The true mark of a great film is how long it stays with you after it ends. You wonder about it and replay it in your mind’s eye–the opening shot, the ending, the scene that was lit and framed so beautifully, the score. A great film will also hold up to repeat viewings, though for many films that is neither necessary nor desired because the initial impression is so deep and lasting.
The first time I watched David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive” was on a laptop screen, yet I was still so desperately caught up in the tense, escalating madness that leads Betty/Diane to off herself in the film’s final moments that the closing shot felt like a gift of release. “Silencio.”
Since then, I have watched the film a handful of times, fearing that it could lose its power with too many repeat viewings. After about the third or fourth viewing, the plot became more clear–a dream populated by the various characters and images from Diane’s memories as she tries to sleep off the guilt she feels for having her lover killed. Diane is jealous, insecure, and feels betrayed by the leading lady who, in true movie star fashion, can’t help it that everyone falls in love with her.
A few nights ago I saw it on the big screen for the first time, and its beauty and thematic preoccupations crescendoed in my mind like the chorus of a Roy Orbison tune. It may have helped that it was late at night and I was operating on caffeine and little sleep, but I walked away with an unshakable belief in its greatness.
Every Lynch obsession is offered to us (coffee, large curtains in empty rooms, tracking shots, benign and innocent interactions recast as sinister ones), and they are supported by a sustained, crisp style unmatched by the rest of his oeuvre. The primary colors pop, the reds and the blues, because DP Peter Deming chiseled out each shot like a sculptor.
And once you piece together the surreal elements, the story is simple and timeless. The film is about the dream of revising the past and reimagining life as a movie in which you are finally the lead actress and you are eternally innocent, full of the eager hope that first inspired you to pursue your dreams.
The story is as quintessentially American as Jay Gatsby’s, and just as tragic. Dream all you want. You will never regain your innocence, you will never regain your past.