by Aritra Dey
Ominous as the word goes
TLR Rating: 8 Reels.
To the common man, the name of David Lynch is relatively unknown. The cigarette wielding, crazy haired individual has only made a handful of feature films during a career spanning over almost 20 years and with huge gaps between his two films, it’s of little wonder why the average cinema goer fail to recognize his name. The select few to have watched his films, have been mesmerized with them and proclaimed his genius to the world. Among all of his films, a certain ‘Mulholland Drive’ has been doing the rounds in everyone’s watch list ever since its release in 2001. Like any other Lynch movie, there was little hype surrounding the thriller during its release. Only when the first audience witnessed the magnificence of the creation, did the movie gain such prominence. Seventeen years later, people are still talking about the mystery surrounding the film and pondering over the possible solutions. Needless to say, no one irrefutable theory has yet been established. Few individual films have managed to graft out a niche of their own in the mind of the audience. ‘Mulholland Drive’ is one of the most bizarre unsolved mysteries in the world of cinema.
Imagine cruising through a crocodile infested river in a boat. You know there is something lurking beneath the waters, just beyond your sight. But as long as the reptiles don’t clamber onto the boat, you are far from perturbed. Instead you are far too occupied in taking in the scenic view of the surroundings. You don’t even notice when the boat had ventured into murkier waters of a mangrove forest and only when it stops to let the darkness engulf your very being, you realize the complexity of the situation and begin panicking. David Lynch is that sadistic boatman who plays this cruel game to flummox his viewers, leaving them stranded in the labyrinth of questions and unsolved riddles. Narrating the plot of the film, like I have been doing with the other articles, would be an exercise in futility. The film’s storyline is best understood (perhaps) when watched and it would be a blasphemy to spoil that experience.
The ultimate argument about this film lies in the solution of the riddle it poses. The first half of the film where Betty, the docile sweetheart with a heart of gold, tries to help out the flummoxed amnesiac Rita to discover herself amidst achieving her dream of becoming a successful actress in Hollywood. The second half reveals the truth about the hallucination. Diane Selwyn had conjured up the entire first half story to relive herself from her failed career and broken love life with Camila Rhodes. This might be the basic synopsis but the elements strewn all over the film provide the complex challenge of deciphering it. The piece of the jigsaw appears as the mysterious hobo behind the diner where the nerdy man explains his nightmare to a friend. The man apparently had no connection to the life of Betty and Rita and the audience are left wondering about his significance or why he was driven to near insanity by the appearance of the hobo, which incidentally only he could see. The blue key, which has now become synonymous with the film, is unearthed from the depths of Rita’s purse. No one knows what it will open and the cleverer section of the audience remained on the lookout of a blue box throughout the movie. They were duly rewarded when Betty’s purse seemed to contain one. The third perplexing event occurs at the place where the blue box drops into Betty’s bag, ala Philosopher’s Stone. ‘Silencio’s conundrum drove the audience crazy and was perhaps the first real imminent clue about the film’s illusion. The post-midnight performance about the significance of illusion might have stirred the keen minds of the viewers and planted the first seeds of doubt. The presence of the apparition like blue haired lady on the balcony of the auditorium was even more mystifying, but there was hardly any time to spare a thought for her, as David Lynch had pressed his foot on the accelerator and the boat ride had increased its pace. Another almost Shakespearean apparition occurred in the guise of the ‘Cowboy’ to the director Adam Kesher (Incidentally the only character to retain his identity in the entire film) who emphasizes on the inclusion of the actress Camila Rhodes in the film ‘The Sylvia North Story’ and eerily stating if everything goes right, Adam would see him once more, and twice if the events don’t go according to plan. The name of Diane Selwyn creeps up when Rita spots a waitress with that name tag, jolting her memory. However she is dead, as they find out after breaking into her apartment. The last piece of the puzzle is perhaps the name of the film itself. What has actually happened in ‘Mulholland Drive’?
David Lynch sagaciously let the events in the second half define the ones in the first. His brilliance was akin to that of Professor Moriarty, as if he was laying the groundwork for the greatest crime in Hollywood. ‘Silencio’ indeed proves to be the reveal of the illusion and the blue box seemed to be its testimony as it sucked in the viewer to the reality to discover Betty to be the perfect projection of a disheveled and distraught Diane Selwyn. Failing in both her career and love life, the frustrated woman is a far cry from the endearing image of Betty, which she conjures up as if to placate herself. Her lover, Camila Rhodes, Rita’s doppelganger, has slept her way to stardom; a truth Diane refuses to accept. Adam Kesher affection towards her springs up her jealously and therefore in her hallucination, Rita and Betty had a wonderful night together, with Adam throwing attractive glances at Betty when the pair meet. The conspiracy to include Camila Rhodes aided by unearthly unknown agents is conjured up by Diane as the truth behind Camila’s success over hers. Envy, however engulfs Betty and she arranges for Camila to die and employs a hit-man to take care of the business. The token which would suggest the completion of the job is the blue key, which Lynch shows to be present in Diane’s apartment, hinting at the demise of the woman. The hobo behind the diner, or the ‘Monster’ comes again, this time wielding the blue box from which a miniature version of the older couple, who had wished Betty luck during her arrival at Los Angeles, scamper out. They drive Diane to near insanity and force her to commit suicide. A blue box is shown to be present beside the revolver in her bedside drawer. The ‘Cowboy’ appears twice more, once to wake Diane from her stupor and again during the dinner with Camila and Adam, suggesting perhaps, that everything didn’t go according to plan; that Diane was not good. The blue haired woman whispers ‘Silencio’.
Like all his previous works, David Lynch’s affiliation towards symbolism is evident in this film. Betty and Rita are the representatives of a sweet world filled with love and innocence, something which Diane sincerely craves and going by the masturbatory sequence, something which she gets off to. The older couple, either judges of the jitterbug contest which Diane had won or her parents are the past which is disappointed at how the present turned out to be. Its sorrow is so powerful that it induces a wave of suicidal guilt in Diane. The ‘Monster’ is perhaps the physical embodiment of Failure, which lurks in the alleys behind and reality is afraid of it. The ‘cowboy’ is the one who controls everything that is going on here on Earth.
It is to be noted that David Lynch doesn’t leave the tiniest details to mere coincidence. One such example is the name of Betty. The hallucination could have had any name. When Diane converses with the hit-man in the diner, they are served by a waitress called Betty. Rita’s memory jolt occurs during a similar sequence when a waitress named Diane serves them. The events occurring at Mulholland Drive are shown in the same fashion. Rita is forced down the car at gunpoint at that very road. An accident renders her amnesiac and the events roll on from there. In Diane’s case however, she is asked to get down at that very spot, as Camila has a surprise planned for her. The subsequent happenings prove tragic for her though and maybe that is the reason why she had thought about the accident in the first place. Some theorists are also of the belief that Mulholland Drive is symbolic of the horrendous life of Hollywood, which is tragic for many aspirants. The blue haired woman at the club is perhaps the most intriguing element of them all, as she is that piece of puzzle whose solution eluded me and many others. Her whisper at the end seemed to open a separate dimension for the story altogether.
Mystery and confusion aside, ‘Mulholland Drive’ would still feature among the top in the list of the best films of this century. David Lynch, with all his eccentricity is an immaculate director and his picturization of the story is laudable indeed. His camera work is subtle and was prominent in bringing out the thrill which the movie demanded. The long shots followed by the quick, trailing close-ups as if the viewer is sucked into another dimension, were excellent. The use of lighting, during the ‘Silencio’ performance, and at the end when the mythical storm broke out on Diane were chilling indeed, and the blue aura cast a perfect mystical shroud on the entire scene. The singular story simply gave ‘Mulholland Drive’ an entry into the debate of the ‘Greatest Film Ever’.
If there was one film which could never be replicated, I would place my bets on this one. This is a singular film which a director could conjure up once in his lifetime. There can’t be any end to the discussion on this film; such is the magnanimity of it. Words won’t suffice its influence. If you haven’t’ watched it yet, do take a ride in the car around the hilly road in Hollywood, called ‘Mulholland Drive’.
The author is a software engineer at Infosys and a passionate film and football buff, with a special interest in deciphering the literature behind the movies.