April 25th, 2002

Trevor baby stare

Mulholland Drive You Nuts?

A certain someone has been pestering me about this, and I'm not quite in sleep mode yet, so here we go. This post contains major spoilers about Mulholland Drive. You have been warned.

This year's Cinema Interruptus film at the CWA was Mulholland Dr.. Cinema Interruptus is a method of film watching where the group (in this case Roger Ebert and several hundred educated visitors and residents of Boulder) watches the film once (Monday) without interruption and then again (Tuesday-Friday), pausing the film at any point when someone wants to make a comment, observation, crackpot theory, or ask a question. It's an excellent way to watch a film that lends itself to the style (Citizen Kane works, Duck Soup does not -- it loses timing). This isn't Roger Ebert telling us about the film, it's Roger Ebert leading an analysis of the film on the principle of Democracy in the Dark. (Incidentally, Roger seems to have learned to use a DVD remote. David Lynch, in his boundless weirdness, produced a two-and-a-half hour DVD with no chapter stops. Roger usually sends us back to the beginning of the disk by mistake at least five times in the week, but only did so once this time, and was able to immediately recover his spot.)

There are two natural starting points for the analysis of Mulholland Drive. The first is an article in Salon answering many frequent questions. The article is written by film critics, not anyone associated with the film, so the information and observations may not be correct, but it's a helpful document.

The second is a little sheet that comes with the DVD (released on the Tuesday of the CWA, so we watched it doubly illegally on Monday). These are David Lynch's 10 Clues to Understanding Mulholland Drive. This being Lynch, finding answers to all ten clues won't actually resolve all of your questions. But several of them are helpful.

> 1) Pay particular attention in the beginning of the film: at least two clues are revealed before the credits.
The opening sequence is several copies of four couples doing the jitterbug. Diane reveals that she came to Hollywood because she won a jitterbug contest. Also in the opening sequence is a ghosted image of Betty and the old couple who she meets in the plane. The opening sequence then fades into heavy breathing and the camera approaching the pillow of a bed (which turns out to be Diane's). What can we deduce from this? The last bit seems to imply that much of the movie is Diane's dream. Perhaps the jitterbug opening is a clue that's supposed to relate Diane to Betty. "At least" implies that there could be more. A few people said they could see the "monster" or "spooky guy" (played by a woman) in the mat on the floor next to the bed, but it was rather indistinct. Further, there is not a clear indication that the person lying down is Diane. It could be that Diane's bed looks like it does because the dreamer is projecting their own bed. This idea violates Occam's Razor, but it illustrates the fact that, even given that the movie may be a dream, it's not entirely clear what parts of it are whose dreams. And I don't know that David Lynch would rely upon Occam's Razor unless it could cut someone.> 2) Notice the appearance of the red lampshade.
The red lampshade is next to a phone. It appears as the last phone dialed (which is not answered) in the series of phone calls stating that "the girl is still missing." It also appears when Diane answers Camilla's phone call stating that the car is waiting for her. (Both of these sequences could be real, both could be dreamed, or they could be mixed.)> 3) Can you hear the title of the film that Adam Kesher is auditioning actresses for? Is it mentioned again?
The Sylvia North Story, reported members of the audience. At the party, Diane says she met Camilla when Camilla beat her for casting in a movie with the same title, directed (IIRC) by Bob, the director Betty tries out for.> 4) An accident is a terrible event...notice the location of the accident.
Well, there's a car crash on Mulholland Dr... the name of the film. One might assume that it happens at the same place that Diane gets out of the limo to meet Camilla, but that can't (I don't think) be reliably established. HOWEVER, what's to say this question is talking about an auto accident? The hitman's problem of shooting everyone on the floor seemed like an accident to me, and it happened in an office building in downtown LA. There are probably a few other accidents.
> 5) Who gives a key, and why?
The hit man is to give a (ordinary blue) key to Diane when the job's been done. There's the same ordinary blue key on Diane's coffee table (during the scene where she's masturbating?). Also, Rita has a different key in Diane's purse with all the money. Presumably, the hit man would've had the blue key in the purse and would give it back to Diane after the job, but Rita ended up with it somehow.> 6) Notice the robe, the ashtray, the coffee cup.
A coffee cup identical to that at Winkies is on Diane's coffee table. The ashtray (on Diane's table) may be present at some times and absent at others, I can't recall. There are two robes of potential interest, Diane's and Aunt Ruth's. Diane shifts in and out of her robe in sequential sequences, going from making coffee in her robe to bringing a drink for lesbian sex on the couch. Aunt Ruth's robe is on the bed when Rita arrives (she later wears it for a while), but it's not there when Aunt Ruth returns to her bedroom at the end of the film (though the box is absent).> 7) What is felt, realized, and gathered at the Club Silencio?
What kind of clue is that, David? What's heard, among other things, is Roy Orbison's Crying, translated into Spanish. Fear, sadness (?), and closeness between the girls are all felt there. Perhaps what's realized is that it's a dream -- the pictures and the sounds are synchronized, but not connected. The box may be gathered there, but who knows?
> 8) Did talent alone help Camilla?
First, there are two people with similar names. IMDB lists Laura Harring as playing both Rita and Camilla Rhodes. It also lists Melissa George as playing Camilla Rhodes (the blonde that we see trying out for Adam Kesher's movie). The publicity still that the mobsters push on Adam, however, spells it "Carmilla Rhodes," but it's a picture of Melissa George. So the question about Lynch's rhetorical question is "Which Camilla?" (I told you these clues didn't resolve the film.) Talent alone clearly didn't help the character played by Melissa George -- pressure from the mob and the Cowboy got her into Kesher's film. Did talent alone help Diane's ex? I don't think we have enough information for that. It seems that Adam's interest in her may have had something to do with it, but she may have gotten the part before Adam got interested in her romantically.> 9) Note the occurrences surrounding the man behind Winkies.
Duly noted.
So in one case, it's a guy (who I think only appears elsewhere in the film by standing in Winkies when Diane's there) who's had a couple of dreams about him and wants to check it out. Upon seeing him, he faints and we cut back to Rita, who had fallen asleep just before this scene, so the whole episode could've been Rita's dream (within Diane's dream, perhaps). The other occurrance comes at (near?) the end of the film, where the man's sitting there with the blue box and the old couple from LAX, but in miniature are climbing out of a paper bag.
The clue is...
> 10) Where is Aunt Ruth?Er, Canada? Diane (Betty?) is from Deep River, Ontario. So?
Diane's aunt died and left her some money, but it's not clear that her aunt is Aunt Ruth. Aunt Ruth does return near the end of the film to her room with a slightly curious look, but everything seems in order.

