“Poisonous Valentine for Hollywood” – Mulholland Drive

This week I start a new film course at the Broadway in Nottingham, this time the theme is David Lynch. Ouch. I could have picked Hitchock and studied movies with clear constructs and narratives which follow a logical path, but where would be the fun in that? So last night I decided to watch Mulholland Drive (2001) and get stuck into the surreal workings of Lynch’s mind and films.

For anyone who’s seen the film you may well have had the same reaction to me when it ended; WTF. Well, exactly, it’s no clear story. This morning I decided to seek the advice of professionals and hit Google hard. It seems to be fairly conclusive that most critics assign the narrative to be first a dream sequence and second a gritty reality of the characters.

Betty (Naomi Watts), a “gee golly wiz” girl from Ontario arrives in LA to stay at her Aunts Sunset Boulevard apartment, on arrival she finds the injured doe, “Rita” (Laura Elena Harring), who’s suffering amnesia from a car accident the night before. In the process of trying to find out whom “Rita” really is and what the blue key opens Betty auditions successfully for a film role and the two women fall in love. Their story ends at the eerie club Silencio where on returning to the apartment with the blue box Betty found, “Rita” turns the key, Betty disappears and the audience are sucked into the black hole.

This section does seem dream like to me – Betty’s lines feel so “wholesome” and out of synch with those around her, her upbeat nature, her inability to feel fear, her extremely talented performance at the audition (smooth transition from naive girl to Hollywood seductress) all point to an idealistic attitude towards life. The beautiful “Rita”, a genuine 50s bombshell who’s dependant and submissive in nature, yet wiley and astute enough to work out how to break into Aunt Ruth’s apartment undetected. The fact the two girls are called Betty and Rita (harks back to 50s Hollywood), the easy way in which they break into Diane’s apartment and the fact they’re unfazed later that night by the horror of what they had seen. Lynch’s camera angles drift upwards as the characters speak (symbolising an out of body experience?) which gives the scenes a surreal edge, as do the winding (almost drunken) views of walking through the corridors of Aunt Ruth’s apartment.

The second half of the film depicts the sad, embittered life of Dianne (Naomi Watts) and her unrequited relationship with the cruel, beautiful and teasing Camilla (Laura Elena Harring). The audience sees her hung-over (drink and drugs?) tired and lack being awoken by the terrifying cowboy figure (twice, so we know things have gone wrong - his earlier warning to the director Adam, played by Justin Theroux) and in her morning stupor hallucinating that the Camilla has returned to her. Her sad tale at Adam’s party forces her publicly announce her failed movie dreams and re-live the broken promises by industry professionals while the twisted and successful Camilla openly taunts her (kissing another woman and fawning over Adam). The reality is Dianne works as a waitress and the vicious rejection she receives forces her hand to hire the assassin to kill Camilla, unable to live with her guilt she shoots herself. The camera angles change in this section too, no high angles (out of body style), no soft focus stylised close ups – rather the opposite, intimate, uncomfortable angles which show every imperfection.

Well, what about the old couple? Diane could be haunted by her own conscious, a failure to herself and her parents? Or are they simple demons in disguise? Are Betty and Rita the dream of what Dianne really wanted - her subconscious desire, her daydream? Or did everything really happen and all four characters exist together in some parallel universe?

Mulholland Drive is like the road itself, a winding, twisted route through Hollywood with some clear pointers and clues along the route, which, if you chose to ignore them do not stop you getting to your destination. Perhaps that’s the point, there are clues like the red lamp, the ashtray, the blue keys the people at Winkies but ultimately if you see them or miss them you’re none the wiser at the end, having reached the conclusion of the film with hopefully your own interpretation. I think it’s always a good film if you spend days afterwards thinking about it, and perhaps that’s the point as Lynch has never offered an explanation – maybe it’s one huge joke, made up as he went along like Twin Peaks to frustrate and tantalise the audience – the clues are not there to be sensibly analysed but rather to anchor the narrative with traditional repeated metaphors? Who knows?

I loved it; I need to watch it again but hopefully this film course will throw up some good insights along the way.

Best scene: the scary as hell club “Silencio” where we are told in several different languages that, “it’s all an illusion.”

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