Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Taken With Liam Neeson: The Last Action Hero

On 60 Minutes Sunday night, Liam Neeson opened up about the death of his wife, actress Natasha Richardson, five years after the fact. If you do not recall the circumstances, she sustained a traumatic brain injury after falling on a ski slope at Mont Tremblant. Among other things, Neeson said, “[Her death] was never real. It still kind of isn’t. There’re periods now in our New York residence when I hear the door opening, especially the first couple of years … anytime I hear that door opening, I still think I’m going to hear her.”

Shot in tight close-up, the interview stands against the action star persona Neeson has fashioned for himself since 2008, when he sprinted down Parisian alleys, growled about his “very particular set of skills” and made Taken into an unlikely hit. Universal Pictures presumably planted Neeson in the 60 Minutes hot seat to plug Non-Stop, which looks to be a very typical Neeson-kicking-ass vehicle set aboard a hijacked airplane, opening Friday. What they got instead was an emotional confessional about the pain of loss and this rather candid aside about his unusual typecast: “I’m 61 years of age, man, you know? Going around, fighting these guys, yeah, I feel a wee bit embarrassed, you know?” He said something similar to Dublin station 98FM around the time of Taken 2’s release, downplaying the probability of a third installment because his character’s daughter “can’t get taken again … that’s just bad parenting.”

There will, of course, be a Taken 3, because you don’t just say no to a $20 million paycheck, but I would like to hone in on those words “bad parenting.” Tragedy foregrounds the important things, in this case being a parent, both on- and off-screen. As CIA agent Bryan Mills in Taken, Neeson turns into a kind of Super-Dad, singlehandedly bucking the human trafficking trade in order to prevent his daughter from becoming another crime statistic. In the 2010 A-Team reboot, Neeson chomps a cigar for almost two hours as Hannibal Smith, the papa of a quartet of mercenaries who “loves it when a plan comes together.” These days, Neeson not only often plays the oldest member of an ensemble but its most assured, intelligent and dexterous one, too. It must feel great — even consoling, on a deeper level.

The Neeson brand of middle-aged wish fulfillment appeals to male Baby Boomers who have children of their own and next to no chances to clock a two-dimensional bad guy in the face. More telling is the zeal with which millennials — at least, based on the sample pool I know — have latched onto Neeson. If I could venture a guess as to why I so wanted to see Taken when it came out, I would say irony had something to do with it: Old Oskar Schindler, shooting fools, jumping through windows? Sounds awful. Let’s see it! As age and experience teach us, though, one invokes irony to mask feeling, especially feelings we may find embarrassing to share. With the exception of Battleship and Wrath of the Titans, I have seen every Liam Neeson action movie since Taken. So, why?

I see in Liam Neeson a father figure, one even greater than the individual characters he portrays. I approach each new movie of his expecting pretty much the same guy, in that I do not waste much energy scrutinizing, say, what his motives are this time around. In exchange for this dumbing down of character and abandonment of realism, I admire Neeson’s ever-growing  mythology. Old-school Hollywood used to sell movies this way, with a star’s name guaranteeing a certain personality in the character he or she played. There is a comfort in getting what you expect, and yet there is something more when the expected dispenses evil in such a thorough, pleasurable way that his actions provide comfort on their own. While Neeson’s movies sell flattened, superficial lies on how to deal with the problems in the world today, his hero’s familial focus — always after those who wronged his family, or after some lost feeling of love — channels his violent tactics to a higher, more compassionate purpose.

This current image of Liam Neeson also leans on his earlier, more spectacular work. Schindler’s List tackles too real and devastating a monstrosity to contribute much to Neeson’s persona these days. Instead, I think to the Christ-like mentors he played in Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace and The Chronicles of Narnia. We hardly saw a peek into the inner lives of Qui-Gon Jinn or Aslan, which in turn only reinforced their mythic proportions. In the 2008 video game Fallout 3, Neeson voiced the soft-spoken, genius scientist James, known simply as “Dad” for most of the game, for he is the father of the character you play. You are tasked with finding your dad for most of the story, so that sprawling open-world game ultimately boils down to an odyssey of child reuniting with his or her father. Fallout 3 heralds Neeson’s Taken turn with a saintly and sterile manifestation of the paternal savior he would soon define.

