Mulholland Drive blew my mind. And I don’t think I mean that in a good way. Not to be dramatic, but it took me literally all weekend to absorb the plot in its disjointed entirety, and I am still not sure quite how to respond. I have never seen anything like this film in my entire life. Lord help us all as we try to figure this thing out.
The way I see it, Diane is probably schizophrenic (I mean, come on, what kind of person hears voices and is chased by nonexistent old people who drive them to kill themselves?). I agree with the basic outline of the classical theory, the dream sequence. That being said, I think the majority of the film – Diane’s “dream” – is an intrapersonal examination of her multiple personalities. Mulholland-drive.net cites Diane’s different manifestations of herself as an effort to marry the two, and I have to agree.
Betty symbolizes Diane’s innocent, unspoiled self, while Rita is the dark/mysterious/troubled/whatever you want to call it side. The sexual tension between the two is Diane’s subconscious attempting to accept and love both sides. Unfortunately the two can’t coexist: Betty/Diane pays to have Rita/Camilla killed, and Diane kills herself.
Mulholland Drive is absolutely a complex narrative. Mittell defines narrative complexity as, “a redefinition of episodic forms under the influence of serial narration.” Mulholland Drive is nothing if not a continuation of different episodes redefined by different characters’ interpretations of the film’s events. Mittell continues to say that a complex narrative establishes its plot in a way that allows for character development both internally and with other characters. Hello, MD. The problem with the film is the different episodes aren’t chronological (which is partially why we were all so confused, thank you very much crazy movie plot). Once the audience decides that it is an episodic rather than linear plot, the relationships between characters become clear, and a complex narrative is established.
Mittell cites Neil Harris and says that the audience’s “pleasure was less about ‘what will happen?’ and more concerning ‘how did he do that?’” This is a vital aspect of Mulholland Drive’s plot flow. The smart audience realizes that 1) yes, the film is weird, and 2) if these characters are all interrelated, how do they connect and what do those connections mean in the world of the story? The distinction between these two questions with which an audience will approach the film is what established it as a complex narrative. By asking deeper questions pertaining not only to plot, but to character and style, Mulholland Drive becomes a real and heartbreaking story rather than an absurdly confusing mystery.
Personally, I feel that the relationship between narrative complexity and audience pleasure depends on the audience: if the audience is prepared to see a more intelligent work, rather than being spoon-fed a linear story or vice-versa. I had no idea what we were about to see, so for the first two days we watched the film I sat there, allowing myself to be confused and unhappy. By Friday, I realized that this film wasn’t going to make linear sense. I started making guesses as to why things were happening in the ways they did, and how different events and characters might relate to each other. The audience’s background determines their response to a complex narrative – love it or leave it. I’m a drama major and we read all kinds of crazy scripts in play analysis courses, and I love it! I just have to be prepared for it. So once I accepted that Mulholland Drive was not going to be what I expected, it became a really exciting game to guess the plot intricacies and character relationships. I know I started out this post complaining about hating the film, but now that I think about it, I really did enjoy the process. I’m just not sure it’s one I wish to repeat.