Since my review/essay went online, a few visitors have emailed in some ideas of their own, including alternative interpretations, additional allusions, and intriguing artistic precursors.
In my opinion all of the fantasy narrative happens after D's death. Remember that we encounter the phrase Sunset Boulevard more than once in the movie. It is an allusion to the late Wilder's movie with the same title which is totally narrated by its narrator after his death.
I enjoyed immensely what you wrote; it helped me to put things in a right perspective. Of course, the mysteries of the film remain mysterious, and that's the way they are meant to be. The fans of B-monster-movies are fond of "Monsters Incapable Of Being Definitely Killed". I am a fan of "Mysteries Incapable Of Being Completely Solved".
I have some comments of my own to add:
1) The Silencio Club. The singing woman is introduced as "La Llorona de Los Angeles". "La Llorona" (The Crying One) is a traditional ghost of Mexico City. Legend has it that circa 1550 a mestiza, Luisa de Oliveros, killed her own children after being despised by her lover, Dom Nuno de Montesclaros, who loved her by preferred to marry a Spanish lady of noble blood. After the crime, Luisa was arrested and hanged. It is said that her voice is still heard in Mexico City, by night, lamenting: "Oh, mis pobres hijos, mis desgraciados hijos!..." or something to that effect. "Ergo", hell hath no fury as that of any Luisa or Diane when they feel they are being despised by a lover.
2) Also in The Silencio Club, the lip-synching and dubbing examples are a good metaphor of the binary world of the film (reality/dream). We think that the singer is producing sound, but the sound is running all by itself, and we only realize it when the singer collapses on the stage. Also, we see the film as a quite logical, realistic story, until that very sequence (at the Silencio), when Betty finds the blue box and her fantasy also collapses. From that moment on, we cease to perceive one single thread of events, just as we cease to perceive singer/song as being one single phenomenon. (Lip-synch is a reversal of cause-effect: the sound "produces" the face/lips movements, and not the contrary. Similarly, we are shown the first two-thirds of the film are fantasy, not reality; effect, not cause).
3) The Monster. I loved this scene. I think this small episode could be a short film in itself, a self-contained unity that sums up the entire creative philosophy of Lynch. The young, "Lovecraftian" guy is Lynch. The older one is The Public, i.e., ourselves. The Monster is the things that Lynch finds inside his own mind. He brings us as witnesses of the things he saw. We follow him just to humor him, but we really don't believe that he saw something. And then, The Monster appears. It is there. It is real. Q.E.D.
4) Last year I wrote a small book about Luis Buñuel's "The Exterminating Angel", and did a good amount of reading about Surrealism and Buñuel himself. I think that Surrealism in the traditional sense (that of Breton, the Manifests and so on) is confined to a small number of films, but each filmmaker discovers his own way for bringing the Surreal to his movies. Buñuel did it in a very Latino-Hispano-American way. Lynch too, in his own style, in all his films. "Mulholland Dr." may be usefully compared to some Buñuel films, like "Belle de Jour" (sexually repressed woman bounces back and forth between harsh reality and harsher fantasies), "The Phantom of Liberty" (parallel narrative threads that barely touch each other but are thematically linked) or "That Obscure Object of Desire" (a single character played by two actresses, or the reverse).
But, alas -- we are just beginning to scratch the surface of this Zahir of a movie.
Outstanding deconstruction of a movie I watched Saturday night and was considerably jolted by. I am in agreement with your main points, and am happy to say that I caught many of them on first viewing.
A possible twist, though, keeps running through my mind: perhaps the whole fantasy parable sequence -- the first 2/3 of the film -- happens at the moment of Diane/Betty's death?
After scanning her bed with the camera, we disappear into the pillow, where we hear breathing that stops. Or seems to. I need to watch this again to see and hear exactly what happens, but it would seem to be from Diane's point of view as she runs into her bedroom and shoots herself.
Flash from this into the fantasy sequence, in which the apoxia of the dying brain is supposed to provide all manner of imagery. Dreams, I've read, take but an instant, even the ones that seem to last for a long time. Could this be Diane's "tunnel of light," her passage from life to death? I am thinking of all the "light at the end of the tunnel" stories that people report when they are "clinically dead" and how doctors surmise that these might be life-summarizing visions (friends and loved ones, favorite pets, elementary school visions, oddly significant aromas, etc.) that are made conscious as the brain loses oxygen.
