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Why/Haven’t I/Told You?

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Did you know that you could easily spend the rest of your life reading net-musings about Lynch’s Mulholland Dr.? Last year, I contributed some words of my own to the tower of babble–but I’m back for more, thanks to Mark K-Punk:

The ‘standard’ interpretation of Mulholland Dr claims that its first two-thirds are the fantasy/ dream of failed two-bit actress Diane Selwyn, whose actual
life is allegedly depicted, in all its quotidian squalor, in the final
section of the film. This would underscore MD’s striking similarities
to The Singing Detective, whose complexly-interacting narrative
lines are weaved from the fantasies and memories of the convalescent
pulp author, Philip E Marlow (Michael Gambon). Yet such a reading is
ultimately unsatisfactory. As Timothy Takemoto argues, (you have to scroll down to his piece, ‘Double Dreams in Hollywood’) to see the second part of Mulholland Dr as real is inherently conservative in its assumption that there is an unambiguous reality to which we can ‘return’.

Following Zizek, Takemoto suggests that what MD presents is not an
exposed ‘reality’ but a ‘grey fog’ of competing, incommensurable
realities, from which desire and will are never extricable. (An
homologous case is Kubrick’s near-contemporaneous Eyes Wide Shut, which is standardly interpreted as entirely the dream of the protagonist, Tom Cruise’s Bill. What this reading of Eyes Wide Shut has in common with the dominant readings of Mulholland Dr
is a confidence in the possibility of parsing reality from desire, a
distinction which both films disturb, as the very title of Kubrick’s
film indicates).

Where was Mark back when Charles and I were having it out in the threads? Clearly, I share his hostility to the Wizard of Ozzing of the film. We’re a strange species–the only thing we like better than a mystery is a solution (especially a hard-bought one). Unfortunately, the only way to  secure that final-Grail piece is to sell the quest short. You know there’s always something missing. You know, because what’s missing is "you".

This is the age of the second person singular–and we missed it.

We always do.

Mulholland Dr. is its prophet and encomiast.

Play it. Watch it. Play it again. There’s no stopping it, really… Oh sure, life goes on–but there’s no shaking that prison-bar pause sign, once you’ve succumbed to this film.

What I find strange is that none of the fascinating pieces that I’ve read (and I’ve barely scratched the surface, of course) really does much of anything with–for me–the key scene. Oh sure Silencio is breathtaking, that first conversation in Winkie’s lays the foundations for a free-fall and Diane hooked by the phone is intense…but the heart of the film beats somewhere between here
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and here:

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and what song is playing during this charmed interval?

I make up things to say on my way to you,
On my way to you, I find things to say.

I can write poems too, When you're far away,
When you're far away, I write poems too.

But when you are near, my lips go dry,
When you are near, I only sigh, Oh, dear.


I've told ev'ry little star,
Just how sweet I think you are,
Why haven't I told you?

I've told ripples in a brook,
Made my heart an open book,
Why haven't I told you?

Friends ask me:
Am I in love?
I always answer "Yes",
Might as well confess,
If I don't they guess.

Maybe you know it too,
Oh, my darling, if you do,
Why haven't you told me?

"I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star" (composed by Jerome Kern, with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, and deliciously bubble-gummed by Linda Scott) The scene comes exactly halfway through the film, and it’s more of a turning point, as far as I’m concerned, than the belated switch-over between Betty’s tale and Diane’s. Up until this moment, we’ve been splitting our time between following Betty & Rita’s screwball sleuthing and Adam Kesher’s bizarre game of "High Noon" with fate. Many people have identified the director and the actress as two aspects of the same dreamer, and I’m right on board with that, so far as it goes–but where exactly does it go? I mean, there it is–the actor (or purposive self) being seen in the way that every one of us wants to be seen (as a ray from the heavens), and the director (or interpretive self) catching that lightning in a looking-glass bottle…but the much anticipated moment of integration never comes! These two halves remain have-nots–Betty has to leave to keep her date with Rita (a date which will bring them face to face with Diane’s corpse) and Adam is compelled to refocus his gaze upon the lip-synched spectacle on stage, an elaborate cue for him to speak the much-rehearsed line: "this is the girl".

And that’s it…third-person triumphant!

Forget about not being able to tell "you" what you’ve always wanted to say…these two candidates for "wholeness" never even meet. As Derrida would say, no letter (especially not a love letter) ever reaches its destination. Each of us spends our entire lives trying to reduce that third person by one–and ramming our heads into "the girl" or "the boy" of our dreams. You can’t tell the "whole truth" to a person that you aren’t directly addressing, and no one has ever found that Northwest passage to "you".  The "shortcuts" (like the one that Camilla unveils to Diane after pulling her from the limo on Mulholland Dr.) aren’t even paved with good intentions, but they do lead straight to Hell (which, Sartre to the contrary, is most definitely not "other people".) 

And that brings me back to the twin fantasies of pure communion (in love and in hate) that the film offers us–the first in Betty’s impossibly poignant declaration "I’m in love with you" (the very expression of which exposes the unreality of her story and her supposed interlocutor) and the second in the consummation of Diane’s plot to kill the (sublime) object of her desire… After each of these events, there is only Silencio–and the stark emptiness of a  box that isn’t a box, but an airlock, sealed against the vacuum of radical otherness. There isn’t anyone that wouldn’t give their lives to be sucked up into that space–to address those emotions, at long last, to the appropriate place–but the words die still-born in a void. That’s why "I" haven’t told "you"–and maybe it’s a lucky thing too!

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About David Fiore