Rev., Jan 6, 2017.
Disclaimers: There are no spoilers here, as a screening of the movie before any of this makes sense is assumed.
It seems opportune that I screen Mulholland Dr. (2001), just as soon as I expand my musings in dream theory to an ancient and even Roman dimension. In my musing on movies, and in conjunction with the fact that six years I was told I never have deep REM dreams anymore, and yet something was still going on in my head when I was in light sleep, I devised a staged model of sleeping which parallels scientific dream theory at present, but also has strong parallels to Macrobius’s phased notion of sleep in the ancient era. According to this model, there are five stages of sleep, entoptic, glass onion, lattice, whoosh and deep REM sleep. This, I have explored endlessly over the past few years. Then, I discovered that somehow the language of the modern movie was imbued with this secret knowledge in ways that art and literature was not, and the question then is, why, or how? I would guess that because it was a visual moving art with parallels to dreaming, as noted by Belting, this lead to these micro internal explorations of the shifting nature of eyesight as it muses on this or that. And yet in the formalist regime, a visual critical system parallel to the material-rationalist world we live in, most of the dream involvement of movies is treated only superficially, if at all, and people are always after the fact, and need an explanation. In addition, it has now occurred to me that movies are populated by a whole cast of stock characters who serve as ushers or gatekeepers to the phases of the dreaming as the movie fluctuates from one stage to another, and that these figures are parallel to the guardian figures that the ancients also apparently believed presided over the stages of sleep, and were also positioned within the labyrinth of sleep (I have figured that there are between 34 and 54 figures that show up in a creative odyssey in dream thinking in a movie). Finally, on the basis of all this, I began to note that the art of the Roman sarcophagus was stylized to accommodate the veils of consciousness as they surrender to death (confirmed by Platt), and one passes from life to death, and these phases were imagined by the Romans as parallel to dream stages, meaning to them death was a dream, but then at bottom it did bottom out into a concrete place, where true death takes place.
All of this now coalesces in a moment to allow me to make an attempt to unlock the mystery of Mulholland Dr. (2001), David Lynch’s ultimate statement on the Hollywood dream. I think that the movie demonstrates that Lynch has a pagan imagination, that he envisions the phases of sleep as consisting of different states of consciousness, that he also imagines each phase introduced by a figure of a godly or demonic sort, and then represented by an avatar of the dreaming self. It also strikes me that the overall obsession of the movie is with death, and that since it is apparent that when Betty and Rita break into apartment 17 to find a body on a bed that has decayed and it later turns out that that body is Betty’s, when she was Diane, sleeping, but, then, killing herself
that the whole movie can be mapped out as a disjunct representation, on its surface, with lots of fluctuations and forkings, of the dream of a suicide. It could even be said that, even more extremely, that the movie traces the disappearance of consciousness in the dying mind of a person who has just shot herself to death (in that sense, one of the most painful explorations of the horrible question, I wonder what they really is like, those first few moments after death?). This seems like a radical conclusion, and it may be off a bit, but it would seem that in general the movie bears this out.
To work out the structure of the movie, one has to first simply grab onto some moments where scenes in one scenario parallel to those in another, and thus acts as ‘clues’ to figure out what is going on. This is done only by having seen the movie previously, where one’s mind can loop back and put two and two together, when in the viewing they are not put together until the second recurrence of the image happens. Here are the parallels I have devised thus far.
