Tuesday, October 28, 2008

7 Years Later, Does MULHOLLAND DRIVE Make Any More Sense?

Short answer: Maybe a little.

Long Answer: Last Friday night as part of a series on film noir, the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh had a screening of David Lynch’s twisted surreal drama MULHOLLAND DRIVE. The film was introduced by Independent Weekly Arts Editor David Fellerath who considers the film a masterpiece and one of the greatest of the last 10 years. 

Fellerath asked how many folks were seeing the film for the first time and a surprisingly huge amount of hands were raised. After some background and an attempt at plot summary, he assured the almost full room that 95% of the film holds up to “logical scrutiny.”

I’m not so sure about that, but the film did seem to gain levels of coherence that it lacked for me back in 2001. Fellerath had also stated that if anybody still had problems with the film’s meaning afterwards - “there’s lots on the internet.”

There sure is lots on the internet, starting with one of the lengthiest Wikipedia entries for a film that I’ve ever seen with content headings like "Interpretations and Allusions," detailed character breakdowns, and long intricate paragraphs on the style and critical reception. 

The references for the entry site 82 articles with such titles as “Nice Film If You Can Get It: Understanding Mulholland Drive (The Guardian) and Salon.com’s “Everything You Were Afraid To Ask About Mulholland Drive” (which Roger Ebert considers “the best explanation”). 

Another worthwhile read is Anthony Kusich’s “Mulholland Drive…Explained” which deals which the 10 clues that Lynch included in the notes for the original DVD release. The existence of the clues is curious because Lynch was quoted in the New York Times a few years later as saying that DVD extras can “demystify” a film. 

Perhaps what Lynch and many critics have proposed is the most sensible way to take MULHOLLAND DRIVE – not to try and make sense of it. Just absorb the mood and visual tones winding through the various narrative strands. Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring are either friends turned lovers named Betty and Rita in a dream or the former lovers now estranged Diane and Camilla in reality or vice versa. 

It appears that Justin Theroux is one of the only constant characters – an arrogant film director who is pressured by Mafioso types, to cast Camilla in his newest film. In one of the most memorably amusing scenes has Theroux meet a cryptic character called “The Cowboy” (Lafayette Montgomery) who tells him: “A man’s attitude goes some ways. The way his life will be.” 

When The Cowboy can be seen passing through the background of a party scene later on it is impossible not to take as intensely comical.

A turning point comes when Betty and Rita doing some detective work because Rita has lost her memory (she took her name from a Rita Hayworth movie poster) locate a woman’s dead body.

Identities then blend (the Igmar Bergman-esque screen capture above says a lot about the merging of identities I believe) with Rita donning a blonde wig and then they shatter completely with the aid of a shiny blue box (that of course appears with no explanation) and then reassemble or emerge from a dream - as when The Cowboy says: “Hey, pretty girl, time to wake up.”

Many elements familiar to fans of Lynch fill the frames throughout - among them the darkened old fashioned back room of the mysterious movie studio string puller Mr. Rogue (Michael J. Anderson) wouldn’t have been out of place in the dreams of Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) on Twin Peaks and the creepy Club Silencio that Betty and Rita attend one fateful night is somewhere you would expect to see Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) from BLUE VELVET lounging around in.

Writting before about the “love/WTF?” relationship I’ve had with the films of David Lynch (“Inland Empire Burlesque” and “Hey, I Finally Saw...ERASERHEAD”) I had decided to let go of the idea of determining definitive meanings and just go with the freaky flow. 

Wading through the various analyzing articles previously mentioned of this particular film though is still extremely fascinating because many interpretations can exist side by side, none more valid or more convincing than the other. 

Maybe MULHOLLAND DRIVE doesn’t make any more sense now than it ever did but its captivating spell has indeed grown and its perverse passion is definitely more powerful than when it was first shown in the heady distracting days shortly after 9/11. 

For those who haven't seen it before and lived with it for a while, I have to relate this - while the end credits were rolling at the Art Museum last Friday, a irrate woman who was obviously one of those who had earlier raised their hands, was heard complaining: “I’m very upset - it didn’t make any sense! Even PULP FICTION made sense! At the ending it all came together. I mean even AMERICAN BEAUTY made sense too!” 

So much for discussion, huh?

More later…


BrianR said...

People who get really irate because a movie or a another piece of art "doesn't make sense" really drive me crazy! Wallow in the experience! :)

darkcitydame4e said...

