Both bizarre and unsettling, David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. is one of those films that can motivate viewers to actively mull over its contents. Reasons? Well, let’s just say that there are plenty of nutcases for any sensible viewer to overwhelm themselves in. Certainly, the abundance of obscure clues does not help comprehend a clear story. But, we are always taught to not judge a book by its cover. Hence in this blog, I shall only explore and discuss (not prove) what Lynch’s “masterpiece” may all be about.
In terms of theories, I believe that the story mainly resembles a mix of two. Firstly, let’s examine the “It’s-Camilla’s-story” theory, which postulates that the entire story is all part of Camilla’s imaginations and/or dreams. The key reason for this assertion is that at the end of the movie, a blue-haired woman (one who closely resembles the singer at Club Silencio) visually resembles more of Rita/Camilla’s brunette physique rather than that of Betty/Diane’s. Another possibility that could be considered is a third party member character who dreamt it all. But for all practical purposes, I will rule out the third party role to tighten my scope of discussion. Moreover, I believe that Lynch purposefully reintroduces the “actual” blue-haired Camilla at the finale to hint at a significance of striking contrast and similarities between her and the personas Camilla has created through her imagination. On top of that, the ending shot of the real blue-haired Camilla is, in a lot of ways, a big leap for audiences to relate her reality (blue-haired) and her projection of herself within a common reality. In turn, I believe that Lynch leads the audiences to think that everything that they’ve just watched is all but a dream, Camilla’s dream.
The second theory that I can mutually agree on is the Mobius Strip theory. Though it does not strictly follow the classical Mobius Strip theory, the narrative structure of Mulholland Dr. is very much alike the paradoxical structure of a Mobius Strip. Like the strip, the film is presented in two different “takes” or sides of the story. Nevertheless, these two “takes” of the story are intersected towards the middle-end, as if two parallel universes are crossing each other. This, in turn, disorients the time and space rules of relativity and creates a series of confusion that allows the audiences to question the credibility of the story’s “voice”.
Indeed, it is most suitable to classify Mulholland Dr. as a narrative that is complex. A complex narrative is, according to Jason Mittell, one in which the “ongoing stories are viewed across a range of genres” or multifaceted. In this, we can examine the individual character-centered stories of Camilla, Rita, Diane and Betty. Here, I would say that Lynch has created a narrative more confounding than the “complex narrative” Mittell refers to. On top of having the identities and existences of characters called into question via subtle and major changes of name, makeup, setting, personality, clothing…etc, the plot also has a “persona” of its own that is senseless (because of the lack of information given) yet seemingly meaningful. For example, in the auditioning scene at the Ryan Entertainment Building, there were cutaway shots showing a mysteriously “powerful” man in a corporate office setting that simultaneously suggests something important but too random to be logical or meaningful.
I generally do not enjoy bewilderingly random stories as a source of entertainment pleasure. Nevertheless, I tend to find, from personal experience, that unconventional stories with annoying complexities are also equally rewarding in providing intellectual inspirations. Indeed, this film is very opaque and hard to understand because of its highly susceptible nature to a wide-range of interpretations for its characters, props, settings, score, lighting patterns…etc of the film. Nevertheless, it makes me, the viewer, critically aware of the content I am viewing. Mulholland Dr. gave me the sense that there is no “one-answer” to the puzzling story. But rather, it does present a “life is nothing but a dream” notion with its jarring orientation of time and space. So more or less, there is ultimately something for me to take from this movie after all.
But aside from assessing my own opinions of the film, there are the opinions of those other than me. To some extent, most people are seeking to satisfy different needs, sometimes without even being aware of it happening. So according to these needs, people will choose (because they can) to view what they perceive as “compatible” with their own standards or preferences at a given time.
A possible example of this can be seen in the disparity between different film award selections for the ‘Best Picture’ category. In 2009, the Oscars favored The Hurt Locker while the Golden Globes embraced Avatar as their victors. Although this is not a fair judgment basis to make opinionated assertions of either film, it is safe to say that The Hurt Locker’s controversial commentary on war is a lesser blockbuster notion in contrast to Avatar’s grand spectacles. In turn, I personally associate common ‘blockbusters’ with more conventional narratives rather than the stories with complex narratives. Thus through this phenomenon, we can observe that there are some people who do enjoy complex narratives and those who do not. Some possible correlations to complex narrative favorability can be the different social, political, demographic, or educational makeup that each person has. Nevertheless, good storytelling is never confined by a set of rules defined by any audience group. In turn, I strongly believe that there needs to be a fine balance between narrative complexity and the basic story for the narrative to be considered “good.”