Only in The Grey, an underrated 2012 thriller, does Neeson bridge the resourceful man of action with the tortured soul he surely was following his wife’s death. Stranded in the Alaskan wilderness, his character, Ottway, writes letters to his ailing wife, and you can sense that Neeson is mining a core painfully, tragically accessible to him. This is the greatest Liam Neeson performance in years, where he refuses to reiterate his valid, if one-note, Super-Dad and chooses, instead, to find meaning in his real-life suffering. In The Grey, Neeson embodies the quintessential cinematic father figure of our time: you trust him with your safety, but more than anything else, you feel like he could use a good hug.

This article was written for The Cornell Daily Sun and can be viewed at its original location here.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Lego Movie Review

The Lego Movie
Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller
Released in 2014

As action movies get dumber and dumber — compare this weekend’s beautified Robocop remake with the 1987 original that actually had something to say — animated movies have picked up the slack. In catering both to children and their parents, a growing number of animated filmmakers strive to not only render more lifelike facades for their computer-generated characters but to embed them with richer and thornier interior lives as well. Disney has come a long way from its helpless, male-dependent princesses with Brave and Frozen, while Monsters University ended on a somewhat groundbreaking note, conceding that not all dreams can be realized. Now we have The Lego Movie, with its cast of hollow plastic figurines that will make you laugh and, um, grapple with the human mind’s potential for divine creation. Read that last sentence again, if you must, because this is a movie with a lot more on its mind than a corporate paycheck.

Of course, any review of a $60-million movie sponsored by the toy company in its title must acknowledge the monetary motivations that drive such a production to be green-lit. While I would be lying if I said that The Lego Movie did not awake an urge to fiddle again with the blocks that, in many ways, defined my childhood, I fell not for its branded marketing scheme so much as for its celebration of free, inspired invention. As a kid who stuck fastidiously, to the directions included with Lego sets, I felt triumphant upon completing my Phantom Menace Multi-Troop Transport yet hesitated at the thought of breaking it apart, starting again or mixing and matching with other, non-Star Wars pieces. With a Lego creation shelved as complete and never to be touched again, I pestered my parents for another set, and another after that. The cycle of consumerism works beautifully when creative endeavors slave to the rules of others and shudder at the mere thought of revision.

In a jab at The Lego Group’s modus operandi, the movie’s villain, Lord Business (Will Ferrell), threatens world domination with a weapon known as “the Kragle,” which is just a bottle of Krazy Glue with a few letters scratched off. Glue freezes the Lego characters and prohibits further creation, a grave concern for the “Master Builders” trying to combat Lord Business’ totalitarian, brainwashing rule. They can improvise anywhere, on the spot, and build anything — a motorcycle, a spaceship, a double-decker couch — with the free pieces around them. Among their scant numbers include Vitruvius, a bearded old wizard you know is wise because he is voiced by Morgan Freeman, and Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), a punk heroine who wakes our protagonist, Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt), out of his consumerist, conformist daze.

Emmet thinks “Everything Is Awe­some” because that’s the name of the latest infectious pop song on the radio, and he jumps for joy when buying $37 coffee or waiting in line to drop off his dry cleaning. It turns out, in a prophecy long ago, that Vitruvius foretold Emmet would be “The Special,” a.k.a. “the most important, most talented, most interesting, and most extraordinary person in the universe.” By this point, you can tell that director-writer duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street) have gone all-out parodying their influences, namely The Matrix. Their colorful Lego world (computer-generated, though it looks close to stop-motion animation) calls back on other stories, tropes and contemporary pop culture at such a rapid-fire clip that the first act may exhaust you before it gets even better — revealing its layers and grounding itself in an admirable thesis. As it stands, Good Cop/Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) chases our heroes across Brickville throughout this initial action, and there are few pleasures like a self-aware, post-Taken Liam Neeson in Lego form.

