Mulholland Dr (2001)

11:03 PM

Before I looked through a critical lens at Mulholland Dr (2001)., I never really knew how to feel about David Lynch’s films. I love his work, especially Twin Peaks, but there’s this other side of me (and I know I’m not alone in this) that doesn’t fully understand what he’s trying to say. I can admit that a few months ago, I was clinging more tightly to Lynch’s status as a cult icon, rather than to the merits of his work. I had seenMulholland Dr. for the first time this past Christmas and I told myself that I really liked it, that it was interesting or compelling, but I don’t think at the time that I had really made an effort to deconstruct its world. I guess I was more in love with the romantic idea of David Lynch as some kind of film genius. Now that I’ve had a chance to properly look at Mulholland Dr. again, I think I’ve truly come to appreciate it as a work of art. I used the first Winkie’s Diner scene, between the characters Dan (played by Patrick Fischler) and Herb (played by Michael Cooke) as a sort of metaphorical blue key to unlocking the mystery of Mulholland Dr. For those who haven’t seen Mulholland Dr., it’s a bit of twisted neo-noir with seemingly disjointed narratives. The world introduced can be misleading and disorienting with exhausting non-linear plotlines and oddly placed characters. Really, the only concrete conclusion that I could make from the first time I watched it, was that the film as a whole is open to interpretation. After the second viewing, I can look at the film as a sort of war between reality and nightmares. In the specific scene I’m looking at it’s this extremely languid camera work and strategic editing that really blur the line between reality and the stuff of nightmares. The rest of this post is mostly just paraphrasing the analytical work I did for one of my film classes so I'm sorry if it sounds kind of pretentious is some parts - I sold out my casual film approach for a University grade, oops.

So basically, the first Winkie’s Diner scene takes place between the characters Dan and Herb, who are definitely acquaintances, though the extent of their relationship isn’t revealed in whole. Dan and Herb sit across from each other in a booth, a full breakfast in front of them untouched, while primarily Dan speaks. Out of the two characters, it is Dan who is made out to be the subservient to Herb’s dominant, with Dan expressing his thoughts freely, albeit nervously, as Herb interjects with condescending remarks, such as saying that Dan foolish for wanting to come to “this specific Winkie’s” because of a dream. The first layer of this scene being a clue to the rest of the film is in its camerawork. While the majority of the scene consists of this back and forth dialogue with over the shoulder shots, the fidelity to traditional conversational filming ends there. The camera does not remain static but rather seems to float in a languid state, in arbitrary loops. While in one interaction, the viewer might assume that because the shot of Dan is higher up, it might be digressed that Herb is in a position of power, the same shot a few moments later will have reversed for no apparent reason. These camera movements, floating in a dreamy state, constantly shifting the dynamic between the two characters seem to suggest the idea that nothing is absolute. The camera, floating in this aforementioned dreamy movement, reinforces the idea that what is happening in this scene is not a reality. 

Adding to the layers of indicators that this is a scene from the subconscious, is Dan’s discourse, paired with strategic editing. Throughout the conversation, Dan is relaying to Herb a recurring dream he has that takes place at that specific Winkie’s Diner. Dan looks over his shoulder at the counter behind him, saying that in his dream, Herb was standing right there at the counter, both of them scared. He goes on to tell that the reason for their fright is the man who’s in the back of Winkie’s. Dan says, “I hope I never see that face ever outside of a dream”. The scene ends with Herb and Dan going to the back of Winkie’s to investigate, whereupon they find a homeless man who is presumably the face that terrified Dan so much in his dreams, since Dan faints upon seeing him. While having Dan explain his dream is natural, the dreamscape side of the scene catches up with the supposed normality by having Dan’s nightmare become a ‘reality’. Another shot which reinforces this idea of the scene as not a reality, but a nightmare, is when Herb, is standing next to the counter, exactly where Dan had described him in his dream. The movement of Dan looking over his shoulder at the counter mimics the exact manner in which he first explained his dream. This simple cut from Dan’s face, seeing Herb standing at the counter, reinforces that this is an otherworldly occurrence, having been originally constructed in a nightmare. Having this scene occur so early on in the film (about 16 minutes in) is crucial to how the audience will interpret the rest of the film. The purpose appears to be to set the viewer on edge, to present them with falsities, so as to suggest that the rest of the film cannot be trusted either – that the other supposed realities can be broken as easily as this one. This concept is confirmed in later scenes taking place at the same diner, between Betty and Rita, belonging to the fantasy or dream world, and Diane and Camilla, who are members of the real world. 

The TL;DR of this is that the audience can assume that the scene is making distinctions between what can be perceived as reality and what can be perceived as a dream. The factors I mentioned before help realize the film as a lesson is awakening to our own realities at the risk of becoming too absorbed in a fantasy. There are of course a lot of fan theories out there about this film and it has certainly been discussed endlessly since its release so if there are any strong opinions for or against what I've said, go wild in the comments section below.

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