Mulholland Drive

Mulholland Drive ★★★★★

it’s easy to see what attracts lynch to television here, the way an ongoing story by its nature allows for endless breadcrumb trails of symbolism and implication. television allows those threads to link along a single continuum, constantly developing and changing but always leading back to where they started. a film has to end, but a television show doesn’t. that potential for “getting dreamy” as lynch puts it in behind-the-scenes footage from twin peaks: the return is obviously key to a lot of his work, but what makes mulholland drive so fascinating is how it was retrofitted from a television pilot to a feature film, and how lynch justifies that change. the first 90 minutes have a particularly dreamy quality that comes from being a pilot for a show that never was; plot threads are introduced and never followed up on, mysterious objects and characters appear with no elaboration, it’s like a dream because it has no ending, no further steps down the breadcrumb trail, because you always seem to wake up just before the catharsis of conclusion. now, as part of a self-contained film, these moments are made retroactively to speak only to each other. we will never know how the man in winkie’s diner and his nightmare may have recurred in mulholland drive: the television series. all we know now is how his experience reverberates on the story of betty and rita and diane and camilla, how it informs the dimensions of their twin worlds. the final 45 minutes of material which lynch added when he knew this would become a film turn the previous hour-forty into (in the most popular interpretation) a dream of itself. things of seemingly concrete significance in diane’s life (the blue key and the assassin, camilla and adam’s affair, her apparently secondary role in adam’s film) have been transformed into objects of dream-symbolism in betty’s life. it suggests that television is something like a dream of cinema, a space of boundary-less abstract potential which can go on forever. lynch seems to deliberately disregard film here; the one for which betty auditions is a vanity project which will never be made, and adam’s film has been made a front for a conspiracy against his will.

speaking of which, you can’t talk about this film twenty years after its release without thinking about its perception of hollywood as a menacing place run by shadowy figures who enact elaborate conspiracies for unclear (but undeniably perverse) reasons. it’s easy to read this as just lynch’s tongue-in-cheek way of seeing a studio system which bullies artists and wrests control from them for purposes he sees as idiotic and self-serving. i’m sure lynch has had many meetings with executives that felt a lot like adam kesher being intimidated into casting a woman he’s never heard of as his lead. but it’s also hard not to think about the film after jeffrey epstein as particularly provocative in how it depicts the film industry. sexual violence is never explicitly part of the plot, but taken in combination with lynch’s previous work, it’s hard not to see it on the margins. who is the first camilla rhodes? the tongue-in-cheek read would make her an object of nepotism, shoved into a career by direction of higher-ups. i think lynch is suggesting something much darker, though. of course, that could just be diane’s dream justification for how her former lover’s success has blossomed while her own has not. perhaps that success is so inconceivable to her that she can only understand it as the result of some dark and convoluted plan. like cooper in twin peaks: the return, diane dreams a version of herself who can rescue camilla from those evil intentions. but like cooper, eventually, she has to wake up.

Esther liked this review