Pride Month, Retrospective Review: Mulholland Drive

Year: 2001
Runtime: 147 minutes
Director: David Lynch
Writer: David Lynch
Stars: Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theroux, Ann Miller

By Joan Amenn

Nearly two decades since its release, “Mulholland Drive” (2001) remains a Rubik’s cube of plot twists and turns. No matter how many contradictory analyses have attempted to explain what it is actually about, there is no arguing that it is a masterful depiction of LGBTQ love and desire. All the quirks and oddities of a Lynch production are present but do not overwhelm what is basically a story of passion and loss, told from a woman’s point of view.

Naomi Watts plays dual roles which gives her the opportunity to show such dazzling range it is baffling how she was overlooked for an Oscar nomination. As Betty/Diane, her consuming passion is not only for Camilla/Rita (Laura Harring) but for Hollywood stardom as well.

The electricity between the two women is palpable as they struggle to put together the mystery of Rita’s identity since she has been rendered an amnesiac in a car accident. Betty is decisive and ambitious while Rita is reserved and dependent, or at least this is the kind of relationship Betty ideally wants them to have.

Laura Harring & Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive (2001) Copyright: Universal Focus

“Lynch raises questions about how many LGBTQ stars had to keep their sexuality secret through the long history of Hollywood.”

Lynch seems to imply that the desires of both women for their big break in show business ultimately ends their relationship. In the tradition of “Sunset Boulevard” (1950) and “The Big Sleep” (1946), Lynch takes the audience for a surreal tour of the underbelly of the film industry where gangsters, hitmen and frustrated wannabees are all background extras for the lucky few with their names on marquees.

In a deeper context, Lynch raises questions about how many LGBTQ stars had to keep their sexuality secret through the long history of Hollywood. It was not uncommon for studios to force their star properties into arranged heterosexual marriages to keep rumours from circulating in gossip columns.

“It was incredibly brave of Lynch to make the relationship of Rita/Camilla and Betty/Diane the centre of his story and to explore the aftermath of its breakup even in the fractured kaleidoscope style that is his trademark.”

Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001) Copyright: Universal Focus

Betty has a fictional background story of a small-town girl just arrived in LA on a bus fresh from winning a dance competition. It is the kind of cliched origin a public relations department of a major studio would invent as a cover for one of their actors who might have aspects of their life that they don’t want the public to know about. Rita seems to have returned her affection, but could their relationship have worked under the pressures of Hollywood even in modern times?

It was incredibly brave of Lynch to make the relationship of Rita/Camilla and Betty/Diane the centre of his story and to explore the aftermath of its breakup even in the fractured kaleidoscope style that is his trademark. The scene of the two women clinging to each other in tears at the Café Silencio is just devastating as Betty’s representation of her grief over her lost love. It may always remain a mystery but “Mulholland Drive” is still a moving love story at its strange, seductive heart.

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