Blog Directory CineVerse: Successfully navigating "Mulholland Drive"

Successfully navigating "Mulholland Drive"

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Since its release in 2001, David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" has intrigued viewers and critics alike--a film that seemingly defies interpretation and logical comprehension yet proves immensely thought-provoking to those who choose to go down the director's dark rabbit hole. Last evening at CineVerse, our group attempted to make some sense of the blue Pandora's box that is "Mulholland Drive." Here are the main takeaways:

What did you find different, disturbing, surprising, or revelatory about Mulholland Drive?

  • This is a particularly difficult film to decipher. Interpretations can be highly subjective. Director David Lynch refuses to explain its meanings or messages.
  • It requires active participation by the viewer. If you’re hoping for an entertaining popcorn movie that doesn’t involve much thought and which resolves itself by the conclusion, you will likely be disappointed. This can be a frustrating and perplexing experience for many and an intriguing and eye-opening experience for others who enjoy trying to solve puzzles and mysteries.
  • The narrative structure is nonlinear, featuring tangential subplots and smaller characters that don’t necessarily mesh with the main story.
  • The visuals, narrative, characters, and situations have a surreal dream logic to them. This picture has been described as what it feels like to experience a fever dream or hallucination.
  • It’s a movie that rewards repeat viewings. As clues to the mysteries become more evident, the narrative structure can appear more comprehensible, and the fine details come into greater focus.

Themes grafted into Mulholland Drive

  • The dangers of living in an idealized past while ignoring the present, wallowing in nostalgia, and fantasizing excessively about better times. Doing so can create a circular cycle of futility in which you keep repeating the same mistakes without learning from them and progressing.
    • Consider how the story seems stuck in a never-ending loop: Diane appears to be a down on her luck actress, jilted by her lover Camilla, an in-demand thespian who has fallen in love with someone else. Jealous and hurt, Diane arranges to have Camilla successfully killed by a hit man. Feeling guilty about this and depressed about how her life has turned out, Diane chooses to commit suicide. But just before she dies, Diane has a prolonged fantasy or death dream in which she imagines a more preferred path her life could have taken – one in which she, renamed as Betty, is discovered and appreciated as a naturally talented actress. In this alternate reality fantasy, Diane as Betty meets a beautiful stranger suffering amnesia (she takes the name of Rita, but it’s really Camilla, who has survived the car crash the hit man planned for her in real life). Betty befriends and falls in love with Rita as the two attempt to break through Rita’s amnesia. But as Betty and Rita get closer to the truth and try to “unlock” the mysteries (including the identity of a dead woman [Diane] they discover a blue box that suddenly appears, compatible with a blue key Rita possesses), Diane both dies and suddenly wakes up from this dream within a dream. Then, everything gets repeated over again: She hires the hit man, commits suicide, and experiences the death dream/fantasy. This is the prevailing popular theory that explains the narrative, but it’s not necessarily a definitive one.
    • We see symbols of a bygone era, as evidenced by the jitterbug dancing, hot rod vintage cars, 1950s style pop songs and singing styles, Nancy Drew-like sleuthing, the reference to the Winkies from The Wizard of Oz, etc.
    • Essayist Clint Stivers wrote: “David Lynch reminds his viewers that we, just like Diane Selwyn, live in a world that has become so cruel and arbitrary that it requires us to create mental fantasies in order to help us construct some sense of identity and unity, yet he…emphasizes the illusory nature of the hope that such fantasies can completely detach us from that world. We need to escape from conflicts, and like Diane, we use memories and the past in creative, fantasmatic ways to try to do so. Lynch is not telling us to abandon the pleasure that we take in escaping, but he wants us to be wary. He doesn’t want us to stop remembering or looking to the past for potential images of worlds that we hope will provide us with a solution to the problems of the present – he himself has done exactly that – but he doesn’t think it is possible to completely inhabit lost worlds or to use them to totally block out the difficulties and obstacles that our world presents us with. Lynch is telling us to use the past imaginatively and advocates a kind of film that encourages viewers to keep one foot in the fantasy world and one foot in the world of the real.”
    • Criterion Collection essayist Dennis Lim wrote: “By applying a fractured nightmare logic to its nominal reality (less “realistic” than the preceding wish-fulfilling fantasy), Mulholland Dr. emphasizes the role of fantasy in giving a cohesive shape to our experiences.”
  • Life can be cruel, unfair, and arbitrary, as has often been experienced by aspiring actors who head to Hollywood with dreams of making it big only to be rejected, ignored, or disillusioned. Even those with real talents can be denied a fair shot due to a rigged, profit-driven system run by shadowy powerful forces who impose their will on underlings.
    • Think about how the strange visit to Club Silencio reinforces this notion. We see the emcee explain how everything we see and hear is an illusion, a “recording” or “tape,” which is also true of films. We witness an immensely gifted artist sing like an angel, but collapse from apparent strain and frustration, only to hear her voice continue singing after her mouth stops moving and she is dragged away. This suggests that event talented actors and artists are often unappreciated, ignored, expendable, or taken for granted by the “men behind the curtain,” the powers that control a place like Hollywood. We view Betty and Rita crying and being moved by both the talent they’ve just experienced and the sadness behind the truth that the artist is treated as a disposable commodity used to entertain the masses in an artificial environment.
  • Hollywood is a dream factory that creates illusions in the form of movies – works that should not be relied upon as reflective of reality.
    • Stivers also wrote: “Since we are forced to see the first portion of Mulholland Drive as a fantasy narrative, we can consider that entire segment as a metaphor for mainstream Hollywood cinema. When we look at it from that perspective, we can see what Lynch is asking us to do. He wants us to realize that the fantasy worlds that Hollywood films present us with offer a certain degree of wish fulfillment and escape by presenting us with comforting images of nostalgic ideal worlds and values.”
  • Life is not a movie you have control over, and you should not try to cast yourself and those you love in different roles to escape who you and they really are. Diane attempts this to break from the anguish and suffering she’s feeling, but soon learns it’s a futile exercise.

Other films similar to Mulholland Drive

  • Sunset Boulevard
  • Vertigo
  • Persona
  • Last Year At Marienbad
  • Films that play with linear structure and deviate from traditional narrative storytelling, including L'Avventura, The Double Life of Veronique, Pulp Fiction, Memento, and Donnie Darko
  • Film noir movies that involve mystery, murder, betrayal, femme fatales, and dark, pessimistic themes

Other works directed by David Lynch

  • Eraserhead
  • The Elephant Man
  • Blue Velvet
  • Wild at Heart
  • Twin Peaks
  • Lost Highway
  • The Straight Story

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