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A Multi-Layered Analysis of Mulholland Drive

A Multi-Layered Analysis of Mulholland Drive

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Published by IWantToBelieve8728

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Published by: IWantToBelieve8728 on Sep 03, 2008
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05/09/2014

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A MULTI-LAYERED ANALYSIS OF “MULHOLLAND DRIVE”
 
OVERVIEW
Like so many others, I thought the movie Mulholland Drive was an inspired work. The power of it doesnot just emanate from its eerie and mysterious atmosphere, its taste for conspiracy and intrigue, and itspoignant love story which ends tragically in betrayal, murder and suicide. The force of the movie comesacross in the way most scenes are able to communicate on many different levels at the same time. This,in effect, challenges you to tease apart the significance of the multiple layers if you are to reallyunderstand the message at the subtext of the story. And just as the metaphorical structure at the subtextof the story is difficult to grasp, the context of the story at the surface level is also a complicated andpuzzling challenge. As in other works by Lynch, there are serious plot twists and shuffled timelines thatforce the viewer to do some work to decide what the chronological sequence of events in the story reallywas. But this movie doesn't stop there. Even with a reasonable chronological story line, the logic of theevents is still very illusive. The true genius of Mulholland Drive is in the way that it employs an intricatelanguage of symbolism and metaphor that would give even a complex novel a run for its money.Because of how thick and richly textured this movie is, most reviews of it focus on explaining the plottwists and how the characters are interwoven with one another so that they can make sense of the basicstory line. And by doing this, the reviews often de-emphasize the need to understand how to decipherthe symbols and metaphors that are major driving forces in the movie. However, that approach can beproblematic because without a method for interpreting the symbolism, the basic story line is easy tomisread. For instance, two of the major symbols in the movie are the blue key and the blue box. But youcannot totally understand these symbols without understanding why they are blue since symbolic colorsare a major device running through the entire movie. Even blonde, brunette and redhead hair colorshave special significance. And there are scores of other symbols as well. Names, references to otherfilms, artwork, plot devices, special props, ordinary items like telephones, and certain articles of clothingamong other things are also important to deciphering the context and the subtext.With that said, I think there are many different depths to which you can go in an analysis of this film. Inmy attempt to be as thorough as possible, I have written an analysis that digs very deep, and in doingso, I have probably gone into more detail than most viewers of the movie would care to attempt. So, likeLynch, I have decided to provide a multi-layered work for those who are interested in betterunderstanding the film. In this review, I will begin by presenting a surface level contextual interpretationof Mulholland Drive which I believe is very approachable for the casual viewer. In it, I will make very littlemention of Lynch's abstract symbolism and his extensive referencing of other works, and I will not dig
 
