Mulholland Dr. is more aptly named Mulholland Culdesac, in my eyes. As the movie begins, you start near the end, square 10. As the movie progresses you move backwards to square 1, and then abruptly back to the beginning (which is the end). In a way, you’ve just gone around in a circle, right back to the entrance again; you’ve come right back to square 10. Everything in-between square 1 and your return to square 10 is a very confusing, disjointed, and seemingly irrelevant string of small stories, which I assumed would all collide at the end, but never really did, not in their presented form at least. Perhaps I’m just thick, but even after viewing the movie twice it still made no sense to me.
Then I went to a lovely site called Lost on Mulholland Drive, which explained it all to me. The classical interpretation, which was the only one I really needed to see (since it made sense), explains that the story is about a young actress named Diane, who we don’t see in the beginning, but is present long enough to fall asleep and then dream up the next 2/3rds of the movie. As she begins dreaming, you see her in a slightly altered form (she casts herself as an aspiring young actress named Betty) winning some competition surrounded by old people who you have no idea who they are. You then meet a woman soon to be Betty’s companion/lover, who goes by Rita most of the movie. The two meet after Rita is in an unfortunate accident, and wanders into the apartment Betty is going to live in. Now cue something completely different, as the movie introduces two characters that will only be seen once more and just very briefly. You eventually go on to meet a famous director, who is casting a movie and is forced to cast someone named Camilla Rhodes, and more stuff happens that makes little to no sense.
The movie then changes realities as Diane wakes up due to certain events in the movie forcing her to realize she was dreaming (and from some loud knocking). She then remembers (in a very disjointed manner) that she was in love with someone named Camilla Rhodes, who looks exactly like Rita from the dream, got spurned by her and ordered a hit on her. The guilt eventually overtakes her, and she commits suicide. The implications are that Diane forced the role of a lover on Rita, who looked like Camilla, in the dream and started trying to relive the “glory days.” However, her own dream forced her to recognize the reality of the scenario by forcing her to relive her failure to be cast in a certain role, recognize the illusion, and eventually the dream collapses because of that recognition. While I didn’t arrive at this interpretation on my own, this interpretation makes a lot of sense to me, after I was told of the several clues left in the narrative.
Which brings us to the next point: Mulholland Drive is indubitably a complicated and confusing narrative. But is it necessarily complex? I would argue that it is, based on Jason Mittell’s concepts of narrative complexity. However, I feel the movie does have certain aspects that detract from the experience.
When it comes to being a complex narrative, one of the most important aspects (according to Mittell) is that there be a over-arching plot for, in this context, the movie (Mittell is discussing narrative complexity in TV, which in that context makes the plot cover a season). Also, the plot has to be slowly revealed and questions have to be answered eventually. What I find unique about Mulholland Dr.‘s complexity is that it gives you all the answers first, and asks you all the questions at the end. This creates an interesting, if not infuriating experience, where the whole movie seems to be a (literally) pointless string of events at a glance, and just a string of events when you look a little closer. Only once you scrutinize the film (or cheat and look on the internet, like I did) can you begin to connect the dots, and make any kind of sense of the events. But I feel that once you do, the entire thing opens up just like the blue box in the movie did: we realize that things were specifically placed to create a continuous narrative over a shattered timeline. This is the complexity that hides beneath the surface inanity: everything that doesn’t make sense makes perfect sense. If something is referenced in the beginning, it relates to something in the end. If something is introduced at the end, it was actually first shown in the beginning, you just had no frame of reference for it to make sense. Once you manage to step back and assemble the timeline properly, the story tells itself. And the ability to convey a woman’s insecurities, background, and passions all through a dream that leads to her suicide strikes me as incredibly complex and artful.
However, complex doesn’t necessarily always mean enjoyable. I watched this movie twice and I enjoyed it twice, despite not knowing what the hell was going on. However, when I watched it the second time I made two friends watch it with me and they were both thoroughly unamused and uninterested. Where I was intrigued, they were annoyed. Where I was confused, they were apathetic. For some reason this movie interested me, though I can’t tell you why. I guess I just enjoyed the random story that I could piece together (which I can’t even tell you what I thought it was anymore) from what I didn’t know. They, however, were completely put off by the fact they had no idea what was going on, and didn’t like the fact that anything they did put together about the film still made absolutely no sense (This isn’t an insult to them, they actually voiced something close to these sentiments, along with the desire to never see the movie again).
Now the question is, did they hate this because it had a complex narrative, or did they hate it because it presented itself in a way that made little to no sense? I would say it had to do more with the latter, and that the former only made the latter all the more apparent. Both of my friends (or, at least one of them) enjoy shows that have complex narratives, to some degree. Be it Sherlock, Doctor Who, or something else similar, there are complex narratives that they enjoy. However, due to the fact Mulholland Drive had a fractured timeline, and asked all the questions after the fact, both of them couldn’t make any conclusions to help them grasp the complex narrative present in Mulholland Drive.
So in the end, while Mulholland Drive is a brilliant work of art and narrative consistency, it remains a lackluster, if not completely aimless, experience to all but the most interested parties.