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No hay banda. There is no Buddha.

There is no Enlightenment.

Panning from the East:

A Personal View by RPC


Ma soeur, côte à côte nageant,

Nous fuirons sans repos ni trêves

Vers le paradis de mes rêves!

       Charles Baudelaire, Le Vin desAmants


How dreadful knowledge of the truth can be
When there's no help in truth!

                              
Tiresias, in Oedipus Rex

If there ever was a film that is delivered intravenously, David Lynch's Mulholland Drive is the one. This is the film.

I watched Mulholland Drive for the first time as it should be watched: I hadn’t read anything about it, or talked about the film with anyone. If you didn’t see the film, I recommend that you stop reading right now. (Parts of the plot are also revealed in this text). Go see the film, even forgetting who David Lynch is, if that is possible. At the bare minimum, it’s a colorful film, entertaining, suspenseful, sexy, a couple of nice-looking girls in it, speeding cars, Hollywood stuff, even if a bit on the confusing side. Or almost. No harm done.

If that is what you get from watching Mulholland Drive, consider yourself lucky. You will be among the few who come out unscathed from the experience of seeing this film. On the other hand, you could try to prepare yourself beforehand, stuffing your brain first with just about everything that has been written and talked about this film, from condescending reviews to passionate frame-by-frame analysis. Will that help? Hardly. After all, the film is delivered intravenously. So, at a conscious level, there’s not much you can do. Going to see Mulholland Drive is just like going to bed at night: you never know what your dream will be, if you are going to dream at all, or dream and forget when you wake up. But, a word of warning: if you are a “everything under control” kind of person, or if you want just to be completely “in control” and safe, “just say No” to Mulholland Drive! This is not the film for you.

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The brief essay that follows is an open-ended and hopefully ongoing development of my approach to the film that has been considered to be almost like a Rorschach test in celluloid. I dare to say my approach contains elements that are different from most what has been written about Mulholland Drive, and I hope my view represents more fuel for the MD Web community. This approach is the result of my personal experience in watching the film, and I think it could be helpful together with more “intellectual” or mundane interpretations of the film. Trying to keep the compactness of this single page, I added throughout the text my own comments and footnotes as hypertext links. 

 

What has been generally missing in all I read about Mulholland Drive is a bolder assessment of what Mulholland Drive could be after all, if it’s not treated just like “another” film or another “weird David Lynch film”. For this assessment, the general emotional impact of some images of the film, which I feel to be more archetypal and universal, is the starting point, and not, what has been usual, the analysis of the dream/illusion/story that the film supposedly “tells”, or a film telling a dark fairy tale, moral tale, or a crime-punishment kind of story in a bizarre way, which leads to an endless “we need to figure out”.

Also, because David Lynch is a director who garnered since 1976’s Eraserhead such an enthusiastic (and not so enthusiastic) following, a lot that has been written about Mulholland Drive brings in, not without reason, elements from the David Lynch cannon, its repertoire of symbols and characters, from Eraserhead and Blue Velvet to Twin Peaks. But, personally, I’m glad that I, exceptionally, saw Twin Peaks and Lost Highway after Mulholland Drive. And by the time I saw Mulholland Drive for the first time, Blue Velvet was in some dusty shelf in the back of my film memory, while the black-and-white beauty of Elephant Man remained as an exceptional – but “normal” – film about human loneliness. That means that I saw Mulholland Drive with no preconceived notions and as open as I could be, with no Lynch-weirdness decoding apparatus at hand. I think that has been to my advantage.

The Mulholland Drive “Syndrome”

Before I go over the film, I’d like to comment on what we could call the “Mulholland Drive syndrome”: the seemingly abnormal reaction this film triggered, and the longevity of this reaction, now after a year after the original release of Mulholland Drive in the United States, and just recently refueled with the DVD release.

First. So many of Mulholland Drive’s images are engraved under our cortex, even if we don’t understand what’s going on. The unconscious is always threatening to consciousness’ sense of self-control, therefore our compulsion in trying to understand, to bring those haunting images to the cortical surface and under control, where, supposedly, we will give them the proper context and understand exactly what is going on, that is, figure the whole film out. This is quite different from Christopher Nolan’s Memento, another “you have to figure out” movie which, besides being actually a straight story cut and re-edited according to Nolan’s rules, there is no anxiety or compulsion in figuring out what was going on, because no images were thrown like darts to remain engraved in our mind’s eye and cause a “discomfort” that, we feel, could be assuaged with some precise intellectual understanding.

