Sunday, May 26, 2024

Classic Movie Review: ‘Mulholland Drive’ and the Absurdity of Dreams

As humans, we are doomed to fail. We do not like to fail, it causes us to swallow change – even if we do not want to. Regardless, it is a fact of life. As failure rears its ugly head, most people shut it out as if a Trojan Horse of falsehood invades our brains. And this phenomenon is not unique to a particular demographic of people, anyone is susceptible to detaching themselves to the reality they live in. It’s a depressing ouroboros that will be present until our eventual demise. The complexity within these ideas are grand in scope, however, David Lynch captured its very essence with his film Mulholland Drive. We all dream, but what happens when reality comes and forces us to accept our failures?

Mulholland Drive follows Naomi Watts as Betty Elms – landing in Los Angeles to fulfill her dream as an actress in Hollywood. When Betty arrives at the apartment she will stay in (courtesy of her Aunt Ruth), she finds a confused woman (played by Laura Elena Harring) who was involved in a severe car accident the night before. The car accident in question causes her to develop amnesia. Due to her amnesia, the woman examined a poster of the 1946 film Gilda, starring Rita Hayworth, and believed her name was Rita.

Betty attempts to assist Rita in discovering who she really is. After stopping at Winkie’s Diner, Rita examines the waitress’s name tag that says “Diane”. Rita starts to recall a woman named Diane Selwyn. Afterwards, Betty and Rita begin to search for Diane Selwyn.

The first half of Mulholland Drive has many events and characters that do not impact Betty and Rita’s storyline. In a way, it’s as if Lynch is slowly placing puzzle pieces in front of you where the pieces don’t fit. Meticulously and painstakingly placing these ideas into your mind with no rhythm to accompany it. What is the significance of the botched assassination attempt? Why do the elderly people in the taxi carry such expressive faces?

As the film progresses, and the puzzle continues to blur, another movie is occurring at the same time. Enter filmmaker Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) who is at wits end with his career and his marriage. Studio executives are shoving a woman named Camilla Rhodes (Melissa George) down his throat to play the lead role in his new movie – against his will. Adam’s wife is having an extramarital affair with a man named Gene (Billy Ray Cyrus – yes, THAT Billy Ray Cyrus). Nothing seems to be going right for Kesher, however, his borderline slapstick unfortunate events are slowed in lieu of Betty and Rita’s story.

There is a significant event that foreshadows the end of the movie. In Winkie’s Diner (the same one Betty and Rita were in), a neurotic man named Dan (Patrick Fischler) recounts a nightmare he had the night before to a man named Herb (Michael Cooke). The nightmare occurs at that exact Winkie’s Diner involving Herb, where Dan states Herb will be standing at the counter – looking back at Dan. Then both Dan and Herb would go outside – walking towards a spot behind the diner. At which point a man emerges, frightening Dan endlessly.

After telling the story, Herb – rejected from the story itself – proceeds to pay for the meal him and Dan had had. Dan turns and realizes the nightmare is reality, seeing Herb at the same spot he was in in the dream. They both step outside, following the steps described by Dan. The man behind the diner, shows himself, causing Dan to fall in terror.

The man behind the diner is a representation of our unwillingness to accept our failures. It’s stowed away, deep into our subconscious, digging away at ourselves. The fear extracted out of Dan is the sense of reality coming and enveloping him.

Consistently throughout the movie a blue box and blue key are shown, and only near the end of the movie is the box opened. At which point the dream ends, and reality sets in. The movie now splits between the former illusive reality and the actual reality. Betty is actually Diane Selwyn – a depressed and failed actress who is having an affair with successful actress Camilla Rhodes (who was Rita in the illusive reality). Adam Kesher’s story remains the same except Camilla is dating Kesher and he is now detached from the prior borderline slapstick acts of misfortune.

Dreams are the summation of hopes and our own known bits of reality. With that in mind, Mulholland Drive’s illusive reality is an implosion of the bits and pieces of the actual reality. The hitman is actually being hired by Diane to conduct a hit on Camilla. The mystic phrase spoken predominantly throughout Adam Kesher’s storyline, “This is the girl”, is given a horrifying meaning. Camilla was actually hired in the real world because she slept with Kesher.

Once Diane finally accepts reality she is then faced with the elderly couple in which her illusive counterpart, Betty, once had a positive relationship with. The elderly couple embodying the fear of one’s own reality slowly reaches for Diane. Diane is unable to bear the cross she now carries and commits a horrifying act in response.

The puzzle pieces are feverishly put together in front of our very eyes. What makes Mulholland Drive so perplexing is all of this information is given to the viewer in the span of twenty minutes. You are given so much to digest in the first portion of the movie, then when it cuts to the real world you are forced to digest so much in a short span of time. 

Mulholland Drive is best described as a horror film. In the typical sense, horror films put us in a box – preparing us for what is to be seen. Lynch’s approach to horror is more abstract and fills the viewer with unease in themselves. Leaving the viewer to ponder upon themselves, to digest what had been seen. When we saw the man behind the diner, we all knew he was coming. But the meaning behind the man makes it infinitely more horrifying.

The reality of our own failures is horrifying. David Lynch as a filmmaker is empathetic toward his subjects but doesn’t shy away from the reality of their own shortcomings. Diane isn’t a bad person for failing or being incapable of receiving an acting role. She held true to herself, even when Camilla would rather sleep with the director to gain a role, and paraded it in Diane’s face. Although her hiring a hit on her former lover is not representative of a good person, a moment of weakness is not the summation of one’s self worth (even weighing the gravity of her action). Diane is not wrong for dreaming, she is just an unfortunate product of pursuing one’s dream.

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