The Dreams That Blister Sleep: Latent Content and Cinematic Form in Mulholland Drive

Jay R. Lentzner, Donald R. Ross

American Imago, Volume 62, Number 1, Spring 2005, pp. 101-123 (Article)

Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press DOI: 10.1353/aim.2005.0016

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Jay R. Lentzner and Donald R. Ross



The Dreams That Blister Sleep: Latent Content and Cinematic Form in Mulholland Drive
“The dreams that blister sleep boil up from the basic magic ring of myth.” —Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Introduction Few motion pictures have bedazzled, confounded, or provoked viewers more than David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001). Dismissed by Rex Reed (2001) as “a load of moronic and incoherent garbage,” but hailed by Philip Lopate (2001) as “compelling, engrossing, well-directed, sexy, moving, beautiful to look at, mysterious and satisfying,” it has garnered both some of the harshest epithets and some of the most lavish praise in recent cinematic history.1 Never intended as a theatrical feature, Mulholland Drive was conceived as a television pilot, but rejected by network executives after its first screening as “too dark and too weird” (McGovern 2001). For more than a year the project languished on the brink of abandonment, but it was ultimately acquired by a French production company that enjoined Lynch to transform it into a feature motion picture. The director recalls having had no idea how to proceed. Then, in a thunderclap of epiphany, inspiration struck him: “it was a most beautiful experience. . . . Everything was seen from a different angle. Everything was then restructured, and we did additional shooting. Now, looking back, I see that [the film] always wanted to be this way” (Macaulay 2001).

American Imago, Vol. 62, No. 1, 101–123. © 2005 by The Johns Hopkins University Press


especially when viewed from the perspective of a dream. however. Freud revolutionized our understanding by finding them to be purposeful mental communications linked to the happenings of waking life. While the nineteenth-century scientific community largely viewed dreams as nonpsychological phenomena. has found the movie to be so maddeningly incomprehensible.” Kenneth Turan (2001) dubbed the movie “a mystery that doesn’t want to be solved. This paper is based on the premise that the key to understanding Mulholland Drive begins with the recognition that its diabolically intricate form is a dream that obeys the rules set forth a century earlier in Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams (1900). Despite Lynch’s disavowals of interest in psychoanalytic theory. you fall in love. they resonate with unconscious meaning. . Others have concurred that the dreamlike design provides a gateway into the meaning of the film.” wrote one critic (Allen 2001). the convergence between Mulholland Drive and Freud’s royal road to the unconscious should not be greatly surprising. “The movie proceeds not with logic but with dream logic.102 The Dreams That Blister Sleep Lynch’s own coyness and teasing refusal to reveal much about the film has only added to the confusion surrounding his masterpiece. while a second described it as being “constructed entirely in the language of dreams” (Taubin 2001). Some have argued that it makes sense. who describes the plot as “a pretzel that never connects with itself. you wince. you cringe. The only problem is exactly what the hell happens in this movie?” Not every critic. His Interpretation of Dreams stands for the proposition that while dreams often appear to be inexplicable and bizarre.” writes Owen Gleiberman (2001). “Mulholland Drive has done him proud.2 Indeed. beholding this movie through the lens of Freudian dream-analysis throws it into sharper focus by revealing much of its hidden psychological complexity. but have found this pathway to be too difficult to follow. . you hold your breath. “Don’t look for answers in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.’ .” while Glenn Kenny (2001) quipped: “You laugh.” “If David Lynch’s goal is to baffle.” adds Jean Tang (2001). you mutter ‘Oh my God. .

At that moment. the film divides into two parts: Part A comprises the first two hours and represents the manifest dream content as experienced by the dreamer. As Frederick Lane. which are the keys to unlocking the dream’s latent content. Diane and Camilla began as two young. reveals a far more complicated mental state. This occurred when she was discovered by the hot young director. each of a different Hollywood type. Diane Selwyn (Naomi Watts). who cast her as the new leading lady both in and out of his picture. Mulholland Drive projects an otherworldly quality. ambitious actresses. Along the way they met. Not long after. in a Sunset Boulevard diner. From what can be pieced together from the Part B day-residue. she contracts with a hit man to kill Camilla. signaling the viewer’s passage into a Lynchian dreamscape. Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux). Ross The Movie as a Dream 103 From the first moment that the lights go down. Diane Selwyn’s dream in Part A follows the murder of Camilla Rhodes (Laura Elena Harring) and represents her deeply conflicted wishes in its aftermath. The sting of Camilla’s sexual rejection comes as Diane witnesses her brazenly kissing another blonde-haired woman and Adam unexpectedly announces his and Camilla’s wedding plans. Lentzner and Donald R. Diane is not only brought face to face with her former lover’s betrayal but is also forced to acknowledge her own static professional career. which then came unraveled once Camilla’s career began to soar. On a deeper level. however. Finally. at a dinner party at Adam’s Mulholland Drive home celebrating Camilla’s triumphs. Much of its meaning concerns her desire to undo and displace responsibility for Camilla’s killing. a psychiatrist who was interviewed by Tang (2001) for her piece in Salon.Jay R. while Part B spans the final twenty minutes and presents fragments of her day-residue along with both her preand post-dream waking reveries. in search of fame and stardom. formed a deep romantic attachment. “More than anything in this world!” Diane’s dream. Diane’s envy and jealousy turn murderous. the dream also reflects Diane’s conflicted feelings toward . she replies. When he asks whether she truly wishes to go forward. has argued.

