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“There’s a man… in back of this place… He’s the one… He’s the one that’s doing it”

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Somehow, I managed to avoid seeing Lynch’s Mulholland Drive until earlier this week. I don’t know why. These things just happen. Anyway, I’ve atoned for the lapse–four times now!


Thinking about this movie has been very good for me–it’s a wonderful example of what a great storyteller can do with narrative structure (studded with lyrical moments, of course!) and it sure beats the hell out of pondering the whims of the American electorate…


I concur with the Flak magazine commenters’ broad outline of the film, which you can download here if you haven’t heard it–they don’t say anything staggering, but it’s smart and fun to listen to! So Mulholland Drive is the Wizard of Oz in reverse…


Still, there’s more to this film than that… Interpreting “Betty’s” adventures as “Diane’s” “fiction-suit” protection against the rigors we are exposed to by the last half-hour works, there’s no question about that, but I don’t see why you have to stop there. There’s no place to call “home” in this movie.

Seems to me that there’s an overwhelming tendency, amongst critics and other analytical folk, to privilege the “sordid” over the “sentimental”. But that’s nonsense. Both are human constructions. There’s nothing more “real” about a strung-out tinseltown casualty than a wide-eyed ingenue sleuth. One of the major themes of Darkling I Listen (and I’m trying it again–in something called Chimera Lucida) is the connection between romantic comedy and film noir–the fact that these two widely disparate genres affect me in very similar ways…



So why are we so sure that Diane’s story is the “base” and Betty’s is just “false consciousness”? Isn’t it merely because most of us put up more barriers against happiness than despair? Who’s to say that Betty/Diane isn’t dreaming both parts of the film, after winning that jitterbug contest in Deep River Ontario? (I love that opening sequence by the way: it’s like a Rorschach test made out of music, colours, and energized bodies–and isn’t that what life is?) Nightmares are dreams too.

From where I sit, the only “real” things in this film are the blue key, the blue box, and the homeless “man” that’s “doing it”. The key is imagination, the box is experience, and the creature behind “Winkie’s” is the director/artist, who strives in vain to adjudicate between these two hopelessly irreconcilable things.

The truth of this film is spread across both of its “parts”. “Life” is an uninhabitable planet. Narrative is artificial atmosphere that enables us to walk upon its surface. That’s why Grant Morrison’s concept of the “fiction suit” is so apt. But, as Emerson knew, there’s no way to bring “it” nearer to ourselves.


I think my jaw dropped permanently during the wordless encounter at the studio between “Betty”, Adam, and “pseudo-Camilla”, who is auditioning for the role of “love interest”. The scene is dominated by crazy Old Hollywood closeups of intense longing and Linda Scott’s maudlin/profound bubblegum version of one of my favourite Jerome Kern songs–“I’ve Told Every Little Star” (why haven’t I told you?). But you can’t tell the Other how you feel about her/him/it, and you can’t even express these feelings very accurately to yourself.


So “opening the box” isn’t just “waking from a dream”–it is, literally, death. Whatever’s in there cannot even be thought by human beings–despite the fact that getting in there is pretty much all we think about! The way of “optimism” and the way of “despair” intersect at the abyss (although, as Camila notes, the second way is a “short-cut”!), and Lynch’s vertiginous transition between narratives at the Utopian moment of expected fulfilment (after Betty and Rita have found the box together) is one of the most incredibly affecting evocations of the Sublime in the history of cinema. Without all of this preparation, the Diane scenes (masturbating, deliberating in the darkness about whether to accept Camilla’s purred invitation, the walk from the car to the party, her quiet breakdown at the dinner table, and her suicide: the nightmare counterpart of Betty/Rita’s lovemaking–both are the logical climaxes of their respective narratives, and neither succeeds in rescuing the dreamer from the necessity of dreaming!) wouldn’t have nearly the impact that they do.


I’ve been reeling from the experience all week!

Happy Guy Fawkes Day Friends!

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About David Fiore

  • Eric Olsen

    excellent review, very thought-provoking – your view that both portions are dreams makes more sense than anything else I’ve heard. Dawn and I were absolutely entranced by the movie until the disconnect, and then, I especially was livid that the narrative structure (so skillfully laid out) and tension (so artfully created) was violated.

    Our fulminations here.