After spending hours mulling over the Lost on Mulholland Drive site, I found myself even more confused than before. Quite frankly, the “Classical Interpretation” of the movie was one that I had not even remotely thought of before viewing the site. Now that I have read that theory, it makes sense, as do many of the other theories, which makes me entirely confused. At this point I’m not sure what to think, so I guess I will stand by my original interpretation, which is this:
Dianne and Camilla met at an audition as the end of the film suggests. An affair begins between the two, and Dianne falls in love with Camilla. However, this feeling soon subsides as it is revealed that Camilla is to marry Adam Kesher, the director. Filled with rage, Dianne hires a hit man to kill Camilla. Thinking that the job is complete, a flood of memories and remorse hits Dianne leading her to kill herself. However, Camilla survives the hit. Having lost her memory, Camilla (at this point, Rita) attempts to put the pieces of her life together. Her first stop is a familiar location: the apartments of which her future mother-in-law is the landlady. In process of regaining her memory, Camilla creates the character Betty. In other words, Betty is not real. She only exists in Camilla’s mind. Eventually, Camilla finds the blue box, which symbolizes her memory. As she opens it, she remembers everything, and suddenly Betty is gone, confirming (at least in my mind) that Betty was not real.
That is how interpreted the movie, and it seems that at least one other person viewed it similarly. However, I still have many questions, like what’s the deal with the cowboy, and what is that creepy monster thing that lives behind the diner? Additionally, there were many elements of the movie discussed on the Lost on Mulholland Drive site that I had great difficulty recalling. For example: the opening credits. I could not for the life of me remember what happened in the opening credits, even after reading about them. Eventually, it hit me, and I remembered the dancing. I think part of this can be attributed to the fact that we watched the movie over the course of a week and not in one sitting. However, another part is that there are so many seemingly insignificant (yet ultimately important) components of this movie, that it is impossible to wrap your mind around all of them.
Mulholland Dr. very much seems to be a complex narrative. In his essay, Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television, Jason Mittell outlines several components of narratively complex television shows. These same principles can be applied to film as well. I will focus on a few specific criteria as they apply to Mulholland Dr. One of the elements of a complex narrative as described by Mittell is the existence of an overarching story (33). In the sense of television, this can mean that individual episodes work together to progress an overall story. While some episodes may stand on their own, there still exist particular elements such as characters, locations, situations, etc. that all contribute to the story. Mulholland Dr. can be viewed in this manner. Each scene, each character, or each prop can be seen as individual components that when pieced together form a complete story.
Another element of a complex narrative that Mittell describes is the potential of “temporary confusion for viewers” (37). Complex narratives often blur the lines between reality and imagination leaving the viewer to decide what is real and what is not. Mulholland Dr. takes this concept to an extreme in which confusion is permanent rather than temporary. It is never clear which events are real and which are not. It is up to the viewer to draw the line between reality and fantasy.
A final component of a complex narrative that Mittell discusses is that of viewer engagement. Mittell states that complex narratives “encourage, and even at times necessitate, a new mode of viewer engagement in which fans dissect “complex questions of plot and events in addition to storyworld and characters” (38). That is to say that meaning cannot always be found with a cursory surface analysis. Fans must delve deeper into the plot and characters in an attempt to create some sort of meaning. The concept of increased viewer engagement surrounding Mulholland Dr. can be seen clearly through the existence of sites such as Lost on Mulholland Drive and the endless number of theories associated with the film and its meaning.
Mittell states, “Arguably, the pleasures potentially offered by complex narratives are richer and more multifaceted than conventional programming,” but he also concedes “complexity and value are not mutually guaranteed” (30). I like movies that make me think, but I don’t want to think too much. Ultimately, I want some kind of closure, or at least the appearance of closure. Mulholland Dr. didn’t give that to me. I liked the movie. I liked the fact that David Lynch gave me the tools to create my own version of the story. But ultimately, I felt like I was trying to saw a board with a hammer. It was just too much. The more I thought about it, the more confused I became. I never got the sense of closure that I desired, and I never will. Some people love this. I am not one of them.
While thinking about Mulholland Dr. I was reminded of my favorite book, Life of Pi by Yann Martel. While there is much discussion over the symbolism and religious undertones of the book, most of the conversation is concerned with the interpretation of the overall story leading readers to decide: were they animals or were they people? (I realize this might not make sense without reading the book, but I do not want to give away anything else. You can read more about this here and here). I like this book because it is a complex narrative. It forces me to think and ultimately decide on my own version of the story. However, unlike Mulholland Dr. Life of Pi gives me a sense of closure (or at least the appearance of closure). The story is clearly presented in chronological order, in a manner that I can understand. It boils down to one question: were they animals, or were they people? Regardless of which interpretation I choose, I still feel a sense of closure. I don’t get that same feeling from Mulholland Dr. I think I have an interpretation of the film, but there are still so many uncertainties, and I just feel lost. Give me some form of closure. That’s all I ask.
Closure or not, perhaps a blogger writing about Martel’s Life of Pi puts it best: “all stories have equal validity – there is no ultimate truth, only what you believe.”