I did not know what to think while watching Lost on Mulholland Dr. The plot seemed to stray from any sort of linear progression, which of course (because I do not consider myself to be a deep thinker when I am first exposed to material) caused me to be absolutely lost and confused throughout the film. I am also the world’s biggest scaredy-cat, so I was actually afraid and on edge throughout the film as well. (It was the eerie music and lighting, I swear!)
After actually reading through some theories about the plot of the film, I side with the classical interpretation theory. It eventually made sense to me, once I thought of the film as having two alternate realities tied together completely by symbols and parallel clues.
At first, I had not an idea as to what happened in the film. However, now that the classical theory is somewhat clearer to me, I believe that Diane began her quest from Ontario to Hollywood as a naïve and bright-eyed actress with the hopes of making it in showbiz; the rest of the film depicts (in a very complex manner) her demise (as a commentary on the demise of so many naïve and bright-eyed “Diane’s” who end up being changed by Hollywood).
According to Mittell, narrative “complexity and value are not mutually guaranteed.” In other words, just because a plot is complex does not mean it is quality. He claims that narrative complexity “offers a range of creative opportunities and palette of audience responses that are unique to the […] medium and thus should be studied” (Mittell 30).
I absolutely agree with Mittell’s assessment of narrative complexity, and the fact that simple material is more consumable, but complex narratives should be appreciated and studied as cultural artistic development. This is precisely how I view Mulholland Dr. If I feel like a quick pick me-up film, I’m going to throw Dumb and Dumber on my DVD player; however, after understanding the narrative (as best I can) of Mulholland Dr. I can appreciate its complexity and the elements used to enhance its artistic vision (ex: the parallel visual symbols between scenes, and the plot elements that provoke question and confusion).
An aspect of Mulholland Dr. that Mittell would most likely consider to be complex is the variety of plotlines (that eventually end up coming together in an abrupt and in-your-face type of way). The moment in the film when the audience realizes that Diane and Betty’s nametags are switched at the diner is an example of this.
It becomes apparent all of a sudden, that there are at least two plots, and they just collided. Mittell also touches on the idea of pushing the boundaries of complexity with different variations of themes/norms that end up as the climax of a show. He would have definitely seen complexity in Betty and Rita’s love affair in Mulholland Dr. because (in my opinion) their relationship came out of nowhere. However, I think it served as the plot climax, because after their love is revealed, the audience starts to be able to piece together that two plots exist and that they are intertwined with each other.
There is a definite relationship between narrative complexity and audience pleasure. I think that narrative complexity in any genre (except for comedy) does not cater to the instant-gratification that the majority of people want to and expect to feel from entertainment. I believe that there are certain factors that contribute to an audience member’s ability to enjoy and appreciate narrative complexity: those factors include level of education, interest in and knowledge of culture, and appreciation for works of art in general (regardless of medium). Therefore, I would not expect complex narratives to correlate with audience pleasure if the film under discussion is intended to be a blockbuster hit.
I consider myself one to appreciate entertainment that provokes thought. Initially, Mulholland Dr. did nothing but frustrate me, because I felt so many emotions, had so many unanswered questions, and “oh my gosh” disbelief moments throughout the film. Now, having spent time thinking about it, I believe the film to be one of the most profound and artistically crafted pieces of work I have seen. Did I get instant gratification from Mulholland Dr.? Definitely not. But because I could analyze elements of it to further understand it, and “conquer it” later, I was satisfied. In conclusion, I believe that Lost on Mulholland Dr. is an example of good storytelling, via excellent artwork, that can coexist with complex narrative structures.