The meaning of Mulholland Drive?

This is a reposting of my first ever attempt to review a film. I posted on my Rotten Tomatoes blog almost three years ago. At the time of writing it was my favorite film (or equal with Hitchcock’s Vertigo). But the numbers of favorite films has exploded since I wrote this review.
I’ve only just joined Rotten Tomatoes. Not sure what I am doing here. But I want to add my two cents about what is currently my big obsession: Mulholland Drive. Bought the dvd maybe a year ago, but only got round to watching it a few days ago. Kinda enthralled. Did some reading. Checked out a few theories. Got a few of my own. I admit that I have changed my ideas, and credit for extricating me from a blind alley or two goes to some of those whose blogs/reviews I’ve read, whose names evade me, I’m afraid. That said, I’m genuinely shocked that a lot that strikes me as bleedingly obvious (albeit not until I’d watched the dvd half a dozen times or more) hasn’t entered the general consciousness of the critical community. So, I’m gonna share my words of wisdom with the rest of you.

Let me start by saying that prior to Diane Selwyn waking up, everything was a dream, leaving aside the jitterbugging and head moving towards pillow. The dream is indeed Diane’s. It is impossible to make sense of the dream until after seeing the rest of the film. I am going to play around with this blog entry. I intend to edit it, add to it, rather than do the right thing, which is craft a final draft then release it into the wild. Don’t have the patience for that. Y’all can see it emerge piecemeal from this thing I call a brain.

Where should I start? Suppose I tell y’all that the lesbian scene whose tenderness impresses so many of the film’s fans is in actual fact a masturbation scene taking place in the head of a schizophrenic killer having a wet dream? In other words, both Betty and Rita are fragments of Diane’s shattered consciousness. The Queen has left the building, as Mr Roque more or less pointed out when initiating his telephone chain call. “The girl is still missing” refers to Diane, who has surrendered her consciousness. Mr Roque represents an aspect of Diane’s psyche, as do all the employees at the film studio, including director, Adam Kesher.

In the dream, Adam Kesher fulfills two functions. Most obviously, we witness Diane’s attempt to rationalise how her dreams of becoming a movie star and great actress came to nothing. It was not that the director of “The Silvia North Story” did not want her for the part, did not recognise her extraordinary talent. She was frustrated because she was collateral damage in a war between the director and his employers on the one hand and a set of gangsters on the other. Ray, his manager (Robert Smith) and the other executive at the meeting with the Castigliani Brothers represent those diplomats who negotiate between the creative aspect of our personalities (represented by the director) and hard, objective realities. The top of the food chain of the latter is represented by The Cowboy. While you can attempt to tell the Castigliani Brothers to piss off, to shatter the windscreen of their limosene with a golf club, to resign to make a point, you don’t turn down The Cowboy. Not if you know what’s good for you. When he laid down the law, the light went out for Adam. As he surrendered with the words “This is the girl”, his eyes met Betty’s. This was love at first sight. Had Adam not been given an offer he couldn’t refuse, and had Betty not cut short her embarrassing, inevitable rejection by going ahead with the ambition, she’d have no excuse for why her ambitions were thwarted. But Diane’s subconsciousness has fashioned her alibi. And she feels better for this. From this point on, Betty and Rita are no longer interrupted from their mission of uncovering Rita’s identity. They become convinced that she can’t be Diane, as her neighbour didn’t recognise her. However, the conversation the neighbour has is not one she had with either Rita or Betty. Rather this was one she had with those other two doing detective work, the two she refers to after Diane wakes up.

When they enter Diane’s apartment, the stench of death is overpowering. And the corpse causes Rita to despair. She might not know what she has to do with it, yet. But she knows enough to run screaming into the fresh air, having let her inquisitive neighbour depart the scene. Rita and Betty know enough now to realise that Rita needs a new identity, and dying her hair the same colour as Betty’s seems not a bad idea. They are now a partnership against the world with a secret. They are comfortable. They are in bed. They are one. This sex scene. I’m afraid this is a masturbation scene. Not so tender when seen that way. For Betty and Rita are both fragments of Diane’s shattered personality. When Mr Roque says “The girl is still missing” the girl that everyone is searching for is the one who does not answer the phone. It is Diane. When Mr Roque with the words “then” and “and” informs an underling (I think it is Ray) that the studio was to shut everything down, what was being refered to was the suicide of Diane. The script of the scene that is faxed to Betty, that is the audition between her and her father’s best friend, when it is rehersed by Betty and Rita is in actual fact words handed down to them from another part of the subconsciousness. This was an investigation of the pros and cons of suicide.

