“Mulholland Drive” Review
January 2, 2012 3 Comments
Mulholland Drive (2001)
‘So, don’t play it for real, until it gets real’
There is no easy way to write a review to this film, unless, maybe, you are David Lynch himself. What, however, can be easily said is that ‘Mulholland Drive’ is an artsy mystery film containing bizarre sequences, the most nonsensical movie lines in a dialogue you probably ever heard, and incorporating some in-you-face, non-conventional story telling. What immediately stands out in this film is the fact that, similar to ‘Pulp Fiction’ (1994), the events in ‘Mulholland Drive’ often unfold without any (meaningful) explanation given. Overall, branded ‘the most challenging movie of the year’, this film is fascinating in its inexplicability, surrealism and originality, and probably contains one of Naomi Watts’s best career performances.
In this review I will not bother setting out the film’s plot, but jump straight to providing a general commentary on this thriller’s notable features. Then, I will try to provide a sound explanation of what is really going on in this movie.
Originally destined for a television series, ‘Mulholland Drive’ ended up as a film not that dissimilar to Lynch’s other films (‘The Elephant Man’ (1980) and ‘Blue Velvet’ (1986)), but definitely going a step further in its originality. The themes which Lynch explores in ‘Mulholland Drive’ include “the Fall of the American Dream”, Hollywood corruption, mental illness and sexual exploitation of women. In the film, Lynch emphasizes the banality of Hollywood – the fact that anyone can be anyone, e.g. Betty can be Diane, Camilla – Rita, and, also, the fact that in Hollywood you can have no past (Gilda). The scenes of violence in ‘Mulholland Drive’ are very similar to the depictions of violence in ‘Pulp Fiction’. As in ‘Pulp Fiction’ violence in ‘Mulholland Drive’ is trivialised ala Tarantino-style.
Undoubtedly, ‘Mulholland Drive‘ is filled with the sense of unease. Many scenes in this film inevitably give rise to eerie feelings of “something about to happen”, something awful and truly grotesque. This sense of unease is largely due to the outstanding (sometimes hand-held) camera work throughout the film. This inexplicable “strangeness” and magnetic “weirdness” permeating the film holds the audience’s attention, building the tension and ceaselessly fuelling the audience’s imagination. This is Lynch and his genius through and through.
However, it is too easy to over-analyse this film, and, in fact, if one gets to the bottom of the real story behind the scenes, ‘Mulholland Drive’ may be easy, although undoubtedly puzzling, to follow. Purely as a matter of interest, the film is actually dedicated to Jennifer Symes, an aspiring actress, a Lynch’s assistant on the set and ex-partner of actor Keanu Reeves. Symes tragically died at the age of 28 after her car hit the row of other cars not far from Mulholland Drive, LA. Reports say that at the time of her accident she was inebriated and was undergoing treatment for severe depression.
<<Warning! Spoiler Alert! >>
So, what is ‘Mulholland Drive’ really all about? It seems so nonsensical. I like to believe that there are, in fact, two distinct “realities” taking place in this film. One is Diane Selwyn’s fantasy world, in which she is actually – Betty, a rising Hollywood star. Although some people like to equate the first part of the film with Diane’s dream (e.g. a shot of a pillow and a heavy breathing right after Diane’s jitterbug contest), I like to think of it as Diane’s subconsciousness, creating imaginative concepts and events i.e. the alternate reality created by Diane’s mind to repress certain traumatic events in her life (e.g. Camilla appears to Diane after she wakes up for a brief moment in the kitchen). This is Diane’s “dream world” to which she could escape at will whenever she chooses to do so or is forced to. Sounds very Freudian, but the film does revolve around Freudian concepts, e.g. the relation between ego, id and superego, and defence mechanisms, such as repression and displacement. The second part of the film is concerned with real events and this is reality.
So what does take place in those realms?
Diane’s “dream world” – Here, Diane Selwyn’s is Betty, an aspiring Hollywood actress, who arrives in LA to start her acting career. She settles down in the house of her aunt, while the latter is filming in Canada. In her aunt’s house Betty finds Rita, a girl who sneaked into the house while it was still empty. Rita, coming to the house after a car crash on Mulholland Drive, is clearly amnesiac, but not seriously injured. Sympathising with Rita’s situation, Betty promises to help her establish her true identity. Rita remembers the name “Diane Selwyn” and the two visit the house of Diane Selwyn, finding the corpse there. It is clear that Rita and Betty “fall in love” with each other. Betty also seems to succeed in her audition for ‘Sylvia North Story’. That means that Betty succeeds in both – getting the love of the girl she has always dreamt to meet, Rita, who is completely depended on her now, and getting noticed by Hollywood’s most influential people.