With Charlie Day as a hyperventilating astronaut, consistent violations of spatial continuity in the editing and sound effects synced to the film’s score — like when, during a chase in the Old West, Wyldstyle whips a pack of pigs pulling her sled and they all oink on the song’s downbeat — The Lego Movie overwhelms you on a most visceral level. One second Lego Shakespeare bellows, “Rubbish!” at Emmet after he butchers his St. Crispin’s Day speech, and the next Lego Abraham Lincoln launches into space on a rocket-propelled throne. The Millennium Falcon, Superman, Gandalf, Dumbledore, Shaq and many more show up to plug their marketable existence, yet Lord and Miller freely and joyfully corrupt their most recognizable qualities (Will Arnett’s Batman is a narcissistic blowhard, for instance). Their treatment of pop icons borders on sacrilege — a wise choice, in keeping with their flippant approach to self-serious franchise filmmaking.

The third act takes a turn into what some may dismiss as sappy kitsch. It is not. On a surface level, this twist excuses the incoherence of the plot and some of the cruder, inexplicable visuals that pop up now and then, like when pirate Metalbeard (Nick Offerman) jumps from the dazzling, saccharine world of Cloud Cuckoo Land into a two-dimensional one and his ship takes off with a silly fart-like sound. But the story actually settles into some profound territory, as it equates the human capacity for imagination with what many thinkers throughout history have attributed to God’s greatest power. The film rewards the characters who trust their muses, who rely on instinct and believe they can realize wonderful things without the need for directions. Yet Emmet’s journey also stresses the value of teamwork, especially when a super-bad corporation needs to be toppled over. The questions The Lego Movie raises will surprise you and unravel into very meta, substantial lessons. That it makes you laugh like a baby is a bonus, but also sort of the point.

Final Verdict:
4 Stars Out of 5

This article was written for The Cornell Daily Sun and can be viewed at its original location here.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Case for Movies, and Lots of Them

“‘Is TV better than movies?’ is a worthless question. ‘How is TV better than movies?’ can be a fascinating one.”

That tweet, from Philadelphia-based film critic Samuel Adams, has stuck with me since I first read it last November. Adams poses a really potent hypothetical and passes it onto any Twitter-addicted writer willing to elaborate. I knew then that said elaboration would make for a good column, but I realize now that the more pressing argument lies on the other side: How are movies better than TV?

Almost everyone I know spends more time watching, and arguing about, television than they do with movies, and some general assumption has settled in that TV is, in fact, objectively better than film. Like Adams, I do not believe that verdict, or its inverse, holds any water. Yet I do believe that many gloss over the beautiful qualities inherent to the film medium in exchange for the more addictive, long-form pleasures of television. Bearing witness to the carefully calibrated, 47-hour arc of Breaking Bad feels awesome and even transformative, but investing your time into dozens of films over that same span of time can provide even more mind-altering moments and, most crucially, a wider breadth of experience.

Nine times out of ten, movies look more interesting than television. Naturally, exceptions abound — Boardwalk Empire is stunning, while, say, Warm Bodies is not at all — but stick to the giant pool of quality films, old and new, out there and you will see not just tangible things but inner thoughts, biases, desires and so forth. What TV show could scratch all dialogue for its first 30 minutes to deliver a lucid, aching portrait of loneliness and environmental issues, as Wall-E does? Or stay within a man or woman’s unstable mind and depict their psychoses on screen, as 8 ½ and Repulsion do? Or try to visualize the grace of God, as The Tree of Life does? I mean, does anything look prettier than In the Mood for Love or Pacific Rim? All these films look dazzling, and many demand attention be paid to their visuals even more than their story. Unlike most good TV, good movies teach you how to watch them as they go, and that is a fun, thrilling thing. 

