Naomi Watts and Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive.
Universal Pictures/Everett Collection

We’d barely gotten our footing in the new century when David Lynch rode in with a movie that would jostle us right off it. With its liquid pacing and codeine-glorious imagery, Mulholland Dr. has magic powers that put your head into a very weird place. It’s also one of the most visually beautiful films ever made, set in a modern-day Hollywood where the ghosts of the old one continue to walk among us, superimposed over everyday life. Everyone goes to Hollywood with a dream, and Mulholland Dr. suggests that those dreams never die, even after the people who clung to them draw their last death. Blond, bright-eyed Betty (Naomi Watts) has just arrived in Hollywood from Smalltown, USA, ready for stardom. No sooner has she unlocked the door of her borrowed flat when her fate blurs with that of a mystery woman she finds there—taking a shower!—Laura Elena Harring’s slow-burning temptress Rita. At a certain flashpoint, this Hollywood dream becomes a nightmare—yet, for all its malevolence, Lynch’s nightmare Hollywood is just as seductive as the magical dream. Mulholland Dr. is about our need to control our destiny crashing with the realization that it’s impossible to manage it fully. It’s a movie filled with mystery, and with mysterious interlocking pieces. No matter how many know-it-all explainers you read, its corners will never fit together neatly: There are too many ragged edges, and too many that shift shape even as you scrutinize them. It’s strange, exhilarating, and haunting, a requiem for every Hollywood dream that never comes true.

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