Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Film: Mulholland drive

To understand David Lynch. People are always trying to understand David Lynch but the fact is, to get that essential intention of his, the line that draws through all his films, you don’t really have to understand him. The simple thing is, Lynch is a successor of a honorable tradition of filmmakers who were fascinated by dreams and trying to reconstruct that feeling of wonder and irrational logics that you feel in dreams. The line that includes such directors as Bunuel, Bergman, Fellini, Tarkovsky. To try to apply meaning to every irrational act of Lynch’s films is like trying to make an interpretation of some of surreal anecdotes of Bunuel’s “Phantom of liberty”, “Andalusian dog” that was made with intention not to leave space for any interpretation, or even of Beatles’ “I am the walrus” which was admittedly written as “stream of consciousness” string of meaningless associations.
The fact that is so seductive about dreams is not so much that they exist in fantastic, alternative realities, but that those realities are highly logical, where logic is irrational and not applicable to any reality modeled by our own. Some of very essential rules of our reality are skewed in dreams, but some rules still apply very strictly; We can, for instance, meet a person for the first time and at the same time know him since forever. One of the exemplary cases of genuine dream stories is one of Bunuel’s, in which he meets an old friend in a dark alley; He knows that his friend is dead for a long time, but contemplates that he must not tell him that. It’s this cold-blooded logic with conclusion that he can’t inform his friend of his own death, that differs surrealism from ordinary horror in this case.
Surrealistic approach tries to find universal truths in dreams. Freudian approach finds in it clues for interpreting human psyche. Freud loved “Andalusian dog” and there is no doubt that he would love “Eraserhead” too. It seems like all of them occupy more of a space inside of human head (that’s where dreams become, after all) then the world outside. This is the level on which we can watch Lynch’s films regardless of any known interpretation.
Lynch, of course, did this with variable success. “Dune” and “Fire walk with me” are universally hailed as misfires (although “Dune” isn’t nearly as bad as fans of the book would like you to think). “Elephant man” and “Blue velvet” were big successes, critical and financial. Series “Twin Peaks”, one slow stroll through a dreamland, was a cult. “Wild in heart” was very acclaimed, although writer of this blog thinks that it’s a terrible film. “Straight story” was a very realistic film of soft touches, so safe formula that there was no way that this film would be a misfire. It was an exclamation of Lynch saying “See, I can make conventional films too. But doing that all the time would be boring.” So he returned to previous inspirations with “Mulholland drive”.
“Mulholland drive” ends with a very distressing scene in which main character Dianne is runs screaming from two creatures in form of elderly man and woman, who appear out of the blue box. Last thing we see, Dianne grabs a gun and we hear a gunshot. No matter how many times I see this scene, it always sends shivers down my spine (and I watched it repeatedly). The mix of screams, laughter, two elderly people who earlier appear as a pleasant couple, look demonic now, and the fear is real. Lynch has his ways in making us fear. Some of his short films feature nothing but ordinary characters in ordinary rooms, but their juxtaposition and undefined situation make us fear for what might happen next; The scene of walking through an empty house in “Lost highway” has the same power; Lynch doesn’t need monsters to scare us, he doesn’t need usual horror repertoire: he simply sets the stage; Something in it is lacking (people in scene from the “Lost Highway”) or there’s an invisible presence that makes us uneasy about it.
In his early short consisting of one scene, a young girl is shown with both legs amputated. She is writing a letter and subsequently reading it out loud. The letter suggests something of a rich social life, even something of a tone of tone of soap-opera; The sight of amputee is not pleasant, but it doesn’t explain the great uneasiness that we feel while watching this film. It’s this suggestion of social life that clashes with amputee’s unability to perform it and makes an impression very uneasy to a viewer. It’s an exemplary case of how Lynch achieves his effect by arranging elements in a way they could never be arranged in reality.
“Mulholland drive” is also one big puzzle, with only one sufficient clue, that clue being a distinctive piano-shaped ashtray. In one scene, the ashtray is taken away, but in the next one it’s still on the table. The conclusion is that later scene happens chronologically before the first one. And that’s all we need to know, that the remaining part of the film (after the ashtray switch) is happening chronologically before the first one; Everything else fits into it’s place smoothly. People I know have been looking for “solutions” to film on internet and after reading those solutions, I saw that, though basically right, they get too obsessed with details, trying to put every scene in it’s place and give it some sort of interpretation; The scene with clumsy killer could have been there just as a comic relief; The scene with the scary man in the alley, for dreamy atmosphere. To try to find meaning in the “silencio” scene seems like a lost cause. But that’s all unimportant if these scenes are, well, interesting.