When Diane masturbated while crying, this was an expression of her having lost the ability to love herself. When Rita and Betty make love, that represents the moment when Diane’s subconsciousness has reconciled herself, at least momentarily, with what she has become. But in her dream state, her anxiety ebbs and flows. At 2:00am, part of Diane’s shattered ego calls out “silencio”. She wants to die. She persuades the more innocent version of herself (the old, now renamed copy of an earlier version of Diane’s operating system to be booted up when Diane’s goes AWOL) to attend Club Silencio. That is where the alternative to living is explained. The beautiful singer can die but her song goes on. Death is not the end, if the memories linger, which they will do so long as they are sweet ones. On that realisation, Betty and Rita are in possession of the box to which they have the key. Things take a new turn…

From entering Club Silencio, they have not spoken a word and are destined never to do so again. From being reduced to tears and startled by the appearance of the box, they appear to be joined at the hip, their movements choreographed, marching in step. When they enter Betty’s apartment, they act as if one individual with one mind. And when Rita retrieves the hatbox with her purse and the key… Betty has gone. She’s fulfilled her role, which was to take Diane’s shattered mind on a journey of recovery. Diane had been shattered and put back together so many times. This was the final time. Not having Betty to hold her hand as she opened the box, she does so anyway. The box open and the darkness at it’s heart engulfs the world. Then it falls to the floor. There’s nothing to hold it up, since this key has opened up the world to the illusory nature of Rita as much as of Betty. The falling of the box to the floor is heard by the woman who vacated the apartment before Rita squatted there, Betty’s aunt. But that woman sees no box, nor anything else. The apartment is now deserted by the pair of squatters, who were ghosts, two fragments of Diane’s disordered mind. And something else. That Cowboy. The one who made Adam an offer he couldn’t refuse. Well, he’s back. This symbol of harsh reality is here to inform the pretty girl that it’s time to wake up. The pretty girl in question being the one who was still missing, according to Mr Roque. And what was the hard reality that woke her up? Nothing psychic or symbolic. It was the knocking of the door by her neighbour.

We learn that the two detectives called to see Diane again. Clearly they’ve called before. And, as we know from the stench of death Betty and Rita smelt, she’s not going to escape the law forever. In her dream, she taught herself just how incompetent her hired hit-man is. Whether or not this depiction is accurate, these are her anxieties. And they’re not going away any time soon. And there’s not a lot of time left. Having gotten rid of her neighbour, the next few hours are left with her brooding and day dreaming and hallucinating. The flashbacks allow us to decode those symbols from her dream we have not been able to so far. Names and faces were collected by Diane’s subconsciousness to weave a tapestry to explain what her options are. She can be immortal by living fondly in the memories of… Who? Actually, she’s all alone. But what about Irene and her companion? The pair who traveled to Los Angeles with her from Ontario. Actually, they came from further back than that. These are in fact her parents. They reenter his life because, being so small, they can crawl under the door. But when those knocking detectives enter and smell that stench of death, her parents will no longer be her best friends. She will have lost everything. She takes the cowards way out, actually the only rational alternative for her. She blows her brains out. And as the curtain falls for the last time, and silencio… We see her as happy as we saw her with her parents before the opening credits. But who is the other woman? Is that her lover? Is it Camilla? In my opinion, probably not. I do not believe that Diane loved Camilla any more than she was loved by her. There’s was a sick relationship from start to finish.

When Rita tells Diane “I don’t know who I am”, they open her purse and find inside this symbol of female genitalia $125,000 on top of a blue key, a phallic symbol. Blue being symbolic of sex work. In my opinion, Diane was never more than a sex slave for Camilla, to be abused and humiliated. Possibly slave is not the right word. After all, Diane was selling her body. What price did she ask? She lived vicariously Camilla’s film stardom. Camilla stole from her her dream. Not being able to live the life herself, she settled for attaching herself to the one who got it, and who got in undeservedly, according to her subconsciousness. We know from the story she told Camilla’s soon-to-be mother in law (Coco), that Diane’s never gotten over this. What is more, we learn why Camilla “This is the girl” Rhodes has a different face in her dream. Not satisfied with publicly humiliating Diane with her heterosexual lover (Adam), Camilla goes to great trouble to teach Diane that her role of lesbian lover has been usurped by another. “This is the girl” and it ain’t you, sunshine.

As her replacement as lesbian sex slave moves out of the picture, in walks The Cowboy. One of the Castigliani brothers is seen staring menacingly at her. Both are merely memorable images her subconsciousness will use as raw material in her dream. The waitress’s name-tag “Betty” is something else that will come in useful, as will the blue key. Why did the hit-man think is so funny to be asked “What does it open?” There’s no definitive answer from the material. However, it’s plausible to explain this away in his head as hilarity at her failure to appreciate that the sole purpose of this blue key is to act as a message, to let her know that the job’s complete. But that’s not how she interprets it. For her, as for the director (for Lynch), there’s a symbolic meaning. It represents a nightmare. And Lynch takes us on a short detour which her subconsciousness is already fashioning for her. The alternative to the beautiful immortality of the dead singer is the living hell of the monster living alone and scaring normal people to death. That’s her life if she doesn’t take it. The face of the man at the counter is simply one more part the raw material from which her hyper-sensitive subconsciousness is preparing her dream. In the dream he says he’s had this dream not once but twice before. Maybe the film is of a dream that Diane’s had more than once. Possibly not. Anyway, this is most of what I’ve worked out over the last few days. Anyone care to pull these theories to shreds? I’d appreciate serious comments.

[Repost from my Rotten Tomatoes blog: Posted on 16 July 2010 09:13 PM]

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One Response to The meaning of Mulholland Drive?

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