This notion might give serve up a possible explanation for the old blue-haired woman at the end. Her command, "Silencio," would serve as an end to the girl's life, and to her "after life" visions. Perhaps she's the angel of death, or god, or whatever -- counting down the time left in this recently-dead girl's experience in purgatory or limbo, and then bringing it to a close with her one word.
At any rate, what other movie can you recall that has stirred up this kind of discussion and speculation? Kubrick's "2001" did it, and of course there's "Citizen Kane." But what fun this is turning out to be.
I really liked your article on Mulholland Drive. I love that movie.
I had a quick thought on Joe the Hit Man and the address book.
The address book would probably hold Diane's number (or, at least, she would think it held some sort of information on her), which might be enough to make it important in the dream world. Oh, and when I first saw the movie I thought the hooker was Betty for a second. Which could sort of make sense taking Diane's guilty feelings into account. She is a part of everyone in her dream after all. And how's "could sort of make sense" for hedging my bets?
I enjoyed muchly reading your analysis of M.D. I had similar thoughts about the film, but you carefully explicated why Diane would dream or fantasize certain scenes whereas I -- once I concluded that the first 2/3 was a dream -- allowed for the possibility that some scenes could just be dream-fragments that don't lead anywhere. Here's a few points that I had further theories about:
-- I believe you wondered about the dream-logic for the attempted murder of "Rita" in the fantasy. Isn't this because the mob wants to kill her off to make way for their starlet ("Camilla Rhodes")?
-- I'd have to check the scene out again, but I assumed that the hitman in the dream narrative was trying either to cover up any links to the attempted murder or use the black book to find "Rita."
--I hold with those who take the dream-narrative as a dying dream. It sounds silly, or demented, or both, but I'd bet that the fact that "Diane" sounds like "dyin'" was considered when Lynch chose his protagonist's name. So I would allow for some vestiges of dream to intrude either in Diane's memory or in Lynch's staging of "reality" in the last part of the film. Thus maybe Diane dreams of her Aunt Ruth coming home to find her disappeared -- because, in the logic of the lingering dream, she isn't dead, just gone...and the mystery lingers for just a bit longer. I would then also take the images of her decomposed body as Diane's subconscious trying to tell her that she IS dying and that she WILL decompose. Unless, of course, this is all an exploration of "what dreams may come" after death, and not before it. Obviously, though, we have no empirical basis for that possibility in, um, reality.
--I like the notion of the "bogeyman" (or woman) behind the diner as an image of Diane's decomposing body. Maybe I've read too many Sandman comic books, but I just interpreted this grotesque figure as a god of dreams and nightmares, or a demon. I thought that the H.P. Lovecraft guy -- and his recounting of the nightmare -- was another signal from Diane's subconscious that dream would turn to nightmare soon enough (like the old lady oracle).
--Finally, there's the business of the missing earring. Again, I'd have to check it out again to be sure, but I believe that at the fantasized attempted murder scene near the beginning, the two detectives say something about finding only one earring. Later, when we finally get to "reality," I believe that there is a single earring on Diane's coffee table in one of the scenes. So, in the dream, "Rita" doesn't die and the single earring is just part of the mystery. In reality, I think that Diane was sent both the key and the blue box by the hitman. And the key opened the box to reveal...what else? A single earring of Camilla's -proof that she was dead. So that would make its placement in the dream a subconscious reminder to Diane of what she's done.
-- Oh, one last thing, just to be whacky. The Cowboy says to Adam something like, "If you do right, you'll see me one more time. If you do wrong, you'll see me two more times." Now this is just spitballing here, but I thought maybe he meant that they would both end up in the same place in the afterlife -- hell -- because of their participation in a corrupt system (Hollywood/the mob) in this life. So even if Adam does "right," he'll see the Cowboy again in hell. But if he does "wrong," the Cowboy would also pay
him another visit in this life...to kill him, of course. Is this linked somehow with Diane and the image of the Cowboy seeing her on the bed -- alive, first, and then dead and decomposing? I dunno. But if we must extract some trite moral to this story, I thought the Cowboy's semi-comical and perhaps ironical pronouncement to Adam would do: "A man's attitude goes a long way towards determining what happens to him."
A woman's too, eh.
Thanks again for your excellent analysis.
