“There is no band, and yet we hear a band”
I have grown to love Mulholland Drive. It makes no literal sense, but the imagery, and the elliptical narrative resonate. I am still haunted by its puzzling yet persuasive landscapes—both visceral and thematic. It is a story told in abstractions. A naïve and ambitious young actress falls in love, but she is betrayed, looses her innocence, and plots to kill the object of her unrequited love. Mulholland Drive is a mythic modern fable. Idealistic yearning is crushed by cruelty, vengeance is sought, and the story ends with ominous shadows of guilt and regret. All of this is presented as if it were a dream—with a dream’s allusiveness.
I will not try to explain or justify it. I couldn’t do either even if I wanted to. I won’t even render my interpretation. If you’ve seen it, and obsessed over it like I have, you’ll understand that the film—while begging for it—defies interpretation. It leads you on, throwing puzzle pieces at you, but those pieces never form a proper whole. The film suggests—rather convincingly—that the pieces can be joined together to offer some narrative coherence, but a schematic approach to the film will lead only to frustration. The film has a lot to offer, but it is designed to guide your intuition—not your intellect. If you are to find any meaning in this offbeat masterpiece, it is to be a personal discovery—intimate and unique.
The first time I saw Mulholland Drive, I hated it. I was still high from my experience of Blue Velvet—which I loved from the very first viewing. With Mulholland Drive, I felt David Lynch had betrayed me—setting me up with a lot of intriguing ideas, and then twisting them together, flipping them over and drenching them in porn music and fog. I followed all of its disparate storylines and was completely invested in figuring out just what the hell was happening, and expecting that all would be revealed at the end, through an intricate and dazzling feat of plotting. But such a revelation never occurs. We are never told what was actually happening. We are left with some intriguing puzzle pieces that almost—but never quite—fit together. And I was angry!
But I was compelled to watch it again. I wanted to put the pieces together, and I believed I could, if I just watched it once more. So I did. And then I watched it again, and again, and again. I’ve seen it at least fifteen times in its entirety—certain sequences more than thirty or forty times—and somewhere along the line, I fell in love with it. People have suggested that David Lynch is jerking off with a camera and cinematically spooging all over his audience. And he is, actually. But in the case of Mulholland Drive, I don’t mind. I don’t mind because I’ve enjoyed myself! Lynch knows we are problem solvers—we want to put things together, have them make sense and give them meaning. Meaning is everything. Lynch is simply cutting out the middle part—the making sense part. He wants us to go through the motions of solving a puzzle, of striving to understand, and find some transcendent meaning in that process.
Mulholland Drive is a game—a scary, seductive, and mystifying game. While there is no literal resolution, no tangible conclusions, this is not a self-indulgent mess. The film is exceptionally well crafted—designed to suggest much while revealing little. The textures of image and sound are not haphazard; they are intricate and carefully wrought. Lynch has skillfully crafted an intuitive experience that sucks you in and bombards you will possibilities. I’ve spent hours online hunting for some definitive interpretation that would unlock the secret of the film. This hunt—the search for explanations—is an important aspect of the Mulholland Drive experience, as are the numerous discussions it has provoked. But I’ve come to appreciate that there is no secret, no key—it just is! I’ve let it creep into my brain, and I like how it’s playfully throwing wrenches into the works.
It is the Club Silencio sequence that defines Mulholand Drive for me—that mystical theatre where illusions are revealed, where “there is no band, and yet we hear a band.” The truth of the story—as my heart understands it—is in Rebekah Del Rio’s haunting rendition of Llorando (a Spanish a cappella version of Roy Orbison’s Crying). She sings about loss, her voice full of passion and anguish, and falls to the stage as if dead, while her tortured voice continues. In that moment, I intuitively understand the agony of regret that propels the Betty/Diane hybrid (Naomi Watts) into her confused and tormented dual existence as dream and reality. This must sound very fanciful and abstract, but these are the primary characteristics of Lynch’s vision. It is a nightmare logic, the kind that fades as we wake up and dissolves in the bright light of day. Mulholland Drive is about Hollywood—a city drenched in sunlight, where hopeful dreamers come to shine, and greedy powers lurk in the shadows to prey on their ambition and ego—where stars and monsters are born.
If your tastes lean towards the literal and linear—coherent plots and firmly established realities—then you might dismiss Mulholland Drive as cinematic masturbation. I do not suggest that fans of the film—and the Lynchian mode of expression—are somehow more sophisticated; that would be obnoxious snobbery. No, there is no deep hidden meaning accessible to only a select few open-minded individuals. The film appeals to a particular sensibility. If you have an affinity for figurative expression, then Mulholland Drive can be a fascinating and terrifying experience.
Mulholland Drive (2001)
Director: David Lynch
Writer: David Lynch
Stars: Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theroux