Check your jaw at the door

I have just spent a week going over this film with Roger Ebert. No, he's not a close personal friend, unless you want to count the throngs of people packing into Macky Auditorium on the University of Colorado campus as his close, personal friends. This was an exercise in "Cinema Interruptus", where Ebert and the crowd go painstakingly over the film to uncover what's really been put into the film, and what we can take from it.

This is an interesting position to review the film from. I don't watch most movies this way, and likewise, I've been exposed to the opinions of a significant force in the movie review world. I haven't actually read Ebert's review, which helps for having an original perspective, but at the same time I am sharply aware that Mulholland Drive is the first David Lynch film Ebert has actually liked - and that has made me stretch much further to find out just what the difference is between Lynch's previous films and this most recent offering. Hopefully by stretching myself here, I don't reveal a myopic perspective in my other reviews.

The first thing to know is that this film demands your mental participation. Answers are hard to find. The movie calls attention to its structure in such a way, like in Memento, the viewer is called upon to solve what that structure means. Unlike that other film, Mulholland Drive doesn't lead you to a clearly delineated set of interpretations, but just hints at different possibilities all the way through. There would seem to be (at least) one good way to interpret the film as a whole, but much of what happens within may simply not succumb to analysis.

As we passed through the movie, Ebert often made comments that "this scene is a perfect example of a scene from a movie that would have a scene like this in it". That's a statement that, like Mulholland Drive itself, may take a couple passes to understand. The real meaning there is that these scenes are complete and can stand on their own without the larger context of some other film they might have appeared in (and made more apparent sense).

There's an interesting experience to be had in watching the acting in this film. Certain performances, particularly that of Naomi Watts, are jaw-droppingly terrific. Others seem distractingly off-target, but for a film that is as much commentary about Hollywood than anything else, there is a strong likelihood that Lynch was after something very specific. It may very well be a more difficult task to aim at a target never before considered. While I'm not trying to enumerate all the mysteries of the film before you might see it, I just offer this one as something to consider in the context of ones you will discover on your own.

The responsibility of a reviewer is twofold - reporting how enjoyable a movie is, and also how good a movie is, in the sense of film as an art form. In terms of art, Mulholland Drive is a carefully nuanced and executed production, of that there is no doubt. But in terms of what enjoyment can come from the viewing experience - that's a more delicate question. This film is a mental challenge to the audience in the same way Requiem for a Dream is an emotional challenge. You have to be determined to face David Lynch and let him batter you with emotive non-sequiturs (not my term), and just let it be. I think, much more than most films, your own mental state and expectation are likely to get in the way of your enjoyment.

What do we have, here at the end of this brief discussion? A film that can be praised for a strange cohesiveness. One that certainly deserves recommendation, but not without some reservation as well. Perhaps the best way to deal with David Lynch is to get used to his contradictions.

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