Critics are quick to label David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001) as a neo-noir (a fitting homage to the noir style that also modernizes its concepts). Classifying Mulholland Drive as such is an oversimplification, however, because it minimizes the importance of the broader, conceptual messages that Lynch was attempting to incorporate into his narrative. Mulholland Drive is, in essence, a cautionary tale about the power of projection and the psyche. The way we daydream and imagine a bright future for ourselves can heavily affect how we lead our lives. How we imagine ourselves in this “ideal future” factors into the decisions we make for ourselves. This film is a commentary on how such idealistic dreams can be broken and how we sometimes must escape from reality to cope with the concrete nature of the world around us.
As this film’s 15th anniversary quickly approaches, I thought it might be fun to analyze the film by segmenting the different aspects into letters of the alphabet, with each section dedicated to a different argument about a specific aspect of the film. These sections orbit around the theme just discussed; that while David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive may possess easily identifiably noir conventions, upon closer interrogation the codes of the noir fall at the wayside in favor of a deeper message about the psychological nature of movies and acting and how an internalized fantasy can manifest itself in psychological torture and mental betrayal.
New York postal worker Jacob Singer is trying to keep his frayed life from unraveling. His days are increasingly being invaded by flashbacks to his first marriage, his now-dead son, and his tour of duty in Vietnam. Although his new wife tries to help Jacob keep his grip on sanity, the line between reality and delusion is steadily growing more and more uncertain.
A bright-eyed young actress travels to Hollywood, only to be ensnared in a dark conspiracy involving a woman who was nearly murdered, and now has amnesia because of a car crash. Eventually, both women are pulled into a psychotic illusion involving a dangerous blue box, a director named Adam Kesher, and the mysterious night club Silencio.
An unknown and lethal virus has wiped out five billion people in 1996. Only 1% of the population has survived by the year 2035, and is forced to live underground. A convict reluctantly volunteers to be sent back in time to 1996 to gather information about the origin of the epidemic. He is mistakenly sent to 1990, six years earlier than expected, and is arrested and locked up in a mental institution, where he meets Jeffrey Goines, the insane son of a famous scientist and virus expert.
Memento chronicles two separate stories of Leonard, an ex-insurance investigator who can no longer build new memories, as he attempts to find the murderer of his wife, which is the last thing he remembers. One story line moves forward in time while the other tells the story backwards revealing more each time.
Not an adaptation of William S. Burrough’s novel but a mix of biography and interpretation of his drug- induced writing processes combined with elements of his work in this paranoid fantasy about Bill Lee, a writer who accidentally shoots his wife, whose typewriter transforms into a cockroach and who becomes involved in a mysterious plot in North African port called Interzone.
Max is a genius mathematician who’s built a supercomputer at home that provides something that can be understood as a key for understanding all existence. Representatives both from a Hasidic cabalistic sect and high-powered Wall Street firm hear of that secret and attempt to seduce him.
A man is kidnapped and imprisoned in a shabby cell for 15 years without explanation. He then is released, equipped with money, a cellphone and expensive clothes. As he strives to explain his imprisonment and get his revenge, he soon finds out that his kidnapper has a greater plan for him.
David Aames takes all he has for granted; his wealth, his inherited publishing company, his good looks – his relationships. Especially his relationships. It catches up to him when a friend/sometimes sex-partner can’t see their relationship the way he sees it.
It’s the late 1960′s. Graduate student Eddie Jessup conducts experiments with an isolation chamber, using himself as the subject. His experiences in the chamber cause him to hallucinate. Seven years later, he is a respected full professor in the Harvard Medical School. Eddie decides to resume his work with sensory deprivation, this time using hallucinogens, specifically untested ones used in mystical Mexican rituals, to enhance the experience of being in the isolation tank.
A ticking-time-bomb insomniac and a slippery soap salesman channel primal male aggression into a shocking new form of therapy. Their concept catches on, with underground “fight clubs” forming in every town, until an eccentric gets in the way and ignites an out-of-control spiral toward oblivion.
Fred Madison, a saxophonist, is accused under mysterious circumstances of murdering his wife Renee. On death row, he inexplicably morphs into a young man named Pete Dayton, leading a completely different life. When Pete is released, his and Fred’s paths begin to cross in a surreal, suspenseful web of intrigue, orchestrated by a shady gangster boss named Dick Laurent.
Near a gray and unnamed city is the Zone, an alien place guarded by barbed wire and soldiers. Over his wife’s objections, a man rises in the early morning and leaves her with their disabled daughter to meet two men. He’s a Stalker, one of a handful who have the mental gifts to lead people into the Zone to the Room, a place where one’s secret hopes come true. His clients are a burned out popular writer and a quiet scientist. In the deserted Zone, the approach to the Room must be indirect. As they draw near, the rules seem to change and the stalker faces a crisis.
In an Orwellian vision of the future, the populace are completely controlled by the state. Sam Lowry is a civil servant who one day spots a mistake in one of the pieces of paperwork passing through his office. The mistake leads to the arrest of an entirely innocent man, and although Lowry attempts to correct the error, it just gets bigger and bigger, sucking him in with it.
“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”
Every dream-narrative has (to borrow from IMO the finest example of the form, Mulholland Dr.) a Club Silencio moment. Right before our hero wakes up (in Davos’ case, on Unicorn Cannibal Island), the author lays it all out for them: here’s what the dream’s been about, here’s what all the symbols meant, here’s what you learned.
Indeed, Davos IV ADWD is in essence a full-length commentary on, counterpoint to, and occasionally critique of Davos III. The structure is identical: Davos starts in a cell (though GRRM dwells on that more here), is brought before Lord Wyman, a discussion ensues about the war so far and where they should go from here. Robett Glover acts in private where Marlon Manderly acts in public, similar issues of loyalty and injustice are raised in the confrontation, and the meeting even takes place directly below the Merman’s Court, where the last one took place (that was the public face of Wyman Manderly, this the private one). This sort of echoing strikes me as unmistakably similar to dream-narratives; not that other kinds of narratives don’t have echoes and parallels, of course, but the feigned/real divide, the way the symbols are used, and the way everything is tied into Davos’ own internal struggle is what leads me to the dream-construct.
If you take what we’re seeing here as Davos’ dream, for example, the setting should feel like we’re wandering his subconscious, right? And just like in the last three chapters, it does.