Sunday, 21 October 2012

Unit 7: Narrative - Review - David Lynch's Mulholland Drive

Figure 1. Mulholland Drive Poster Art

Only the likes of Lynch could twist societies view of modern cinema to such extremes. The viewer follows Naomi Watt's "Betty" down so many rabbit holes from Saussure and Derrida to the Freudian with literary theory thrown in for good measure just in case you believed the film resembled reality in anything but the big screen.

•Directed by: David Lynch
•Written by: David Lynch
•Cast: Justin Theroux as Adam Kesher, Naomi Watts as Betty Elms, Laura Harring as Rita, Ann Miller as Coco Lenoix, Dan Hedaya as Vincenzo Castigliane & Mark Pellegrino as Joe
•Genre: Drama, Mystery, Suspense & Special Interest
•Duration: 147 Minutes (aprox)

Figure 2. "When you see the girl in the picture that was shown to you earlier today, you will say, "this is the girl” - (Cowboy, Mulholland Dr.)

Mulholland Drive begins with what at first is thought to be a conspiracy to kill a professional woman on her way to a party, just as curiosity gets the best of us the whole assassination is foiled by a car crash spinning our dazed and confused damsel into a stupor. Suffering Amnesia the woman lifts the name "Rita" from a poster after having met our primary character "Betty" by breaking into her aunts house. Before we know where we are Betty is chasing down acting roles all while helping her new best friend retrieve shards of her memory by conducting off the book investigations (its Lynch). Of course it is not as cut and dry, as the viewer is sent down numerous narrative routes not trying to just solve one mystery but a mystery within a mystery. Respected Psychoanalyst Freud on the Interpretation of dreams observes:
"The woman who has lost a dearly beloved child experiences in her delirium the joys of maternity; the man who has suffered reverses of fortune deems himself immensely wealthy; and the jilted girl sees herself tenderly beloved." (Freud, 1900: 31)
This shows some credit into Freud's theory of the interpretation of dreams by which Betty's character is striving so hard to capture what was never attained by her (Rita). This is something which we are unaware in the beginning has any importance to Betty even though we are wandering why she leaves a possible job opportunity just to help a woman she doesn't know. What we end up finding out is that the entire thing was a fabrication brought on almost entirely by Betty's lust for Rita. We are even lead by literary theory from Saussure (signifier - what we perceive + signified - the meaning of it = sign - what it is to us) to the "Treachery of images" - Migritte's "Ceci n’est pas une pipe" (i.e. this is not a pipe, it is a picture of a pipe). What Lynch is saying here is that we can't trust anything we see because the entire film is the actual illusion, all films are illusion... we don't know the real truth, Hollywood does not know the real truth, who's to say there is one truth?

Figure 3. "I had a dream about this place” - (Dan, Mulholland Dr.)

Let us consider the viewers opinion of the film, something which is so distinctively defined person to person. At its heart Mulholland Drive is a mystery but the decentred narrative makes it numerous other genres (e.g. the contract killer who tries to kill discretely but just ends up constantly adding to his body count - black comedy). It's almost as if Lynch did not want to settle on the typical movie genre by instead scrambling a few of them together and saying there is no definitive genre. A Subtle homage once again illustrating that Hollywood is wrong, modernity is wrong, truth is not singular it is relative. Pastor Robert Brewer observes:
“To the postmodern, words do not have meaning. Words only mean what the current user attributes to them. That is because truth is not eternal. It is only relative. To the postmodern , truth only means what is agreed upon, or that which has been attributed to by the user.” (Brewer, 2002: 10)
To say that Mulholland Drive is in concise is an understatement but the truth is in the details, what we are seeing here is a breakdown of the conceptual systems within film. When moments in the film feel particularly ultra real or overly cheesy (e.g. Betty arriving in the airport) , film conventions are being used to break views what we consider traditional all while introducing new ones. As one avenue of Narrative opens the previous shuts down keeping every avenue open for interpretation without the slightest thought for a particular theme or message.

Figure 4. "It'll be just like in the movies. Pretending to be somebody else” - (Betty, Mulholland Dr.)

Director David Lynch has always sought to scare us in uncanny ways understanding how to get under our skin and he knows exactly how long to be there before we notice. In this case Lynch is showing a side of himself but the question always resides in each of us (slightly different of course). Is Lynch the man who had the dream about being in a Diner? Is he the director being forced to choose a specific leading lady for his next blockbuster film? Is he the one who came to Hollywood dreaming of super stardom? Is he any of these or is he none of them? It is hard to say but one could argue that is his point, Hollywood is numerous stories not just one and Lynch has brought them all together to tell their theme specific stories. Tim Woods of Beginning Postmodernism observes:
Postmodernism is a knowing modernism, a self-reflexive modernism, a modernism that does not agonise about itself. Postmodernism does what modernism does only in a celebratory rather than repentant way." (Woods, 2012: 08)
Mulholland Drive is self-reflexive of classic Hollywood Lynch demonstrates this primarily with Betty chasing her dream and achieving it to some degree. Of course this in some ways feels too perfect staged almost with the flawed character "Rita" feeling based more on reality. When Betty snaps from her dream it feels more or less suggested that the fictitious "Rita" character was based on Rita Hayworth all along with Betty envious of her (note references throughout people telling director Adam Kesher - "this is the girl"). This ultimately symbolises that more than anything Betty wishes to be Rita much more then be with her, something which later extends to hatred.

"Mulholland Drive that's where I was going!” - (Rita, Mulholland Dr.)

Every story in Mulholland Drive has its role to play this is the quality of the film that makes postmodern and at the same time somewhat frustrating. We are shown enough of each character to establish our perception of a scenario and what that means to the story but the sign (i.e. what it means to us) is somewhat difficult to pinpoint at times. Reviewer Alison M observes:
“The lack of a narrative line and the fact that most scenes act more as independent vignettes lends to the notion of a decentered narrative. Many of the individual scenes would be able to stand alone and probably make more sense than they do within the frame of the film. This lack of a narrative line also supports the self-reflexive quality of the film, in that it showcases Lynch’s control in how he wishes the viewer to comprehend the film.” (Alison, 2008)
The only ease one can feel as the film progresses is that you are in the care of David Lynch throughout and at the very least you will have a few new things to think about. Everything is carefully delivered, one even finds it interesting how self aware Lynch is of the industry from which he operates within. The blue box - a signifier, the key - a metaphor leading from a dream to an awakening but an awakening to what? Another dream within the screen i.e. the film itself.

List of Illustrations

Figure 1. Mulholland Drive Poster Art. (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 21/10/12)

Figure 2. When you see the girl in the picture that was shown to you earlier today, you will say, "this is the girl" (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 21/10/12)

Figure 3. I had a dream about this place (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 21/10/12)

Figure 4. It'll be just like in the movies. Pretending to be somebody else (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 21/10/12)

Figure 5. Mulholland Drive that's where I was going! (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 21/10/12)



Freud, Sigmund. (1900) The Interpretation of Dreams, Penguin Classics, 3rd Edition (Accessed on: 21/10/12)

Brewer, Robert. (2002) Postmodernism What you should know and do about it, 2nd Edition (Accessed on: 21/10/12)

Woods, Tim. (1999) Beginning Postmodernism 3rd Edition (Accessed on: 21/10/12)

M, Alison. (2008) What makes Mulholland Drive Postmodern? At: (Accessed on: 21/10/12)

1 comment:

  1. Fab, Stitch - you've got the beginnings of a solid essay right there! :)