Mulholland Dr. (revisited)
NOTE: A previously-posted essay on Mulholland Dr.
needed to be revised and rewritten. What follows is a simplified version.
Mulholland Dr. is a
bleak statement … yes, a statement … about Hollywood and those who desire to pursue the dream of achieving success in this setting. In the film, the dream film-factory can
be a nightmare, filled with
delusions and disappointments.
Which has a dangerous, damaging effect on the psyche of those who are fragile enough to desire inhabiting it.
film's statement is best illustrated by the arc of the Naomi Watts character (NW) who is an innocent optimist as the story
begins and who degenerates into an unemployed, hardened failure, envious of the success of another (the Laura Harring's character
or LH) in the end.
NOTE: In this essay, initials are used because names are too often changed in the film.
To demonstrate examples of the film's statement ...
First, dream-related examples.
says to LH: “.... I’m in this dream place.”
In a minor and a totally unrelated scene to the story, two male characters converse in a diner. One man recounts
a dream that has a horrible end.
Man 1: I had a dream
about this place.
Man 2: .... So you had a dream about
this place. Tell me.
Man 1: Well, it's
the second one I've
had. But they're
both the same ….
You’re in both dreams .... I hope
that I never see [someone's] face
ever outside of a dream.
In the original screenplay, Los Angeles is described as “the City of Dreams”.
Also in the original screenplay, NW comments to a relative about her aunt's apartment: “It's
more beautiful than I ever dreamed.”
The element of dreams probably connect with sleep-related elements in the film.
There are insert shots of a pillow on a bed. When NW first enters her aunt’s apartment,
the first sign that something is amiss is in the bedroom where a dress and purse are on the floor next to the bed. LH rests
in the bedroom to recover from the trauma of her accident. The first seduction scene occurs in the bedroom. The bedroom
is the place where LH’s purse and a mysterious blue key are found. It is in the bedroom where NW seemingly dies from
a seemingly self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The word “sleep”
appears in the dialogue.
LH: I need to sleep.
NW: If you have a concussion, you shouldn’t
LH: It will be okay if
I sleep. I just need
to lie down here and sleep.
NW reports to her aunt that LH is “sleeping”. LH erroneously believes that “sleep
would” solve her problems. In the original screenplay, NW converses with her aunt: “ Well, you'll sleep
Consider with the use of related
words, the repetition of “dream” and “sleep” is unnecessary. Does the listener in the diner need
to coax his companion to continue with his dream anecdote? An interested look would suffice. The line “Tell me”
is unconvincingly delivered, undoubtedly deliberately so for effect. Or, as an alternative, the frighted narrator could continue
with his narrative without interruption.
Man 1: I had a
dream about this place.
the second one
had. But they're
both the same ….
You’re in both .... I hope that
I never see [someone's] face
In the second example, the word “sleep” is equally overused.
Wouldn't the message still be conveyed without its multiple use?
I need to sleep.
NW: If you have a concussion, you shouldn’t.
LH: It will be okay.
Second, examples of nightmares.
The word “nightmare” is suggested with the description of one male in the diner.
And his nightmare is realized, but maybe in his mind. In the final scene, NW is haunted by the elderly couple who mock NW
as she is at her lowest point. Definitely unreal.
Third, an example
of achieving success. NW appears
to have given a stellar performance at her first audition. LH
finds happiness by being engaged to a director.
an example of delusion/disappointment: NW has deluded herself into believing that because she has a familial connection
in the entertainment world, she will be embraced by VIPs in the industry.
regarding the dangerous/damaging effect on the human psyche, ... Is not amnesia a byproduct of a damaged psyche?
Is not violence danger-related?
film begins with LH in a car which is driven to an uninhabitable area where, we can reasonably assume, she will be killed:
Instead, others are killed when the car crashes. Hence, the motif of danger. Subsequent patterns of potential danger: an
implied threat by the apparently mob-connected Castigliane brothers to Adam Kesher, an uncooperative film director; Adam damaging
the Castigiliane car; the assault of three characters in Kesher's residence; a cowboy issuing an ultimatum to Adam and, lastly,
a hit man who kills thrice.
In the audition scene, NW says, “You're playing a dangerous
game here.” In the original screenplay, NW says to LH about the cash in her purse, “That might be dangerous
There is also psychic damage to LH with loss of identity. In the story, this is especially evident
with the change of names, often on multiple occasions to NW and LH. Changes which are disorientating to the film viewer.
an aside, on a realistic level, name changes have been common in Hollywood to make the actor more acceptable to the public.
Think Rock, Tab, Cary, Marilyn, etc. And in many cases, a name change has an added bonus: It is a means to an end. Instant
reinvention. Marilyn Monroe was no longer the insecure, damaged waif, Norma Jean Baker, but a sexual icon, instead. Yet that
transformation came at a tragic price.
