Mulholland Dr. is an enigma wrapped in a quandary sandwiched in a conundrum, and I am not even talking about the plot. Mulholland Dr. is perhaps the only film where I feel any personal opinions of it are wholly and unquestionably justified. It is a film that is entirely in and of itself. It can never be remade, rebooted, reimagined, or rehashed ever without David Lynch. In essence it is the very definition of visionary filmmaking. It may not be wholly likeable, but it is utterly respectable.
Still this article is not about the critical; it is about the analytical. When one approaches this sort of intentionally misleading narrative it is easy to assume a staunch position on the events presented and defend that position fervently. However, as I grow more sophisticated in my narrative appreciation I am beginning to understand the value in unbiased outlooks. My sentimentality of late is that trying to uncover what is intentionally covered is a dangerous game. As Joel Coen so aptly put it (and I so horrible misphrased it), “If you have to dig, you’re doing it wrong.” The simple truth is that these narrative incoherent films are meant to remain undeterminable. If they had a clear answer, they would be a Casablanca or Godfather; a narrative with a clearly defined ending.
That being said, it is impossible for me to say that I have no opinions one way or the other. I tend to go with the classical analysis: Diane is the dreamer and the entire film is a dream. The first part is the deeper layer of dreaming, one where everything is brighter and more glamorous, like the Hollywood dreamland it is set in. Here Betty is beautiful, sensual, funny, talented, successful and most of all has an attentive and loving girlfriend in Rita. The second part is closer to the truth. It shows Diane dealing with the separation of her lover Camille and ends on the horror of a nightmarish fantasy. Likelihood is that the dreamer is Diane, whose subconscious first makes her live a glorious fantasy reminiscent of her earlier relationship with Camille and then recounts to her in fractured detail her most recent encounter with Camilla. Still I don’t entirely hold true to this argument. I also feel the film could be a Mobius strip, an endless series of events destined to intertwine and repeat themselves for eons (much like a film itself). Or it could be a shared fantasy of both Diane/Betty and Adam. I just don’t know.
And what a glorious phrase that is, “I just don’t know”. And of course, why should I? If a magician never has to reveal his secrets, why should David Lynch have to explain his? But is his film complex? Well certainly it is. There are no easy answers and every scene could be interpreted differently by everyone who sees it. It certainly complies with Jason Mittel’s theory of narrative complexity that it must be “a redefinition of episodic forms under the influence of serial narration.” In essence Lynch does this by denying the basic elements of narration: exposition, tension, rising action, climax, and falling action. Where is the climax? Is it when Diane “wakes up”? When she kills herself? When the Winkie’s diner patron dies? Whose exposition are we looking at? What tension is most important? These basic questions are thrown aside for the aesthetic element of the film. Ahhh, but issue comes in the distinction between what is complex and what is chaos. I would argue that Lynch’s other film Lost Highway is so muddled in its misuse of misdirection that its point is utterly lost as a mere exercise in Lynchian horror nonsense. That is why I feel Mittel’s second position that “complex programs tell stories [serially] while rejecting or downplaying the melodramatic style and primary focus on relationships over plots” is necessary to justify calling a narrative complex. In this sense Mulholland Dr. succeeds over its predecessor because it has a consistent logical plot to latch onto amongst all the weirdness (i.e. the relationship between Betty/Diane and Rita/Camilla).
What can be viewed as complex in the film is what Mittell refers to as the “rejection for plot closure” that exist throughout the entirety of the film. So many questions are left so thoroughly unanswered that it is almost ludicrous to begin listing them. In my own opinion, what Lynch attempted to create was an experience that was more sensual than logical. His specific and intentional use of dreamlike images and sounds is a perfect examination of the unconscious dreamlike moments in our lives. Lynch does not intend to create a character that will stay on screen till he/she is no longer needed. Nor does he intend to create a plot that will reach a logical conclusion. Moments and people simply drift in and out of time and space. Sometimes it seems like there may be a logical underpinning to it all, but the images never align to a perfect picture. It’s as if it were a puzzle completed from five different boxes.
However with all this complexity, the simple question is, does it entertain its audience? Well certainly it did or we wouldn’t be talking about it. It becomes difficult however when we begin to say that this is what audiences want. We are biased because we are in the market for narrative complexity. Simply as mass consumers of insane amounts of media we almost have to seek out more and more complex films and television to satiate our lust. On the one hand we could argue that the success of films like Inception marks a turn towards marketable narrative complexity. On the other hand the highest rated show last year was NCIS. I feel that narrative complexity exists for those who so wish to see it. There will always be a market for both formula and narrative complexity. It is just a question of how much these markets will grow.
For me the film was a truly singular experience, one where the only time that the aesthetic appeal of the film overshadowed the narrative importance. I particularly like the way Kevin described viewing the film as a series of moments, much like the dreams Mulholland Dr. is likely pulled from. We may not remember who was at the bar in our dreams, much like we don’t remember who the hit man met in his second scene, but we understand something deep inside that is truly unexplainable. Much like the power of truly great visuals, this film is not intended to be understood. There is a reason they call it dream interpretation and not dream understanding. It exists to elicit emotion and challenge your perception. And like the beautiful scene in the film, where the Spanish singer keeps singing even after she has collapsed, it is a feeling that will last long after every line of dialogue and every scene has faded away from my memory.
Just for fun I figured I’d post my personal favorite David Lynch style recut trailer. Unfortunatly I can’t embed the video, but trust me it’s worth linking over to.