like the dreamer herself. with her raw sexuality breaking forth to reveal a smoldering talent. However. amnestic. ordered to accept . dirty linen. who become mocking persecutory objects when she cannot disguise her failures. the camera snakes along the path of the rumpled. who smile back at her approvingly. Rita tries to escape from her troubles by retreating into sleep. before the full impact of this triumph can be registered. Betty is whisked away by a maternal casting agent to see a director “who is ahead of all the rest” with a project that. who in an earlier subplot of the dream is summoned to the office of the head of studio productions and. Betty’s audition turns out to be an unexpected tour de force. under an ultimatum from nefarious business interests. narrowly avoiding both a late-night contract killing and a tumultuous high-speed car crash along the winding turns of Mulholland Drive. Initially. which is at the center of the ensuing drama. Dazed. who. This screen memory quickly dissolves into a current dream-fantasy after a brief glimpse of Diane’s unmade bed. Mulholland Drive starts with colorful flashes from an adolescent dance contest with the superimposed photographic image of a triumphant Diane Selwyn standing alongside an aging couple. who opens the drama by averting death twice over. The panicstricken woman adopts the name Rita. plucky alter-ego. Betty Elms. At that point. The main plot of the dream concerns the adventures of Diane’s blonde.” The director turns out to be the brash and arrogant Adam Kesher. she “will kill for.104 The Dreams That Blister Sleep her parents. comes to Hollywood to pursue her fantasy of becoming a famous actress. mysterious Rita. but when this is unsuccessful she woodenly helps Betty rehearse for her approaching screen test. based on an off-hand glance at a framed movie poster featuring the sultry femme fatale Rita Hayworth. it is promised. whom she sees reflected back in the mirror along with her own image. the raven-haired beauty flees the accident scene and takes refuge in a nearby Hollywood apartment where the newly arrived Betty finds her naked and cowering in the shower. and yet aware of the danger that surrounds her. the lights go out and both the movie (Part A) and the dream begin. The dream also involves the misadventures of the glamorous. Ominously. then disappears into the darkness of her crimson pillow.

Adam initially refuses. Lentzner and Donald R. Adam jerks himself back into the moment and carries out the Cowboy’s instructions by awarding Camilla the star-making part. bolts from the movie set without looking back. Another exchange of soulful looks passes between him and Betty. and their lovemaking unleashes in Betty a torrent of passion. the two women end up sharing the same bed. and control of the movie—and which culminates with a starlit rendezvous with the venomous Cowboy (Lafayette Montgomery). Ross 105 the unknown actress. the recalcitrant but chastened director finally comes around. but following a Joblike day of hell in which he appears to lose everything—his wife. where reality and fantasy become impossible to distinguish. Betty arrives at Adam’s sound stage just as the audition of the inauspicious Camilla is taking place. It also brings the two women increasingly closer together both physically and emotionally. giving her a look not unlike her own. an eerie. where they attend a supernatural performance in the early hours of the morning. and their exchange of glances carries with it such electricity as to overshadow Camilla with its glow of movie magic. The women’s presence here leads to the discovery of a mysterious blue box. with a Cinderella-like turn. as the lead in his sought-after film. Their subsequent sleep is interrupted by Rita’s repetition of the word “Silencio” and by her ominous sense that things are awry. Rita prevails on Betty to accompany her downtown to the Club Silencio. which in this case turns out to be the bedroom of Diane Selwyn’s apartment. Later that night. Reluctantly. Camilla Rhodes.Jay R. As the camera makes its way into the recesses of this unfathomable blue . fortune. The hallucinatory interior of the club. The quest leads this pair into the heart of darkness. the opening of which causes them to disappear. the dream also changes course as the highspirited Betty rejoins Rita to search for her identity. Adam’s eyes follow her vaporous trajectory with abject and profound yearning. where they discover the dreamer’s rotting corpse lying across her bed. dilapidated theater. who then. Betty’s appearance causes Adam to become momentarily distracted. At this point. is like a dream itself. Betty helps Rita to disguise herself. With the aid of a blonde wig.

but instead arises from her bed looking dispirited and haggard. both professionally and personally. By the end of the movie. haunted by Camilla’s death. as confirmed by the blue key lying on her table.106 The Dreams That Blister Sleep receptacle. It is in what might easily be taken as an old-fashioned movie theater that Lynch leaves his audience. . It is at this point that she seems forced to recall the disquieting events leading to Camilla’s murder. like Rita in her dream. In the closing scene. where her dreams are finally laid to rest. and pyrotechnic cinematic art all dazzlingly merge. Diane loses all ability to distinguish between waking reality and oneiric fantasy. is nothing more than a delusion. the screen is once again thrown into darkness and the dream comes to an end. With the police knocking on her outer door. first glimpsed at the very beginning. Part B of Mulholland Drive begins with the same Cowboy who previously had delivered the midnight wake-up call to Adam now summoning Diane from her nocturnal slumber. With her depression deepening into paranoid psychosis. Mulholland Drive can therefore be summed up as the harrowing tale of a young woman’s descent into despair once the bitter taste of rejection forces her to realize that her dream of becoming an object of adoration. This joyful reverie quickly gives way to images of abandonment and loneliness that Diane seeks to counteract by self-soothing through masturbation. who represent her mocking parents. with the daunting task of trying to sort out what has just taken place in this convoluted phantasmagoria. the dizzied viewer is transported once more to the deserted stage at the Club Silencio and given one last glimpse of the site where reality. She. fantasy. she appears trapped in her dreary apartment. A series of flashbacks of sexual abandon with Camilla overtake her. The locus of her fantasies now becomes her death bed. was hoping that sleep might afford her some relief. silent and darkling. she ends her life after being chased back into her bedroom by terrorizing hallucinations of a Lilliputian elderly couple. Diane awakens with an unshakeable depression and haunted by Camilla’s murder.