Second. As the West’s weltanschauung goes global and the mind/body, visible/invisible, consciousness/unconscious split deepens to pathological levels, we are starving for images/art/symbols with which we can handle all that comes from below, all that is invisible and remains as the irreducible core of what is to be human. Human consciousness, paradoxically impoverished by our frantic and exclusive embrace of techno-scientific knowledge (increasingly and ever faster, we know more about less), is being uprooted from its always “messy” human base, and modern culture is increasingly poor in offering individuals – at least those who refuse or are unable to cut themselves down to size – a repertoire to handle what is left out from the official cannon, which means practically all the “rest”, that is, the always resilient mystery of being human. For that, we hang on desperately to “what’s left”: art, books, literature, music, and  the “ultimate metaphor for the West’s roving eye”: film.

In this context, I think the “Mulholland Drive syndrome”, that is, how quickly and obsessively we got hold of this particular film and started analyzing it endlessly, also reflects our current starvation for symbols and images with which we could maintain the basic task of keeping our channel to the human unconscious open, even if all around us the techno-scientific view tell us condescendingly that this is “old-fashioned and romantic”. (After all, we are on the verge of knowing and controlling all, deciphering life, the universe, etc, etc. Yeah, sure!)

However, this shamanic psycho-pump (Mircea Eliade) between consciousness and unconscious, is a mechanism that is vastly wider and older than our small techno-scientific corner in human history: it's the way our consciousness gets from the unconscious the oxygen it needs for our normal diurnal life. And incidentally, our failure in keeping this vital pump working as part of normal maintenance of a human society, has a lot to do with our very modern “drug problem”. But that’s a whole another story and not a nice film.

Back to Mulholland Drive the film.

Desire and Illusion: East and West

OK. The title of this page reads: “No hay banda. There is no Buddha. There is no Enlightenment”.

Excuse me! But… how does “Buddha” get here?

No, this is not a religious or even philosophical analysis (Phew!). Actually the only thing we need here from Buddhism are the concepts of Desire and of Illusion as its consequence. Different from the West’s conception of desire (amorous desire, sexual desire, desire for the other, for power, youth, beauty, situations or things, etc.), Buddhism is the worldview that formalized the most the concept of Desire as the engine of Illusion, as the builder of worlds and as what maintains the wheel of life and death, from which we cannot escape. Desire is the engine that builds the world, and the different worlds each one of us inhabits.

When Desire ceases, the engine stops, the Illusion vanishes into Nothingness. Because the opposite of illusion is not reality, but nothingness. Illusion is illusion, and not reality distorted. That means: you don’t get to or “arrive” at reality anywhere from illusion. From illusion you can go only to another part of the world as illusion. If you insist in banging around inside the world-illusion, you will sooner or later collide with certain closures/vortexes of this world where we live in and from which we cannot escape, alive or dead.

OK. Having established that, now we can say that the film Mulholland Drive is about Desire, and nothing better than a Dream to show Desire in action. And in my view, Mulholland Drive depicts one instance of this “banging around and collision” just mentioned. And, we don’t need to mention Buddhism in this text again!

To me, the film Mulholland Drive, beyond all the myriad and legitimate interpretations possible, is above all, a pungent, hauntingly beautiful paean for human desire, and for what is most distinctive about human desire: its incredible, terminal intensity in maintaining life and the time-space we live in, intensity viscerally shown in this film by the luminous incandescent arc of desire, from its rise to its fall into nothingness.

The Film that is a Dream, and not a Film about a Dream

This dream/film distinction is important and quite subtle. Or, David Lynch made it subtle now with Mulholland Drive. David Lynch always made the observation that music is an abstract art with a lot of freedom, while we moviegoers insist in not opening up and giving the medium of film the same freedom and range of experience. Our “insistence” is due of course to the way our human eye has been trained and conditioned, starting since around Meliés and Griffith when the movie camera gradually found its grammar and got a life of its own, to see the camera as a “natural” extension of the human eye, and to watch a film as some convincing representation of reality. The advent of synch-sound and color in the movies only made this expectation tighter. (We cannot imagine the “painting with light” expressionistic phase of Murnau, etc. happening in film history, had the first movie camera invented been a full color/sound-capable steady cam mounted camera!)