I have just finished reading your theory on MD. You have obviously spent an incredible amount of time on this film.
I am actually in the midst of preparing my own theory on MD. I've written a paper before on Lynch & electricity & how it plays an important role in all of his significant films. I believe that Lynch uses some of the same underlying essential elements in most of his works, and that it's all part of a bigger picture he is painting. Electricity plays an important role in MD as well. While I respect the amount of time you've spent on your theory, and agree with most of it, there are parts that I hope to clarify with my own work. One thing I will mention now -- to dismiss the accident in Wild at Heart the way you did is folly. That played a significant role in Lula's psyche. Also, if you haven't already, I suggest that you read Lynch's script for Ronnie Rocket (both versions, as there are some things not in each). All can be found on Lynchnet.com. RR was a revelation to me. I consider it his best work, with LH & MD coming in a close second. :)
Take care, and you can see my site at http://g0re.net/forums/.
Thanks again for the great insight.
I just read your review of Mulholland Drive and i must applaud you. I've read so many reviews (including Ebert's) only to be completely disappointed that even upon close inspection, most people just didn't *get* it, or gave up early and just dismissed it as "weird". I pretty much came to all the conclusions of the film upon seeing the film seven times in the theatres (and now endless times with the DVD out!), but I thought I'd add some of my own, and my friends as well since we have discussed this movie over and over... any chance to discuss this film and I will!
The first scene at Winkies I believe is actually a dream within a dream. The last thing we see before that scene is Rita falling asleep under the table at Aunt Ruths apartment. The scene takes place at Winkies with the man Dan dying after seeing the creature behind the garbage dumpsters. The very next scene we see is Rita, still asleep. I think this scene was Rita dreaming, within Diane's dream, of a warning, of something that is dangerous to her. That something dangerous being Diane's dark side.
The body that we see at Diane Selwyn's apartment I think is actually the body of the real Camilla. Her hair is actually long and dark and she seems to be wearing the same dress that Rita was wearing in the limo in the opening scene, which is why Rita is the one who is ultimately terrified and tries to change her appearance. The finding of body of the real Camilla is the start of when Diane's dream starts to really unravel; when the real world starts coming into play.
The old couple at first I believed to be Diane's parents, but upon reading the actual pilot script, Betty is on the phone with her Aunt Ruth and talking about her grandparents. I think this almost makes more sense as the relationship between grandparents and their grandchildren tends to be even more carefree than that of a relationship between parents and their children. So when they come in the end as the physical manifestation of Diane's guilt, it almost makes more sense for it to be her grandparents, and also more painful.
The Diane/Camilla/Adam triangle I think is not that much of a triangle. Diane loves Camilla. Adam loves Camilla. I don't think Diane and Adam share any feelings towards each other at all, and the only reason we see Betty and Adam share a few glances in Diane's dream is because Diane is imagining Betty as being someone that would attract everyone and anyone. I think Camilla might just be using Adam to further her career, and also flaunts her relationship with Adam in front of Diane, not to necessarily make Diane jealous, but to make it clear to her that it is over between them. But instead all these displays of affection drove Diane mad to the point where it was basically "if i can't have her, no one will" in her mind. The last straw being when Camilla kisses the blonde woman at Adam's party. It was one thing when Diane was competing against Adam for Camilla's affections, but to have to compete with another woman is something Diane was not expecting.
Ebert mentioned in his scene-by-scene review that there appears to be a blue box in Diane's drawer when she reaches for the gun. I think this is a gross mistake. Upon frame-by-frame viewing, we see something that might be blue, but the drawer itself is so tiny that the blue box we previously saw could not have fit in there. And while the versions of particular items changed from their dream and reality counterparts, the box was a physical manifestation of the dream (at least I think so), so for there to be a blue box in Diane's real world I think is wrong. Not to mention that so many of the elements that helped us "solve" this movie were very clearly shown, with steady camera shots focusing on the particular items, I don't think a shot of a real blue box would have been rushed so.
The blue-haired lady at Club Silencio? I'm still not too sure what she represents. But I think she is related to death and fate.
I just came across your excellent review today, and thought I'd add a few speculations as to some of the more vague elements.
