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  • Amir Steklov

Essay: on the comparison between Nurse Betty (2000) and Mulholland Drive (2001).

Writer & copyrights: Amir Ovadia Steklov

Date: 28.01.2023

contact: aosteklov@gmail.com


Nurse Betty (2000) directed by Neil LaBute and starring René Zellweger is a film that won the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Screenplay and saw Zellweger win the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress. Despite its commercial success, the film has largely been forgotten by the general public. In contrast, Mulholland Drive (2001) directed by David Lynch and starring Naomi Watts is widely considered to be one of the greatest films ever made.



Nurse Betty has some problematic aspects to it that will not pass today as politically correct: the drug dealers are black men and they are portrayed in a stereotypical way, as well as the Hispanic shooter in the hospital scene. In terms of execution, Nurse Betty feels rushed and the cinematography lacks character.


While Mulholland Drive is a superior film in terms of writing, atmosphere, style, and performances, there are several striking similarities between the two films:



Both films center around a young, beautiful white woman who moves to Los Angeles in pursuit of the American dream of becoming a Hollywood movie star. Both films depict the protagonists as mentally disturbed and detached from reality, suffering from PTSD. Furthermore, both films portray the American dream as a nightmare full of violence, abuse, and desperation.



There are also specific similarities in the main characters' physical appearance. Both characters are named Betty, they wear similar pink shirts adorned with sparkling stars (symbolic of their naïve dream to become a movie star), are country girls traveling to the big city for the first time, and have a naïve, child-like way of interacting with the world. Additionally, both films feature a lesbian element, with Mulholland Drive depicting a romance between Betty and Camilla, and Nurse Betty depicting Betty's friend/flatmate as a lesbian.



The Wizard of Oz is an important reference in both films. In Mulholland Drive, the reference is more subtle and integrated into the overall narrative structure, while in Nurse Betty, it is more overt. In Nurse Betty, Betty comes from Kansas and upon waking from her dream (after realizing the movie business is a lie), she states that it is time for her to return to Kansas, thus, she embodies Dorothy from the Wizard of OZ.



"The Wizard" in Nurse Betty is the character of Dr. David Ravell (played by Greg Kinnear), and in Mulholland Drive is the character of Adam Kesher (played by Justin Theroux) interesting to note the physical similarities between the two men, especially in the way they speak, their charisma and hair style. Both men represent the Hollywood dreams, lies and abusive nature.



Both men (wizards) are living in glass villas on the Mulholland drive, overlooking Los Angeles. Those glass villas are representing the Wizard's castle in The Wizard of Oz. These scenes, when Betty arrives at the glass villa, represent a turning point in both films as Betty's reality spirals deeper into darkness, exposing her to the sexual exploitation and abuse of the Hollywood industry.



In both films, when we see Betty in a movie set in Hollywood during shooting (not an audition or rehearsal) it’s a traumatic experience for her. In Mulholland Drive, she is forced to watch her lover having an affair with Adam Kesher (the wizard) and in Nurse Betty she experiences a rude awakening and being physically attacked by David Ravell (the wizard). In both scenes, in both movies Betty's control over her life is being shuttered and she realizes that her dreams and lovers were mere deception.


In both films guns are being fired at the end, but the results are completely different.



It is noteworthy that Mulholland Drive was released a year after Nurse Betty, although it is uncertain whether David Lynch was directly inspired by Nurse Betty, as production times may have overlapped. Additionally, it is interesting to note that both films premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in consecutive years and won awards at their premiere, with Nurse Betty winning for Best Screenplay and Mulholland Drive winning for Best Director.


I would recommend watching them as a double feature.




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