Clear as mud? Good.

The following is what most intelligent observers feel is the best explanation available, at a second or third pass or so. The cast and crew did decide on one interpretation of the film, but they won't tell anyone what it is. (When Ebert asked Naomi West how many characters she played, she answered "It varies.")

It seems rather clear that significant portions of the movie are from one or more dreams. The movie's tagline (as reported from IMDb) is "A Love Story in the City of Dreams." This is a double entendre, since Hollywood/LA is the city where people have grand dreams of being stars, but then don't realize them. At a candidate for reality level, we have a love story between Diane and Camilla in Hollywood. But we also have a love story between Betty and Rita in the Land of Dreams. So, what's a dream? The best explanation places everything with Betty and/or Rita as a dream. This may not include the opening, where it's unclear if it's Rita or Camilla in the back of the limo, but the fact that dialog is repeated in the opening sequence and when Diane's in the limo seems to push the limo into the dream category. Why is this the dream portion? Well, it begins with what appears to be someone falling asleep, and ends with Diane waking up. First, Betty seems to be an idealized Diane. She's full of energy and hope, she performs incredibly for her audition, she's a perfect Nancy Drew type detective. This seems to be a fond memory/recreation of Diane's arrival in Hollywood. Second, Rita is somewhat ephemeral, and there's lots of inconsistencies/continuity errors surrounding her. You can't walk from Mulholland Dr. to Sunset Blvd. in a reasonable amount of time, especially in heels. Just after a shower (still in the stall) her face is as perfectly made up as it is for the whole rest of the dream, including after kissing Betty. However, during the party at Adam Kesher's, Camilla's lipstick transfers. Amnesia seems a convenient way for Diane to get her girlfriend back. Some other states that Diane would have liked were present as well... Adam Kesher is recasting the lead in the movie, implying that something happened to the previous lead (bumped off?). Ca(r)milla got the part because of mob power, not skill. Diane deserved the part! As the dream gets closer to its end, the girls are becoming more and more one person -- the wig, the first lesbian scene, hugging at Silencio, Betty's disappearance when Rita opens the box. The whole thing feels like a wistful recollection, perhaps in a flash-before-the-eyes manner. There are also inconsistencies between the world of Betty and Rita and the world of Diane... The woman in #12 (I didn't think to check the name on appartment #17, and she's listed as that on imdb) would presumably recognize someone who was in a long-term relationship with a neighbor/friend. She also hadn't yet recovered her stuff when the girls found a corpse in the bed, but she comes by and talks to Diane about it in the end part of the movie. Also, the dress on the corpse in the bed (played by someone other than Naomi West) that the girls discover (grey?) is a different color than the dress Diane is wearing when she shoots herself (black?). And, of course, the fact that Diane/Betty and Camilla/Rita are played by the same actress brings a sense of dream identity.

But is the entire first 2 hours Diane's dream? Maybe, maybe not. The phone calls may be real. The hitman in the office may be real, or might just be Diane coming up with how he got the black book (and, for some reason, Quinten Tarantino was visiting Diane's subconscious for a few minutes). Some of the scenes with Adam Kesher may be real (he alludes to divorcing his wife at the party in the end, "I got the pool and she got the pool man"), or may be Diane's reconstruction based on a few facts. Portions may also have been someone else's dream. The Winkie's sequence, for instance.

But was most of it really Diane's dream? It seems safe to assume that, though a few things cast doubt on that. The end scene with the weird man and the blue box made it seem like it could have been his dream. When Diane shoots herself, far more smoke arises than should have from a gunshot. The final shot is of the woman in blue hair at Club Silencio -- was it her dream? Don't put anything past Lynch, but let's assume that most of the first two hours were Diane's dream (or immediately-pre-death flashback).

