In 2002, the Guardian asked six movie critics to describe "Mulholland Drive." One of them considered it to be counterproductive to continue analyzing the film. It had been about a year since the debut of David Lynch's masterpiece. Today, almost 18 have passed, but the theories continue to disturb the viewers, to the director's displeasure.
A BBC poll in 2016 found the best film of the twentieth century. After the votes, the choice fell on "Mulholland Drive" (2001), a controversial film for not being absolute. A film that opens space for multiple interpretations and that has therefore entertained the world of cinema that spreads in conjectures.
There is the theory that the film is an illusion provoked by drugs and that everything is just a psychotic outbreak. There are advocates that this is a long dream and the apologists of the narrative split into two parts (within the dream and after it). Some say the beginning is the end of the movie. For some, the elderly couple is on the jury giving Betty a win at the dance contest she won in her homeland before heading to Los Angeles. Others keep asking who the cowboy is, where he comes from and what he does! There are even those who go after the inspiration of David Lynch and find parallels between "Mulholland Drive" and the old Hollywood stories of the actresses discarded by the industry. Others retrieve the stories of the road itself, Mulholland Drive, an open viewpoint from which one can see the city and the dreams that inhabit it, but also a scene of accidents and mysteries.
David Lynch said in an interview that it's a shame when someone asks you to translate your movies into words. It's impossible. Because all the elements were worked on there so that each one produced a given effect. The whole results because the parts are strong. Describing it, analyzing it, explaining it is so less interesting than the cinematic experience. David Lynch says you never ask for a word description of what a song is, what it means, because each listener interprets it in its own way.
Why not do the same with "Mulholland Drive"?
Let us then turn to a synoptic interpretation, which does not rule out some lines of those theories but avoids recognizing one as legitimate. Betty (Naomi Watts) goes to Hollywood to try her luck as an actress. In the house where she is housed, she meets Rita (Laura Harring), who lost her memory in a car accident (where? Mulholland Drive, of course). Betty spends her time helping Rita (name inspired by Rita Hayworth), who has a suspicious wallet full of money. But Betty does not suspect her, instead she gets involved with Rita.
Only Betty wakes up and, after all, is Diane Selwyn. Naomi Watts loses the rosy air of her cheeks and the glitter of her eyes goes out. The bright waves of blond hair give rise to curled tips. Delicate and colorful coats turn into wrinkled white tops.
Yes, we are sure that, at any moment, Diane will repeat a dose of the drug she has taken before. But that does not happen, because Lynch plays with our expectations without even trying to deceive them.
And the cowboy?
By this time, "Mulholland Drive" seems to have a similar plot to Memento (2000) or The Machinist (2004), as a psychological thriller that is already much seen. But it's when we start linking the loose ends of the movie that we realize we've been in Diane's dreams and we've watched her story unflinchingly. And in the dream world, everything is possible and everything makes sense.
Except that reality is not like that. Rita is Camilla Rhodes, successful actress who ends the relationship with Diane soon to start another with the director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux). For revenge, Diane orders the death of the ex but is left to consume by the guilt and ends up committing suicide.
It does not glue much here the part where Betty arrives at Hollywood, all a candor, full of hopes. Of course this is again Diane's view of herself, but it is not clear whether this excerpt from the story belongs to the dream world or to reality, even if fantasized.
If there is any cause for concern for fans of "Mulholland Drive" (besides the cowboy!), It's the scene where Betty and Rita enter a nightclub and burst into tears as they watch the performance of "Crying" (Roy Orbison). The singer suffers any access and falls to the ground but her voice continues to be heard in the room. As the master of ceremonies was declared before the singer began, "there is no band". "It's an illusion." David Lynch goes as far as to say, in a character's mouth, that "it's an illusion" and it seems so clear that he's explaining to us that we're in the dream, that all theories lose sense. In the dream world, anything is possible. Even if there is a blue box that only opens with an equally blue key and the box is full of nothing but has immense power, such that when Rita opens it, it triggers the end of the movie, which is the beginning of reality and the guilty atonement of the protagonist.
But "Mullholand Drive" does not cling to an unexpected plot. Watching this movie is to imagine that David Lynch would have spent long months toying over every detail because they are all steeped in meaning and it is so easy to let them slip through the fingers of their hands without noticing their role in the story. We immediately notice that the cafeteria clerk where Diane orders Camilla's death is called Betty and we know that's where the name comes from. But there are more impressive coincidences.
Diane describes Camilla and the service she's getting: "This is the girl," she says. It's exactly the same phrase that Hollywood bosses (who look like mafia bosses) order Adam (in the dream!) To choose an actress instead of Betty. "This is the girl." In the initial scene where, in this same cafe, a man tells another a strange dream he had, nor do we realize that the film is explaining to us very clearly how a dream is produced, what makes that intangible unity that she will show us who Diane is, rather than telling us her own story.
Strangers who populate our dreams
We know almost everything about Diane and we do not even sympathize with her. Not even with her rosy, happy Betty version, which comes to Hollywood with dreamy eyes and a strange naivety to obscure her vision. But we also do not hang onto Camilla's side.
The character of Laura Harring hides something, we think, while we distrust her red lipstick and matching clothes. We do not adhere to these characters but we understand their difficulties, because they are very real: the injured pride of the director (betrayed by the woman and forced to choose an actress she does not want); Betty's naivety, taken to extremes; the vanity of Camilla in its success in the cinema.
Even the characters with small appearances seem to have a very solid narrative line. It's as if David Lynch had lived with them for months, writing their stories, and then deciding what to do in the movie.
One of the readings of "Mulholland Drive" indicates that the characters are fragmented and that is what happens in the passage from the first to the second part of the film. It makes sense and it is brilliant that this has been planned, because in our dreams we also build instant characters with the faces we have only briefly met.
Yes, it seems to have been a grueling writing assignment and a fruitful creative environment. So let's do what Lynch asks. The guesswork is interrupted and the theories are exhausted. "Mulholland Drive" does not need explanations or readings, each with its own, in silence.
Let us be content with the inexhaustible source of this film, knowing that with each new visualization we will find meanings in details previously ignored.
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