writes Glen Gabbard (2001). to me. And it has to do with time and juxtapositions and all the rules of painting. analogous to the plastic arts of painting and sculpture. As is true of all David Lynch’s movies. And that’s what film-making.Jay R. Lentzner and Donald R. Painting is the one thing that carries through everything else. Ella Freeman Sharpe compared dramatization to “a film of moving pictures projected on the screen of our private inner cinema” (58). It’s just the beautiful language of cinema. There are words and there are stories. displacement. In an interview. Ross The Manifest Content of Mulholland Drive 107 According to Freud (1900). (Rodley 1999. one must undo the effects of these processes and work back through free association to the sources of the disguised elements in the manifest content. the mechanisms of the dreamwork transform the dreamer’s latent thoughts into a more primitive pictorial language that aids the censor in obscuring and concealing their meaning. is mostly about. Freud viewed this process as a regression to an earlier mode of thinking. “certain films defy conventional analysis and understanding unless they are viewed as dreams subject to condensation. 26–27) . but there are things that can be said with films that you can’t say with words. which reflects his early training in the fine arts. And that’s sort of what painting is all about. Mulholland Drive has an arresting visual style. and other elements of Freud’s dream-work” (8). Lynch has compared the nonverbal aspects of painting and film-making in a way that aids us in understanding the emphasis on primary-process mentation in his dreamscapes: There are things that can’t be said with words. To interpret a dream. In her classic work Dream Analysis (1937). he argued. Dramatization or concrete pictorial (plastic) representation is the essence of the dream-work and involves the conversion of latent thoughts into pictorial images. In a similar way.

Betty/Diane is relegated to a supporting role. It is even described in the scene where Betty. Displacement shifts psychically intense elements in a dream away from their original sources onto objects more acceptable to the censoring ego. One of the most elegant examples of displacement occurs in the exchange of names between Diane and the blonde waitress in . and competitiveness. Lynch uses this language of pictorial representations wittily to evoke associative links to his own past pictures as well as to other notable examples of Hollywood art. In the dream he becomes the espresso-drinking Italian businessman who had earlier spit out the coffee and excoriated Adam with bilious rage. This results in the conceit that Diane’s fantasy of becoming a movie star is not only inspired by the cinema but is also a reflection of the movies themselves. In the process. Perhaps the most obvious example of condensation in Mulholland Drive is the way that the dreamer’s entire acting career is telescoped into a single enigmatic screen test. in her effort to coax Rita to search for her identity. the dream at the center of Mulholland Drive is formed from a pastiche of other Hollywood movies and as such invites a kind of free association to popular culture. tells her they will don a disguise: “It will be just like in the movies.3 While visually arresting. This mechanism appears continuously throughout Diane’s dream in a variety of ways. seductiveness. On a deeper level. she becomes trapped by her dependency on Camilla/Rita/Mother. Betty’s love scene with Rita is also part of a much more complicated relationship between Diane and Camilla. Diane’s dream in part represents her unsuccessful efforts to free herself from constricting maternal attachments. Rita’s character may also synthesize aspects of the dreamer’s mother and rekindle childhood issues of dependency. Condensation is the process by which latent thoughts are combined in the manifest dream content so that a single figure or situation may bear qualities emblematic of a number of different counterparts in real life. Indeed. The rage that Diane feels when the full extent of Camilla’s betrayal finally becomes known to her is displaced onto a middle-aged man whom she sees at that same moment sitting on the other side of the room. While struggling to break out as a leading actress.108 The Dreams That Blister Sleep In Mulholland Drive. We’ll pretend to be somebody else” (italics added).

A further aspect of symbolism can be discerned in the palate of Lynch’s dreamscape. Rita’s amnesia. the identity of Camilla Rhodes is displaced onto the blonde-haired woman whom she kisses at Adam’s dinner party. her attempts at concealment and physical alteration. and Rita (in a wig)—all look alike enough to confuse the movie audience and thus keep the dream censor off-guard as well. her unspoken love of Betty and general inability to express herself. Freud. Ross 109 the Sunset diner. The blue key. and other containers as symbols of female genitalia. serves as a symbol of Camilla’s death. however. it seems more compelling to equate it specifically with Diane’s dream.Jay R. and her link to the “Club Silencio” all serve to associate her with death. Betty. and to see it as capturing the paradox of its ultimate mystery and bottomless nature. purses. which both unlocks and deepens the mystery. while darker reds and blacks are linked to Camilla and Rita. to whom she bears a close resemblance. Indeed. viewed boxes. In the dream. Lentzner and Donald R. In Diane’s dream.4 It is therefore comprehensible that the unlocking of the blue box should come at a point in the dream sequence shortly after Betty’s sexual awakening and the unleashing of her passion. the various blondes—the waitress. with pink and pale tones being associated with Diane and Betty. Lynch again uses lush shades of blue as emblems both of mystery and of the loss of innocence. the pearl earring lost by Rita at the time of the near-fatal car accident becomes linked to the pearl-filled jewelry box that Adam desecrates out of rage over his wife’s infidelities. No symbol in Mulholland Drive is more prominent or initially more bewildering than the blue box discovered by Betty inside her purse.5 . The Cowboy and the dark. misshapen figure behind the Hollywood diner are harbingers of Diane’s own demise and symbols of her self-destruction. As in Blue Velvet (1986). Symbolism in dreams also serves to disguise and replace unacceptable latent abstract thoughts with less threatening visual images. and it is also symbolic of Diane’s wish to despoil Camilla’s genitals for her sexual betrayal. Rather than construing the box as a generic Alice-in-Wonderland rabbit hole.