Two actors, Rita Hayworth
and Cary Grant, revealed that they were not their on-screen personas. Rita: "Men go to bed with Gilda, but wake up with me." The film poster of Hayworth's Gilda appears in the bedroom. As for Grant, when informed that all men wish to be Cary Grant, Grant replied that he wished
that he were Cary Grant.
LH confesses her identity
problem to NW.
LH: I don't know who I am.
NW: What do you mean? You're Rita.
LH: No, I'm
not. I don't know what
my name is. I don't know who I am!
Taken out of context,
LH's words can be translated: I don't know who I am because my name has been changed. And I am no longer who I used to be.
Regarding a physical transformation, in the filmed
version of Mulholland's Dr., LH cries before her hair is cut and dyed blonde.
In the original screenplay, LH embraces the change.
…. You have to start all over again.
You look like a brand new person
and you can
be a brandnew person ...
whoever you want to be.
It sounds kind of nice ...
being somebody brand new.
Hey, let's introduce the
brand new you to Hollywood.
NOTE: As with the words “dream” and “sleep”, the words “brand
new” are also needlessly repeated in the exchange.
By contrast, NW's transformation is a descent into the abyss. She
begins as an innocent who, in the course of the story, degenerates. Why shouldn't she be optimistic? Her aunt is an actress,
and, therefore, NW has an advantage when she auditions for a role. A first hit home run. Out of the ballpark. High praise
from those who attend the audition. But was there an audition, or was it in her mind? And is she deluding herself to maintain
In the end, NW is unable to deal with failure. She has to helplessly watch as her friend LH reaps the rewards
which should have been bestowed upon her. Being seduced by the director. And being the third wheel at a dinner party where,
it is announced, that LH is engaged to be married to director Adam Kesher. Insuring NW, of course, of the loss of prime-cut
NW has sunk to a level of physical, mental and moral degeneration. She is a slovenly shut-in who has lost her
drive to pursue any dream. She is bitter and friendless when, from envy, she more-than-wishes harm to her roommate.
NW is not the person she presents in her introductory scene. Betty Elms does not live up
to her last name. Elms, of course, is a reference to the elm tree. And the characteristics of an elm tree? As it applies
to the profession of acting, its ability to survive and thrive. Not true for NW.
And a moral degeneration for NW? She seduces her roommate, LH. Maybe in an effort to acquire roles. The dream
of succeeding by association.
NW's descent (i.e. going in a downward
direction) is shown geographically. NW relocated from Ontario, our northern neighbor in Canada, to California which is located
in the southern United States. Other examples of going downhill? LH walks from the hill where is almost killed to Los Angeles,
the city below. The spooked man in the diner walks down steps before he encounters his realized nightmare. An assassin
descends the fire escape after he kills three.
In the end, the Hollywood
experience causes people in the business to descend financially, morally, and psychologically. Adam Kesher loses his wife,
his house, his credit line, and temporary control of a film; he moves out of his luxury home into a seedy motel. A casting
agent comments on her ex-husband: “Wally’s days were up twenty years ago.” .
There is a love/hate motif in the film. Can this explain the feelings of the artists who
devote themselves to an industry that exploits their talent, and then ignominiously dismisses them when they are no longer
useful? “I love Hollywood,” Orson Welles said. “But the feeling
is not reciprocated.”
Regarding love, the word “love”
appears in the songs “Sixteen Reasons”, “I Told Every Little Star” and “Crying”. It appears
in a note left by Aunt Ruth to her niece NW. It appears in NW's audition scene and Wally Brown's appreciation for her audition,
the toast preceding a wedding announcement and NW's bedroom confession to LH. In the original screenplay, there is an exchange
between Carol, the singer who sang “Sixteen Reasons”, and Adam, the director.
Carol: I love this script! Where do I sign?
Look ... I love you, but there's no
way they're gonna let
me cast this
I've seen everyone.
NW’s love for LH is a metaphor
for her love for Hollywood which eventually betrays her by rejecting her, leading to heartbreak, hate, self-hate, and self-destruction.
This is evident in the audition scene. When NW rehearses the scene with LH, she projects only hate. But when she rehearses
the scene with Woody, she demonstrates extant sexual feelings. And it becomes a seduction scene.
Crying is also a motif in the film. Tears are associated with tragedy and disappointment. The Roy Orbison song
“Crying” which is sung in Spanish in Club Silencio is a song about heartbreak. Characters cry: LH when NW reenters
the bedroom, LH before NW opens her purse, NW at the end of her audition with Woody Katz, LH and NW when the performer with
the painted tear sings “Crying”, NW when Adam announces his marriage plan. In the scene in the car on a film
set, Camilla is supposed to be crying. As LH rehearses the audition scene, NW comments: “Cry, cry cry ….”
