To me, there is no story ”twist” more lazy than “it was all a dream”. It just reeks so much of “I couldn’t think of an ending” that it has become a joke and the very archetype of lazy, hackneyed writing. So, when a story comes along that uses that very device as well as today’s film, then I will stand up and take notice. Of course, being as though this film was written and directed by my all time favourite director – Mr David Lynch, I was going to take notice anyway. Today, I give you one of my all time favourite films, Mulholland Drive.
Much like Inception, there has been a LOT written about this film. More, in fact, because David Lynch both refuses to talk at length on the film, and also because of the “10 clues”, that are long associated with it. Sure, the film has all the hallmarks of any other Lynch film – shocking dark under lightness, cracked realities, “is this a dream/nightmare?” and singing; but with the addition of telling the viewer what to look out for, without telling them why, he managed to open up many more cans of worms, which I think was his intention all along. So many cans, in fact, that one could spend a month solid just reading a thousand different interpretations and ideas from just as many different areas (I would suggest starting here).
As I alluded to above, one cannot talk about the film without actually going into the 10 Clues themselves. First given out at the behest of Canal+, the clues have become as much a mystery as the film proper, with just as many interpretations of them alone flooding the views of those who care to follow them up.
1. Pay particular attention in the beginning of the film: at least two clues are revealed before the credits.
2. Notice all appearances of the red lampshade.
3. Can you hear the title of the film that Adam Kesher is auditioning actresses for? Is it mentioned again?
4. An accident is a terrible event…notice the location of the accident (and when the location turns up again).
5. Who gives a key, and why?
6. Notice the robe, the ashtray, the coffee cup.
7. What is felt, realized and gathered at the club Silencio?
8. Did talent alone help Camilla?
9. Note the occurrences surrounding the man behind Winkies.
10. Where is Aunt Ruth?
Now, to me, the clues are there to show you what is a dream and when. This is especially bought up with clues 1, 2, 6 and (in a lesser form) 9. In my experiences with dreams, nothing bar for the central images tend to remain stable or in the same place. And since these “clues” specifically talk about location and form of minor things, I like to think that this is the reason. But, as I have said, this movie is open to all manner of interpretation – a particularly well reasoned interpretation of the clues is found here.
Thankfully, though, for those who don’t want to delve too deeply into where the answers are, and what they mean, there is still a damn good story that you can spend time with. At its heart, Mulholland Drive is the story of Betty, who arrives in Hollywood with stars in her eyes and a dream in her head, and soon finds out that Hollywood is a hideous bitch goddess that likes nothing more than to chew up the unprepared. And, boy howdy, does it turn out that Betty is unprepared.
In addition to the story, there are (in true Lynch fashion) scenes and characters that will remain with you for a good long while. In terms of Mulholland Drive characters, none are more memorable to me than The Cowboy. David Lynch has the ability to turn what would be nothing but a 3rd string character into something darkly memorable, from Ben in Blue Velvet to “Senor Droolcup” in Twin Peaks and all stops in-between, it seems that the trick is to have them say or do something enigmatic (and/or disturbing). And in a film full of dark enigmas, seeing the lights flicker to announce the arrival of the mystery man in yellow will always bring on a shudder.
As for scenes: the whole Winkee’s dream recollection scene is one of the most disturbing scenes I have ever witnessed in a movie. And for this one scene to stand out in a film that is nothing but a fever dream nightmare full of disturbing scenes, that is really saying something. From the very first second of that scene, your disturbia-meter is ramped waaaaay up, even on one’s first viewing. The way that Lynch sets up the scene, you get the feeling that everything is off just enough to set you on edge – the lighting, the acting, the script, the music; everything just leads to “nothing good is going to come from this”, even going on Lynch’s normal amount of making you feel off...then the two characters leave the diner and go down the alley, which leads to the death of one of the characters.
Mulholland Drive is a film that is what it is, but what it is has been intentionally set up to be as clear as an inkblot test. You may be sure of the who’s, how’s and why’s; but something may reveal itself to you that could send your interpretation flying off in a totally different direction. It’s just that sort of film.