Hi! Daniel,

Daniel said,"7 years later, does Mulholland Drive make any more sense?
My response No!
Because I have never watched this film before, but that will all change this month (November) when I interview and talk films all month long with Dean Treadway.(Because he have added this film to his list of {Best?!?} films of 2000)

Daniel, because I plan to watch this film for the first time in order to be prepare for ("The Treadway") interview. Then I will find out if the film "Mulholland Drive" make any sense to me after my first viewing.

I hope so!(smile ;-)


Dean Treadway said...

I loved this article, Daniel. I think you'll be very interested to know that it inspired me to write my own long-gestating article about MULHOLLAND DR. If you want, check it out here at http://filmicability.blogspot.com/2008/11/film-81-mulholland-dr.html

Thanks for your love of the cinema, and for your fine blog!

Dean Treadway

Fozia said...

Woow..........its so intresting
so keep it up

Anonymous said...

If you haven't read this explanation yet I highly recommend. IT simplifies everything to what I think it ACTUALLY was. It makes perfect sense. Way more sense than any other explanation I've read. Here's the link...


Elkapan said...

Allow me to explain my point of view.

Rita knows nothing about herself, because Naomi Watts has 'stolen' her identity, thus leaving her without one, the money in Rita's bag was the money handed over to the hitman by Naomi Watts, who is really.... Diana, the landlady at her aunties place is actually the woman seen at the dinner party by Diana, the key and the box, are symbologies and didn't actually exist, (The handing over the key symbolises guilt, and the box both madness and conscience) it also acts as a gateway between 'hells' when the key is used in the box, , the two little men ijnside the box are Good and Evil (gone crazy!). Rita was involved in the car crash, because that is when Diana "died inside", after leaving the car and entering the party, thus she made this connection. The dead woman in apartment was Diana (Naomi Watts). The movie is about obsession, fantasy and jealousy, Diana being unnaturally obessed and having an affair with the real Camilla Rhodes, so the first 2 thirds of the movie before the 'box' scene, is the shattered, shit-stained, convoluted, patchouli like throws after death, whereon she entered a kind of purgatory, she must live out forever. It was her own concious that drove her to suicide, (the two men from the box under the door), it's only on 'reliving' her death again, that the two 'worlds' become mixed and blurred before the repeat and nonsensical, with her parents chasing her. Perhaps they were the last people she thought of.

It is also interesting how they are both actresses, and in Naomi's shattered dead mind, they are playing parts...


The tits were lovely in this film.

Elkapan said...

Just to add also, So it's clear, she was mixing the people and obsessions she knew before her death into a new dark fantasy in death.

It's so easy... it's childs play.

perhaps the passing of the key by the hitman to her was the Guilt he was passing on from killing those 3 people, (the Guilt analogy I mentioned)...

And the hitman- Naomi scene, was recreated by her in death, by replacing herself and the hitman, with both the detective who was looking for her and the last man she noticed at the counter, thus erasing the memory from her purgatory-like fantasy.

...also the knocking on the door before the suicide... also plays into the (concious guilt scenario I mentioned)... that being the detective, and bringing her fears to surface. Perhaps he wasn't really there before then end... maybe he was who knows.

...Jesus I'm wired on this.

Стивен said...

Mulholland Drive makes perfect sense.

MD is “about” a man named “Adam” who has made the wrong choice and is thrown out of his “home” (Eden). Several characters step in to guide “Adam” to make the correct choice, including a “godfather” (get it?) and a “Cowboy” who is unmistakably shown to be Christ Resurrected, the horseman of Revelation 19:21.

Who is it that “Adam” must choose? Camilla Rhodes—whose initials are Chi Rho—☧: Christ. Camilla is introduced to us in the movie after her execution is botched and her missing body is not found in what should be her tomb. After she has gone missing from her execution, “Camilla Rhodes” (Christ) goes to “Havenhurst” (heaven) where she meets its manager “Coco Lenoix,” who is shown to be God (i.e., heaven’s manager) by a variety of rather obvious symbols. Betty Elms/Diane Selwyn represent Judas, complete with a Last Supper scene and the Judas kiss. Is the allegory not obvious enough for you yet? There is much, much more. Every scene of this film is an allegorical representation of Christianity. Many of the characters in MD are different aspects of the triune Christian God: Coco Lenoix, the “godfather” Castigliane brothers, the “Cowboy”, “Camilla Rhodes”/Rita as the incarnate Jesus, the actor Woody Katz, the Jesus-lookalike Ed (also executed for his “history of the world, in numbers”, i.e., the Bible), Mr. Roque, and, most blasphemously, the bum behind Winkies. Once you have this "key", the clues all become immediately obvious.

