Mulholland Drive, is
a film to be experienced. Its brilliant, they say. Really.
Just give yourself to it. Dont expect logic, just go for
he critics warn us that David
Lynchs new cinematic event,
So experience it. Accept its premises. And walk out wondering
why so many people spent so much time, money, and talent to bring
it to you.
What is it in your unconscious that keeps nagging you? Strange
moments, discarded memories. Oh. My. . . . You shudder as you
remember that painful descent into cultural limbo, the years you
spent in graduate school . . .
And then you recognize that Lynch is indeed a genius. Hes
pulled back the curtain to reveal places like Harvard as the gratuitous
institutions theyve become ever since graduating the Unabomber
(and other like-minded lunatics) who can justify terrorism all
too easily with the moral indifference of postmodernism. In attempting
to push the envelope of cinema, Lynch discovered that he had to
push an entire syllabus. And hes pulled it off. Hes
given us a narrative experience of graduate seminar LIT 300, "Introduction
to Theory of Literature."
And his genius makes Mulholland Drive preferable by far
over the course. Heck, the soundtrack alone is a big improvement,
and even though it dragged in spots, two and a half hours is better
than a whole protracted semester. Even better, theres no
need to plow your way through Lacan: you can get your neo-Freudian
irrationality directly through Lynchs dreams.
Consider the parallels: Course and movie require the same amount
of mental focus, are equally confusing, require just as much post-prandial
discussion. They are intentionally obscure texts. Even the sex
and violence is the samelook at Foucault, not to mention
that the biographies of many theorists read like a series of bad
Hollywood screenplays (indie studiostake note).
As we enter the world of the film, we see an accident that strips
"Rita" of her memory. The amnesiac device as central
plot element disappeared gratefully from mass cinema in the mid-fifties,
but Lynch resurrects it here for what it can tell us about postmodern
identity and, lets admit it, for some lesbian sex scenes
that just wouldnt have passed the censors fifty years ago.
As Rita and Betty begin their quest for her identity, they have
a purse full of money and a key with no lock. Ritas memory
brings them finally to Club Silencio and the movies turning
At Club Silencio, Rita and Betty find the puzzlebox that fits
their key. But its a Pandoras puzzlebox, and as it
opens, their carefully constructed pseudo-reality falls apart.
Silencio is the club of the knowledge of good and evil, the place
where lifes curtain is pulled back to reveal the movies
core horror: No hay banda.
Club Silencio is a paradox, a surreal entertainment, a self-consciously
un-live cabaret that trumpets its artificiality. Its a Milli
Vanilli fanclubsurreal, unreal, yet evocative. "No
hay banda," shouts the clubs emcee: There is no
band. Its a simulacrum with a stellar sound system. Nothing
you see or hear is real. Sufficiently advanced technology, indistinguishable
from magic. Or dreams.
theory took a left turn that led right to deconstruction with
Saussure, Freud, and the concepts behind Magrittes "Ceci
nest pas une pipe." This is only a picture and
words about a pipe. There is no inherent connection between word
and meaning and reality. Words are arbitrary. It is foolish to
rely on them. Nothing can be fully known. So nothing is real.
It all comes down to power. As a literary idea, this is so late-eighties.
As a film trope, its about as de rigueur as rigor
No hay banda. The textthe book, the film, the song,
the relationship, the person, real lifeis what you see in
it, what you make it. The text is irrelevant. The author is irrelevant.
Its all about powersocial and sexual, conscious and
No hay banda. It all comes down to play. We can manipulate
things as we will. Were here to play with your emotions.
You cannot trust your senses. You cant remember who you
are, and if you could, you cant trust your memories. What
is dream? What is real? Betty? Rita? Diane? Your identity is a
construct. As is your sexual persona.
No hay banda. Life itself is a construct. Its a
movie in a movie in a movie. What is real in the world of the
film? What is real in the world of the film inside the film? In
the world outside? "All the worlds a stage," and
we are merely playersactors and reactors. How we read our
lines depends on whos doing the scene with us. Meaning in
life is irrelevant, contextual, transient.
No hay banda. Lynch and literary theory are honest about
what this means. Awareness of our radical uncertainty corrupts
everything. "Its been that sort of day," says
Adam, the putative director, as he submits his casting choice
to the mobsters. As Chuck Palahniuk puts it in Invisible Monsters
(of which Mulholland Drive may be a simple variation),
"Conditions change and we mutate . . . This is the world
we live in. . . . Just go with the prompts." The audience
is placed in the same position as Adam, Betty and Rita: vulnerable
to those wielding power, our choices constrained by toughs with
a veneer of civilization, our actions largely determined by forces
we cannot see or comprehend. Trust and love are the casualties.
Its all in Freud, Marx, Lacan, Derrida, Irigaray. And Foucault.
Whats left? Power. Sex. Death.
For all that Ive been instructed not to run this film through
a logic grid, I do. I find a meaningperhaps even the "right"
meaning. (Why not? The nice thing about literary theory is that
if Im right, Im right, and if Im "wrong,"
Im still right in wresting this interpretation from the
text since no one has standingor presenceto dispute
For all its opaqueness, Mulholland Drive makes some things
clear. Weve seen all this before: the betrayed ingenue gone
mad with jealousy. The mobsters. The hit men, the murder-suicide.
All the old Hollywood clichés run through the blender.
The trite gets a patina of sophistry. And in doing so, the film
hints at the state of literary theory. Dreams and illusions covering
profound pain, diversion and money covering raw power, style and
glamour covering the merely banal. All necessary in the wake of
"Ceci nest pas une pipe."
No hay banda. If there is indeed no band, if this glimpse
behind the curtain is a true vision, were left with despair.
Rita and Betty weep in Club Silencio. If we yet long for something
trustworthy, for someone to love us, say the theorists, our disillusionment
is all the more necessary. Self-deception is an understandable
reaction. But not a sustainable one.
Psychiatrists say dreams are the housekeeping the brain does
on the stuff of our lives, and if Mulholland Drive is an
extended dream, it has meaning for all that.
No hay banda. Lynch helps us experience the pain of disillusionment.
If it all comes down to power, anyone who willseven the
weakmay seize and wield it in some measure. When Adams
wife betrays him, he attacks her certainty in return, pouring
pink paint on that which she relies, the diamonds-are-forever
that are a girls best friend.
The betrayal of Betty/Dianes love and trust is a disorienting
car wreck that comes out of nowhere. It drives her from shock
to acting to action. "All she wants in life" is now
tied to the purse, the money, the power of the hitmans blue
key. And what about that purse, all that wealth gathered to purchase
death and despair? You dont have to look too hard to see
a parallel with the literary theoristsjust skim a biography
or three (try Foucault).
If it all comes down to power, as with Betty in the end, it all
comes down to nothing. The movies conclusion is about as
satisfying as youll get from LIT 300. And perhaps thats