. The enigmatic Cowboy whom Diane also spies on the far side of Adam’s dining room as he hastens to make his exit returns in her dream to become yet another powerfully menacing presence. and transformed into their opposites. The woman stares back brazenly with Camilla’s lipstick markings clearly visible across her lips. in her dream these feelings are displaced. In Diane’s dream. who later makes polite.110 The Dreams That Blister Sleep Sorting Out the Day-Residue Freud’s discovery that dreams are cobbled together from the scraps of day-residues is central to appreciating the manifest content of Part A in Mulholland Drive. At the party. The sober-faced Italian gentleman who is glimpsed by Diane sipping a cup of espresso on the other side of Adam’s living room is transformed in her dream into an intimidating studio investor whose rage toward the director is a projection of her own. Coco. Diane is greeted by Adam’s mother. blunted. In Diane’s dream. This same character substitutes in a pivotal early scene of Diane’s dream for the dreamer herself. knowing inquiries into Diane’s tale of Hollywood sorrow. Upon her arrival at the party. serving as a projected expression of her guilt and fears and desire for undoing. Diane’s experience both at Adam’s dinner party and in her subsequent meeting with the hit man introduces many of the characters who figure in her dream and it informs our understanding of its displaced affect. While Diane reacts at the party to all these events with a steely anger. this same woman is recast as the blonde Camilla who is forced upon Adam and whose lip-synching audition leads to the role in his movie. Similarly. in the dayresidue scene at the Hollywood diner where Diane contracts with a hit man for Camilla’s murder. Coco plays the role of the solicitous apartment manager who counsels Betty following her arrival in the city. there is a fleeting moment just after the money changes hands in which her glance wanders across the room and meets the doe-eyed gaze of a male customer as he is standing at the register innocently paying his check. Diane locks eyes with a blonde-haired woman who at that same moment is planting a sensual kiss on Camilla’s mouth.

It is a declaration of hate and a confession of love. but awakens to find herself unchanged. Freud’s premise that dreams are the disguised fulfillments of repressed wishes is at the heart of Lynch’s movie.Jay R. the origins of which can be traced to early childhood. Diane’s desire to flee reality through sleep is expressed in her dream by the concussed Rita: “It will be okay. Doubtless this reflects Diane’s own uneasy awareness that sleep as a defensive retreat has failed her. Freud regarded the simplest wish-fulfillment of dreams to be their satisfying of the desire to sleep. Rita is gripped by a nightmare in which she talks aloud in the throes of fitful slumber.” Diane’s dream in Mulholland Drive weaves a narrative tapestry that expresses her latent fantasies and agonizing unconscious conflicts. Diane’s dream represents a desire to redress childhood hurts and to repair her bond with a narcissistic mother. . Diane’s dream is not only a plea for penance but also a wish for punishment. Near the end of the dream.” she is met with Rita’s fierce protests. From a genetic standpoint. When Betty awakens and attempts to reassure her friend that everything is “okay. Ross The Latent Content of Mulholland Drive 111 Central to Freud’s understanding of the function of dreams is the notion that every dream represents a disguised fulfillment of a repressed wish (1900. he considered that dreams gratify through fantasy our unacceptable instinctual wishes. Rita makes a series of attempts to escape into sleep. At a deeper level. In short. if only I can sleep.” Following her accident. after her evening of lovemaking with Betty. She longs to rid herself of this alluring competitor and to merge with her in a transcendent union. with the distortion of the dream-work serving to ward off both the inner and outer disturbances that threaten to awaken the dreamer. 121). With a depth and complexity that rival Freud’s famous “Irma Dream. and thus serve as a safety valve for discharging such impulses. Lentzner and Donald R. It is both a statement of her desire to destroy her more glamorous and successful rival as well as a wish to abrogate those feelings of envy and jealousy.

