In other territories outside the United States, the film grossed $12,892,096 for a worldwide total of $20,112,339. Lynch was nominated for a Best Directing Oscar for the film. From the Hollywood Foreign Press, the film received four Golden Globe nominations, including Best Picture (Drama), Best Director, and Best Screenplay. It was named Best Picture by the New York Film Critics Circle and Online Film Critics Society.
In Rolling Stone, Peter Travers observed, "Mulholland Drive makes movies feel alive again. This sinful pleasure is a fresh triumph for Lynch, and one of the best films of a sorry-ass year. For visionary daring, swooning eroticism and colors that pop like a whore's lip gloss, there's nothing like this baby anywhere. J. Hoberman of The Village Voice stated, "This voluptuous phantasmagoria ... is certainly Lynch's strongest movie since Blue Velvet and maybe Eraserhead. The very things that failed him in the bad-boy rockabilly debacle of Lost Highway—the atmosphere of free-floating menace, pointless transmigration of souls, provocatively dropped plot stitches, gimcrack alternate universes—are here brilliantly rehabilitated."
While reviews of the film were mostly positive (receiving an 81% rating on Rotten Tomatoes), Mulholland Drive was not without its detractors. Rex Reed of The New York Observer said it was the worst film he had seen in 2001, calling it "a load of moronic and incoherent garbage. In New York, Peter Rainer observed, "Although I like it more than some of his other dreamtime freakfests, it's still a pretty moribund ride ... Lynch needs to renew himself with an influx of the deep feeling he has for people, for outcasts, and lay off the cretins and hobgoblins and zombies for a while. In the Washington Post, Desson Howe called it "an extended mood opera, if you want to put an arty label on incoherence. Todd McCarthy of Variety found much to praise—"Lynch cranks up the levels of bizarre humor, dramatic incident and genuine mystery with a succession of memorable scenes, some of which rank with his best"—but also noted, "(t)he film jumps off the solid ground of relative narrative coherence into Lynchian fantasyland ... for the final 45 minutes, Lynch is in mind-twisting mode that presents a form of alternate reality with no apparent meaning or logical connection to what came before. Although such tactics are familiar from Twin Peaks and elsewhere, the sudden switcheroo to head games is disappointing because, up to this point, Lynch had so wonderfully succeeded in creating genuine involvement."
Since its release, the film has been ranked #38 on the Channel 4 program 50 Films to See Before You Die, and it appeared in The Guardian's 1000 Films to See Before You Die. Despite Naomi Watts' experience in twenty film roles prior to Mulholland Drive, she stated that the material she was able to choose from after its release was "elevated by about 1000 per cent ... I'm definitely being showcased out there with a great film and work that I'm proud of. The film was voted as the 11th best film set in Los Angeles in the last 25 years by a group of Los Angeles Times writers and editors with two criteria: "The movie had to communicate some inherent truth about the L.A. experience, and only one film per director was allowed on the list".
| Category — Recipient(s)|
|Cannes Film Festival||Best Director – David Lynch (shared)|
|New York Film Critics Circle Awards||Best Film – Mulholland Drive|
|Los Angeles Film Critics Association||Best Director – David Lynch|
|Chicago Film Critics Awards||
Best Picture – Mulholland Drive|
Best Director – David Lynch
Best Actress – Naomi Watts
|Online Film Critics Society||
Best Picture – Mulholland Drive|
Best Director – David Lynch
Best Actress – Naomi Watts
Best Original Screenplay – David Lynch
Best Original Score – Angelo Badalamenti
Best Breakthrough Performance – Naomi Watts
|ALMA Awards||Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture – Laura Elena Harring|
|BAFTA Awards||Best Editing – Mary Sweeney|
|Independent Spirit Awards||Best Cinematography – Peter Deming|
| Category – Nominee(s)|
|74th Academy Awards||Achievement in Directing – David Lynch|
AFI Actor of the Year (Female): Movies – Naomi Watts |
AFI Composer of the Year – Angelo Badalamenti
AFI Director of the Year – David Lynch
AFI Movie of the Year
|BAFTA Awards||Best Film Music – Angelo Badalamenti|
|Golden Globe Awards||
Best Motion Picture (Drama) |
Best Director (Motion Picture) — David Lynch
Best Original Score – Angelo Badalamenti
Best Screenplay – David Lynch