A tragic woman pours her soul out in song at a sparsely attended nightclub performance as Naomi Watts and Laura Harring look on and weep. The singer’s emotional investment appears staggering, and that her performance would move any viewers to tears is hardly a surprise. Calling to mind Anna Karina in Vivre sa vie watching Maria Falconetti, it’s a delicate and beautiful moment that underscores the power of art to take root deep in our emotions and speak to our own unique experiences.
That’s when you feel the rug get pulled out from under you. The chanteuse drops to the stage floor in a dead faint and still the song plays on – she’s been lip-synching, it’s all a ruse! – a little blue box opens and suddenly artifice interferes with art. It’s in that moment that Mulholland Dr. starts making even less sense than before, careening into the realm of dreams within dreams and films within films. Two curious girls play a dangerous game of house across metro Los Angeles in which the roles get increasing muddled and we swiftly lose track of whether we’re looking into the dollhouse or looking out. I’ve long since given up my quest for a clear understanding of the film, instead marveling at the divide between those putting on a performance and the often unseen forces that seem to be directing them.
And there’s still the immense pleasure of just surrendering to the whole experience. Just as in the Club Silencio sequence, Mulholland Dr. is fueled by knee-jerk emotional reactions. The botched address book theft and the absurd reaction to an inconveniently timed affair are both hysterically funny, the sapphic romance and unceremonious masturbation session are tailor-made to provoke one way or another, and the entire episode at Winkies is nothing short of the scariest scene of the last decade. The film seems to owe as much to the body genres as it does to noir. So mesmerized are we by our search for meaning in these bizarre visions that we don’t put a second thought to just how manipulated (and I say this in the best way possible) we have been, nor would it ever occur to us that maybe, just maybe, that little blue box serves no greater purpose than the man behind Winkies – to ignite an instinctive emotional reaction, in this case one of sheer bewilderment. Hats off then to David Lynch, who may have just found a way to reveal a trick without shattering the illusion, because whether art or artifice or anything in between, Mulholland Dr. resonates time and times again.