Rita also produces an ornate blue key. There sits in the same spot an embarrassed man who finds himself compelled to confess to having “had a dream about this place. Other attempts at undoing occur in the apartment of Betty’s aunt when Rita reaches into her purse and. here playfully named “Winkie’s”—in a pun on the act of sleeping—where Diane had plotted Camilla’s murder.” His dream is terrifying and conjures up the specter of a ghastly face. Dreamer: He’s the one who’s doing it. Betty’s efforts throughout the dream reverse the dreamer’s murder of Camilla through her intrepid caring for the childlike Rita and the assistance she renders Rita in the search for her identity. pulls out three stacks of tightly wrapped onehundred-dollar bills. (italics added) . with the implication that as long as this emblem remains in her possession rather than where it was supposed to be at the time of Camilla’s death. I can see his face. Other Man: So. Dreamer: To get rid of this god-awful feeling. you came to see if he’s out there. an amount that appears to be several times greater than that handed over by Diane in the diner. The scene shifts to the Sunset Boulevard diner. that is sensed to be lurking behind the building. by depicting the hit man as a hopelessly inept bungler who loses the trail of the missing woman. to everyone’s astonishment. I hope that I never see that face ever outside a dream. But perhaps the most powerful expression of Diane’s wish to undo Camilla’s murder involves a male dreamer haunted into retelling his dream within her dream.112 The Dreams That Blister Sleep Diane’s dream is also designed to exculpate her from the responsibility for Camilla’s death. then the actress continues to live. [smiles] That’s it. Later. I can see him through the wall. The assassination attempt on Rita is aborted at the very outset of the dream by a deadly car collision that miraculously leaves her as the only survivor. Diane’s dream further serves to deny and reverse the reality of Camilla’s murder. The episode occurs early in Diane’s dream. Rita’s possession of the money means that the payment never happened. probably the dreamer’s own. immediately following the failed attempt on Rita’s life.

Betty confides: . Diane struggles to substitute a more pleasing fantasy in place of this harrowing specter. Diane’s wish to achieve popular and artistic success is also given clear expression in her dream-fantasy. an altruistic. who spends much of her time befriending Rita in a doomed attempt to undue Diane’s murderous feelings and behavior towards Camilla in waking life. merely represents what the dreamer wishes. Ross 113 As Freud argued. while the continuation of the dream. and so confirms the discovery that dreams are wish-fulfillments. the true recollection. She accomplishes this by conjuring up Betty. To include something in a “dream within a dream” is thus equivalent to wishing that the thing described as a dream had never happened. when the act of dreaming becomes the subject of the dream itself. self-sacrificing. 338) Diane’s male alter-ego expresses her wish both to forget and to reverse her murderous actions. While admitting she is a guest in her Aunt’s lavish apartment. It is safe to suppose. on the contrary. this implies the most decided confirmation of the reality of the event—the strongest affirmation of it. the dreamer’s exuberant alter-ego is moved to reveal her own ambitions. idealized version of herself. therefore. In other words. The grotesque figure who remains fixed in her mind’s eye and looms uneasily at the rear of the diner represents her displaced sense of self-loathing and fear of retributory vengeance. Lentzner and Donald R. if a particular event is inserted into a dream as a dream by the dream-work itself. (1900. In the portions of the dream that follow. that what has been “dreamt” in the dream is a representation of the reality. the material is of special significance: What is dreamt in a dream after waking from the “dream within a dream” is what the dream-wish seeks to put in the place of an obliterated reality. Shortly after Betty’s arrival on the Hollywood scene and her discovery of Rita cowering in the bathroom shower. The dream-work makes use of dreams as a form of repudiation.Jay R.

of course. Ontario.” Perhaps. I’m discovered and become a movie star.6 And now I’m in this dream place. Diane’s dream represents a compromise-formation between her id impulses to destroy Camilla and her superego constraints tempering these urges for vengeance. If Diane can’t have Camilla. remains largely displaced and stripped of its affect. While reciting her lines. Unless. You can imagine how I feel! (italics added) This confession provides one of the clearest statements of the design in Part A. in this play within a play. the hit man travels the back streets of Hollywood making inquiries about Rita’s whereabouts. Another indication of the dreamer’s underlying hostility occurs in the scene where Rita helps Betty prepare for her screen test. Rita’s narrow escape from death twice over in the opening moments of the dream. calls for her. sort of why I came here. The script. Adam responds to his wife’s infidelity by pouring a canister of pink paint over the pearls that she keeps in her jewelry box. the dream equates Rita to a common whore. Of course I’d rather be known as a great actress than a movie star. is an ever-present portent of the danger in which she finds herself. Thus. and her ominous sense of being pursued. I hate us both. the dream is saying. to cry out to her acting counterpart.7 . searching for leads among the local hookers. a symbolic genital defiling of the unfaithful Camilla. word is tethered to the action. I’m just so excited to be here. Betty notes. I guess you’d say. Her murderous rage. “I hate you. It reveals Diane’s unbridled yearnings to get ahead. but sometimes people end up being both. when Camilla jumps from Diane’s bed to Adam’s. then nobody can. and that is.114 The Dreams That Blister Sleep I could never afford a place like this in a million years. in a torrent of tearful emotion. Diane’s destructive impulses toward Camilla are manifested also in other portions of the dream. Betty brandishes a butter knife in Rita’s direction and with a theatrical flourish threatens to kill her. and the strong regressive and narcissistic forces at work in her dream as well. I mean I just came here from Deep River. while present throughout the dream. and within both lurks the truest expression of the dreamer’s sentiments. And yet.

