Being confused during a David Lynch film is not uncommon. However, Mulholland Drive is actually a more cohesive narrative than most of his other films. For example, in his movie Eraserhead, there’s only 10 minutes of dialogue in a 90 minutes movie. Don’t even get me started on his short films. If you can figure out what David Lynch was going for, kudos to you.
When I was watching the film in class, at first I was just going with the narrative. I didn’t think there was a huge “catch” yet, except for maybe some sort of conspiracy with the “bad guys” or Rita figures out who she is and she’s some sort of mobster or something. Then the mind began to blow. Lynch likes to throw curve balls, and he was throwing them all over this movie, especially when the mood changed. Betty was no longer Betty, Rita was not Rita, and everything felt darker, more sinister. My first instinct was that both Rita and Betty were involved in the car crash and they both had lost their memories, except Betty had an alternate identity already. The blue box indicated that they had realized who they were and went back to the way things were. But then I started thinking that the story hadn’t continued, but was jumping around. Another theory I had was that the blue box was some sort of time machine. When it was opened, it went back to an alternate reality where Betty was Diane, Rita was Camille, and Aunt Ruth had never left her apartment.
When I read the Theories and Interpretations page on the Mulholland Drive website, I found it logical to believe “The Dream Theory.” I think this is the one that is most widely accepted, and to me it makes sense (even though the one about Betty and Rita being the light and dark side of Diane is really intriguing). Lynch puts out a lot of clues that allude to this theory. A lot of them happen in the beginning. The first time I watched it, I guess I wasn’t paying too much attention to remember it fully later on during the movie. I didn’t connect that the jitterbug dancing in the beginning alluded to Diane’s jitterbug contest that she mentions at the party during her reality flashback. Also, it wasn’t as obvious to me that the whole thing was a dream when the camera dipped into a pillow in the beginning. With most of Lynch’s movies, you can’t always tell what is specifically going on. It takes many viewings and brainstorming to get an idea. The fact that some people may not have made the dream connection could have been due to the fact that we watched the movie in a span of 5 days instead of in one sitting. Even if we didn’t, such a dense movie would be difficult to comprehend on one view.
Considering the thought of Mulholland Drive being a complex narrative, I believe that it would be one using the ideas from Mittell’s article. Although it is a movie, the conventions of a complex narrative still apply. I’m sure most people watching this movie think that it is odd and doesn’t follow the same structure as a “main stream” film. The same goes for television shows that “offer an alternative to conventional television narrative” (Mittell). Although there isn’t a sufficient amount of character development (that could be made in a television show over a span of episodes) there is a lot of viewer involvement and assumption that follows after the movie is over. The entire website dedicated to this movie has tons of theories, clues, and ways that viewers can collaborate with each other. It is in this medium of involvement that Mulholland Drive breaks conventional values of a movie. To me, it feels similar to M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense. Now I don’t want to give the whole plot of the movie away, I do want to say that it is a movie that you should see at least twice. It is not as vague and thought provoking as Lynch’s movie, but it does make you look for certain clues throughout the narrative. Lynch does this in Mulholland Drive by incorporating aspects from Diane’s reality into her dream world. Such things as the red lamp shade, phone calls, names, locations, and coincidences parallel each other in Diane’s head. This is definitely non-conventional but also something that makes sense in our own lives when we dream about something different or better while we sleep (or get a drug overdose like Diane does in the film).
I find the issue of narrative complexity to be a tricky issue. On one hand, I love it, I think it’s such a great way to tell a story. On the other hand, it can be very difficult to pull off and if it’s not, the result could be horrendous. I think that most people my age enjoy complex narratives, especially ones on television. The Simpsons, Arrested Development, and Firefly mostly attracted young adults (I say this in past tense because both Arrested Development and Firefly have been cancelled. Boo.) However, there are other shows, such as The West Wing and Lost, that can attract a wider audience. I really think it depends on each specific person’s movie tastes. For me, I don’t like chick flicks. Other people quite enjoy them. It’s like taste buds; you can’t help hating mushrooms if you don’t like the taste of mushrooms (p.s. I don’t hate mushrooms). David Lynch did a great job (to me) with keeping the narrative fresh and the audience thinking, but I can see where a lot of people wouldn’t enjoy his story. It’s a bit risque at times, and I’m sure most viewers feel a few “WTF” moments. I think the view on this movie is split among viewers. Similar to critics, some will see it as brilliant and a work of art, while others will view it as garbage. Whether a story is good or bad is not always going to be black and white. I rate movies on how I personally enjoy them, not by the consensus. A film is “successful” when it is appealing to me. Good storytelling, in my mind, is keeping the audience engaged and involved in the narrative. I believe David Lynch achieved this in Mulholland Drive.