Apart from “Betty’s success story”, there is another significant event that takes place in her “dream world”. This is the story of a director Adam Kesher. Adam is in the process of choosing his lead for the film “Sylvia North Story”. He is seen pressured to choose for the lead the specific girl named “Camilla Rhodes”, but he initially refuses. After being declared broke, his production being shut down, finding his wife in bed with another man and having a weird conversation with the Cowboy, Adam finally picks Camilla Rhodes out of other girls auditioned, by saying “This is the girl” during auditions.
Other events taking place in Diane’s dream are less significant, e.g. there is a scene where two men are having a conversation about one’s guy dream at the Sunset Boulevard Winkie’s Restaurant, a scene where Diane’s hired hitman kills another guy for the “famous black book” and the scene where that same hitman inquires from another hooker whether there were any new call girls around, specifically any “beat-up brunette”. Although these stories seem unrelated to Diane’s story, they are the product of Diane’s subconscious process and imagination.
Diane’s real life events – Diane’s actual reality “kicks in” moments after the Cowboy says: “Hey, pretty little girl…Time to wake up!” In reality Diane is a talentless girl who travelled from a small town in Ontario to Hollywood, after winning a Jitterbug contest, in the hope of becoming a famous Hollywood actress. Her aunt, who also worked in film industry, but died, left her a small fortune in her will. While being in LA, Diane met the girl Camilla Rhodes (Rita in Diane’s “dream world”) during the “Sylvia North Story” auditions, where the director was Bob Brooker. Diane and Camilla soon became friends and lovers. While Camilla got the lead role in “Sylvia North Story” and her career really took off, Diane was not so fortunate, only landing small roles in some of Camilla’s films with Camilla’s help. When Camilla started a relationship with one of her directors, Adam Kesher, she also ditched Diane. After attending Adam and Camilla’s party, where the two announced their engagement, Diane became absolutely devastated and, out of envy, jealousy and frustration, hired a killer, Joe, to murder Camilla. After Diane found out that the killer’s deed was done (and Camilla was dead), she plunged into severe depression. In the end, driven to absolute despair, feeling hopeless and being afraid for her future, Diane shoots herself dead.
While Diane’s “dream world” seem perfectly construed and flawless in its portrayal of happiness, it is evident that places, people, names and small details coming from reality “frustrate” it as these bits from reality “force” their entry into Diane’s “dream world”, imposing themselves on her carefully constructed fantasy world. The line between what is real and what is imaginary becomes blurred, resulting in the chaotic fusion of wishful thinking and real state of affairs (reality as it is) in Diane’s mind.
As Diane incorporates all the characters and details of her real life into her “ideal” dream world, making it perfect, these subjects/objects start to play a different role. Although viewers can give very plausible explanations for some objects and persons in Diane’s dream, some others, like “blue box” and the monster, can have numerous.
The reference to a dream or an illusion is made throughout the film, especially in Diane’s “fantasy world”. The man in Winkies tells his companion of a dream he recently had. Betty says to Rita “I just came here from Deep River, Ontario, and now I’m in this dream place”. Betty and Rita also visit “Club Silencio” where they are presented with an auditory illusion. Here, there is a hint that what we actually see in this film maybe be just an illusion.
The Winkie’s restaurant on Sunset Boulevard is the place which has had the most impact on Diane in real life. In her dream here is where two guys meet to discuss the dream. This is where the guys confront “the monster” and one of them dies. Shorty after arriving in LA, this is where Betty and Rita have their coffee. In real life here is also where Diane met the hitman and gave him money to kill Camilla. Behind the Winkie’s is the scariest place for Diane because it is the place where she supposedly finds the key when Camilla is killed (http://www.mulholland-drive.net/home.htm).
In Diane’s fantasy, Adam lives in Park Hotel after being thrown out of his house by his wife. As http://www.mulholland-drive.net/home.htm suggest, in reality, this is where Diane came to live after she began experiencing problems with money (her aunt’s inheritance began to run out). It is clear, therefore, that Diane wanted Adam, who ruined her personal and professional lives, to experience her life of living in poverty, the feeling of not being able to pay the rent on time. It seems that Adam never had to go through this phase in his life, because his mother is Coco, rich and famous woman in film industry.
The ominous phase “This is the girl” had a lasting impression on Diane. In real life, it is the phrase that she utters and directs to the hitman in Winkie’s when she gives him the photo of Camilla. In Diane’s dream world this phrase is constantly referred to, especially when Adam tries to recast his leading actress.
The director Adam Kesher figures a lot both in Diane’s dream life and in real life. In Diane’s real life Adam is a person who “stole” her lover from her, who made her feel insignificant and who did not recognise her talent. In Diane’s dream this person is the object of pity: he is declared broke, his film production is shut down and his wife leaves him for another man. This is the fate that Diane wishes this person to have as he ruined her personal and professional lives. Diane’s fantasy world also represents Diane’s wishful thinking that the director (Kesher’s identity here mixes up with Brooker’s) would never have chosen “Camilla” if he was not threatened and was under pressure to do so. Diane wished the director had no choice in picking Camilla, and, secretly, wanted her to play the lead.
