My brain still hurts from this movie and thinking about it. Like a lot. But I’ll just start with what I actually think is going on in this movie, narratively at least.
I’m going to say that I subscribe to the classic interpretation of this movie, at least on my first run through of it. As I read through the descriptions of the other theories, I know that I would have to watch the movie multiple times, with the theories open to read, in order to really feel like I could analyze this movie.
Chronologically and plot-wise and most basically, it is a story about a woman named Diane Selwyn who wants to be a star in Hollywood. She is, however, not star material. She is naive and gullible and wide-eyed. I think that this is evident by her “alter dream persona” Betty. Betty’s hair is always in place and curled under like a good girl’s hair should be. Diane’s hair isn’t so perfect, it’s messy and a little edgy, the result of her living in Hollywood for a time. She’s lost her innocence a bit. Additionally Betty’s outfit is just so. Wrong. Her pink cardigan is horribly pulled at the buttons, meaning that it is ill-fitting. It’s a sign that she’s clearly not cut out for Hollywood. You’ve got to know about clothes and how to present yourself and Betty can’t even properly dress herself.
Anyways, she wants to be a star and on her journey, she meets Camilla, who is essentially everything Diane is not. Camilla is dark, curvy, alluring, well-dressed, mysterious, and cunning in a way that she can get people to do what she wants. She is the anti-Diane. Opposites attract. Camilla’s success draws Diane to her and she falls in what she presumes to be love. Perhaps it’s just lust of admiration. I suspect Camilla loves the attention and enjoys having someone else telling her how wonderful she is. Diane feels greatness by being with Camilla. It is a symbiotic relationship at first. Everyone gets what they want. But jealousy soon gets in the way. Camilla has found someone else to adore her, the director of her new film, Adam. Her need of attention from Diane dwindles and Diane feels it and her jealousy grows. She’s jealous that Adam is getting her attention, jealous that Camilla is getting the parts that she wants, angry and resentful that Camilla won’t share her success.
At the dinner party, Diane is further humiliated and hurt and it is this final straw that makes her want to kill her former lover. The movie is then a drug-induced, psychotic break with reality that is Diane attempting to recreate the love that she and Camilla once had and her attempt to justify her actions and assuage her guilt. It becomes very clear at the end of the movie that Diane has simply lost it. She really seems to be on drugs and is having a serious mental breakdown due to the abandonment and guilt she feels. It all becomes too much for her and she commits suicide.
That seems to me to be the basic premise of the movie. The other stuff, the monster behind the dumpster, the blue key, the money, the mobster guys, I’ll admit, I don’t really get. I get the basic narrative of the movie and as long as I’ve got that, I have at least somewhat of a grasp on the movie. I don’t think I am capable of making any other attempts of analysis without watching the movies with a discussion group.
I think without a doubt, this movie can be thought of as a complex narrative. What Mitrell talks about in his article are TV shows, which are complex narratives in that the narratives last for more than a half hour or hour long segment in one night. These complex shows (which are amazing) span their narratives over weeks, an entire season, or an entire series. However, this idea of a complex narrative applies to this movie because of the chronological dysfunction that exists. The movie would not have functioned if it presented itself as a strict story of events. That is not the movie that Lynch presents. He is presenting it as this form because it is the movie’s unwieldyness that makes the movie make sense. We understand how Diane is feeling (though not immediately) through her justifying dream. We understand the events that lead up the ultimate betrayal through these seemingly non sequitur scenes. It is the dysfunction that helps us understand the mindset and hysteria that Diane is feeling. This movie is more than a narrative; it’s a mindset and a lifetime.
I think some people are turned off by complex narratives because they require work. People who think movies and television shows as just entertainment have absolutely no desire to work for their entertainment. They want to be told what is happening, why it’s happening, and what things mean in the course of the story. Complex narratives not only requires work but also patience. We had no idea what the hell was going on for easily the first hour and a half of the movie. Or at least I didn’t. I don’t think that normal movie goers would have the patience for this kind of movie. It really requires you to sit through it to the end and believe that all of this stuff that makes no sense will make sense eventually. You have to have faith in the director and writers that your time isn’t being wasted. It takes trust from the audience in creators of movies and TV shows that everything will make sense eventually. And that’s a real problem with a lot of viewers. They don’t have faith and they don’t have the patience to sit through a movie (or a shows) without knowing what
the hell is going on. Case in point: Lost. After the “OMGWTF” factor wears off for people and we’re done wondering what the hell a polar bear is doing in the middle of a jungle or how is John Locke alive or what the hell is the deal with time traveling, people start losing interest. They start losing faith in the show and in the creators that it will all make sense. There is a line between mystery and boredom. When something doesn’t make sense for long enough, people become frustrated and lose interest. I feel like that happens for most casual TV/movie viewers. Unless they can figure things out in a few weeks or at least in a series, they’re done with it. They can’t “afford” to waste any more of their time with something that doesn’t make sense.
Then there is the minority of viewers who actually enjoy this kind of storytelling. We like being kept in the dark until the last minute. We like being able to put clues together ourselves. We have faith in writers (or sometimes we don’t and we just like to complain about how royally they’re screwing everything up) and believe that things will come together in the end. We have patience for it because it’s how we like to have our entertainment. Audience members who enjoy these kinds of shows are active viewers. We don’t let the story come to us, we make the story come to us. We debate, we argue, we analyze. It’s the fact that our entertainment value goes beyond the show. Simply watching a show isn’t enough to keep us entertained. We need more. For people who just want to sit down and watch half an hour of TV or who want to watch a two hour movie that ties up neatly at the end, it’s no wonder that they can’t stand movies like Mulholland Drive or shows like Lost. The entertainment in these shows and movies go beyond the two hours it takes to watch the movies. It goes into understanding what the movie is.
To me, that is what a complex narrative is. A story that doesn’t and cannot stop at the time that the show or movie ends on screen. It continues in debate, in discussion, in theorizing, etc, either online or in real places.
Honestly, I think that good storytelling is impossible or does not exist without containing at least some of the elements of complex narratives. What makes a story a good story is that they surprise you. They take different turns and twists that you couldn’t have predicted or expected. The story of Mulholland Drive would not have been nearly as good or entertaining (yes, entertaining. Despite the confusion, the movie was extremely entertaining) if it had been a strict chronological string of plot. The best shows are the ones that continue a story and character relations over more than just a single episodes. Characters require more than half an hour to grow. Relationships develops over seasons.
On another note, I think a completely valid theory of this movie is that it was just a really ridiculous prequel to Lost that is being controlled by Jacob and his accomplice.