Because movies are single, one-unit experiences to be absorbed in one sitting, you can cover decades of film history in the same time it takesDexter to disappoint you over its last four seasons. The abundance of time TV requires means that the focus remains relentlessly on the present, on catching up and binging on the hottest new thing. Acquainting yourself with the various Golden Ages of TV, as The AV Club’s TV critic-historian Todd VanDerWerff gratefully has, takes more time than covering the greatest hits of Tarkovsky, Murnau, Denis, Iranian cinema, queer cinema, ’60s counterculture documentaries or whatever niche you may take a liking to. In between your fourth and fifth time watching The Lego Movie, you can easily catch an old ’50s noir or some mid-’00s War on Terror doc serving a life sentence on your Netflix queue. If you are interested in World War II, ignore The Monuments Men and actually watch a movie made during the war. You remember how your high school librarian always harped on and on about how primary sources are better than secondary sources? That.

The cost of television production means that some talented people, like Louis C.K., get handed a nice chunk of change to do anything with, but it also means that whole swaths of the population go unnoticed. The reason HBO’s Girls holds so much clout is because it is one of the only shows featuring a predominantly female ensemble. It must represent women, as a whole, in addition to letting these specific, affluent and meandering female characters do their thing. Half the time, I find Girls fresh and perceptive; the rest of the time I can’t stand it. Of course, I want to see female characters on TV: I want to see more, I want other options! Orange Is the New Black does it right, but look to independent film and from last year alone you will find Frances Ha, Mother of George, Enough Said, Stories We Tell, Gloria, Blue Is the Warmest Color and many more movies with strong female characters. No one of these shoulders the weight of half the population, which means fewer think pieces and a little more sanity in critical discourse.

Television draws us in because it builds slowly over time. The one lie we tell ourselves when opting for TV over movies is that this 30 or 60-minute episode is all I will watch, and a movie, after all, is longer than that. Of course, you watch another episode, or two, or more, and the time argument becomes irrelevant. The scope of styles you can unravel, sights you can see, lives you can live in cinema is staggering, and each of these vessels takes but a couple hours to come and go. Watching movies, and lots of them, helps to discern personal taste — what you like or don’t like. But film’s greatest power has nothing to do with criticism; rather, it concerns empathy: For a brief fraction of your life, someone else’s pours forth from a brilliant screen, flows over the heads of friends and strangers alike and washes over you.

This article was written for The Cornell Daily Sun and can be viewed at its original location here.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Eyes Left to Wander

Below is a short blog post I submitted for my Global Cinema II class. I talk about Stan Brakhage’s Desistfilm (1954) and Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966).

The essence of art cinema is ambiguity. Some art films lead you down winding narratives, lining up different perspectives for scrutiny (a la Rashomon) or throwing out much semblance of a plot altogether (a la Mulholland Drive). Others leave the morals of their characters up in the air, forcing the viewer to render a verdict (Bicycle Thieves). Most art films play with perspective, trying to undermine the sanctity of the disembodied camera recording unnoticed that Hollywood ascribes to. Very often, the camera adopts a disorienting or subtly prejudiced view of an art film’s characters, or otherwise encourages a meta-cinematic reading, meaning that terms like “voyeurism” and “the gaze” enter the conversation.

Brakhage, of course, aspired to convey a new way of seeing throughout his life. An early effort like Desistfilm has the the capacity to shock today, over 60 years later, because it disorients us in a familiar space. Who thought we could find a college party more nauseating through film than through actual witness and participation? Yet the energy of Brakhage’s buzzing, flying camera not only throws the visual plane in scrambles but also leaves the possessor of such a perspective unclear. Is he trying to simulate the revelry of the twentysomethings of his time, or trick us with a visceral satire of how alarmist adults viewed the rebellioius James Deans and Natalie Woods that were their children in the 1950s? It is difficult to depart with a final answer, yet the meta-cinematic style assures us we keep asking these questions. As Brakhage puts it, “Very often people look directly at the camera and sometimes even flash a smile. Or I would include references to the fact that it was a film—flares, scratched titles, etc. ... I believe most artists whose work has any lasting value to a culture put out warning signs like these to say this is not a window into reality but an art work” (Ganguly 141).