while the full-figured Rita is a throwback to such 1940s femme fatale icons as her namesake Rita Hayworth. But it is not until Betty’s actual screen test that her talents emerge in a wishful fantasy that is both hypnotic and arresting.Jay R. One’s panic triggers in the other a similar alarm. she succeeds in capturing everyone’s attention and outshines the efforts of the darkhaired. for the remainder of their time together. In Diane’s dream. Lentzner and Donald R. Later that evening Betty and Rita make love. This is illustrated in the dream-fantasy where Betty is seen rehearsing for her screen test with the amateurish Rita woodenly cuing her lines. After Rita allows herself to be transformed by Betty into her platinum-wigged Doppelgänger.” she surprises even herself. both women embark on a quest for identity. the two women stare questioningly at their converging images in the bathroom mirror. prompting Betty to respond with a mocking expression of gratitude in a voice reminiscent of Garbo. they head off to the Club Silencio and. “You’re really good!” coos Rita. One’s tears are reflected in the other’s eyes. The mysteri- . When “it gets real. As the awe and excitement generated by her audition work their magic on the small audience. heads touching. Thereafter. are so synchronized in action and manner that distinctions between them seem no longer to exist. their differences begin to fade. at the time of their chance meeting they appear emblematic of antithetical Hollywood types. While the two dream-women are of similar age and striking beauty. The earnest. Beyond Diane’s desire to surpass and destroy Camilla. hands clasped. unidentified actress who had auditioned for the part just before her. Ross 115 Diane’s malignant envy and wish to destroy Camilla are replaced in her dream by a less venomous desire to neutralize her rival by pushing her out of the way. signifying a progression of their physical and psychological merger. her dream-fantasy reflects primitive yearnings for merger. Rita’s amnesia allows Betty to assert her own ambitions while at the same time making use of Rita as a source of support. in matching hair styles and in similar dress. and as their journey leads them down the same path. Together they sit huddled in the smoke-filled theater. wholesome Betty represents a cross between the 1950s stars Doris Day and Grace Kelly.

The psychological dissolution of one woman presages the demise of the other. taking on both protective and persecutory functions. and he casts a look of such palpable yearning as to leave little doubt that. Although Diane’s parents are never explicitly mentioned. Indeed. she would be the one whom he would want in his movie. so too Diane’s dream rationalizes the lack of success in her career. the dream excuses her failure to become a star as the result of unsavory studio politics. wishing her a fond farewell. is in the company of the grey-haired. were he not otherwise constrained. and retribution.116 The Dreams That Blister Sleep ous blue box that Betty pulls from her handbag is unlocked by the equally ominous blue key that Rita retrieves from her purse. In the Part A fantasy sequence. Diane is seen standing in the background of Adam’s production set staring sullenly as Camilla and Adam rehearse a romantic interlude. the director is forced to accept Camilla Rhodes. the elderly couple who are paired with the blonde-haired ingenue in and out of the dream function as parental figures. when Betty first walks onto Adam’s sound stage. The subplot involving the calamitous day in the life of the brash young director not only provides a pretext for Diane’s inability to achieve stardom. her presence wholly distracts him from the Camilla surrogate. as she arrives at the Los Angeles airport. who up to this point has been her traveling companion. but at the same time satisfies her wish to punish Adam for his complicity in unsettling both her professional and her personal life. In the Part B day-residue. even though Diane’s dream makes her appear to be the lesser talent. Just as the Irma dream explains away Freud’s professional derelictions. the connection between them in the mind of the dreamer is deep. Irene embraces Betty with open arms. The maternal attachment of the older woman to the younger one appears fulsome and idealized. Despite Betty’s electrifying screen test and ability to capture Adam’s attention upon her arrival at his set. doting Irene. complex. and impossible to deny. In the end. and pledges to keep a close eye on her . reversal. Our first glimpse of Betty. Adam’s selection of Camilla over Diane and his coming between the two women both professionally and sexually are played out in the dream through fantasies of denial.

Later. another parental pair shower her with affection. alas. The artificial quality to the airport scene suggests that the dreamer’s desire for parental love and approbation is more a wish than a reality. although these are masked through heavy distortion. the dream also expresses a deep sense of revulsion and desire to punish herself for all that she has done. whom he introduces as “the best casting agent in town but. while the “dream-within-a-dream” sequence at Winkie’s represents Diane’s wish to undo Camilla’s murder. This notion is reinforced in the next dream segment where this same couple. antiquated movie producer is reunited with his former wife. and the man is a taciturn janitor. he treks compulsively to . guns down two middle-aged office-workers. The male dreamer-within fervently hopes that he might never again look upon the face that he knows is staring at him behind the wall at the back of the diner. someone we can’t afford. Diane’s dream hints at her hostile feelings toward her parents. Thus. during Betty’s auspicious screen test. and pull the ingenue in opposite directions. Diane’s dream constitutes a compromise-formation between her warring id and superego agencies over the consequences of her murderous actions. The woman is an obese. possibly representing Diane’s debased parental surrogates. Their attentions seem both gratifying and uncomfortable. As we have argued. before ambling away with her shadowy husband. Ross 117 even in their separation. Most notable is the scene where the hit man. on the trail of the vanished Rita. undergo a sinister change in demeanor and delight in some wicked joke that appears to be at Betty’s expense. it also conveys her dread that this is impossible. While aspects of the manifest content provide veiled glimpses of Diane’s wish to deny her complicity in Camilla’s destruction. however. perhaps the superficially random nature of these crimes serves as a cover for the dreamer’s sinister wishes. Lentzner and Donald R. Overwhelmed by guilt.Jay R.” Both producer and agent fuss over Betty following her star-making performance. foul-mouthed cleaning lady. This occurs when the fatuous. now seated in the back of a luxury car. While both murders appear to be gratuitous and to involve two innocents who happen unluckily to find themselves in the hit man’s path.