Today we find natural the association between film and story-telling, and expect the medium of film to follow more or less the same rules we inherited and learned from the much older and more universal tradition of story-telling, including the before-now-after axis that should always be lying around somewhere. But this film/story-telling association is not an inherent, necessary or natural association: let’s remember that for quite some time in the beginning of movie history the just-invented movie camera was quite lost; it was still an eye impressed by its novelty and power but not knowing where to turn: trains leaving stations, “actualities”, social events, a day at the Derby, mime, the same old vaudeville acts filmed from the static tripod, etc. The marriage of camera and story-telling came later, not as something natural but as the “hey-let's-try-this” genius of movie makers like Porter, Griffith, Chaplin and others.

* * *

When David Lynch saw his Mulholland Drive TV pilot nixed by ABC, and after some desperation he got French backing to finish a feature film from his original idea, I think he became more uncompromising than ever. Mulholland Drive seems to be David Lynch at its most uncompromising, and as such the work that reflects the closest his instinctual and intuitive “tapping the unconscious” creative process. Roger Ebert started his review with “David Lynch has been working toward ‘Mulholland Drive’ all of his career”. And I think Mulholland Drive is David Lynch at its most uncompromising, and that means, pushing the limits of the film-abstract-as-music idea as much as possible. While there are still remnants of story-telling and standard screenwriting rules in Mulholland Drive, it seems clear to me that the impact of Mulholland Drive is not so much story-telling but a form of art that – integrating image and sound design as never before – is closer to the human experience of music, where there’s no subject/object distinction, than what we came to normally expect from the experience of film, where the eye-based viewer/viewed distinction endures and forms the base for our normal “understanding” of a film.

Although this perceptual mode is not part of our “normal” wide-awake life and world, we humans actually have quite an accumulated experience in viewer/viewed coalescing: we dream.

In an interview (Creative Screenwriting, November/December 2001 Hollywood Gothic), answering Christian Divine’s question “Do you write down your dreams?”, David Lynch says: “No, it has nothing to do with dreams. There's a certain way dreams can be told in film because they're abstract. So film can tell abstractions like dreams.”

* * *

Approaching Mulholland Drive as a dream and not as a film

(Is David Lynch still trying to tell a story?)

Every time we recall a dream, we are up in our fully awake cortex recalling something that happened mostly under the cortex. But it’s only in our cortical state that we build and maintain at our disposal the “line of time”, the seemingly enduring sensation of before-now-after. Dreams take place below the cortex, that is, in another plane of reference that is mostly spatial like the unconscious and not overwhelmingly ruled by the before-now-after, like our diurnal life.

This means to say that a dream, not seen from the cortex but ideally from where it is generated, is not chronological but essentially spatial (I could add here, more of a mathematical space or sound space than our ordinary experience of three-dimensional space, but that still would be a trap). What we usually recall  as a dream from our cortex-bound point of view is actually the result (images + eventual sounds) generated by a non-cortical brain meandering around one or more vortexes of feelings and sensations. And what should matter when we recall a dream are not the single details or images, because the substance of dreams are not images but feelings or cluster of feelings that will pick, gather and rearrange images as they eddy along. Dream activity is the processing of feelings and sensations (invisible) and not of images (visible). Therefore, to concentrate on the images of a dream alone and on their interplay is to embark in an analysis that can be interesting in itself but does not touch upon what we could call the dream engine. The fuel of the dream engine are feelings and sensations; and the images of the dream – which we erroneously concentrate on as being “the” dream – are actually the by-products of the dream engine taking care of all that invisible primal stuff boiling inside us, so that our body and cortex can rest for another fully awake day.

Night is the time for the turning of the tide in the human brain. It's when the flow reverses: the REM in dreams is not caused by images "entering" the eye, but by the eye reacting to what's coming from the opposite direction, from inside us, from the lower regions of our brain. The eye is actually being fooled by the optical nervous system that this time is not processing the visible but being flooded by the invisible, by what is coming from "behind" the eye.

David Lynch pushed his dreamy = filmic equation so far this time, that in a way Mulholland Drive could be the first REM film ever. It would help our approach here if we just imagine that when we are watching the film Mulholland Drive, it's not so much the movie projector that is projecting images on the screen, but your own eyes.

