This film is a savage attack on the Hollywood dream factory dressed up as a mystery thriller. It is ‘Sunset Boulevard’ seen from the opposite end of the casting couch.
What David Lynch depicts in this film ‘montage’–like the Norma Desmond character in ‘Sunset Boulevard’–is an actor suffocating in the vicious, corrupt atmosphere of the Hollywood system.
It is the story of a young hopeful, Betty, who arrives, childlike, in Tinseltown pumped up with dreams generated by the alluring monster Hollywood.
David Lynch’s strength is his ability to represent the psychological in a visual medium. Never overly bizarre, Lynch chronicles Betty’s frustration, despondancy and ultimate demise through her own imagination. This is made all the more brutal since Betty is clearly intelligent and vital.
Betty imagines herself as multiple characters–Betty, Diane, Camilla Rhodes… She begins with a character’s look, the situation they are in and, in the classical Stanislavskian method, creates the character. This is implied by Camilla having amnesia.
The frustration of her dreams being continually thwarted throws her further into the depths of despair. She hires a hitman to bump off her alter ego, Camilla. This is the point of no return for Betty. While the main danger is clearly the Hollywood machine, Lynch points to the fact that it attracts a particular kind of character, which the industry both preys upon and accentuates.
David Lynch has had a chequered career, plumbing the depths with ‘Dune’ (1984) but returning to form two years later with ‘Blue Velvet’. Throughout he has given us a passionate involvement with both story and the process of film-making. Yet Nigel believes this film says nothing that Lynch has not said before. On the contrary. In his previous films the menace of life is portrayed as emanating from the colourful characters we find around ourselves–as in ‘Blue Velvet’, for example. In ‘Mulholland Drive’ the menace comes from the Hollywood system.
The ultimate conclusion, however, is that the system is all-powerful, and the ingenious twist at the end of the film reinforces this. Whatever the film’s merits, it generates a furious debate among viewers, who either love or hate it. It’s worth seeing for that alone!
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