Early on, Rita is in a car being driven to Mulholland Dr., and there is a crash as some kids in hot rods come barreling down the canyon, crashing head on
that same shot is then repeated way at the other end of the movie when Diane shoots herself, and the room explodes in magic smoke
The smoke then clears to a sighting of the blue witch, a classic hag attack, I believe a harbinger of death
the witch has shown up previously at the end of the odd sequence in Winkie’s, the diner, where the unnamed man with the eyebrows tells of a dream, and that he is afraid of something behind the diner, and back there, we find the witch
later a variant of the witch shows up at her door warning her of trouble, Louise Bonner played by Lee Grant, and accompanied by Ann Miller, all veteran actors
then later the witch shows up after Diane meets her hitman to order to the killing of Camilla/Rita, she is the custodian of the blue box, which shows up several times
it is related to a blue key, which first shows up when Betty and Rita look into Rita’s purse, to see who she is, and out comes some money, and the blue key
the blue key opens the blue box
the blue witch and the blue key appear to be related to the blue haired elderly woman sitting in the opera box at the mysterious performance Rita takes Betty to at two o clock in the morning
and, indeed, it is right after that, when they get back, that they look at the blue box the most closely in the movie and put the key in
and open the box, there apparently being nothing in it
but then the box drops
and the movie experiences its biggest “break” or plug pull, as the dead aunt now presumably comes into her apartment, having occupied it all the time, wondering of a haunting, if she had not heard people, and so it is suggested that Betty and Rita’s possession of Betty’s aunt’s apartment was entirely a fantasy in the mind of Betty, and the movie now breaks back to the “real Betty” which is Diane, an actress come to Hollywood to be famous, but who is having a terrible time, made worse by the fact that she appears to have had an affair with Camilla/Rita, who has now dumped her, and is kind of torturing her. But we will get to that second break, at the dinner party, in a bit.
All of this suggests to me that the blue witch is the presider over the threshold from the lattice, the whoosh down into deep dream, but then since this is a nightmare, the splat figure hitting bottom, to bounce out of dream in a nightmare panic wakeup, and the blue box is more or less the mechanism by which the plot moves from the dimension of the sleeping body to the surfacing to reveal the real life experiences that the dream has tried to evade or obfuscate. And yet she is also, since REM is not here, a threshold figure to death, perhaps then the personification of Diane’s sleeping body as it bears down on itself to then die. Since the smoke at the end of the suicide reprises the smoke at the beginning of the drama, the accident that hurts Camilla, this could even be construed as a suicide’s dream, or an imagining of the draining away of consciousness in the head of a suicide, in figurative sort of way. By this circular scenario the first trip up Mulholland Dr. is a figurative evasion, transferred to Rita, the gun shot that suicides her.
But then the smoke and the passage up Mulholland Dr. also bespeak a whoosh too, and so that level must be filled in. Here, too, though it is not worked out entirely, here, I would argue that, in terms of the dream phases in which the movie takes place, the sleeping body of its framework waking to higher and dropping to lower levels as the movie progresses, and even looping out into adjunct spaces when, momentarily awakened, or lightened up, one’s rational mind momentarily kicks in to want to explain and rationalize why a figure is there, the Betty-Rita fantasy is the working out of the symbolic glass onion phase, Rita/ Carmilla is of course the lattice that the mind of Betty/ Diane obsesses on (so this is, all of it, a lesbian revenge breakup story), then the whoosh itself, the vertiginous falling, this is less well worked out, but I will argue that the space that occupies this zone is the oddly placed diner, which is surprisingly central to the workings of the dream logic of the movie, for having such a cryptic and incidental role in the consciously-perceived proceedings, and then we drop straight to the palace of death, and that would be the Twin Peaks man in his glass enclosure, the mob boss like God pulling the strings, and then even the Silenzio blue haired avatar of the blue witch who presides over the dying moment.
Getting back, then, to connecting tissues, back to the diner, we see it a few times. Early on there is a strange, unexplainable scene, which seems, like so many of Lynch’s dream sequences, to go on too long, of a strange character explaining a dream, in the diner where the dream takes place. The diner is Winkie’s on Sunset Boulevard. The place helps lame critics to easily link this movie up with Sunset Boulevard, the movie, but Winkie’s is perhaps a diegetic wink at them for thinking that, and bespeaking the blinking that occurs as one moves from one phase to another.