Antonioni based the foundation of his art on the act of seeing: “My narratives are documents built not on a suite of coherent ideas, but rather on flashes, ideas that come forth every other moment” (91). He knows a disciplined, inquisitive viewer will question the images shown on screen, accepting each shot not as some objective truth of a diegetic moment but more a revealing or a concealing in service of mood and theme. Story as well, but in such a plot-light film as Blow-Up, we do not decode what happens so much as how it happens.

In fact, Antonioni seems to deliberately flaunt any forward progression of narrative throughout most of Blow-Up. When the photographer shoots a few models, he gets bored and does something else. When he gets Vanessa Redgrave to come over and undress, he leaves the room to spend time retrieving a useless boat propellor. Seymour Chantman says, “In Blow-Up, distraction is no longer simply a bad habit: it has become a way of life” (140). The fleeting impermeance of the events leads us to grasp onto the mostly staid, contemplative cinematography to find our meaning. Yet “even the surfaces have become deceptive,” as the memorable fade-out in the last shot proves (Chantman 142). The photographer and the epiphany he reaches — I personally think he is seduced back to the fantasy life, away from the worrisome burden of vigilante investigation — matters less than the conclusion the viewer reaches, regarding the act of watching Blow-Up.

“I just watched a film that tricked me,” a viewer can conclude, “yet the arrogance to which it meets that goal astounds me.” We are seduced by naked bodies that are “neither erotic nor vulgar” (Antonioni 91). We are riveted by a murder story that goes nowhere. We are pulled in yet left at a distance. The clinicality of Antonioni’s images contain meaning on their own, as we have discussed in class already. But these images ultimately prove the power of cinema — art cinema, specifically — lies in the potency we presume all cinematographic images to have, even as we never think twice about what we see through our very eyes.

Works Cited:
Antonioni, Michelangelo. The Architecture of Vision: Writing and Interviews on Cinema.

Chatman, Seymour. Antonioni or, The Surface of the World.

Ganguly, Suranjan. "Stan Brakhage: The 60th Birthday Interview." Experimental Cinema: The Film Reader.

Monday, February 3, 2014

In Memory of Philip Seymour Hoffman

Courtesy of Santi Slade
*Co-written with my friend and fellow Sun editor Sam Bromer*

Philip Seymour Hoffman, a prolific and widely revered character actor whose Oscar-winning role in Capote made him into an unlikely household name, died Sunday in his West Village apartment. The New York Times reports the cause of death was an apparent heroin overdose, the culmination of a tragic relapse of drug abuse that started last year after 23 years of sobriety. He was 46.

A graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Hoffman hit the ground running with loud, schlubby, scene-stealing supporting characters. After playing a squirrely classmate alongside Al Pacino in 1992’s Scent of a Woman, Hoffman befriended Paul Thomas Anderson and nailed a four-movie streak in his early films Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love. As a gay boom mic operator hopelessly infatuated with Mark Wahlberg’s pornstar in Boogie Nights, Hoffman undercut the free-wheeling, sunny vibe of that film to capture its downbeat core. He aimed for a much different effect in Punch-Drunk Love, where, in his most memorable scene, he shouts, “Shut! Shut! Shut! Shut! Shut Up!” with such syncopated zeal that the clip’s popularity on Internet forums is not hard to fathom. Other early roles include Jeffrey Lebowski’s boastful assistant (“They’re the Little Lebowski Urban Achievers…”) in The Big Lebowski, a spot-on Lester Bangs in Almost Famous, the cultured object of Matt Damon’s lethal envy in The Talented Mr. Ripley and, of course, the slimeball who “sharted” his pants and single-handedly made Along Came Polly something worth watching.