Regarding hate, the word appears in the audition script: “I hate you. I hate us both.”
NW’s inability to handle rejection by LH sends her off the deep end. Love gone bad is also evident in Adam’s
relationship with his wife Lorraine who cheated on him with the pool man.
Lynch's Mulholland Dr. references another film about
Hollywood. Sunset Boulevard. Where?
A street sign (Sunset Bl). And the similarities with Billy Wilder's film?
The titles of both films are landmarks in Los Angeles, the site of the film industry and in the storyline the
sites of tragedies. A character in each films has the same first name Betty: Betty Schaefer in Sunset Boulevard and Betty
Elms in Mulholland Dr. Betty Schaefer, like Betty Elms, aspired to be an actress and failed. In both films,
a disillusioned actress, NW and Norma Desmond, resorts to murder.
To continue the comparison, in Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard, Norma Desmond and her silent-era, card-playing
companions have been discarded by the film industry for an age-related reason. In Lynch's Mulholland Dr., Wally Brown is considered a has-been, and in the original screenplay,
the same characterization applies to the Chad Everett character.
Also, there are former actresses who are out-of-touch with reality: Louise Bonner in Lynch's film
and Norma Desmond in Wilder's film.
Films about Hollywood, like Sunset Boulevard and Mulholland Dr., are cautionary tales. Lynch's film more so by literally infusing his film with words of caution and advice. Fellow
airline traveler Irene issues a casual warning to NW before they part: “Take care of yourself and be careful.”
Before they get involved in an adventure, NW reassures LH: “We’ll be careful. I promise.” Louise Bonner,
a seer-like character who appears at NW’s door, predicts impending trouble: “Something bad is happening.”.
Warnings are also issued by Adam’s secretary Cynthia (for him to return to work instead of going home where he discovers
his wife with the pool man), Cookie (to Adam that his enemies know where he is staying), the mysterious Cowboy (to Adam to
leave the choice of a lead actress to others), and Coco (“Louise Bonner said there’s trouble in there .... if
there is trouble, get rid of it.”)
Advice is given in the
story. While he is in bed with Adam’s wife, Gene, the pool man, makes a suggestion to the husband: “Just forget
you ever saw it. It’s better that way.” The Cowboy advises Adam Kesher to reconsider his need to totally control
his film. Before her audition, NW is given instructions by the director Bob Brooker (“Don’t play it for real
until it gets real.”) and the lead actor Woody Katz (“You don’t rush it. I don’t rush it, okay?”
) A frightened LH gives advice to a cab driver (not to stop the cab) and NW (not to knock on the door of apartment 12 and
not to illegally enter apartment 17). On the film set, Adam informs an actor:
when she starts to cry,
don’t pull her towards you.
her fall into you. Just
her fall. Now when you kiss
her, it’s just a continuation of that move.
In Mulholland Dr., David Lynch may have been making a broader statement about the
film industry, actors notwithstanding. Access a photograph of the late producer Dino De Laurentiis and compare it to the
Castigliane brothers. Similar, right? De Laurentiis and the Castiglianes are Italian and they have influence in the film
business. Both have family bonds in the business: With regard to the De Laurentiis clan, 45 are listed in a variety of film
positions in IMDB.
Like the relationship that Adam Kesher
had with the Castiglianes, the connection between David and Dino was not one made in heaven. The source of the conflict?
Lynch's Dune produced by De Laurentiis.
Lynch's choice of an actor was problematic with De Laurentiis who later conceded. Can this be the source of the Castiglianes
imposing their choice of an actress in the film directed by Adam Kesher? Kesher lost control of his film, and Lynch was denied
final cut of Dune. And according to De Laurentiis in a BBC video interview
from Dino De Laurentiis: The Last Movie Mogul,
one hour was cut from Dune. In one
version of the film, Lynch had his name removed as director. Lynch's assessment of the experience? “It was a nightmare
for me. I kind of died the death on Dune.”
According to the Time Out article, “Dune:
The Movie That Cost the Earth”, the article's author, Richard Rayner, reports a most unpleasant situation involving
Lynch and De Laurentiis' daughter Raffaella, the film's on-set producer:
At one point, months into shooting,
Lynch was behind schedule. He was
over budget. The de Laurentiises
decided it was offer-you-can´t-refuse
time. Lynch was summoned to Raffaella´s
office for a meeting. The situation was
simple, she explained. Here was the
script and here was the budget and here
were the schedules for the remaining
days of shooting. For every day you
over budget, she
a page will be ripped
from the script.
Thus, money became an issue with Dune. Is money an element in Mulholland
Dr.? Money is in the purse carried by LH.
related films which make statements about the film industry are The Bad and the Beautiful, Barton
Body Double, Hollywoodland, Maps to the Stars and The Purple Rose of Cairo.