he tells the dream
and there was another guy over by the counter
then he claimed that there was a man in back of the place, who could see through the walls, and it made him very afraid, and that was the whole dream. But it also means he takes him out back
and they go down a whoosh
and there is a specific haunted place in the alley behind
and it is there that he sees the witch which causes him to faint
later on, we see the killer that Diane will hire, with a prostitute, walking behind the same sort of place, if not the exactly the same place (in dreams one rarely returns to exactly the same space and one’s memory is impaired)
and then later after Betty takes Rita off on an exciting film noir caper to find out who she is, calling up the police to see about an accident on Mulholland Dr., then meeting up, reading the newspapers, just like in the movies, in the diner, in the same seat, apparently, as the earlier figure sat
she notices that the waitress looks familiar, and is named Diane
and it is at the diner that Rita says, I remember something, a name, Diane Selwyn
but it is very shortly before that that Betty returns to find Rita sitting on the edge of the bed, crying, and in the crying, close-up, she apparently falls for her, and will now go out on the caper with her, to find out who she is
and it is at this point that Lynch again very slowly and carefully in close-up emblematizes in microcosm a hidden fact of the story in the unzipping of the bag, making it, by that slow mo treatment, a symbol of private parts between them
and in the bag is the money
and face of an old man, or man
and the key
and then for the last time we return to the diner, she is Diane, and ordering a hit against Camilla, from the sleaze we have seen a few times before (in what I would classify as momentary-waking-explainings of his presence in an adjunct space)
and she looks up to notice that the waitress’s name, who looks nothing like her at this point, is Betty
Camilla is represented by a head shot, which she wants her shot in the head, or her breaking up and betrayal
and here too there is a blue key involved
and when she looks over to the counter, she sees the man we saw earlier explain his dream and his fears of that place, staring at her, she’s creeped out
to then return us, in that alley space in back, to the witch
from this zigzag weavings of connectives I would argue that as the sleeping-dying mind of Betty-Diane is fabricating a fanciful dream version of her life in Hollywood, to exonerate herself of her failure, and cleanse herself of the awful feelings that have overcome her, she has at the plug-pull or “break” moment of the movie a night panic, which is not exactly a hag attack, but possibly related, and related no doubt to the Ephialtes terrors of the nightmare leapers (see Roscher), in which in panic the whole thing explodes in her mind and she realizes with horror the what have I done? reality of things and is utterly despondent, the kind of panic, using forced by depression, and then teleological thinking, that ends up in a suicidal moment, and, for that, the eyebrowed male figure is also a threshold figure, but he is the equivalent of Mercury, believed by the Romans to be able to pass between life and death, and therefore often depicted on the sarcophagi of both men or women opening the door between the zones, thus leading her to death, or the recognition at least of the crime she committed that now in guilt leads to her death, and he exists as the threshold figure at the entrance into the whoosh, and the crime of the diner might be the whoosh flattened out, and it is he who ushers her to death, the blue witch. It is also wonderful to me that Lynch catches on that these figures that represent for example “death thoughts” exist in the dream-structure of the brain in very specific places, often even externalized into places of ill repute, in the real world, and thus the early scene where the man at the diner talks about the stark unexplainable fear of a figure behind the wall, he is bespeaking Diane’s fear and shock that she actually did this, it is the scene of the crime, guilt over which will propel her suicide.
So, the diner is the symbolic space that hosts the whoosh, the crime, and it is the event of this crime, that she wants most to forget. She is filled with rage and regret, gall and guilt, really, completely messed up.
There are two ways to go from having landed at this juncture, in an adjunct sacred spot in the wild space outside the fantasy diner. When we see the witch drop the bag with the blue box in it, dropped as if some fish and chips in the alley, there is a strange object next to it
(again, this has always been Lynch’s linchpin space, in terms of his particular visual genius, detailed emblematic microcosms that bespeak other elements of the movie)
the other object is the lid of can of soda or beer, meaning that somehow the blue box has been envisioned from, and is now being cast back into, alleyway garbage, as might be tossed out by clients leaving a diner
but the truly truly Lynchian wtf moment here is he then makes use of that can-top to envision in a hallucinatory way two little figures
this then cuts back to the blue key, but now it is on the table of Diane’s apartment
she stares at it
but with such attention that there is a close-up, and then it goes further, she, afraid, haunted by what she has done, sees the same little people crawl in under her door
there they are, two little old people crawling under her door
she closes her eyes, hoping it will go away, aware that some sort of hallucination fueled by turmoil in the liquid in her entoptic eye field has caused her to see this horrible thing
This miniaturized sequence, that then goes macro, is made plausible, and fronted, by a previous sequence in which, alone as Diane in her rundown apartment, she imagines that Rita is there, with her, and this sequence too fluxes from micro to macro. She is awoken by knocking, and it is the neighbor wanting her stuff back, but she sees the blue key, and hears that two detectives are looking for you (meaning that they suspect she had something to do with a killing)
then there is a close-up of the coffee machine, and its red light must’ve activated in her a capacity to envision Rita, because she is there
but then she disappears, but, just as quickly, is there again, and it is a very frisky scene that is imagined, as topless Diane sportily crawls over the top of the couch to Rita at this point playing the role of nothing but the figuring out of the couch
the ability to touch her perhaps figured out by the piano tschotke that is still on the table, indicating this as taking place earlier
but then this breast to breast lesbian fantasy, or memory, is broken up by the fact that after being entirely receptive and open and lying around topless Rita announces that this is it, we can’t do this anymore
and then Diane seems to try to get rough and even rape Rita, accusing her, it’s him, isn’t it, she is furious
and after having given a startling performance of her bright and happy faces, Watts now offers us some truly dark faces, and after an intervening insult of revelation of the way it is on stage, she is back in the apartment, and making ugly faces indeed
and even laboring very, very hard, almost with fury
and we discover that she is masturbating, hard, desperately, trying by this imagining to get Rita back and to fixate on her, and if by magic like to like, to arouse her further down her own pants
she fixates on the gap between the rocks of her wall and the ceiling, a little dark gap that I presume she is imagining as Rita’s crotch, and by that likeness come
this then marginal crawlspace fixation evocative of madness and setting up the plausibility of her also seeing the little people come in from under the crack in the door, a place so rich in horror history as a trope of evil (I also want to point out that though in general I believe Lynch has progressed past the polarized modernist model of conscious versus unconscious, and waking versus dreaming, ignoring all the spaces between, by that dual binary model therefore demonizing as psycho or mad all the crawlspaces between the two, and it was in fact in the context of that model that I first explored crawlspace, as psycho space, in the early 90s, and later in art began to appreciate a more nuanced view of such space by way of the art of Polly Apfelbaum and, more or less, with My Secret Business, Kiki Smith, this site was exactly the space that Smith herself first found evidence of crawlspace parsing of mental dream space in her art, and here is Lynch doing the same thing, in his fluxing forever between extreme detail and lifesize living), but then the two are in the room with her, coming in close up, terrifying her
she completely freaks out, and in classic horror movie trope way, they chase her down her dreammaze halls, she backing off in hysterics
and is so pushed over the edge that without thinking, in pure instinctual panic, she jumps on her bed, everything blue
grabs the gun in her drawer next to the bed, puts it in her mouth, and pulls the trigger
to which we again see her body, dead, lying in the blue smoke
shockingly, for those wishing to follow the movie in a rational way, the figures that in miniature crawl out of the disposed bag with the blue box of death in it, and under her door, then to become life-size and haunt her in a classic hag attack, literally a nightmare panic attack, as, in fact, Ephilates, are the people she arrived in Hollywood with, when she was all golly gee aw shucks pure and innocent Betty come to Tinsel Town to be famous
and this arrival is so picture postcard perfect that she arrives to a sign
and they wish her well, and bon voyage
but, then, surprisingly, the camera stays with the couple, we don’t know who they are, and we see the world out of their back seat
and they are beaming, not just smiling but beaming, all teeth, all smiles
and with the smiling woman in particular, with all her teeth (or dentures) showing
we then cut to the Hollywood sign, and realize that she he is the personification of the Hollywood sign
and that she represents not just the Hollywood sign and therefore all the innocent dreams of ingenues come to town, but the Hollywood dream as projected from Diane’s aunt, or even grandmother, from way off in Ontario, and therefore a Hollywood dream that by 2001 is about 70 years old, and this accounts for the odd opening title sequence of the antiquated jitterbug
and seeing Betty as a dreaming idealistic projection onto that antiquated dream space
but then we descend into a pillow (it’s right there, for those who will not see that this is a visualized dream narrative) we descend face forward into a pillow, meaning all of this is something going on in the mind of Diane-Betty as she is sleeping
and the Hollywood of idealism and dream and Tinsel and glamour is instantly replaced by its darkside twin, Mulholland
but then she arrives at her fantasy old Hollywood apartment, and it is even run by a still robust 1930s star Ann Miller, all done up in pearls with that old 30s showgirl moxy
then Rita is amnesiac in the formulation of her dreamwork, and thus has to be patched together with references to Gilda and Rita Hayworth
and we see the sign again when we break from the director meeting the cowboy, to her and Rita trying to figure out who Rita is, and getting into the whole caper
then she goes off, with all her smalltown girl naïve gestures of moxy to the audition
and we end with her spirit exulting over the lights of Los Angeles
and see that she is accompanied now by other dancers, one of them Rita (making it possible that the nice old lady who ushered her in, then scared her to death, was the prototype from which Rita was fashioned as a fantasm)
all of this means to me that the two old people who usher her in to Hollywood are not only personifications of the Hollywood sign, but personifications of a dated Hollywood dream and, as such, I place them as the ushers at the threshold of dream leading her into the glass onion fantasy phase of her evasive cover-dreaming to erase from her memory the plot she undertook to kill.