It is clear that Bob Brooker in Diane’s real life is the object of hate. He is the director “who did not think much of her” during her “Sylvia North Story” audition. In her dream, she made that person an incompetent director, who is controlled by others and only had to say good things to her.
In Diane’s real life, Camilla Rhodes was her lover, the object of her obsession. In Diane’s dream identities got twisted up and Camilla Rhodes becomes the girl who is chosen by Adam to play the lead in the film, but the appearance of the girl is not that of Camilla, but of the girl who Diane sees kissing Camilla in real life at Adam and Camilla’s engagement party, the girl who “replaced” Diane. Here, it is interesting to note that in Diane’s dream identities of her and Camilla got reversed. If in real life Diane was “weaker” of the two, passive and shy in their relationship, in Diane’s dream she is the one who is “dominant”, bubbly and most confident of the two. It is also clear that Diane is not satisfied with her own identity and she wants to be someone else. In her dream she becomes “Betty”, taking the name of a waitress serving her and “hitman” at Winkie’s. Also, as Rita in Diane’s dream thinks she is Diane Selwyn, so in real life Diane supposedly wants to be Camilla.
Coco, Adam’s mother, had a tremendous negative impact on Diane’s psyche in real life. As Coco sees through her at the engagement party in real life, where she pities Diane for her lack of talent, she sees through Betty’s lies in Diane’s dream.
In real life Diane sees the Cowboy momentarily during the Adam and Camilla’s engagement party. However, in her dream the Cowboy figures substantially. He is the one who is controlling Adam’s destiny, as Adam once controlled Diane’s one in real life. Adam absolutely depends on the Cowboy’s decisions. In her dream, Diane wants Adam to experience the same feelings of servitude, powerlessness and humiliation.
The elderly couple in Diane’s mind has a symbolic meaning of people who have faith in her, who believe in her and want for her to achieve success. Naturally, they are also people who exert the most pressure on her to succeed, thus “terrorising” her in the end in real life. In real life they may be the members of Diane’s immediate family, and the people who she does not want to come back to as a failure. In Diane’s dream they become her travel companions.
Louise Bonner, a person living in the same apartment block as Betty’s aunt, represents the reality which interferes with Diane’s perfect world, preventing Diane from completely immersing herself in her pleasure of illusion. Coco informs Betty in Diane’s dream that Louise tells the truth most of the time. When Betty says “My name is Betty”, Louise answers: “No, it is not…not what she said” (presumably Diane’s aunt).
The key has asymbolic meaning for Diane, representing Camilla’s murder, which Diane is responsible for. The key represents the point of no return for Diane. In reality, the hitman says to Diane that she will find the key after the deed is complete. In Diane’s dream, the key is the answer to everything. Rita and Betty find the key in Rita’s bag. My own theory is that the key opens Diane’s own door, and the hitman has it because he has been pimping her all along and therefore has access to her house. The hitman left the key on Diane’s table after he killed Camilla. (Hint: Betty and Rita could not open Diane Selwyn’s door in Diane’s dream, and broke into it via the window/ the hitman in reality did open the door with ease).
The espresso, which Diane drunk at Adam and Camilla’s party, she did not easily forget. At that moment she felt awful, absolutely gutted at seeing Camilla happy with another man. Diane felt nauseous at the taste of that espresso, because she was feeling so bad. That taste Diane incorporated in her dream: even the world’s finest espresso did not satisfy the businessman in her dream.
Adam and Camilla’s dinner events traumatised Diane. During that evening she heard the dialogue in Spanish. At that moment she felt humiliated and “crushed”. In her dream she wanted to change the negative association she subconsciously accorded to words spoken in Spanish and, therefore, Betty and Diane hears a beautiful and sad song sang in Spanish.
Some speculate that Diane’s parents in fact died when she was very young, and when she left to live with her grandparents, her grandfather sexually abused her. While being in LA she also went to work as a waitress at a Winkie’s diner to support herself, and then as a call girl with Camilla pimping her to movie executives in exchange for Diane’s small parts in Camilla’s movies (http://www.mulholland-drive.net/home.htm) Although such speculations can be backed up by numerous hints found in the film, there are just that – speculations, and such things cannot be discerned from the film with any reasonable certainty.
‘Mulholland Drive’ is definitely a film for those who want to exercise their brain cells while watching a film, and who are also into “intelligent” films that are also “thought-provoking”. This film requires patience and love for mystery on the viewer’s part as Lynch desires that the viewer take a second look. However, film’s inexplicability and intelligence should not be overestimated, and the film should not be over-analysed. It is important to remember that in the end – it is just that – a film, and one of any film’s purposes is entertainment. 9/10
And something interesting: