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More Last Week’s Entertainments

What I Watched

Mulholland Dr., David Lynch: I only recently discovered Lynch’s ten clues—or, actually, I might have seen them before and forgotten about them. Here they are (from “Mulholland Dr.” on Wikipedia):

  • Pay particular attention in the beginning of the film: at least two clues are revealed before the credits.
  • Notice appearances of the red lampshade.
  • Can you hear the title of the film that Adam Kesher is auditioning actresses for? Is it mentioned again?
  • An accident is a terrible event…notice the location of the accident.
  • Who gives a key, and why?
  • Notice the robe, the ashtray, the coffee cup.
  • What is felt, realized and gathered at the club Silencio?
  • Did talent alone help Camilla?
  • Notice the occurrences surrounding the man behind Winkies.
  • Where is Aunt Ruth?

I haven’t take then time to figure out all the clues, but some of them are pretty easy: one of the clues before the credits is the first-person-perspective shot of somebody lying down to sleep; the red lampshade appears first next to the phone that isn’t answered in the sequence of phone calls between the conspirators against Rita, and later when Diane receives the phone call from Camilla about the party; Adam Kesher is auditioning actresses for The Sylvia North Story, which is the film where Diane and Camilla met; Rita’s accident is at the same place Camilla meets Diane to bring her to the party; etc. The most common interpretation of the movie seems to be that the first part (before the cowboy tells Diane to wake up) is Diane’s dream after learning that the hit man she hired has killed Camilla, and the second part is Diane’s descent to insanity mixed with memories or hallucinations of events leading up to her decision to have Camilla killed. Many of Lynch’s clues do suggest this interpretation, but I but I’ve never been convinced. The second part seems more believable—not only because “there’s an overwhelming tendency, amongst critics and other analytical folk, to privilege the ’sordid’ over the ’sentimental’” but also because it doesn’t have strange conspirators controlling everything behind the scenes—of course, the conspirators are all still there, but they’re presumably regular folks whom Diane incorporates into her fantasies. But does verisimilitude have any place in a movie like this?

Then there’s the man behind Winkies, Silencio, the blue key and the blue box. In one of the comments threads for one of David Fiore’s many posts on Mulholland Dr. at Motime like the Present, a fellow named Charles points out something about Silencio I hadn’t known:

Lynch plays on an old joke of his, and one of his most memorable scenes, by doing himself one better: he has del Rio playing herself, lipsyncing to her own song, a Spanish cover of Orbison. This joke loses much of its humor if (1) you fail to recognize the reality of del Rio, an actual person, (2) its connection to the very real oeuvre of Lynch and (3) how its reality might differ from the rest of the film.

Mulholland Dr. is actually the only Lynch movie I’ve seen, so I can’t follow the joke (it’s apparently something to do with Blue Velvet), but I note that it reinforces the central theme of Silencio. Rebeka del Rio lip-synching to a recording of herself—it’s indistinguishable from reality, but it’s fake. The movie is full of juxtapositions of obvious fakes and perfectly realistic fakes: Betty’s jokey rehearsal with Rita and her real rehearsal with Jimmy Katz; Adam Kesher’s unenthusiastic approval of Camilla Rhodes and his “love at first sight” moment with Betty; Naomi Watts’s bubbly Nancy Drew acting in the first part and her almost show-offy naturalistic despair in the second.

Backing up a bit—the two parts of the movie, the dream and the reality according to the standard interpretation. Like I said, I’ve never been convinced by the standard interpretation, but I do think there are distinct levels of reality (fictional reality, I mean) at play. The reality narrative seems more real than the dream narrative (insofar as one fiction can be more real than another), if only because it’s more sensible to extrapolate a fantastic dream from a hallucinatory reality than vice versa. But there are complications—the theme of obviously fake things and other fake things that look real in comparison, for one. For another, there’s the reversal of causality: the dream is caused by the reality, but their relationship is obfuscated by the presentation of the dream before the reality. As I watch the movie, I think, “Diane’s car ride along Mulholland Dr. is just like Rita’s”; it’s only upon consideration, after the movie, that I see clearly how causality runs backwards through the movie. It’s Diane who wakes up at the end of the dream, so it’s presumably Diane who goes to sleep at the very beginning of the movie. But when she wakes up, it’s like one of those unsettling dreams about waking up from a dream. The reality is more real than the dream, but it’s nothing like firm ground for us to stand on. But maybe that’s the best we have.

The dream and the reality are both stories Diane/Betty tells herself; the difference is that she’s in control of the former (for a while), while the latter crashes messily into other peoples’ stories. Now we’re going way back in Peiratikos history to creation of self through narrative. We create and know ourselves through stories, but the problem with being the authors of our own life stories is that we’re also characters in other people’s life stories.

I completely forgot to talk about the man behind Winkies and the blue box. Maybe later, maybe later.


  1. Jamesmith3 says:

    Is it safe to come out now?

    A digression: Sitting in a small, dusty, un-electrified village named Darko (yes) in the middle of Ghana. We were supposed to watch some horrible documentary about parasitic worms, but the generator never arrived. All the kids in town ready to be entertained, with nothing to entertain them. So the local crazy man (every village has one) came out to tell the kids a story. A story they’d obviously heard a dozen times or more, because they all (ALL) would help fill in the words. Possibly there was call and response going on– I’m not sure, he was speaking in Twi.

    Point? Oh, yes: he was the storyteller, but not the author. No one there was. It was one great story (meta-text? Why do I hate the prefix ‘meta’ so much?) told with many voices.

    So. Are we all the authors of our own stories, or are we all voices telling some grand tale?

    “We create and know ourselves through stories…” Yeah, I think generally I’d agree with that. But I like occasionally to poke holes in my own beliefs, and it’s interesting to imagine we’re all in one story, telling it from the inside out.

    Is it allowable to not explicate MULHOLLAND DRIVE? By that, I mean, can one get something out of it by taking the whole thing as one singular experience, rather than a series of events which can be “understood”? Could it be more about the telling than what’s told?

    I don’t know why I wonder that. Like many things that seem easier, it’s actually harder. How do you talk about a movie like that? What happens to film when you shave off all the handles like plot and motivation? You’ll have to excuse me– I recently watched THIN RED LINE and now I’ve got this idea that a movie can work the way a poem or an abstract painting can, and that’s just asking for trouble.

    Anyway, looking forward to more.

    The end.

    — 21 July 2005 at 12:14 am (Permalink)

  2. Steven says:

    Um, yeah! I like that. I guess the problem is when I’m telling one story and you’re telling another. Or when we think we’re telling different stories anyway. We’re telling/creating it from the inside out, yes, and you can’t step outside the universe to see the big picture. So we do create and know ourselves through stories, but we’re like Hamlet trying to understand Hamlet.

    Mulholland Dr. is one of those movies that’s deeply inexplicable and demands explication. Mm, maybe all my favorite stories are like that, though. But I agree, it runs on poetic logic as much as narrative logic, like The Thin Red Line.

    — 21 July 2005 at 12:49 am (Permalink)

  3. Rose says:

    I think of Mulholland Drive more in terms of themes and variations than of dream and reality, although that may still be putting more structure on it than you’d want.

    I think what keeps me there is the reappearance of the hotel clerk who tells Adam that his life has disappeared and his money is gone and then pops up as a host at Silencio. In the standard reading, this should be a sign of dream logic or a point after which it’s clear things aren’t what they seem (was there any other point along the way, though?) but to me it was just another reminder that we’re seeing and re-seeing the same people in different ways (among other things, of course).

    I hadn’t seen the movie before this viewing and I know there’s something going on with the lipstick but I’m not sure what. Well, one of the dreamy mysteries is that Rita has lush red lips and I expected lipstick in her purse but there was none. In the second part, the pink and red lips fade and start to merge, I think, but I’m not sure what’s going on there if anything. Repetition and change, at least, and a pattern I can sense but not see. Is that poetry of a sort?

    — 21 July 2005 at 12:56 am (Permalink)

  4. Dave Carter says:

    MD is, I think, a film that intentially defies explanation. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but I recall trying to decode and make sense out of it for a while after first viewing*, and no matter the interpretation I came up with (or heard/read from others) there was always something in the film that contradicted it. I’m pretty sure now that this was intentional on Lynch’s part. He has always refused to explain his works, prefering instead that the viewer make his/her own interpretation. The ‘ten clues’ I suspect are just another way that Lynch is tweaking his audience. Of course, the provenance of MD, a failed television pilot that was expanded into a feature film, means that there likely never was a cohesive narrative intent in the first place.

    (*which, as someone who has seen many Lynch films, I should have known better!)

    — 21 July 2005 at 2:18 am (Permalink)

  5. Jamesmith3 says:

    Steven: Or maybe that’s not a problem at all. Maybe cacophany is part of the plot.

    I hope I’m not suggesting one shouldn’t try to figure out what Lynch is doing. But like Dave suggests, certain things simply might not have been there to “get” in the first place.

    Have you ever tried to make a story out of your dreams? I have boring, linear dreams, and every time I’ve tried to make a story out of them, they fall apart. There’s always some small but crucial bit of dream logic that simply can’t be translated. Maybe the dream is ultimately Lynch’s dream, and he couldn’t make it make sense even if he wanted.

    Rose: I think that’s what I’m talking about– seeing the surface of the thing, and taking that as the whole. This isn’t something I thought when watching the movie, but has only come to me recently. I don’t think it’s necessarily what Lynch was after, but I get a kick out of seeing/using things counter to their original intention, if I can.

    — 21 July 2005 at 2:52 am (Permalink)

  6. Steven says:

    It doesn’t need to be a problem, but it is sometimes. The desire to replace cacophony with euphony—that reminds me of Borges’s “Tl#246;n, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” the false world that replaces the real one because it makes more sense. That’s Betty/Diane’s problem.

    I think I’ll be digging into the more untranslatable and unknowable stuff in Mulholland Dr. when I get into the blue box and the man behind Winkies. I’m thinking about poetry and themes and variations, too….

    — 21 July 2005 at 3:28 am (Permalink)

  7. Matt says:

    I think the comment re: abstract painting is a good place to start, since Lynch was a painter before he got his hands on an 8mm camera and started playing. The notion of the film as poetry, and the connection to Terrence Malick, both excellent. Lynch isn’t about narrative, but chooses a narrative FORM, and that’s him wrecking things to make them beautiful, if only to himself, or if only for the purpose of more creation and wreckage in our minds.

    As far as “The Fungus-Faced Bum” behind Winkies goes, there’s a theme and trend through all Lynch’s movies (the ones that aren’t adaptations, e.g. Dune, The Elephant Man, Wild at Heart): the “people from another place,” starting with The Man in the World and The Lady in the Radiator from Eraserhead, moving through Ben and his cronies in Blue Velvet and most pronounced in Twin Peaks with Mike, Bob, and The Man From Another Place, etc. Another good way to view Mulholland Dr. is as another version of Lost Highway, but really, both movies are another version of Eraserhead thematically, and theme seems way more important that plot or narrative for Lynch.

    More on this, if you’re interested:
    My interpretation here follows the “standard” one, but I think I agree with Steven’s doubts and the notion that that’s a bit too easy.

    — 22 July 2005 at 2:18 am (Permalink)

  8. Matt says:

    Oh, and the “Ten Clues” are in the DVD sleeve. Also, the DVD is one long chapter, not broken at all. Very few features on the disk, too. The notion that Lynch wants to be in control here, and wants to mess with us, seems pretty on target.

    — 22 July 2005 at 2:19 am (Permalink)

  9. David Fiore says:

    yeah Matt that’s a very good point about the lack of a “chapter search” function on the DVD… it’s unusual and a very telling omission.


    — 22 July 2005 at 4:09 am (Permalink)

  10. sebastian says:

    I’m not so sure the lack of “chapter search” is a “telling omission” so much as Lynch said he doesn’t like the idea of people watching his movie outside of the way he wants them to be told. It’s sort of telling about him, maybe ….

    — 28 July 2005 at 5:28 am (Permalink)

  11. mob says:

    I truly enjoyed the movie, gazed upon it mesmerized and kept asking myself, what the hel.. Never watched it again, I didn’t really get the film, but it made me feel excited, just like great art should.

    — 6 August 2005 at 6:24 pm (Permalink)

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