Needless to say, Mulholland Dr. deserves our respect. Had you asked me if this were the case two weeks ago, I would have slapped you across the face. I’m glad you didn’t ask me that question. And I’m glad I changed my mind.Allow me to give you, dear reader, a background on my relationship with David Lynch and Mulholland Dr. I was first introduced to him and this film approximately two years ago when it was recommended to me by a friend. (She convinced me to watch it when she mentioned, and I quote, “a sweet lezzie scene”). So I watched the film, and was automatically lost and confused and somewhat angry. After some research on his career and the success of the movie, I just didn’t get it. The film definitely didn’t strike me the way it had struck the critical community or its devout fan base. I absolutely hate it when the majority opinion of a film is outstanding and for some reason I can’t even comprehend as to why this is the case. (I experienced this frustration with Slumdog Millionaire, Avatar, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, to name a few).
Anyways, I felt betrayed by Mr. Lynch. Part of me thought he felt he had earned the right to do whatever he wanted with this film and it just so happened that he wanted to drill through your skull and take an eggbeater to your brain. I wrote the film off in my scrambled head. Until we recently watched it class. I took the opportunity to look at the film anew, I took copious amounts of notes on all the little happenings and anything else that seemed significant to me. It helped. A little. I ended up piecing the two sides of the movie together, independent of each other, which helped the confusion. I followed the name switcheroo and I got all of the more obvious elements I was oblivious to the previous time.
But the whole conceit of the film still eludes me! The theory that I like explains things in a dream manner. Reading Roger Ebert’s review of the film really helped me. I don’t think that the ENTIRE film was a dream, but I think that the most confusing parts could be attributed to that. The complicated part, for me at least, is that the transition into the dream probably doesn’t happen at the opening of the blue box. The appearance of the blue box is not properly explained for that. But I like to see the non-linear effect of the second part of the film along with the weird happenings and sudden transitions is Lynch’s way of depicting a dream and how we see it after we wake up and what sticks with us.
What really made me not submit to any theory more radical was the assumption that Aunt Ruth was dead. I don’t think that Rita would have hidden from her if she was dead. Of course, I’m sure there’s a way to talk around that point.
As far as narrative complexity goes, Mulholland Dr. is a poster child. If Mitchell can consider Arrested Development as a narratively complex show, then this sure counts as a complex film. The lack of explicit happenings, the unexplainable ending(s), and the strong presence of subtle details would classify Mulholland Dr. as a complex narrative for me. The entire transfer between two different “universes” as it were is an incredibly complex device. It’s so complicated that there is no definite conclusion as to what happens to turn everything upside-down. Also, all the events that happen without divulging full knowledge to the audience make things even more mysterious. Why must Camilla be cast in the film? Who is the Cowboy? Who is Rita?! The fact that the film leaves things open exacerbates the problem. The last shot lingering on the blue-haired woman and all the significance that the monster behind Winkie’s seems to have is never directly explained within the film. This plot and film requires a lot of outside thinking and many repeated viewings.
Narrative complexity doesn’t bother me. I’m an avid fan of Lost, I really liked Mementoand I like stories with rough endings such as The White Ribbon and No Country For Old Men. But I still have a very tumultuous relationship with Mulholland Dr. What makes this kind of narrative complexity so distancing is that it isn’t open. That is to say that the clues are not readily available for the audience. This film is such a layered puzzle that it is impossible to uncover even one-quarter of the mysteries in the first viewing. I think it’s clear that Lynch wanted to make this an unaccessible film. In some ways, it could be seen as his middle finger to the film industry. He heavily criticized the restraints put on a director in the filmmaking process via the character of Adam and his position. So perhaps he made such a complex film because he wanted to rub things in people’s faces for making the creative process so hard, especially for someone with such a unique style.
I think it’s very possible for a complex narrative to have good story. But there must be a way to approach the film in a relatively easy way. The Coen Brothers create excellent films with lots of different plot elements and reversals and false reversals and they do prove hard to follow sometimes, but there’s a payoff for the audience without subjecting the audience to one specific interpretation. Christopher Nolan’s films also have unconventional storytelling techniques, with the non-linear elements in Memento andBatman Begins and the disorienting effects of Following and The Prestige and Insomnia.Yet his films are consistently well-received by the majority. Yes, he doesn’t take as many risks as David Lynch, but his stories connect to audiences much better than Lynch’s films.
Audiences hate what they cannot relate to and what they do not understand. And becauseMulholland Dr. isn’t easily relatable or understandable, viewers are divided. Namely myself. I am divided in half. Half of me admires the intricate nature of the film and the jagged-edged puzzle Lynch constructed. The other half of me despises the inaccessibility of the film and the difficult nature of figuring it out. But the film has been made and I’m not going to cry about it.