But, then, to wrap up with trying to identity all the threshold figures that occupy the various forkings or branchings of the dreaming mind that oversees and frames the whole proceedings, there is also the cowboy, and the mob boss who is trying to make sure that Camilla gets the job. First, with the cowboy. He is one of these strange Lynch personfications that mystify critics, and have no realistic role in his movies. But they serve as dream figures or guardians of the gate as they help the mind of the dreamer of the movie to navigate through the movie. If the Hollywood Sign elderly people are the ushers into the glass onion fantasy stage of the movie, then I place the cowboy at the bottom of the fantasy leading out of it, into deeper stuff. He is such a clichéd figure, and speaks in oracularly cryptic ways, that he can only be that figure in her head that will not let her forget Camilla. We first see him in a very adjunct way. In one of the segments of the movie that I liken to a brief awakening from a dream, to then set the rational mind temporarily to work to try to rationalize it, we follow the director on some errant imaginings of what his life must be life (but all of it Diane thinking what he had to go through to cast her, or not), and after he has walked in on his wife fucking, then got beat up and thrown out by her latest lay, then had to go to a crummy hotel, then had all his funds stopped, a cryptic assistant who offers him her body for the night (she has the same whimsical elf-eyed oddness as the desk clerk played by Alan Cumming in Eyes Wide Shut, a very curious manner, that movies exploit a lot), he has to drive up to the end of a canon to a corral, a glass dream extenuation space, to find him.
and he tells the director, after some narcissistic insistence, to choose the right girl at auditions tomorrow, meaning presumably that he was hired by the mob boss and those dealings to make the point in the guise of a hit man who, crazily, is such a killer that he dresses up as an old fashioned Tom Nix Hollywood cowboy, and meets people in out of the way places to say cryptic things to him. And he says, if you choose right, you will see me only one more time, but if you choose wrong, you will see me two more times. It is hard to determine what exactly means. I took it to mean that if you choose wrong I will be the last person you see, I will come to kill you. But it is also to remember all of this is going on in Diane’s mind, so he can be read as an avatar of her will to kill Camilla, a figure to fixate on Camilla. I would also relate him to the biker at the diner who after accepting the money, says that it will be done. So, he is the figure that tells her, through the director, in her dreams, if you forget about her, you will survive, but if you choose to fixate on her, and never get over getting dumped by her, you will see me twice more. And, in fact, we do see him twice more. Later on, just after the blue box has fallen on her aunt’s carpet, and the movie “pulls the plug” and now we come in one Diane lying in the place of the dead body on the bed in apartment number 17, and before she wakes up, we see him standing at the door, watching her
so he is the break figure that represents the impulse that weighs down and destroys her fantasy evasions by reminding her that she is still obsessed with Rita/Camilla, and can’t get away from it. And then we do see him one more time, in what must be a wtf shot to most viewers, and maybe even to all but Lynch, but at the dinner party, at the table, when she is taking a lot of hits to her ego, having to explain herself as she is backing up in increasing pain at seeing Camilla with the director, and announcing their engagement, just before she flinches in rage away from it, and we plug-pull a second time back to the Diner and her making an assignation for a hit, the cowboy walks through the room in the background a third time, announcing, explicitly, that he represents dreamwise the break of her fantasy, into a killer impulse against Camilla/Rita, meaning that as a threshold dream figure he exists at the bottom of the glass onion, as we drop into the fixated zone of Rita.