Hoffman began to nudge his way into the mainstream through his riveting portrayal of author Truman Capote. Capote follows the author as he researches a shocking quadruple homicide in Kansas. Hoffman’s effeminate, soft-spoken performance contrasted with his earlier work and earned him several accolades, including the Academy Award for Best Actor. A year later, in 2005, he paved the way for Heath Ledger and other legitimate thespians working in action blockbusters by pulling all the stops as Mission: Impossible III’s terrifying villain. Hoffman received an Supporting Actor nomination at the Academy Awards the following year as a foul-mouthed Greek in Charlie Wilson’s War, a mostly forgettable film buoyed by his in turns hilarious and prescient performance.

After playing an emotionally-crippled history teacher in The Savages, Hoffman took his vows, taking on the role of Father Brendan Flynn, a Bronx priest accused by his parish’s nuns of abusing a young alter boy, in Doubt. Hoffman was a commanding presence in every scene, eliciting sympathy while at the same time drawing the viewer’s disgust; for this role, he received his second consecutive Academy Awards nod. Overlooked by the Academy but not by some influential critics (Roger Ebert named it the best film of the the decade), Synecdoche, New York is a difficult beast, written and directed by Charlie Kaufman at his most reflexive and cryptic. No matter how one makes sense of the plot, at least on first viewing, few fictional characters in this millennium confront our deep-seated fears of death, deterioration and failure like Hoffman’s Caden Cotard. Usually a surreal, highbrow experiment like Synecdoche answers only to the vision of its auteur, but Hoffman pushed through all the obfuscation to unleash something raw and absolutely devastating.

More recently, Hoffman channeled his inner cult-leader in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. The film, a disorienting look at delusion and psychological torment, finds Hoffman as the founder and leader of a philosophical group named “The Cause.” In one scene, Hoffman, portraying Lancaster Dodd, battles with a doubter of his movement, played by the also recently-deceased Christopher Evan Welch. Hoffman’s fury approaches madness as he protects his life’s work — at one point, he calls his opponent a “pig fuck.” Ravenous, unscrupulous and headstrong, Lancaster Dodd presents the actor at his absolute best. Even in his more “commercial” roles, such as his turn as Plutarch Heavensbee in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Hoffman managed to bring his subtle sense of drama and humor to the forefront. In that film, he manages to keep the viewer fully in the dark about the intentions of Heavensbee, a member of the establishment. Though he is not on the screen for many scenes, his confidence as an actor is clear throughout, whether he is ballroom-dancing with Katniss or orchestrating violence from the Capital.
So, look: We know Philip Seymour Hoffman was only an actor, belonging to a different class of celebrity than, say, Nelson Mandela. Our culture tends to holds its famous faces in too-high regard, equally eager to rip them apart at the scent of the slightest wrong. Hoffman earned his reputation through his work alone. He kept his private life private, and it seemed like he could not care less about the awards his peers showered over him. His premature passing only affects those who know him, but the incredible thing is that we number in the millions. He realized some of the most complicated characters in recent cinema beyond their originator’s wildest dreams, guaranteeing we will return to formidable epics like Synecdoche and The Master for years to come. He smuggled real quality into the mainstream. There, here, we mourn the passing of a name, a voice, a face that, together, formed an icon of quality and promised something greater than mere entertainment.

This article was written for The Cornell Daily Sun and can be viewed at its original location here.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Revisiting Mulholland Dr.

Mulholland Dr.
Directed by David Lynch
Released in 2001

You can “solve” this film, I know, because Lynch thought of everything, plot-wise and otherwise, while making it. I also know that I do not want to piece together every little detail, align every event in chronological order and scrutinize what one blue key means against another blue key. The rush one feels watching this film — especially returning to it again and again, once the initial shock of the late-act reversal has worn off — comes from the act of “working things out” yet accepting that the fullness of Lynch’s vision remains beyond your grasp.

I just revisited Mulholland Dr., this being I believe my fifth visit. Cornell Cinema screened this on their brand-new screen with updated speakers and projection equipment. After watching this on big HDTVs, small screens and 480p projectors, I am now convinced it must be seen, at least once, across as large a canvas as possible, in the darkest and largest room you can find. This is a movie about movies, yes, but this is also a movie that downright cherishes the effect watching a movie can have on a person.

