For me, the basic narrative of Mulhuolland Drive falls directly in line with Alan Shaw’s interpretation. Essentially, Diane Selwyn is a woman experiencing a complete emotional breakdown as the result of a hit she put out on her former lover Camilla who jilted her in favor of a loveless marriage to a director in an attempt to advance her own career. Upon the completion of the hit Diane is eventually driven into hysterics by an overwhelming mixture of guilt and grief. In an attempt to escape these feelings Diane resorts to snorting some cocaine and drifts off into a drug fueled sleep. During this sleep she creates an alternate world that struggles to put as much distance between Diane and reality as possible by recapturing the naiveté of her youth before it was corrupted by her experiences in Hollywood and constructing new identities for herself as well as Camilla. Within this purified dreamscape Diane is able to transfer all the blame that she feels for Camilla’s death on several enigmatic forces that are controlling everything from behind the scenes and for the moment she is able to evade her guilt. However, reality ultimately encroaches back into her dream through the presence of several recurrent symbols that continually force Diane to remember her actions until she wakes up in horror of what she has done and kills herself.
Before reading the bulk of his analytic essay (I would have read all of it but I didn’t want to be too influenced by his writings) as well as the pool of theories listed out on the Lost on Mulhuolland Drive website, I was divided between an interpretation of the film as a dichotomy between a dreamscape and the reality behind it or as a meeting of two alternate planes of reality. The entwining of two alternate realities theory appeared promising to me at first, however at the conclusion of the movie such an interpretation left too many lose ends in the plotline and very few questions completely answered. With the dream theory though, the disparity seen between the two major parts of the movie as well as the more fantastical elements that permeate many of its scenes can be rationalized as part of Diane’s lucid dream state generated by her turbulent frame of mind.
Like in the case of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks as analyzed within the Mittell reading, I believe that Mulhuolland Drive is an excellent illustration of complex narrative within cinema since it uses a variety of innovative and unconventional storytelling techniques to advance the storyline. The foremost complex narrative device found throughout the movie is the use of analepses and alterations in chronology to distort the flow of time and splinter the linear pathway of the plot. Indeed, almost the entire movie is set around this alteration of the time stream and the ability of the audience to recognize the jarring distinctions between the first and second parts of the movie alongside the subtle usage of flashbacks to reconstruct a coherent narrative. This use of deconstructive storytelling feeds back into another feature of complex narrative within Mulhuolland Drive, namely the expression of narrative spectacle. Given the seemingly schizophrenic nature of Mulhuolland Drive’s plotline it is almost breathtaking for the viewer to finally comprehend the operational solidity of the narrative, that all of the little clues and pieces of the story fit together so precisely that the sheer execution of such a feat becomes perhaps as great if not better than the narrative itself. Yet, it is this process of viewer interactivity that gives Mulhuolland Drive its greatest level of narrative complexity. By foregoing traditional storytelling cues David Lynch has left the narrative completely open for the viewer to assemble and reflect upon at their own level, thereby elevating the audience to a participatory level in establishing the core narrative interpretation of the film. It is during this moment that Mulhuolland Drive transcends the customary definition of a film through its narrative complexity and becomes an intrinsic part of the audience as a whole.
Personally, I enjoyed the use of narrative complexity within Mulhuolland Drive. It was fun teasing out all of the different clues, making assumptions about the film’s meaning and trying to decipher the plotline like a type of giant brainteaser. However, I also believe that it takes a certain personality to appreciate a movie that offers this level of unconventional storytelling and demands the audience to participate. It’s easy to see how narrative complexity could grate against a viewer’s nerves since such films often reek with the director’s own self-satisfaction, as if every scene is asking, “Did you see what I did there? Wasn’t that clever of me?” They can also come across as a mere exercise in stylistic effect in that the director is merely using this movie as an opportunity to experiment with his own cinematic technique or push a certain type of message rather than try and entertain the audience. These views should not discredit the pleasure that complex narratives can afford audiences though, it is simply a different kind of pleasure that most viewers are used to. Not everyone will enjoy narrative complexity and not everyone should but such a distinction should not exclude such a progressive mechanic within film and the potential stories that it could tell.