But is all of the last half hour real? I don't think so. It's probably not in sequential order, given the transition to robed-waking-Diane to jump-Camilla's-bones Diane back to depressed Diane on the couch. We fade back form one sequence (I can't recall which) to what appears to be a fantasizing masturbating Diane. (Roger asked "Is it even possible to have an orgasm while crying?" Most of the women in the room answered resoundingly yes. I also thought that the sounds between tears/orgasms(?) sounded like the low indistinct rumbling we heard throughout the movie, so it's possible that the whole thing is a masturbatory fantasy rather than a sleep or pre-death dream.) The scene in the party is probably at most a recreation, since it seems to predate Diane putting a hit out on Camilla, and it also informs lots of what happens in the main dream (and places characters like Coco, the blonde Ca(r)milla, perhaps the Cowboy). The scene with Adam and Camilla kissing in the car is definitely a flashback. Also, when Diane pulls a gun out of her drawer, we see the blue box. What does this mean?

But you didn't explain everything! No, I didn't. As Ebert pointed out, lots of scenes in the film are exactly the sorts of scenes you would find in movies with scenes like them in it, except that Mulholland Dr. is not that kind of film. So there's stuff right out of mob flicks, Tarantino films, 50's intrigue films, Nancy Drew books, Cinemax... Some of these may be in by some sort of fiat. Also, it is said that Mulholland Dr. was originally to be a miniseries pilot for ABC, but they canned it. Most of what was added to go from pilot to movie was at the end, so the pilot would have been mostly dream stuff. It's possible that many of the scenes introduced characters and situations that would have been explored further in a series. But, Roger asks, who in their right mind thinks ABC is going to air Mulholland Dr.? Here are several things I'm unsure of:
What's the story with the Cowboy? He's tied to the mob folks, but why him, why his manner? Why is he at Adam Kesher's party? (This is perhaps the "one more time" that Kesher sees him in the film, if it's in chronological order.) Why is he waking up Diane? He's concerned with Carmilla/Camilla.
What's up with the two guys in Winkies?
What's the relationship between Diane and her neighbor? In the dream, her neighbor claims that they switched appartments, and in Diane-level reality she says that detectives came to #12 looking for her. But their conversation feels more like two people who recently broke up getting each other's stuff back. Is Camilla an idealized projection of Diane's real lover (who has similar hair color), and Rita is a projection of a projection?
What's up with the movie executive? What are his motives? Why is his head so small? Why is he in that room?
Who all is involved in the phone chain? Why is someone from Club Silencio concerned?
What's up with the box? (Salon answers "We don't know about the box." One of the Cinema Interrupters had a theory that the whole movie was based on the Oddessy. He pointed out several shots that were similar in style to a director from the 1920s, several things Greek in nature (like "those are narcissus flowers," which some audience members corrected "no, they're not). But his theory was that the box was Pandora's Box. Also, as someone quipped, one woman has the key for the other's box.
What's in the black book?
What's up with the old couple? They're nice and helpful to Betty at LAX, and then they get in a limo and have some evil facial expressions. Just before she shoots herself, they chase Diane around her house. They're miniatures climbing out of a bag...
And, of course, the weird man behind Winkie's.

Some miscelaneous observations I recall...
Heavenly organ as Betty descends into LAX. Several first-person, walk through poorly-lit hallways sequences which would, in a slasher movie, be followed shortly by something horrible. But here they aren't. Aunt Ruth's appartment's internal layout and the view through her screen door are inconsistent. Like most Lynch films, there's a sense of a story set in the present with relics from the 1950s. The hand-written sign on the window of Winkies is intuitively read as "ent-rance" (a place to enter), but can also be read as "en-trance," mentally capture. Adam Kesher is pretty picky about casting, giving the impression of an indie-minded artsy director of Oscar quality. But the film he's making seems not to fit with that image -- exactly who plays the lead in The Britney Spears Story in 2050 doesn't make a huge artistic difference. Rita's pubic area is fuzzed out in the lesbian scene. This is much more clear with contrast properly set. La Llorona is mentioned at Club Silencio (and is an obvious tie with the Spanish version of Crying). As I recall, that story is about a woman who loses her children and is cursed to go weeping about, snatching up children who play too far after dark. Possible metaphor for Hollywood or something. The espresso-drinking mobster is the composer for the film (and many of Lynch's other films). The Cowboy was a random cast member that has no other movie credits on imdb.

This movie rewards iterated careful viewing. I recommend that you watch it again with these notes in mind, and add to or correct the insight here presented.

It's 3:15 AM and I'm not sure if I'll be able to fall asleep (perchance to dream of failed dreams?). That'll teach me to have an Arizona green tea with ginsing with a late dinner. Now that I've gotten a few astoundingly long journal posts off my chest, I can return to quickie updates that my friends can glance at, smile, and go on with their days. Just think how much schoolwork I could have done with the several hours I've spent on the last three journal entries.
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