As far as breaking Mulholland Dr. down and grasping for formal, narrative meaning, a little of this effort is necessary to at least ground yourself. You can go from there how you please, either pausing the film and taking notes upon every shot, or accepting that things just work out and that you will elect to bask in Mulholland Dr.’s greatness only when watching it - which you do again and again, because you cannot stay away.

But, as for the film’s construction, I think most veterans accept that the first two-thirds are some sort of projection/fantasy of Diane (Naomi Watts). When she experiences this series of scenes is a good question, as well as whether or not she ever does. After the first scene (the bizarre, obviously nostalgia-tinged “Jitterbug”), we catch a quick glimpse of, ostensibly, Diane’s POV on the bed with red sheets. She is sobbing, or at least gasping heavily, yet we don’t see her body. I don’t know what, exactly, happens during this shot, but I know it provides a tragic bookend for the film. This must be a moment, either before or, maybe, after (?) her suicide at the end, and the ambiguity of this one shot serves to remind us that this film works through mood much more than it does through cause+effect, plot-motivated narrative.

Picking apart the rest of the movie is a joy to be had in the cinema, while watching it. However, I have gleaned much from the film by keeping one thing in mind, regarding the first two-thirds of the film: The characters, prior to the ‘blue box switch-up,’ live how Diane (in “real life”) wants them to live, yet stay at a distance because they also embody Diane’s worst tendencies. Like in Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Betty (Diane’s innocent, plucky ideal of herself, or of how life should be lived, if it only could) molds Rita (Laura Harring) from a tabula rasa - courtesy of an amnesia-inflicting car crash - into the perfect lover, and not to mention mother, too. (The line between depiction and voyeurism of lesbian acts that some accuse Abdellatif Keciche of crossing in Blue Is the Warmest Color is not in question here. Lynch sort of lingers the camera on Rita’s breasts during that beautiful love scene, but it’s from Betty’s perspective and connotes some mother attachment). Yet Rita lacks an interiority throughout much of the film, and acts like this obsequious doll that just so happens to have this ability for second sight. That is not a criticism, but a symptom of the fantasy and a telling sign that this fiction Diane constructs for herself will be short-lived, for Rita is the one that ends it.

Adam (Justin Theroux) is having the worst day of his life because he stole Camilla (or Rita) from Diane, and you can bet Diane subconsciously transfers her awful life onto Adam’s. “This is the girl,” Adam declares, accepting an actress (named “Camilla Rhodes”) he does not want for his movie (a.k.a. his life). Diane must suffer this feeling every day knowing she cannot have the one, the real Camilla, she wants. “This is the girl,” Diane says to the hitman who, very likely, kills Camilla sometime off-screen, before the demons (that unforgettable old couple) drive her to suicide. She tries to rationalize the murder, of course, by staging the hitman’s daily work as some slapstick farce, where one kill means two collateral deaths, a fire alarm and a whole lot of DNA evidence (I mean, he just throws his cigarette butt onto the fire escape!).

I should catch myself. As fun as the process of writing is, I should abstain from spending too much time dissecting Mulholland Dr. The gut feeling churning in one’s gut while watching this is proof enough that Lynch not only knows what he is doing but, like, knows close to everything, as in in life. The movie makes sense because it works on that subconscious, surreal level, where “sense” is more like nonsense but lodges into our brains and bodies cleaner and quicker than the most lucid of narrative prose.

In that sense, Mulholland Dr. is a movie I cherish above so many others because it lets me have it both ways: The visceral experience - of music complementing image, camera movement embodying the feeling of dreams and moments of silence swallowing us into the suffocating limbo of nightmares - is unmatched. Yet Mulholland Dr. also knows that you are watching it to work it out, so it presents a mountain of clues and somehow reveals their secrets throughout its duration. When we finish watching it, we grasp for meaning and catch some of it — but not all. There is so much more in there, and that is why we return.

Like this review on Letterboxd.