#2. Mulholland Dr. and narrative complexity

The Cowboy

"There's sometimes a buggy."

Mulholland Dr. (Lynch, 2001) is a polarizing film.

It was named “best film of the decade” by more than 200 industry insiders and directors who responded to the annual survey administered by the magazine Film Comment, and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA) recognized it as the best movie of the 2000s. LAFCA praised the film “as both a cautionary tale and a mascot for the triumph of art and personal vision in an industry that, from where we sit, seems actively devoted to the suppression of both.”

Yet, the movie has not been greeted with unanimous acclaim. Karina Montgomery, writing for Cinerina, characterizes the film as performance art masturbation that is “apparently very fulfilling for the doer but pretty dang tiresome for the watcher.” The New York Observer‘s Rex Reed describes it as “a load of moronic and incoherent garbage,” and James Sanford of the Kalamazoo Gazette thinks it is a crock pot “of odds and ends tossed together and left to stew until whatever flavor they may have had is completely gone.”

In this class, we are less concerned with the “greatness” of this film than with what it might tell us about storytelling and narrative complexity.

Now that you have viewed the entire film, jot down some notes on a piece of paper about what you think happened. What is the relationship between Betty and Diane? Between Rita and Camilla? Next, visit the site Lost on Mulholland Drive, and skim the range of theories and interpretations. You might want to investigate the newcomer’s guide, “Lynch’s 10 Clues,” and the gallery of visual echoes. Let all of this bubble around in your brain for a while, and — in the spirit of the movie — you might want to “sleep on it.”

Your second blog assignment is to write approximately five to seven paragraphs that address the following topics:

  • Briefly explain your interpretation of the film? Do you side with the classical theory or one of the other interpretations? What do you think happened?
  • Drawing on ideas from the Mittell reading, address the issue of narrative complexity. In your view, can Mulholland Dr. be characterized as a complex narrative? Why or why not? Specifically, what aspects of the narrative might be viewed as complex? (Note: Although Mittell explicitly differentiates television narrative from film narrative, many of his ideas are still relevant to this discussion.)
  • In the final part of your posting, consider the relationship between narrative complexity and audience pleasure. This is an opportunity for you to describe your own reaction to the film, but you should also consider the issue in more general terms. Why are some people more attracted to complex narratives? Why do some people hate them? Is it possible for good storytelling to coexist with complex narrative structures?
  • Your blog posting does not need to be written as a formal academic paper, but it should be thoroughly proof-read for writing mechanics. (Note: The titles of movies, television programs, video games, and books are always italicized.) Be sure to consult the Blog Grading Criteria and Checklist for more details about what should be included in your blog postings.

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    About Aaron Delwiche

    This blog is intended to support the activities of students enrolled in Transmedia Storytelling and Games for the Web at Trinity University.
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