Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Mullholland Menace (Film Review) by Alison Ross

Mullholland Menace
by Alison Ross

I love the name David Lynch because it so behooves the person who makes the kind of savagely surrealistic movies that he does. Naturally we associate "lynching" with post-slavery activities in the U.S. and of course these memories and associations are heartrending and infuriating. So I don't mean to trivialize these horrific events, nor do I intend to undermine the violent import of the word. The violence inherent in the director's name, however, is fascinatingly fitting for him given his aggressive artistic style.

Of course, David Lynch the persona completely belies the notion of violence. He is the antithesis of bellicosity as far as his temperament. Lynch is soft-spoken, even childlike in his quietly dreamy demeanor. I've always enjoyed this dichotomy in his character: the calmness of his manner versus the storminess of his creative expression.

The only movie in Lynch's oeuvre that seems to match his placid personality is The Straight Story. This film, about an elderly man who is so determined to visit his ailing brother that he drives a lawnmower for 300 miles to see him, is one of the most endearing movies ever made. It is the very epitome of tearjerker, but in the most non-manipulative non-Hollywood sense of the word. It sharply resonates for its genuinely aching pathos.

Noticeably absent from The Straight Story are Lynch's trademark touches of incongruous imagery that call upon the intuitive subconscious to decipher and decode. There are no jarring juxtapositions or creepy dark corners as in the majority of his films; it is, quite simply, a straightforward story, told in the most linear and literal mode possible, uncluttered with his usual (sometimes unnerving) abstract symbolism.

Of course, Mullholland Drive, released at the turn of this century, is prototypical Lynch, and in fact represents an apotheosis of the director's evolution in avant-garde film aesthetics. The more recent Inland Empire is an even more extreme embodiment of this aesthetic, the trippiest of all Lynch's hallucinatory cinematic habitats. But that's another review for a future issue; for now we must focus on Mullholland.

Strictly speaking, Mullholland Drive is an allegory for the ruthless milieu of Hollywood. A wide-eyed Midwestern ingénue descends upon Los Angeles seeking immortality through films, but experience erodes her innocence. Her life intersects with an amnesiac accident victim pining to piece together the puzzle of who she really is. Their lives become intimately entwined, as they are locked in a struggle to solidify their identities - Betty through fame, and Rita through recovering her lost one.

This all sounds simple enough, except that as we have already established, most Lynchian efforts are a far cry from simple. In order to embellish his allegory, Lynch employs all sorts of devices: film noir flourishes, horror movie flashes, yin-yang qualities wherein the surface seems lush and vibrant but the undergrowth teems with menace, Hitchcockian double identity motifs, detective movie tricks, alternate and parallel realities, Goyan omens ... and on and on. The film embodies just about every type of film genre and cinematic gimmick and yet achieves a coherence and ingenuity all its own.

Of course, this last point is disputable, as some viewers will invariably remain perplexed by the twisted twists and turbulent turns. For, as with most of his movies, the bulk of Mullholland elicits the assistance of the subconscious, and if viewers are not acclimated to Lynch's style or much familiar with the terrain of their brain where the sinister secrets are the universe are stored, then they will not discern the sumptuous subtleties and forever remain bemused and benighted.

That said, I do recommend this movie as the starting point for the Lynch novice, if only because it is oddly one of the more accessible of his super-surrealistic efforts.

My favorite aspects of Mullholland Drive are the harrowingly enigmatic parts. Without giving too much away, I reveled in the creepy corpse scene, the Silencio nightclub scene with its cryptic insistent intonations of "No Hay Banda!", the box as vortex scene, where Rita is sucked into oblivion, and the reverse reality scene in the dinner, with its identity-switching antics. These scenes are indelible and yet intangible at the same time; their adhesive appeal lies in their eerie ethereality.

No other director alive today is capable of capturing such delightful depravity on celluloid; Lynch is like the cinematic manifestation of Arthur Rimbaud or Salvador Dali. And yet, there is always a sick humor coursing through his films. Mullholland Drive is really just a vicious send-up of the dark absurdities of Hollywood culture; a sort of surrealist satire for the senses.

David Lynch strangles reality and practices his own brand of sinister zen.

1 comment:

MIKE said...

I love this film obsessively and couldn't get past it. I left the cinema on a high and could not come down from the waves of delight the feast gave us all.