First, while Lynch doesn't present the fantasy narrative as a "traditional dream sequence," I think he does drop some hints that it is in fact an actual dream. First, it's framed by the collapse into the pillow at the beginning, and "time to wake up" at the end. Second, the disjointed way in which the fantasy collapses at the end is evocative of coming out of a truly intense dream (at least, it has been for me). Finally, "Betty" mentions finding herself "in this dream place," a phrasing more ambiguous than the more common "place of dreams."
Also, considering this narrative an actual dream lends itself nicely
to a Freudian interpretation compatible with your hypothesized id-ego-super ego-(collective unconscious) system. The various transformations of objects and identities have the censor's fingerprints all over them. That the booth in Winkies where Diane sets up the hit on Camilla should appear repeatedly, but in a disguised situation, is not surprising for a guilt-driven dream. Note that scared guy mentions he's had the same dream twice. This could be Diane's subconsious hinting to her that she's having a recurring
The box "inscribed with Camilla's death" has a natural interpretation as Camilla's coffin, a literal answer to the question of what the blue key opens.
The cowboy's last appearance at least serves the purpose of having him seen in the movie "two more times." Diane's subsequent
transformation into the corpse could then be interpreted as the last
scene in her dream.
...While you acknowledge the fact that the dream is the pilot, that's why he does not present the dream as a traditional dream sequence (excluding the hints in the credits). He may very well have come up w/the idea that it was all a dream by the time his open-ended tv series had be-come a nightmare for Betty. Herring said she thought Betty was going to have an affair w/Adam before he turned to Rita, as Betty was being sucked into the netherworld of Hollywood. Although the old couple could be her parents (I know people who refer to their parents by their first names & fathers who do not seem to know their children) & she could have problems w/them (I know some of them), I think it is equally likely that the dream Betty is the type of person who could think she has become friends w/people on a long trip.
Did I miss something that indicated that it was $50000 cash in Rita's purse? But my biggest (& I suppose inconsequential) disagreement w/you over facts is that Betty does not run home because of the sudden appearance of Camilla Rhodes, but because she promised Rita that she would meet her &, I believe, her love for Rita has taken pre-cedence over her Hollywood dream. At least you do not assume, as some others have, that Diane's middle-age neighbor is her lover. Or that the cowboy is her pimp that she has skrewed, along w/adam, the hitman, & everyone else in Hollywood.
How do you come to the conclusion that THEY had an orgasm? I don't even think Diane had an orgasm in her masturbation scene -- the phone rang. I disagree wholeheartedly w/those (not you) that the love scenes came out of nowhere or were anymore gratuitous than the vast majority of heterosexual love scenes in film. Supposedly Watts panicked after the pilot was canned Lynch added nude scenes (& talked Lynch out of one), but she said the masturbation scene was the hardest. But she insisted it was not sexy & pointed out how bad she looked as Diane. Well, that is her opinion (& perhaps others) -- on both counts.
As I understand superego, it has more to do w/a principled position in life, not a sort of classical greek retribution -- or furies. So I would not see the old couple as superego, or the monster as the reality principle -- or ego. Club Silencio as collective unconscious -- perhaps. Once again I think about Watts's previous TV pilot character -- the Jungian dream interpreter.
My biggest interpretive difference is over the dangling threads. I don't dream much (or I don't remember), but my bipolar wife does. The way the "real" characters pop up in the dream sequence w/o any coherence seems logical after reading others' dreams. The hit man may have worked for the mafia bros. in her dream & for her, among others, in reality. The hit man is asking the prostitute about Rita because he figured Rita may have gone to the streets after the accident. The fact that he is working for Diane in reality gets confused in her dream since in it somebody else hired him to kill Rita. Somebody also hired him to kill his friend Ed. It's business. The black book may have been in the car that was in the accident.
It is still the dream when Aunt Ruth comes back to the apt -- same clothes. The cowboy seems to be a messenger -- a mercury in the night, at the party, & waking diane. If a piss-off Camilla knocked on the door, she would probably not know diane was responsible. As for what this crazy woman is doing w/a gun, you seem to be making a case for gun control advocates. Don't tell the NRA.
I just don't think there is a reason to tie these things up. They provide the loose ends that all dreams have & in some cases some lynchean-tarentino-coen bros. type humor. They are loose ends that would probably have been tied tighter in the open-ended tv series, but for ABC's decision. But Lynch is probably happier that they remained loose ends. In fact many films leave the main character's fate a loose end. Certainly Lynch didn't do that.
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20 March 2003