I worry that this post might be as confusing and disjointed as the movie itself, so bear with me. As soon as Mulholland Drive ended, my first thought was that everybody in the movie was dead, and that they were trapped in some kind of purgatory. Okay, actually my first thought was why Marge Simpson IRL was in the last shot, but right after that I thought everybody was dead. Having looked at the fansite though, I think I can safely say that this was based purely on a brief hunch, and has no basis in fact given the evidence presented in the movie. I don’t feel too bad about this though, as the story was so complex, disjointed, and incongruous that it would be impossible for anyone short of Steven Shaviro to juggle the different timelines during a first viewing. This isn’t to say the movie was bad or broken, just that it was, by design, shifting the viewer through time and space much more than your average popcorn flick.
Mulholland-Drive.net, one of the most fleshed-out fansites I’ve ever seen, eases newcomers in with the most popular interpretation of the movie; that the majority of the movie is Diane’s dream in which she sees herself as Betty (they’re both played by Naomi Watts) forming a romantic relationship with Rita (who is just Camilla with her memory erased). Everything that occurs after Rita opens the blue box is occurring in real life, though the scenes are presented out of order. The crux of the story is that Diane felt spurned by Camilla, ordered a hit on her, and committed suicide because of the guilt. Director David Lynch provides viewers with ten clues ato help decipher the meaning of the movie, and decipherment of these clues generally seem to flesh out the popular interpretation, and I don’t see a compelling reason to completely disagree with this idea.
This would be a pretty boring blog if I stopped there though, so I’m inclined to mention another interpretation that I believe could also be the “correct” meaning of the movie. If you’re willing to take a considerable leap and believe that the movie’s scope could actually be much further-reaching than Diane’s dream, then the parallel universe theory is actually quite compelling. You can click the link to read all of the details and evidence, but basically the argument is that Diane and Camilla’s simultaneous deaths created some cosmic wave that dropped them in a parallel universe as Betty and Rita. The mobsters and the cowboy are omnipotent forces intent on righting this cosmic imbalance by sending them back to where they came from, and the only link between the two universes is the blue box. There are certainly some holes in the theory (what’s the normal-looking blue key for, I wonder), but I think it is actually a more solid basis than the popular interpretation in a number of cases, particularly The Cowboy. I’m also drawn to the idea that Betty and Rita retained the love and memories of Diane and Camilla, and slowly reached a level of self-awareness.
The curmudgeon in me always wonders when watching shows and movies like this if the director actually knows the meaning of his or her work. I’m sure most of them do, but I have to think that some media is like a big practical joke that filmmakers play on the audience. They could make a movie or show with any number of possible interpretations, or one with no reasonable interpretations that aren’t contradicted by some piece of evidence in the movie, then watch fan sites spring up trying to dissect a work to find answers that don’t exist. I don’t think that’s what is happening here, but something I’ll think about for the rest of the semester.