“Mulholland Drive” in by one premise similar to “Lost Highway”. “Lost highway,” by one interpretation that wasn’t declined by Lynch, is a story about a man who can’t live with consequences of his act (murder) so he escapes into an alternative reality (perhaps insanity), that seems easier to handle. In this world, elements from the “real” reality are rearranged, all people are there but they play different roles. Like it’s often in dreams, nothing is new, it’s just elements from real life rearranged.
Perhaps Lynch felt that “Lost highway” wasn’t the most successful exploitation of this idea, so he retreated to it in “Mulholland drive” with much more success. The reality is what we see in last half an hour or so of a film, gritty, dark story about a bad actress (Dianne, played by Naomi Watts) whose lesbian lover (Camilla, played by Laura Harring) leaves her for a successful Hollywood director. Everything around her crumbles, she loses everything including hopes for the career in acting, and Lynch takes extreme length to show the distress in which Dianne is. Then she is lost in the other reality, which is taking the first part of the film.
Two demonic elders from the end appear, as I said, as two pleasant passengers from the train which brings Camilla’s dream self Betty (Naomi Watts, of course) arrives in Hollywood. Here, she is perky young actress, perhaps similar to what Dianne was before the cruel Hollywood reality crushed her. But this world is nice. In is, everyone is polite. In it, a talented actress engaged in a B-grade film suddenly gets noticed by powerful (and pleasant) producers. In it, the hated director (who took her love away) is constantly mistreated, by producers-gangsters, by his wife and her lover, by everyone. In it Rita (Camilla’s dream version) is a dame in distress who turns to Bettie for help in a lesbian version of a noir movie. And then, follows the adventure. (Now, if anyone asks you whether it was necessary to make main characters lesbians, tell them that twisting noir genre into a lesbian romance was a reason enough.) But every idyll has the ending, and eventually Betty and Rita get into possession of the blue box which was the mcGuffin that brought Betty to this reality. So she returns and has to face real life once again.
Again, rearranging of elements from first reality forms the second reality, so Betty gets the name of a waitress Dianne spots in a diner, the shady guy Dianne hired reappears as the assassin, and Dianne reappears as the rotting corpse in her small real-life apartment nowhere near Mulholland drive.
Now, the most of disagreement I’ve seen is over the nature of the alternative reality. The most realistic approach claims that Dianne hired an assassin to kill Camille and, unable to bear the guilt, sinks into the insanity. Others say that the final gunshot is Dianne murdering herself, and then, the other reality is – what? Afterlife? However, not being a fan of rationalizations of something that is in nature irrational, I am happy that Lynch left enough reasons to dispute any of such rationalizations (none of them explains how, for instance, Dianne wakes up back in her room in a short scene before the ashtray switch). The way how we enter the blue box the similar way in which we enter the severed ear in “Blue velvet” suggests that the whole dream reality is taking place inside that box, or alternately beyond it. The price Dianne pays might be for murder, or for the chance of living a dream once again. Basically, any opinion is valid, any counter-argument may be rejected, and one of the beauties of the film is that it offers many views of the story, which depend as much on people who are watching it. This is the reason why Lynch never answers to questions about what’s his interpretation – because he doesn’t want to limit audience to just one of them.
Fascinating thing about David Lynch is, from the impression and things he says in interviews, he is a perfectly ordinary man, even shy and perhaps overly rational. From his films, we’d expect a madman, or perhaps a mad genius, eccentric or at least a celebrity. But what we see is just an ordinary man, and then we realize that his concerns are, in the end, those of ordinary man. When the camera looks at the severed ear in “Blue velvet”, it doesn’t look with amazement, or with sadistic joy, but with fear, and even though there is a fascination with this morbid sight, it’s fascination by something we fear (just like snake that hypnotizes the mouse). Lynch’s films are actually deeply human because, though they put their characters through a lot of bad things, they always feel compassion for characters who deserve compassion. And even if we want to torture ourselves by looking at what characters of Lynch’s films are put through, well, that desire is perfectly human too.


At 3:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh! Exactly.
The entire film seems clear to me now, after your explanation


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