Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

An Oneiric Fugue: The Various Logics of Mulholland Drive

Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

An Oneiric Fugue: The Various Logics of Mulholland Drive

Article excerpt

When you sleep, you don't control your dream. I like to dive into a dream world that I've made, a world I chose and that I have complete control over.

-David Lynch (qtd. in Chion 168)

Approaching Mulholland Drive

PREDICTABLY, REVIEWERS HAVE CALLED David Lynch's remarkable Mulholland Drive (2001) many things it is not. They have described it as "chaotic" (Mathews 2). Several have characterized it as a "dead-end journey," "a head-scratcher" that lacks "continuity" (Verniere 1, Holden 3). Others have reported that its images and vignettes "mean nothing in a conventional plot sense" (Turan 2). Even those who have lauded it have counseled that viewers who "require logic" should "see something else" (French 1, Ebert 3). They are wrong, of course. Mulholland Drive is Lynch's most rigorous film. What has thrown the critics off is something viewers familiar with Lynch should be used to by now: the film is replete not with logic but with logics, which require viewers to hold multiple understandings in suspense. This is what an ideal Lynch film demands of its audience, and Mulholland Drive is Lynch's most ideal film to date.

The temptation when viewing a film of this sort is to call it illogical, for the word "logic" itself suggests a dialectical system aimed at a unitary truth. But Lynch's most innovative and structured films-Lost Highway (1997) comes to mind-refuse to satisfy the viewer's urge for a monolithic storyline, for a narrative impelled by a univocal intention. As a result, Lynch has over the years suffered at the hands of critics. Witness Lost Highway, which, as Adam Jones has noted, divided critics and bred reviews that "exhibited a tentative, confused, or even frustrated nature" (214).1 Regardless, the fact that Lynch's best films are not unitary does not mean they are irrational or, as is often thought, arbitrary. Instead, they are multiply logical. Hot for certainties, reviewers have claimed that the obvious openness of a film such as Lost Highway is tantamount to self-indulgence, disorganization, and, in a word, gibberish. Attitudes like these are perhaps one reason that Lynch supplies Mulholland Drive with such a densely unified narrative, one that, if confusing on a first viewing, quickly coalesces on subsequent viewings into an organic psychonaturalistic account, a seemingly unitary interpretation that depends on the film's explicit oneiric structure. Nevertheless, this clear narrative architecture is something of a red herring, for, on closer inspection, the film proves to be as open, as indeterminate, and as multiple as Lost Highway. In a sense, Mulholland Drive justifies its interpretive openness-and the pure aesthetic thrill of its intricate formal structures, variously self-reflexive, allusive, and fugal-by grounding this openness in psychological detail and the apparently monolithic narrative that such detail yields.

Before analyzing the various logics of Mulholland Drive, it is helpful to briefly summarize its narrative as a linear structure. This narrative splits in two. The first movement is the story of Betty (Naomi Watts) and Rita (Laura Elena Marring). Betty is a would-be actress from Deep River,2 Ontario, who moves to Hollywood to find Rita, an amnesiac car-crash victim who borrows her name from a Rita Hayworth poster, in her aunt's shower. Despite mysterious circumstances-$125,000 in cash and a bizarre blue key in Rita's purse, as well as a putrescent corpse (Lyssie Powell) in the apartment of Diane Selwyn, the one name Rita remembers-Betty resolves to help Rita find her identity without involving the police, whom Rita instinctively fears. Meanwhile, Betty begins trying out for roles. Two other threads, one involving an inept hitman (Mark Pellegrino) apparently searching for Rita and the other chronicling a miserable day in the life of film director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux), intersect via the shadowy magnate, Mr. Roque (Michael J. Anderson). Roque may control hitmen interested in Rita. …

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