Archive for March, 2012

Analysis: Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive”

March 29, 2012

Where to start? That is actually not our question; it was David Lynch’s question, or so we surmise. But Mulholland Drive is less a puzzle-box than some of his other films. The storyline is readily detectable and understandable when the viewer realizes how he approached the telling. Lynch made unusually creative use of a familiar plot structure. 

Some believe that the events of the story are wide open to interpretation, speculation. They are not. However, characteristically, Lynch has concealed—from everyone—the keys to understanding. As a result, even the most astute critics perceived the film as being: the “silliest cinematic carnival,” “a Möbius strip,” “parallel universes,” “loony,” “exasperating,” and worse. One of the harshest critics called it: “moronic and incoherent garbage.” Another felt it represents “an alternate reality with no apparent meaning…” Yet another said: “Nothing makes any sense because it’s not supposed to make sense. There’s no purpose or logic…” “There is no explanation.” And so on. 

The key to making total sense of this masterwork (and to appreciating Lynch’s genius) is to realize that about 95% of the movie—apart from a moment early on where the big clue to understanding was planted—is a flashback taking place in the mind of dreaming protagonist, Diane Selwyn. There is no use of parallel universes or mysterious plot devices. As in the dreaming of those of us who recall our dreams, some parts are linear, sequential, even lucid—super-real. But some parts are symbolic, imaginary, disordered, or they cloak troubled feelings expressing themselves via irrational images produced by a jumble of body chemicals and, sometimes, sleep-aids. Diane is emotionally exhausted, sleepless, and anguished to the point of psychosis before finally going to bed. 

In the moments just before her head hits the pillow, the flashback shows the jitterbug contest that she had won, the local minor success that had emboldened her to pursue a career in Hollywood. She has returned from the diner where she arranged for the murder of Camilla Rhodes, a lover who has fallen in love with a wealthy man (and another woman), and had also gotten the lead part in a film, a role Diane had coveted.  Diane’s thoughts hop, swirl, and flip around wildly. The camera’s focus on her bed and pillow is the only scrap of present-time shown before she passes out. The distorted flashback proceeds during her sleep. Like the jitterbugging, her dreaming is a tangle of memories and feelings: love, hate, joy, sadness, rejection, sexual frustration, guilt, shame, and fear. 

Despite deep denial, a thread of rational awareness meanders through her dreaming, ending at the point where she met with the hired killer at the diner—not long before she went home and to bed. At last, she wakes up, but the nightmare clings and expands its tentacles as visions of her dead relatives emerge and intrude. Sleep had not enabled her to escape the pain of her disappointments, the anguish of anticipated embarrassment and prosecution, and the horror of full realization of the fact that the deed has been done and Camilla is dead. Nor, by awakening, is she able to escape the torments of her dreaming. 

As police detectives knock on her door, or so she clearly presumes, Diane proceeds with the suicide that she has considered, or planned—a loaded pistol is already in the night-table drawer. This eventuality was foreshadowed in the midst of her dreams, primarily in the scene where she (as Betty Elms) and “Rita” discover her body—disfigured by the gunshot and putrefaction—lying in her bed, and exit the apartment in shock. At the very end of the film, as her life energy rapidly ebbs away, Diane is relieved of her torments, regains her joyous spirit, is reunited with Rita-Camilla, and rests in peace. Silencio.