I don’t know what in the hell is really happening in Mulholland Drive. Maybe nothing is. Screenwriting manuals would lead us to believe that what it does is invalid, that it could never hold an audience’s attention, let alone its empathy. The fact that it is beloved, often voted best film of any given period (the decade, the 21st Century, etc.) belies that. I just watched it for the second time, the first having been in theatres when it was released in 2001, and I can report that I found it as gripping and powerful as all those polls suggest.
Lynch’s films and TV shows are often detective stories, and in interviews he has spoken of the fact that we are all detectives, trying to figure out, in general and specific terms, what is “going on”. Part of the allure of his work is the sense that something most definitely is going on, even if we can’t quite divine it.
Mulholland Drive, more than Lost Highway, say, or Inland Empire, signals to the audience that there is a definitive answer to be found. Some elements scream, “Clue!”—like Betty calling Hollywood “this dream place”. The first DVD release came with a card with “David Lynch’s 10 Clues to Unlocking This Thriller”. I believe this is the game we’re meant to play. We participate.
Critics and analysists have argued for and against what seems to me to be the obvious reading: the first two hours are Diane’s dream/ fantasy, where Betty is a role she has invented for herself; the last twenty minutes less so—still not “reality” perhaps, but more memory (however subjective) than invention. Lynch is a well-known fan of the ’39 Wizard of Oz, and there’s definitely a sense in that last fifth of, “…and you were there, and you were there…”. For my money, the fact Betty vanishes just before Rita opens the box, bringing us all out the Dream Place, shows that the dream’s logic has finally broken down and can’t continue. Since Melissa George is Camilla in the dream, there’s no one for Laura Elena Harring to be. The dream gets to the point where it has to solve the mystery, and it can’t, so it’s “time to wake up, little girl.”
Plenty of people would tell me I’m wrong, but that’s okay, because the film is a game to play, not to win. It is also a compendium of astonishing moments: sexy, violent, funny (laugh-out-loud hilarious, actually), scary, and ultimately heart-breaking. You don’t need to know the reality of Diane’s story to know that it’s unbearably tragic.
I can’t explain it, but I love it.