Film Classic Mulholland Drive Masters Audience Manipulation

Mulholland Drive

In February 2017 I started an video editing class at SVA in NYC. The teacher handed out a long list of movies to watch with great editing techniques. One of the movies, a critics’ favorite, is the 2001 thriller Mulholland Drive, directed by David Lynch. You probably remember him from Twin Peaks fame. I found it on Netflix.   And I immediately fell in love with one of the greatest films ever made.

Mulholland Drive were a painting it would be hanging in the Louvre. And it would definitely be hanging with the abstracts. After all the basic premise of abstraction is that s that the formal qualities of a painting (or in this case movie) are just as important (if not more so) than its representational qualities. For example a picture may contain a horrible drawing of a horse but if its colors are very beautiful. Therefore t may nevertheless strike us as being a beautiful picture. This shows how a formal quality (color) can override a representational one (drawing). And Lynch manages to consistently override a nonsensical story with beautiful imagery and sounds.

The Plot

The movie begins with an accident on Mulholland Drive that causes amnesia in our heroine(?) And the mysterious woman, who doesn’t know her own name, shows up at the apartment of our protagonist Betty. Betty is doe-eyed, innocent, wannabe actress just off the plane from Canada. Her innocence leads you to believe she probably doesn’t have what it takes but you root for her anyway.

As the movie plays out, we are taken for a ride and never really understand what’s going on. But I can promise that you will have trouble taking your eyes off the screen. Yep there are definitely some strange characters. But since a good part of the film is about the film making business in Hollywood, one may wonder if the characters are not far off from reality.


Lynch uses the cinematography beautifully and paints a canvas of horror, intrigue, humor, murder and suspense. He manipulates us so masterfully you can’t heIp but give in. Just when you think you know where the plot is headed, Lynch gives you completely different scene.

For example, when Betty rehearses lines with the mystery woman for a movie she plans to audition for, the lines are soap opera sappy and Betty delivers it like a true amateur. Yet in the audition, Betty plays it as a temptress and oozes sexuality with her leading man to the point you believe she is the greatest actress since Meryl Streep. Lynch has caught us off guard and completely manipulated our expectations of Betty. This manipulation of our expectations is the brush stroke that he uses on his canvas the entire film.

Lynch’s finest moment is near the end of the movie at Club Silencio. A woman sings a haunting rendition of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” in Spanish. It is probably one of the most moving scenes ever filmed in cinema. I actually made the mistake of rewinding the movie once because I thought I missed how the protagonist Betty ended up with a blue box in her purse. The point is the movie is about going along for the ride and not thinking too hard. I think I said, “Man this movie is F’&#$ed-up” at least seven times while watching it.  And trust me, it is.  You will wonder, was the beginning of the film a dream and the end reality.  Or is the movie one long drug hallucination?  Who knows. Lynch wants every viewer to have his or her own interpretation.

So I highly recommend this film classic. Have a few glasses of wine or other choice of libation, sit back and prepare for manipulation.

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