All of these incidents speak to Diane’s unpardonable guilt and her wish for self-destruction. But no scene in the dream provides a more telling indication of this desire than the one where Betty. following her break-in at the apartment of Diane Selwyn. it represents “not only an important clue in this . the dream turns from id gratification to superego punishment. At that moment. the studio head who seems to control all these nefarious machinations without issuing any explicit orders—all of this gives the dream a haunted. As Betty turns to run. the frame shudders as if to symbolize the shockwaves of anxiety pulsing through Diane’s own body. who appears in the night at Betty’s door to advise her that “something bad is happening” and “someone is in trouble. There is also the Cassandra-like premonition offered by the black-veiled interloper. Diane’s entire dream enacts the same fateful trajectory. juridical. and the scene ends in his collapse and death.118 The Dreams That Blister Sleep behold that fearsome specter. The Club Silencio Sequence: Where the Real and the Fantasy Meet The centerpiece of Lynch’s dreamscape in Mulholland Drive is the phantasmagoric interlude that takes place at the Club Silencio. the cascade of telephone callers pressing for information about the missing woman’s whereabouts. Rita is stirred from the depths of a restless sleep and issues a similar warning. comes face-to-face with the dreamer’s rotting corpse and recoils at the ghastly spectacle. Despite its lush-colored tones and optimistic leitmotifs.” Later in the dream. The persistent knocking at the dreamer’s apartment door. there are deeper chords of foreboding and despair. the nondescript men lurking in the shadows behind the wheels of unmarked cars.” notes one commentator. as indeed befalls the dreamer. The sinister Cowboy also admonishes Adam that anyone who does “bad” will see him thrice. Louise Bonner. persecutory quality. “Certainly the pivotal sequence. Indeed. signaling the retributive lengths to which the dreamer soon will go when she takes her own life upon awakening.

On the contrary. It is all an elaborate fake. The scene occurs in a dilapidated. they are psychical phenomena of complete . when the lights go down and the viewer is lured into the hallucinatory projection. Ross 119 puzzle. most heartbreaking moments in contemporary cinema” (Freeman 2002).Jay R. in fact. On the “other scene” of the movie screen. Just prior to this disquieting drama. her singing continues uninterrupted. or any one of a number of instruments. is playing. in both literal and metaphorical senses. “that encapsulates the main themes of the film and Lynch’s recurring concerns as an artist.” notes Mike Nichols.8 In The Interpretation of Dreams. a maniacal-looking impresario steps forward to explain how theater is built on trickery. “A motion picture is a dream. A movie involves drawing on your unconscious in the same way that dreams come out of the unconscious” (Pettet 2003.” writes another. this is it” (Chaw 2001. There is no orchestra. he intones. half-empty cabaret theater where a lip-synching Spanish singer belts out a soul-wrenching a capella rendition of the Roy Orbison ballad “Crying” before collapsing dead on the stage. In the spine-tingling theater of the Club Silencio. they do not imply that one portion of our stores of ideas is asleep while another portion is beginning to wake. Although on one level the mystery being celebrated here is that of sound-image synchronization or. 24). “When you see it. Freud sounds a metaphoric note similar to that of the impresario at the Club Silencio: Dreams are not to be likened to the unregulated sounds that rise from a musical instrument struck by the blow of some external force instead of by a player’s hand. see also Chappell 2001). the craft of movie-making. Lentzner and Donald R. Lynch is also exploring the production of dreams. they are not absurd. where none. the effect is like that of being submerged into a dream-state. you are in the dark. they are not meaningless. “If there is one scene. You may hear a trumpet. Even as the woman’s body is unceremoniously dragged away. but one of the saddest. The preternatural happenings on the blue-lit stage of the Club Silencio are at once cinematic special effects and dreamfantasies. the line between reality and fantasy blurs in much the same way as it does in the dream itself. more generally.

when rightly interpreted. it offers a portal to the other side of the grave and a baleful reminder of Camilla’s death. The message of the club that reality cannot be distinguished from artifice represents a desperate reactionformation against this nascent clarity. Conclusion As this paper has tried to illustrate. At this juncture. they are constructed by a highly complicated activity of the mind. represent communications of high import and definite meaning. This appears to be at variance with Lynch’s nihilistic challenge to the distinction between fantasy and reality. 122) Freud was convinced that dreams. the censor is overwhelmed by a rush of anxiety that causes the dreamer to awaken. reality and unreality are finally starting to come into focus. As Diane draws increasingly closer to embracing her awful secret. particularly exemplifying the precepts of wish- . and denial. Despite her best efforts to escape through sleep. (1900. they can be inserted into the chain of intelligible waking mental acts. It illustrates many of the cardinal tenets of The Interpretation of Dreams. If all is illusion. All that is left is Diane’s psychotic decompensation and her final act of suicide. there is no longer a safe place in the dream for her to hide. the Club Silencio is anything but quiet. then where does the border between dreams and our waking life lie?9 The Club Silencio sequence occurs when the dreamer’s defenses are beginning to crumble. If all is an illusion. Yet Freudian theory allows us to apprehend the happenings at the Club Silencio as Diane’s last desperate attempts at projection.120 The Dreams That Blister Sleep validity—fulfillments of wishes. reversal. Diane Selwyn’s dream in and of Mulholland Drive is a master class in Freudian dream theory. Uncertainty and confusion give rise to panic and possibly a glimmer of insight. With the death of the cabaret singer. Despite its name. then so too is Camilla Rhodes’s death no more real than the demise of the Spanish singer whose voice continues to be heard despite her collapse upon the stage. in recognizing her failed career and her act of cruel murder.