Adding all this up, there is a remarkable conclusion that cannot be missed: MD is by far the greatest blasphemy against the Christian God ever to appear in film.

“Adam” catches his wife in bed with a man sporting a serpent tattoo. Lynch uses many symbols to show that Adam’s hilltop garden-like home is, in fact, Eden, and that Adam’s wife is Eve, and that Gene the pool cleaner is the serpent. Adam's wife calls him a “bastard”—Adam has no father—and says, “damn you Adam!”

Cynthia is the Virgin Mary, who is shown as Cynthia speaks. When Cynthia’s overture to Adam to spend the night at her place is rebuffed, Cynthia says “you don’t know what you’re missing.” Adam, indeed no man, has slept with the Virgin Mary, and hence all men, represented by Adam, are ignorant of this experience.

Betty/Diane simultaneously represent Judas and all unbelievers. Betty arrives onscreen with the declaration “I can’t believe it!”–damning skepticism that seals her fate from the beginning.

But MD at its most blasphemous is not its outward story of a love affair gone horribly wrong, but its allegorical portrayal of the Gospel account of God’s love for man, represented by the bum behind Winkie's. In the exchange between Dan and Herb at Winkie’s, Dan says he wishes “to get rid of this god-awful feeling,” that we see a short time later is caused by a god-awful man. The entire film is about the source of Dan’s god-awful feeling: an awful God. Dan dies immediately upon seeing this God, causing Herb to exclaim “My God!” The awful man “that’s doing it,” the “bum,” the “beast,” the monster behind Winkie’s, is God. Lynch even shows us a Christian cross and Virgin Mary graffiti as Herb and Dan walk to see the bum.

The Cowboy is Christ resurrected, who will return one more time if Adam does good, and twice on his horse in Revelation 19:21 to kill the unbelievers if Adam does bad.

As with Jean-Luc Godard’s film-on-film Contempt, the final word is “Silencio.” Lynch adapts many key ingredients from Contempt: a doomed relationship with a beautiful, contemptuous, bewigged and betoweled Camilla/e, her severe head injury in a spectacular and highly stylized automobile accident, the vivid use of red and blue to indicate the director’s purpose, an actress’s pop singing audition, and most important, Contempt’s principal theme of “the fight against the gods.” Like Contempt, Lynch’s theme is about “the fight against the gods,” or rather, the fight against the Christian God.

Anonymous said...

ive only seen this movie once but i remember near the start two detective's in a diner then wen they go outside onedetective says h hadtwo weird dreams i think then he collapses, i went with the most simple reason for the rest ofthe movie what we see is the detective's dreams.

Unknown said...

I just saw Mulholland Drive again after many years and finally figured it out.

As confusing as it is, the best way to understand it is to break it down by the timeline of actual events in Diane's life and do away with all of the symbolism and artistry.

Here goes...

Diane (Naomi Watts) wins a jitterbug contest.

Her aunt dies, leaving her money which she uses to move to LA and pursue acting.

She meets Camilla on the set of a movie and begins a relationship with her. Diane falls in love with Camilla but it's not reciprocated. For Camilla it's only sexual.

Camilla breaks it off with Diane, while naked on the sofa in Diane's apartment because Camilla begins dating the director.

Traumatic experience #1: Camilla reinforces the end of their relationship by kissing the director on the set in front of Diane.

Traumatic experience #2: Camilla reinforces the breakup again when she invites Diane to a dinner party where the couple announce their engagement.

Traumatic experience #3: Diane hires a hitman to kill Camilla, and perhaps the director as well (the blue box may symbolize a wedding ring box).

Diane received confirmation of the killing through the blue key.

Detectives visit Diane (not seen in the movie) and are possibly onto her involvement.

Diane falls asleep and dreams the first half of the movie, including many of the people she had encounters with in real life. Most importantly, she sees herself as talented and the fresh faced girl she may have once been, she has the love of Camilla who is a different and good to her because of the amnesia, the director is belittled and forced to do something he hates, and she thinks of killing herself (the apartment they break into with the dead girl).

She wakes up by her neighbor (and possibly ex-lover) knocking on the door. She tells Diane that the police have come by again and leaves with her belongings.

Diane has a brief hallucination that Camilla is alive and has come back to her.

Diane masterbates, recalling the 3 traumatic experiences mentioned above.

Diane kills herself as she had already contemplated in her dream due to guilt and hurt.