* * *

Now, if for a moment we consider Mulholland Drive not a film about a dream but a dream itself (think harder now about the usual statement  "the movie industry as a 'dream factory'”), we can apply the same principle. To nitpick every single image or event shown in Mulholland Drive the film and on their relation and interplay, is again an interesting exercise, but does not open to us the substance of the film-dream Mulholland Drive. It’s like starting the analysis already lost inside the dream and its parts and miss the engine of the dream Mulholland Drive.

Approaching Mulholland Drive as a dream in celluloid and not as a film telling about a dream, we realize that most of what we see in Mulholland Drive is a dynamic, almost spatial structure built around some core images/feelings, and the function of most of the film – including its seemingly superfluous and boring parts – is to give these core images/sensations/feelings their maximum effectiveness in sucking us down, disturbing and opening our perception. These are the steady vortexes of the film, and the before-now-after of the story that the film is supposedly telling, does not matter much as most of it is like random eddies produced by these vortexes. No wonder then that Mulholland Drive seems to be composed, from one side, of many seemingly weird images and events, boring or ludicrous parts, inconclusive actions (leftovers from the pilot!); and from the other, some few core images that disturb and stay with us, even if we do not figure out the story or what is happening before what. Dreams are exactly like that: a lot of “pollution” and background noise, lower neuronal rubbish, neurons firing by themselves going from nowhere to nowhere, while the main disturbance, beyond any “dreamability”, eddies and storms around in dream/lower brain space, sometimes closer to the image-building layer, but most of the time rumbling underneath unseen. (No wonder Badalamenti’s harmonic suspensions and throbbing minor-scaled chords pervading most of Mulholland Drive are integral to the experience of the dream-film.)

Engraved Images

Now I get more subjective in my experience of the film. But the images/vortexes that stayed with me seem to be the same images that I see most Mulholland Drive aficionados dwell on. These images, contrary to the “bland” rest of the film (those parts we fast-forward in our umpteenth view of the movie!), are impregnated with an archetypal universal emotional load. The horror faces of the homeless man/monster, the decomposing cadaver, and the Blue Lady. And the Club Silencio sequence and the final sequence of images of the film. For now, I’ll dwell on what disturbed and impressed me the most, and what I consider to be like sign-posts with enough intensity to illuminate most of the film. They work like archetype pillars of the spatial structure that is the film, and include a glimpse of what David Lynch is doing with our eyes and perception.

  Has one ever seen a suicide scene which is so… haunting and… beautiful? 

The sequence of images that start immediately as the gun goes off and segue through the end of the film, is what has been haunting me the most. Even if the scene in the bedroom, where the old couple is terrifying and cornering Diane, is supposed to be part real, part hallucinatory (because of the “presence” of the old couple), it feels frantic, real and full of desperation and mortal pain. We are still “with Diane” as she scrambles over the bed and reaches for the gun in the drawer. Contrary to so much dubious events that came before in the film, this is really happening now and is real and we are in her room watching. But suddenly, the gun goes off, and the next frame shows all that billowing dark smoke enveloping Diane, the bed, the whole room. That suddenly is not “here” any more: before we know it, Lynch’s master magicianship just pulled us in with Diane as the bullet goes through her. Seconds before we felt like invisible voyeurs in her bedroom, and then suddenly our perception, our eyes are jolted through death with her, instead of us just “staying” in the room/film and watching our Diane become a lifeless body in front of us.

Some Mulholland Drive aficionados have suggested the first part of the film to be actually Diane’s “dying dream” or the succession of images fleeting through a dying brain, instead of being her dream before killing herself in real life. I don’t agree with the “dying imagery” version. But definitely, the last sequence of images in the film are a much more likely candidate to be the brief but fulgurant stream of coalescing images that dying Diane sees. As Diane dies we die with her.

That also makes filmic sense as we realize that, ultimately, all along we were never guaranteed that we had any other POV besides Diane’s. As her POV is shattered, so is ours and the space we were inhabiting for the last hour and a half. I see the Club Silencio as the only space outside Diane’s POV (losing “dream control”, she is taken there by Rita in Rita’s first forced demand on her), and that also applies to us viewers, as though we are watching this film inside that theater as well and falling for the same tricks. It makes sense then, when our POV is literally shot, that we fall back into the Club Silencio space.