org Notes 1. Like many an aspiring soul who has come to Hollywood in search of the promised land. . Still other 2. Baltimore. It is no accident that Diane’s surname. While failing to recoup even half of its fifteen-million-dollar production costs during its United States theatrical run. Lentzner and Donald R. but like the now-forgotten Selwyn Brothers she finds herself eclipsed by more towering figures. the film failed to receive Academy Award nominations in any of these categories and was dismissed by host Whoopi Goldberg as an inexplicable curiosity. is linked to the early film pioneer Samuel Goldwyn. CA 90815 jlentzner@pol. and the ingenuity and pyrotechnics of its screenplay. Selwyn. and Boston. . which led to the founding of Goldwyn pictures. . David Lynch’s movie is also a piece of sublime tragic art. the movie earned Lynch his third Academy Award nomination for Best Director along with shared directorial honors at the Cannes Film Festival. Lynch’s heroine reaches a dead end in Babylon with her dreams transformed into nightmares. 1475 Bryant Drive West Long Beach. hypnotic score. . the same hit man hired to kill Camilla triggers a chain-reaction of burlesque violence leading to the deaths of two unsuspecting office workers that pays homage to Pulp Fiction. Chicago. Interviewer: Are you familiar with psychoanalytic theory? Lynch: Not really. 3.Jay R. And in a subsequent dream fragment. Charles St. Like Goldwyn. The scene in the conference room where Adam comes face to face with two Mafia business types who present him with an offer he can’t refuse comes from The Godfather. Diane strives to be the producer of her own dreams. In an interview in The Village Voice (Lim 2001). MD 21285 dross@sheppardpratt. whose name was sutured together from his collaborations with the Selwyn Brothers. lush cinematography. Do you pay much attention to them? Lynch: No. the “unflappably tight-lipped” director responded to the following questions: Interviewer: Your work has inspired many psychoanalytic and academic readings. which follows the trajectory of human emotions from blissful hopes and youthful desire to abject dissolution and loss of innocence. I don’t read them. It was awarded Best Picture by the National Society of Film Critics. Ross 121 fulfillment and intrapsychic conflict at the heart of the underlying Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Health System 6501 N. as well as by leading critical groups in New York. Despite being lauded for its powerful acting.

Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive both employ a hallucinatory style to probe beneath the façade of conventional normality. its first object. For a scholarly exploration of how dreams have been used in movies. it would occur to us at once that caskets are also women. the Deep River apartments are the domicile of another lost woman-child. haunted protagonists. and therefore of a woman herself—like coffers. In a more sardonic vein. Bertram Lewin (1946.1.122 The Dreams That Blister Sleep parts of Diane’s dream bring to mind Chinatown and other hard-boiled noir films of a still-earlier era. 6. she is counseled by the enigmatic director not to play it like it’s real “until it becomes real. then Diane’s dream is also a counterfeit and Camilla Rhodes is dead. but they arrive at very different destinations. In a narrower sense. Jeffery Beaumont and Diane Selwyn. cases. 8. where this same idea is given poetic expression. just prior to Betty’s screen audition. 354). While Dorothy’s journey is one of adolescent growth and integration.” In a world where illusion and fakery are the coin of the realm. Freud discusses the symbolism of boxes in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and King Lear: “If what we were concerned with were a dream. In Blue Velvet. 4. Freud (1900) believed that every dream contains a “navel” (111n1. Dorothy Vallens. Her yellow-striped road leads to a loss of mind. 9. rekindling traumatic feelings of enmity and passion toward both parents. see also Freud 1900. see Eberwein (1984). Their odysseys evoke not only sexual desire but also fantasies of murder and revenge that are played out in their dreams and given conscious expressions in both movies. The youthful. Mulholland Drive invites comparison to The Wizard of Oz. are each drawn into a detective hunt that propels them back into the heart of childhood darkness. Given that the hooker in this scene extracts a cigarette from the same shirt pocket of the hit man from which Diane brings forth the blue key. 5. baskets. heart. how can any such advice be of value? If the voice of a Spanish singer is no more real than the disembodied notes of a glittering trumpet sounded without a player. and finally to a despairing death. 1948) was among the first psychoanalysts to see affinities between dreams and movies. symbols of what is essential in woman. Diane’s results in role confusion and psychotic decomposition. The orphaned female protagonists in both Mulholland Drive and the 1939 classic embark on a dream-quest leading them over the rainbow. and the location represents a terrain of sinister foreboding. Betty replies negatively to Coco the landlady’s inquiry about whether she owns a dog. the Club Silencio sequence functions as Lynch’s allegory of the unreliable nature of dreams and cinematic artifice. See also Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (4. 1109–15) and Atkinson (2000). a movie repeatedly referenced by Lynch both in tribute and as savage parody. and courage. boxes. Indeed. Earlier in the dream. Lynch’s clue that Diane Selwyn is no Dorothy Gale comes in the scene where. In “The Theme of the Three Caskets” (1913). Perhaps most of all. . As Freud drew an analogy between sleep and the return to the womb. 525) that makes it impossible to interpret fully and serves as the point of contact with its unplumbable reaches. the dreamer may well be feeling that she has sold herself out as well. upon arriving at her Aunt’s courtyard apartment. For further incisive analysis of Blue Velvet. Perhaps this is the realization that causes the dreamer to awaken. Lewin linked the “screen” onto which the dream is projected to the nursing infant’s view of the mother’s breast. see Kael (1986. and so on” (292.206– 24). 7.

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