Mulholland Dr. is a strange movie.
I realize that’s a massive understatement, especially considering that noted oddball David Lynch wrote and directed it. But given thatMulholland Dr. started as an open-ended television pilot only to be completed as a feature film thanks to additional funding from a French production company, the finished product is even more of a hodge-podge than the typical Lynch endeavor (with the possible exception of 2006’s mess of a mess, INLAND EMPIRE).
This site has already delved into the humor that springs from Lynch’s juxtaposition of folksiness with strangeness, but the comedy in Mulholland Dr. isn’t quite like that. It’s as though the film has a separate comedic thread running through an otherwise serious surrealist-noir-cum-romance (only that jumbled genre could describe a movie with scenes like this and this). And save for a darkly funny murder that wouldn’t feel out of place in a seedier Coen Brothers’ film, most of the Mulholland Dr.’s humor comes from one character: Adam Kesher, a hotshot Hollywood director.
Like Roger Sterling in an episode of Mad Men, Kesher largely moves through the proceedings in his own comedic plotline. While his story remains entwined in the events and themes of Mulholland Dr., Kesher’s screen time mostly serves to add levity to an otherwise depressing picture. Mulholland Dr. presents Hollywood as a nightmarish place run by otherworldly forces that crush the individual — in other words, a perfect setting for satire. Lynch has long stated that Sunset Boulevard is one of his favorite films, and with Mulholland Dr., Lynch made his own Hollywood satire named after a famous street.
Justin Theroux plays Kesher with a brash confidence that begs for comeuppance. This character allows for the film to take on the aforementioned negative aspects of Hollywood with a smile; while it pains the audience to see the innocent protagonist Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) put through the ringer, it’s far more delightful to watch the arrogant Kesher undergo similar abuse. Los Angeles remains a terrible place throughout the film, but when the less sympathetic Kesher takes the spotlight, Mulholland Dr. transforms from a dark drama into a dark comedy.
In his first scene, Kesher meets with studio executives to discuss the casting of his latest project, but unfortunately they seem more interested in having a quality espresso than having any sort of discussion. Kesher is first introduced as somewhat of an audience surrogate, as he reacts with the same shock and surprise that the audience would. Combined with his innate entitlement, the scene takes on a comedic bent.
This funny, weird scene sets up Kesher as a “guy you love to hate” while also criticizing the artless control demanded by the Mafioso-like Hollywood executives. In a Jack Nicholson-inspired move, Kesher proceeds to bash the executives’ car with his golf club before racing back home.
By this point Kesher has matured from audience surrogate into his role as the pissy film director, and so the film does what it can to take him and his entitlement down a peg. He arrives home only to find his wife in bed with the pool guy, played by none other than the steaming pile of masculinity that is Billy Ray Cyrus. Kesher’s humiliation continues:
A beaten Kesher later learns that all his accounts have been frozen, the Powers of Hollywood to blame. His assistant tells Kesher the only way he can fix things is by meeting somebody known as “The Cowboy.” Only when calmly confronted by this icon of American cinema does Kesher finally learn to shut up and go with the flow.
From here on out, Adam Kesher becomes a supporting character in the overall plot, his side story having reached its end. As much as Lynch might torture Kesher for his attitude, the character is proven to be just another cog in the Hollywood machine. It’s telling though, that what ultimately convinces Kesher to play along isn’t intimidation — it’s a figure from cinema itself. The Western is arguably the first truly American genre, especially when it comes to film. “The Cowboy” represents the Lynchian version of that cinematic figure: quiet, crazy, and able to cut through the bullshit of Hollywood. Because if there’s one thing that gets David Lynch worked up, it’s cinema.
Well, that and a cup of coffee.
Justin Geldzahler finds driving on Mulholland Dr. far scarier than watching Mulholland Dr.; he has since learned not to do both at the same time.