If the blue box is “personal” to Betty/Rita, the Club Silencio is the box writ large, it’s for all of us. It’s open to the public and we, humankind, are the public whether we know it or not. In it, the Magician/MC, Lynch’s alter-ego, is explaining to us how it’s done and what’s going on but at the same time keeping the trick up, almost as to prove how our eyes can be so continuously fooled by what is happening in other dimensions we cannot see or understand. And the artist is the magician who straddles the dimensions and knows how to use beauty to fool the human eye. When we erroneously assume the magician's act is over, Rebekah Del Rio's rendition of her Llorando is indeed one of the surprisingly beautiful and intense moments in the film just before.... So in film, so in life, we are fooled. Of course, guess whether shamanic David Lynch knows all about this magicianship?

As Diane’s brain and life quickly wane, we are taken in the same brief incandescent voyage to her nothingness. But this quick flash of an ending life is also for all of us, as it embodies within two extremes the range that encompasses human life: most fulgurant: light, beauty, love, friendship; then, under the haze, comes the horrid face of nothingness and negation of all, that makes the preceding beauty and light so fragile. Such is the nature of human life for all of us. And we are back… inside the Club Silencio. This time empty, or almost. Because the Blue Lady in the balcony… she doesn’t seem to be of this world anymore. Her eerie “presence” does not seem to disrupt the haze-filled emptiness of the theater, which she seems to “own”, stage, vanished magician and all.

The Blue Lady

The Club Silencio is the “box” from which any “story”, any infinite number of different Mulholland Drives or Dianes, for instance, could spill out in any direction. The show is commanded by the magician-illusionist-Lynch  and is for all of us (universal) and not for the two women only. In a way, Mulholland Drive is inside the Club Silencio, and not the Club inside Mulholland Drive.

The magician makes us believe in things that do not exist and in events that are not happening, and the Blue Lady reigns supreme over the magician and the stage: in the darkness of the balcony and nearly unseen, she owns the Club! At the end, the stage is empty, there is no magician and no audience and no sound, not even “recorded”. Only she, still and silent, remains. And she is the one that utters the last command/word/sound. She does not represent death because she does not belong to this side, the only side where death happens and is real. For us she is the only “thing” that is not an illusion; she is  the guardian of the real and as such of what is by nature forever inaccessible to us.  If she feels so “creepy” to us, it’s not because of what she may represent, but because we already know deep down as certain that she is the one we cannot go beyond, even after death, and that she, in her stolid silence, is the one that “knows” that what we will never know.

The Blue Lady represents the vortexing but impregnable “closure” of “this side”, of our space-time, outside of which we just are not. She represents the Unknown that surrounds us like a wall and from which we cannot escape alive or dead. She’s horrifying because she’s the palpable representation that, ultimately we know nothing and will never know what we most wanted – and needed – to know and, next to her, all we are and see and imagine to exist, is really “the stuff dreams are made on”: the haze and smoke and silence that surrounds her mystery.

So fitting that Diane’s last fleeting visions end there as she dies. Lynch took us with her as far as anyone, alive or dead, could go.

 

 

* * *

If all that the eyes see and our desire builds “out there” is an illusion, and ultimately it is, what we see and hear still is what puts the shine of happiness and recognition, or the tear of pain and loss in our eyes. But the shine and the tear, are the closest we humans can ever get to reality. It’s when we feel most real and solid, either in a film or in life. This is me. And if this is so, what can we...

Silencio

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Suggestion for a Mythological perspective:

  The Journey of the Heroine Undone

Finding and facing our inner demons is the only way for redemption and for ultimately grounding our individuality. But it’s not because it’s the only way that it is a sure way. That such endeavor is a dangerous, necessarily lonely journey with no guaranteed results, is a lesson repeated again and again in all mythologies. And Mulholland Drive delivers the harsh archetypal lesson of the hero journey again, right under the Hollywood sign, in a Los Angeles transmogrified into its own spot-lit dreams.

And the Blue Lady and the horror visions of nothingness, negation and loneliness in Mulholland Drive, become the monsters of myth, the Minotaurs wondering in labyrinths: if not slain, they become the hero’s doom.