David Lynch’s oneiric masterpiece Mulholland Drive is a film that masterfully plays with and regularly breaks audience expectation. It’s quite easy to be lured by the film into thinking it is headed in a certain direction, only to be left confounded by the next scene. A perfect example of this is the scene in which Betty (Naomi Watts) who is pursuing her dreams of breaking into Hollywood, attends an audition.
Prior to this we are shown Betty and her friend Rita (Laura Harring) reading through the lines. It is clear from the read through that the script and the part are seen as a bit of a joke by the two women. They laugh and joke around while rehearsing and obviously do not take it seriously in the slightest. When Betty arrives at the audition she is greeted by a group of people who also seem to be very aware of the quality of the script. A throwaway comment by the producer as she introduces Betty to a casting director; “Alas, we can’t afford her to cast our show,” highlights the fact that this is a low budget production.
We are set up for what we expect to be a fairly terrible experience. As the audition starts, Betty’s co-star pulls her in close and is pushed away: Betty then re-establishes the intimacy and the camera mimics her and we are given a close up of the two actors. Betty then delivers a performance of such power that the audience is pulled into the secondary story. It’s quite a shock when the audition is finished and the attending viewers and the audience are abruptly pulled back down to earth. The tone of the film prior to the audition has been very dream-like: soft focus, over-the-top dialogue and unusual situations all add to the feeling that something is not quite right. To break this tone with something grounded and hard-edged is extremely jarring and a direct inversion of what usually happens on film.
Naomi Watts is absolutely spellbinding in Mulholland Drive and this is never better shown than in the audition scene. The shattering of expectation here serves as a great appetiser for what follows.
Check out the scene below…