Los Angeles Plays Itself: Mulholland Drive

Our Los Angeles Plays Itself series is winding down to a close, and what better way to end things than with lesbians?  You can thank David Lynch and David Lynch’s pompadour.  I will actually encourage you to stop reading if you haven’t already seen Mulholland Drive, because 1) you must and 2) you must do so without reading any commentary or analysis of the film, or as little as humanly possible.  Instead, to make reading this far worth your while, let us go back to February 4, 2010 and recall the weather report, as announced by Mr. Lynch himself.  He was doing these weather reports for quite some time, along with a Thought of the Day (often that thought was: “Coffee.” or “Warm.  Coffee.”) that aired on the now-defunct Indie 103.1.  This is David Lynch.  Quirky, brilliant, and that hair.  For those who have seen the film, I’ll see you again after the jump.


I will now tell you here and now that I didn’t/don’t fully comprehend all of Mulholland Drive.  By the same token, I don’t actually think we’re completely meant to, regardless of David Lynch’s 10 clues to unlocking his filmMulholland Drive starts the same way Crash begins: with a car crash, this one on, you guessed it, Mulholland Drive.  Instead of using incident as an excuse to launch into a carelessly simple story about race and class, David Lynch intentionally channels Sunset Boulevard and uses the accident to launch into a deceptively simple story about a girl (Rita) who has amnesia after this accident and meets an aspiring actress (Betty) hoping to make it Hollywood.  In (a)typical girl-meets-girl fashion, the two permit their relationship to go from friends to more-than-friends (aw, we all should be so lucky) and have very hot sex.  Neither have much angst or self-loathing as a result, and the movie carries on with the primary storyline of exploration and identity, as if gay relationships occur naturally, are completely normal, and so well represented in popular culture that not much needed to be said other than the fact that these two are now in love.  We all can dream, right?

In fact, dreams are the point of Mulholland Drive, both as a narrative trope (until you sit down and piece together the labrynth of clues and red herrings to figure out what part of the movie is dreamt and what part actually occurred in “real” life, you’re pretty much as lost as Link without a flashlight looking for Zelda in a cave), and as a larger commentary about Hollywood, dreams, and realities.  I sometimes forget that those of us born and raised around southern California have entirely different relationships to Los Angeles than those who embrace the symbolism of the city as a gateway to their dreams of fame and stardom.  For us, we see the yellow signs directing the crew to their parking lots, we’re used to road closures in the middle of downtown in the middle of the day due to filming (grrrr…), we’ve become (somewhat) accustomed to randomly walking past A, B, and C celebrities.  We work here, in and out of the industry; we live here; we eat here.

For Hollywood hopefuls like Betty in the film, though, Los Angeles is a ticket.  A ticket past the gridlock on the freeway jungle that connects the next Meryl Streep from one hopeful, excited audition to another.  Hope of discovery is at every corner, at every bite at Pink’s – and when the dream is reduced to disappointing reality, and brings down with it the things that made up part of the identity of aspiration, it’s soul crushing.  Los Angeles, once the playground of the hopeful, becomes an elephant’s graveyard for the hopeless.  This city’s urban sprawl already can be excruciatingly isolating; when it is gutted of its symbolism, it’s devastating.  Sunset Boulevard is where the action is, but Mulholland Drive is the desolate perch from where many, many would-be actors and actresses see their dreams cut. It’s a trite message, but I think because we’re seeing the events of the movie unfold through the eyes of Betty’s subconscious, it’s that much more powerful.

In the end, Betty has enormously unrealized dreams, doesn’t become a big Hollywood star, and the heteronormative structure of Hollywood reasserts itself when Rita discovers she could get much, much further in her life if she sleeps with men.  Just like, incidentally, the many, many girls in this city who decide being gay is great until being straight-with-a-background-in-gay is even better (no, I’m not bitter at all).  The end of the dream is the end of the film, and it’s so, so sad.  Oh, Los Angeles.  You giveth and you taketh away.

(If you already didn’t overanalyze Mulholland Drive when you first saw it, go back and play like its 2001 and have fun perusing this website dedicated to unraveling the movie, from the blue key to the other blue key, here.  And Matt Mason had his own take of the film a few years ago here.).

2 thoughts on “Los Angeles Plays Itself: Mulholland Drive”

  1. Thanks Queequeg. You know how I feel about “Mulholland Drive.” I think it’s a fitting end or near-end to our Los Angeles film series, since, as you indicate, it is somewhat post-modern and is informed by earlier films such as “Sunset Blvd.” and some of the noir films, as well as by cultural attitudes in and about Los Angeles, be they truth or myth. I’m also glad you were able to find a link to the 10 clues that did not also include spoiler comments interpreting those clues. “Mulholland Drive” asks a lot of viewers, but it pays back handsomely.

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