Mulholland Drive ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Mulholland Drive is a film directed by David Lynch, an auteur that has had a very great career since the 70s when he made his feature film, Eraserhead. The film is hard to explain, but at its most simple, easiest to comprehend level, it’s about an actress that moves to Hollywood to find a mysterious woman inside of her aunt’s apartment. The woman also suffers from a case of amnesia which further complicates things. They then try to figure out who the woman is, and the two women discover their world isn’t as it seems as the bubbliness of Hollywood morphs into a very nightmarish world. This essay will have spoilers because it’s impossible to discuss otherwise. By using surrealistic dreamlike circumstances, winding a biting satire of American society, and exploring ideas such as gender and sexuality, David Lynch creates a world filled with ambiguity that we can analyze through critical theories such as Freud’s psychoanalysis, Marxist criticism, and lesbian, gay, and queer criticism in order to perceive our world in a different way.

Lynch builds a very unsettling atmosphere throughout the entirety of Mulholland Drive. While the atmosphere is definitely noticeable after the midpoint of the film, it’s present throughout the first half as well. This creates a very surreal and dreamlike scenario. A city of stars, the fame bubbling over, creating a very shallow surface, but Lynch’s surrealistic style always reminds the viewer that something is below this bubbly surface. Trauma. Pain. Something is there, and he’s not revealing it to us. Not just yet. This relates to the theory of psychoanalytic criticism because it’s digging into our protagonist’s trauma. Her name is Betty Elms. She starts out as a bubbly person, almost innocent, almost perfect. Fake, like plastic. But when she meets the amnesiac woman, Rita, her character begins to deepen. We start to see her become uncertain. Rita’s a catalyst for the unearthing of Betty’s repressed trauma. And what is that trauma? Betty wants to take part in mystery. She wants to do something with her life. That’s why she became an actress. She wanted to be someone else. The two women begin building a strong bond which isn’t quite platonic. Betty sees Rita as an opportunity for herself to change. To evolve as a person. And she does. She latches onto Rita, wanting to feel affection. And this dreamlike world eventually allows her to feel the affection she so desires. She’s able to conquer the underlying fear of intimacy and abandonment soaked inside of her. This explodes later in the film. Mulholland Drive later reveals that the media is an illusion. There is a scene at a club, Club Silencio, and this club scene is one of the most important scenes in film. It dissects the manipulativeness of the media. It shows that everything we see in film is just an illusion. This is like the psychoanalytic criticism because it shows how film uses illusions to allow trauma to come forward, just as dreams use safe people as a way to unleash trauma. Film and dreams are very similar. They both provoke similar responses from people. This is especially true later on in the film. We realize the entire last part of the film, the last hour and a half, was literally an illusion. A dream. An escape. Betty is not a person. She’s what a person wished to be. And that person, the dreamer, is Diane Selwyn. A woman soaked with trauma. She has a fear of abandonment, unable to let go of another woman named Camila Rhodes. She cannot let go. And this leads to self destructive behavior that turns Mulholland Drive, which once was a mystery, into a harrowing tragedy. We can see the fear of abandonment practically on Diane’s face as she imagines the good times with Camila. This makes the moment where Camila publicly abandons Diane so much more powerful and effective.

Betty and Diane are two sides of the same person. They’re almost opposites in where they end up. Betty is bubbly, happy, and gets what she wants. Diane ends up hopelessly alone. Crushed by the system. This is where the satire comes into play, this is where the Marxist ideas enter the story. Diane is blinded by the American Dream. She can’t see past it, at least not until it crushes her and leaves her devastated, at the brink of self destruction. Marxist criticism shows that this is because of the individualism of capitalist thinking. She won’t succeed because it’s very rare for people to. And that hope of succeeding is what leads to a person’s downfall if they don’t have the classist backing to possibly succeed. And Diane didn’t have the backing. She was abandoned. She had no help. Her girlfriend left her for a man. She was burned at every corner. She was humiliated publicly. This is the satire. And it’s not a funny satire. It’s honest, biting, and cruel. It’s realistic. Betty is the American Dream, and Diane is our reality. Mulholland Drive shows that Betty is simply not achievable because people are not perfect, which Betty seems to be at first. This is why the second half of the film is so real and harrowing. It’s harrowing because it’s not just a dream anymore. It’s the nightmare that is real life. And that won’t change because capitalist society doesn’t care about people, it’s about capital. Not people. Diane loses touch with humanity at the end of her film. And by losing her humanity, she loses herself to the all consuming machine that is capitalism. She takes two lives.
During the second half of Mulholland Drive, the film is more open with its themes of gender and sexuality, more about sexuality though. It shows how sexuality can be used as a tool to gain more power. Rita/Camila does this outside of the dream. She sleeps with a director named Adam Kesher, and this allows her to gain a higher place in society. Sexuality is one of her weapons. But then there’s the other side to it. Her relationship with Betty/Diane. They love each other, and it’s that love that ultimately leads to both of their deaths. Mulholland Drive shows how the heterosexual love in the story is used to attain power, and the lesbian love in the story seems to be actual love. But it’s that actual love, rather than the heterosexual power move kind, that is ultimately most destructive. This is very interesting because it explores why people often fear intimacy. And the film uses Diane to show how the fear of intimacy also can stand side by side with the fear of loss and abandonment. And all of Diane’s fears come true because of the society that she lives in. The system takes everything from her, even her love, and even her life. The ideas of heteronormative love lead to her downfall because she isn’t able to ascend in power like Camila does with the movie director.

All of these ideas show that while David Lynch directed the film, Diane Selwyn almost also did it as well. He made the film, but it’s almost like she directed it. Because it’s her fears. Her fear of abandonment. Her hate of our society. Her dreams. The manifestation of her trauma in the present. Film is a brilliant method for communicating critical theories to audiences because they won’t always notice them. But when they do look for these messages, they are there, whether it be intentional or unintentional. And these messages sometimes contradict as well. Marxist ideas have a larger scope than Freud’s psychoanalytic ideas, but that’s good for these films because they open up the viewer’s eyes to a better understanding of the human experience which is very paradoxical.

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