Sunday, February 5, 2017

Mulholland Drive: Deadly Desire

The vision opens with a group of kids, circa 1950s, energetically dancing the Jitterbug. The sashaying and twirling is hypnotic until the dance is interrupted by a girl with short blonde hair laughing with her companions.  And then the story begins.

A car with two men up front and a glamorous woman in back stops.  She says, “This isn’t where we are supposed to stop,” and the man in the passenger seat pulls out a gun and commands her to get out.  Just as the tensions run high, two group of kids in impossibly speeding vehicles crash into their car.  The glamorous woman crawls out of the wreckage and collapses.  Then she gets up, confused, walks off of Mulholland Drive, wanders over to Sunset Blvd and then to a high-end apartment building in L.A.

The streets remind us of other movies that take place in a secret Hollywood, the Hollywood-behind-Hollywood in which violence and sex rules the lives of the stars, directors and producers of the films we all clamor to see.  Young actors are desperate for attention, and famous actors bask in their decadence and power over others.  How much of this is real is almost impossible to say, as the gossip about Hollywood is as creative as the on-screen entertainments.  But it is in the netherworld of speculation and desire that Mullholland Dr. takes place.

The filmmaking is almost perfect.  We enter quickly into the story of Betty and her companion “Rita” who has forgotten her identity.  The acting is odd, at a distance from reality, but Naomi Watts and her co-stars are so larger than life, so melodramatic that we aren’t concerned at all.

As the story moves on, we become more confused. What causes the run of horrendous luck of the director, Adam?  Why does Adam’s wife, when caught in bed with the pool man, say, “Now you’ve done it.”  Why can Betty and “Rita” so easily enter an apartment, although it is overseen by the police and a neighbor?  Why is there a full ashtray when no one is smoking? On the surface, we might think of these as simple contradictions—not like we haven’t seen such obvious errors before in film.  But this isn’t your average filmmaker.  This is David Lynch, who eats a few contradictions for breakfast, before spitting out an analogy that clarifies them into a paradox.  

More than a plot that becomes more confusing as the film goes on, this film is almost perfect cinematically.  Every shot is distinctive, having their own flavor, as if we were if a buffet of cinematic eras.  I finish the film and want to watch it again, not just to try to grasp some of what I didn’t understand, but to simply watch the colors and textures.  To hear the sounds and to glory in the latter insanity.  This is Lynch’s mysterious masterpiece, having hints of Blue Velvet and Eraserhead, but beautifully vanquishing both.

*** Spoilers Ahead***

The biggest question we are left with after the film is: WTF?  What was that all about?  And we scan the internet to see if we can find any clues.  It turns out that David Lynch himself, explaining nothing, has given us some details to explore, which might, he suggests, explain the film:

Pay particular attention in the beginning of the film: At least two clues are revealed before the credits.
Notice appearances of the red lampshade.
Can you hear the title of the film that Adam Kesher is auditioning actresses for? Is it mentioned again?
An accident is a terrible event—notice the location of the accident.
Who gives a key, and why?
Notice the robe, the ashtray, the coffee cup.
What is felt, realized and gathered at the Club Silencio?
Did talent alone help Camilla?
Note the occurrences surrounding the man behind Winkie's.
Where is Aunt Ruth?

Perhaps these are clues, but they are as Lynchian as anything in Eraserhead.  Not much help for those of us without a clue, although on my next viewing I might hold these clues before me and try to answer all of these questions.

I believe that a key to the film is found in a quote from Laura Harding’s attempt to grasp at the straws: “Who we are does not count for much—what matters instead is what we are about to do, what we want to do.”

I hold that the basic meaning of the film…or at least the meaning that means the most to me now… has to do with desire.  There are two Hollywoods in the film, and both are the Hollywood of imagination.  The first is the Hollywood of dreams, where a young girl gets ahead on talent alone.  The second Hollywood is that of gossip, where everyone famous is corrupt and takes advantage of the power they have.  Although the one we see dreaming is Rita, they are both fantasies of Diane.  The first is the dream of her desire, the second is the fantasy Diane thinks she lives in.

Betty is who Diane wishes she could be, innocent, professional, seeking after her ideals, letting nothing stand in her way.   Rita is who Diane wishes Camila would be, helpless, needing to be guided, ready to be loved.  Camila, meanwhile, is a separate character, who gets the role Diane wants because of a mob producer’s threats.  Adam, meanwhile, is remarkably consistent in the two distinct Hollywoods, although in the first he his hapless and punished, while in the second he is overjoyed at the same events of his life.

There are so many other themes: that of identity, that of illusion (and disillusionment), that of power and the cost of revenge.  All of it makes sense though, when we see the film through the haze of Diane’s desire and how she reacts when her desires cannot be met. 

Personally, her response reminds me of men’s rights activists, who look at women as objects of desire both in sex and in power.  When women will not submit to their desires, then they embark in a moral fantasy, creating “musts” for women that have no resemblance of who women are or should be.  At times, this fantasy becomes so pervasive that they must shatter reality in order to conform it to their desires.

But I think the point of the film is to talk about the power of desire and how broken we are when we are disillusioned. In the end, when Diane realizes that she is no Betty and Camila no Rita and that she is actually the evil one in the Hollywood she created, she kills herself, freeing her of both fantasies—the one she is forced to live and the one she only dreams about. 

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