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into the philosophical subtext of the film. Next, in a more detailed way, I will describe my method ofreasoning through the meaning of the symbols in this movie after I describe what I believe is some of thebackground and motivation for this work. In my view, looking at the background and motivation giveimportant clues concerning how to unlock the symbolism, and this will require that I touch on somerelevant historical details. After doing this, I will present what I believe to be the chronological life story ofthe protagonist, which is obscured and hidden in the complex narration. I will then go over the scenes inthe order that they are presented in the movie with a fuller explanation of how I interpret whateversymbolism I believe is involved. And then, after all that, I will address David Lynch's "10 clues tounlocking this thriller." Finally, my conclusion will attempt to pull together a coherent interpretation of theheart and soul of this masterpiece, explaining why I believe the film can move a viewer so powerfullyeven if that viewer does not fully understand the logic of the core narrative.
AN INTERPRETATION OF THE BASIC NARRATIVE
Mulholland Drive is a story about a woman named Diane Selwyn who is experiencing an extreme mentaland emotional breakdown. For reasons that become progressively clearer, her life has reached a point ofdesperate crisis that has driven her into a suicidal depression. The most apparent cause of herdeteriorating condition is guilt over a horrible incident she recently set in motion. Diane is a Hollywoodwannabe who fell in love with another aspiring starlet. However, after the two of them become involvedwith one another, at some point Diane is jilted and humiliated by this woman, and so she hires a hit manto murder her estranged lover. Once the deed is done, Diane descends into a downward spiral of guiltand despair. The first three-quarters of the movie explore a dream that Diane has soon after she haslearned about the death of her lover. The last quarter of the movie occurs after Diane wakes up and thenexplores her memories of the weeks and days leading up to the killing in the form of flashbacks. Diane'sflashbacks reveal to us actual events that occurred in her life, while the fantasy story line takescharacters from her real life, gives them new identities in most cases, and weaves them into a fancifuland passionate conceptualization of her internal conflict. Because of the fact that the fantasy occursbefore the reality segment, the two may seem distinct, but you need to see the end to understand thebeginning. And yet, in many ways, the fantasy explains the reality as well. As we see the fantasy andreality story lines played out, we come to realize that there are many complex issues involved that arequite mysterious and that are profoundly important to understanding the forces that shaped Diane'stragic life.In Diane's mind there are so many conflicting emotional crosscurrents that she is having trouble sortingeverything out. Indeed, if we were to look into her mind and give these different crosscurrentspersonalities of their own, it would be like entering a society full of strange and enigmatic characters
 
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battling over what to do with Diane Selwyn's life. And in fact, that is what we do by entering the fantasyworld that Diane dreams up after falling asleep in the beginning of the movie. We enter her mind at apoint during which various characters--or more precisely various personas--in her mind are trying to killoff one of the major personas who is patterned after a woman whom Diane loved in the real world. Thiswoman has played a central role in Diane's life, and the woman's persona in Diane's mind is now seenas the source of all of Diane's problems by some of Diane's other personas. To some of these personas,Diane's life is like a movie production, because in the real world becoming a movie star in Hollywood isvery important to Diane. The persona that the others hate represents a woman that Diane had loved sodeeply that her persona had been the star of this production for some time now, and the personas thatattempt to assassinate her are interested in replacing her with someone else. We enter Diane's fantasyworld at a point right before the assassination attempt, when the hated persona is traveling upMulholland Drive, the fabled road that leads up a hill where important personalities in the movie businesslive. The hill is almost like Mount Olympus to Diane, because the people who live on that hill are likegods in the movie business, and now the hated persona is heading up there to try to become one ofthem.This is where the fantasy begins, and from there the plot thickens. The assassination attempt failsbecause of a car accident, but the hated persona is driven down the hill, injured and unable to rememberanything. The other personas are now able to go on with their movie making without her, and as theybegin to fight over who to re-cast as the next lead, some nefarious personas are still out looking for thehated one to try and finish the job. And a couple of other personas are curiously drawn to a place calledWinkie's where there is some kind of monster living in the alley behind the store. We do not learn aboutthe nature of this beast and why it is behind Winkie's until near the end of the movie.As the fantasy gets underway, it turns out that the personas in Diane's mind are about to have a visitor.Right before the real Diane Selwyn fell asleep, she was struck by an important memory that is nowinserting itself into her troubled fantasy land. Her memory had to do with her younger years when shewas the winner of a Jitterbug contest in Deep River, Ontario. At that time in her life, she had an innocentand somewhat naïve personality that is all but gone now in her current disturbed mindset. However,somewhere deep inside Diane's mind there is the desire to bring back this innocent persona, because itis seen as the key to survival for the suicidal Diane. In the real world, Diane has bought a gun andplaced it in a drawer next to her bed, and she is considering using it on herself if she does not find areason to live again. In contrast, the innocent persona of her past was enthusiastic about life becauseshe was filled with a passionate dream about becoming a Hollywood movie star. And perhaps even moreimportantly to the current day Diane who feels bitter and unloved, this innocent persona of the past whowas so full of hope, also felt deeply loved by Diane's dear departed aunt. Therefore, in a last ditch effort

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