In a recent conversation about favorite movies, David Lynch's Mulholland Drive came up. For me, this film embodies all the psychological and imagistic depth of Lynch's best work while continuing to be comprehensible as a narrative (albeit a complex, fragmented narrative that features several suspensions and diversions). In this scene, our two protagonists--Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) and Rita (Laura Harring)--arrive at a mysterious theater called Club Silencio, where they view a moving performance of "Llorando," the Spanish-language version of Roy Orbison's "Crying," sung a capella in the film by Latina recording artist Rebekah Del Rio. Just as the performance reaches its apex (honestly, it gives me chills every time I watch it), the singer collapses, and we understand the horrific false-ness of the moment--the singer is a propped up corpse, somehow animated. So many things about the scene are amazing. Its position in the narrative of the film is crucial, as the protagonists are beginning to sense that their lives are not what they appear to be. In fact, Betty and Rita are, in my reading of the film, the after-life echoes of Diane Selwyn (Watts) and Camilla Rhodes (Harring), who were tragically star-crossed lovers in their "real" lives, and are now paired in a post-mortem effort to understand what became of them. Their sleuthing eventually leads the audience to the realization that Selwyn, after being abandoned by Rhodes, has hired a hitman to kill her former lover and then, once that deed is done, has subsequently killed herself. As we watch Betty and Rita react to the powerful performance of "Llorando," we sense them realizing that their own condition parallels that of the singer--they are animated but not alive. The brilliant shooting of the scene really emphasizes this doubling. The contrast between the incredible vividness of the close-up shots of the vocalist and the dead-looking wide shots of her standing, bloated, corpse-like on stage, really reinforces the dual perspective the film enacts. From one perspective, Betty and Rita are very much alive. From another, they're very much dead. Most of all, though, Del Rio's performance--nested as it is within all these layers of psychological, spiritual, and criminal drama--stands out as an absolute cinematic gem. As the pinnacle moment of that rarest of things in movies--an artistic film that achieved mainstream critical recognitions (best director at Cannes and Oscar nomination for best director, plus a number of critical nods for best film of the decade)--this scene echoes through all of my cinematic viewing. Most filmmakers don't have the imaginative and artistic capability of David Lynch, so maybe it's unfair to hold their films to a standard of beauty and drama that they could never even conceive, but... there it is. It's my favorite scene ever in a film.
Here's hoping David Lynch has another great film left in him. Wouldn't it be amazing to see him direct an adaptation of a Murakami novel? The two are so simpatico in their vision of surrealist narrative--it would be an amazing pairing.