The vertically formalist array of guardian or psychopomp figures that lord over the proceedings of the movie, as believed by the ancients to occupy the transitional and threshold spaces in the descent to dream, this whole army of personfications and symbolic figures, is completed by death himself. And he is more or less outside the picture, but is classic David Lynch, as he showed up in Twin Peaks too, and it is the apparent mob boss, incapacitated, sitting in a curtained room
in a wheel chair, behind glass, so obviously has breathing and germ problems too, and he is pulling the strings of getting either Rita or the other girl cast, pressuring the director, and in Diane’s mind he would be the embodiment of the “it’s all a fix” mentality that she resorted to after the crushing of her dreams
there is not much to say of him, except that he exists at the very bottom of it all, he is god, he weighs her down, insisting on her never forgetting Rita/Camilla, never getting over that, and, for that, he is Thanatos, the god of death, who pulls her down, insistently, to death. Thus, all up and down the vertical shifting structure of the dreamwork of this movie, all of it going on in the head of Diane, Lynch has really very Romanly scattered a host of stock symbolic figures to guide us in taking the temperature of the moment and knowing at what level of escape or facing-up we are at, and these are the Hollywood Sign couple at the beginning of the glass onion phase (and before the drivers seen from behind in the limo in the entoptic phase), the cowboy figure at the bottom of the glass onion fantasy stage, Rita herself, of which in a bit, and the one fixated on, but then, below her, a Mercury figure, the Winkie’s Diner man leading her down the whoosh, the Blue Witch at the bottom of the whoosh (with the blue haired opera box lady whispering Silenzio a less extreme form of her), and then the Mob Boss as Thanatos at that point when the nightmare ends, not by waking up, but by suicide. For all this, I posit that Mulholland Dr. is entirely a dream inside Diane’s head, as she tosses and turns, sometimes lifting back up to lighter stages of dream, and fantasy, but then dropping back to nightmare phases, and then often having short waking moments where she rationalizes and even in horror realizes what she has done and is paranoically depressed to the point of mad hallucinations resulting in her committing suicide. It is all about then, the dream of a suicide, if not, strictly and literally speaking, the dream drain that occurs in a body that has just committed suicide.
I read it said, in passing, that in order to follow the movie, you should follow the red lamps in it. It is certain that a red lamp is a classic horror movie trope meaning that death is coming, and I can document for you many examples of it. It is also true that the red lamp does appear at “break” moments in the movie . The red lamp first appears after we see Betty arrive in town
involved in some sort of phone call to some entity who perhaps is being asked to watch her
it was never entirely clear to me whose phone this is, or whose bed table this is, but I did note that the ashtray is in a mosaic style I made in school, so it is old-fashioned. But the second time that the red lamp appears is in the context of the plug-pull back from the evasive Betty fantasy, to the bottoming out in the Diane reality, but it would appear that the masturbation that Diane had recourse to, in desperation, perhaps worked (ie she came), because now in that musing the mis en scene flashbacks to a previous encounter when she is ready to go out, with Rita/Camilla, but now Camilla calls, with a car, a change of plans, and the phone is under the red lamp
and we pan down from the lamp, to the phone and ashtray again, in exactly the same sequence
and Diane comes in, dressed in a black dress with a red fringe, to answer it
commencing, by its assignation, ie take the car, her encounter with Mulholland Dr., and her tragedy there, entered into by red lights
the red lamp, therefore, exists in the real apartment 17 where the dead body of Diane is lying all this time, and in the first instance reminds us, in a jarring intrusion of reality into the fantasy, where this is all coming from, and, in the second, actually launches us into the folded back second flashback in the Diane recounting her experience section, after the masturbation (even representing a fucked vulva, another trope) and thus again directing us to the body in the apartment. In both cases, the red lamp signals that there is a break in zone from one level of dream to another, in each case it suggests that things have heated up and a kind of climax is approaching, but if you follow the red lamp you will not find your way, it is only by paying attention to the back and forth of imagery from spaces claimed by threshold figure mental avatars of Diane’s moods as she dreams that will you be able to see that this is all a dream imagined by Lynch as happening in the mind of a suicidal sleeper, if not an actual body left over from suicide.
In Part two of this note I will fill in the blanks by focusing on the lattice figure, fixated upon by Betty/Diane, of Rita/Camilla.