After the lights went down in the Chelsea Clearview Cinemas on 23rd St and 8th Ave, QXZ and I were, for no apparent reason, treated to the big-screen spectacle of Britney Spears' Pepsi commercial. Now, we're both big fans of the young woman. We've seen her live, and bought all her CDs and DVDs. But as she sang the words, "Just enjoy the ride. Don't need a reason why," it struck me how foreign this philosophy was to me. I need reasons for every damn thing I do and see. And by gum, I find them.
This film was nominated for Golden Globe awards for Best Motion Picture-Drama, Best Director, and Best Screenplay, though it did not win any of them. David Lynch was nominated for a Best Direction Oscar, which he predictably did not receive. This was the reaction of Los Angeles Times and Newsday film critic Brian Lowry upon hearing
that both the New York film Critics Circle
and the Boston Society of Film Critics had each named it the year's
reflects the ultimate example of intellectual hubris -- the assumption
if you don't understand it, it must be brilliant. Because, trust me, as
someone who saw the 90-minute prototype back when ABC officials
first did, the film was stitched together with less of a blueprint than Frankenstein's
monster, abandoning any of the coherence the TV series contained and serving up a
surreal mishmash in its place."
A cursory scan through the American critics' opinions on rotten-tomatoes.com reveals exactly what Lowry is talking about: A yawning lack of symbolic interpretation and analytic digging. Yet this does not prevent these people, who have degrees in watching movies, for Christ's sake, from raving. I agree that this film is a roundhouse kick to the heart. It left me useless and aching for hours. It would be amazing even if you left your left brain at home. But here is where Lowry errs, for there are riches to be mined, if you take the time.
The last half hour of the film, shot months after principal photography with French funding once it was agreed the project could be stretched into a feature film, is inarguably different in tone, murky and sharp, cruelly flitting around, teasing you with arousal then punching you in the gut with shame and revulsion. At the very end, there are either several violations of laws of physics or someone has gone insane. You hope it's not you. Most see this and give up. Not me. I got it tagged and bagged, baby.
Of course this is just one subjective interpretation, and I can't prove it. And of course there is a degree of "That weirdo Lynch just does whatever he thinks is cool and creepy. There's no plan." Of course these theories will not fit 100% perfect. Of course. But just hear me out. Okay. Enough ado.
I'd seem a bit brighter if I'd posted this before edame's excellent writeup above. He's very close. The important factor he isolates is this: The end is a flashback. It takes place before the beginning. When we went into the box, we went into the past.
But wait, you say. Betty wasn't there in the past. And why is she Diane? Was she always Diane? HUH???
No, no, no. You're making things too complicated. You're falling for a red herring. What you witnessed is one of the oldest conventions in drama. Sophocles used it and Martin Lawrence still uses it. It's so simple none of these critics saw it coming. Ready?
One actress is playing two roles.
Where did I get this wack idea from?
It's in the damn credits.
Go to imdb.com and check it out yourself. Naomi Watts... Betty Elms/Diane Selwyn. Two different people. If it were a psuedonym there would be no need to list both. Now, if you believe me, the obvious question is WHY?
Well, because even though they're two different characters, they're really pretty much the same character. They both came to LA with the same dream. Diane was just like Betty maybe a year ago, maybe five. Hollywood has chewed her up and spit her out by now.
Movies work in a way books don't. Books are just words. You can create your own involvement in your head. Movies need you to get involved with the emotions on that person's face. If you don't care, you're not there. If Diane was played by another actress, you'd be all "Look at that crazy bitch! What's up with that?" But since you have a previous attachment to the person, you feel you know her, you don't judge her the same way. She's not evil, no one is. You know that it was the town that broke her down.
And without that identification, without that heartbreak and confusion, the last half hour just rotely answers your narrative quandaries, like the detective at the end of Psycho. Why did Diane kill herself? Who hired the hitman? What's Camilla's story? Who cares? Shame on you. Lynch knows what really matters. This isn't a dry parlor game. It's about your feelings, which can still be twisted and spun no matter what you think. Thoughts are a luxury of the fat and weak. Movies hit you in your reptile brain.
And movies is what this whole animal is really about. There's a reason why this is set in LA, and not New York or Chicago or anywhere else. The silencio scene is the key to whole enigma.
(While I'm at it: The blue key represents the money. The box is not a physical object. It is Rita's memory, it is the secret of what happened. Follow the money. That's how you'll find the assassin and the motive.)
J. Hoberman in the Village Voice nailed the central theme of this scene. I can understand how this is not immediately clear to those of you who haven't spent years studying this sort of thing. He says:
"Mulholland Drive's most frighteningly self-reflexive
scene comes when Betty and Rita attend a 2 a.m. performance—part séance, part
underground art ritual—in a decrepit, near deserted old movie palace called Club
Silencio. The mystery being celebrated is that of sound-image synchronization, which
is to say cinema, and the illusion throws Betty into convulsions."
This scene is about you and the actors you've spent the last hour and a half with. No hay banda--There is no band. This is a recording. No matter how much you care, it isn't real. She or anyone could drop dead. It's okay. We can fix it in post. The machine must roll on. The machine cannot afford to care.
Betty is what we think of as a good honest person. This realization never hit her before. Her tears don't matter to the girls upstairs. They aren't in it for the dreams or the pathos or the chameleonic thrill or even the joy of storytelling; all they see is dollar signs. She sees that she could carve out a whole fake kingdom here and have nothing left but an echo.
Rita's problems are worse. The first genuine human contact she could remember opened up the floodgates of her past. When she lost her memory she gained a soul, and now she knows that's incompatible with success. Heartbreak can't be your way of life if you're heartless, but now it's too late.
There was never any identity switching for Rita or Camilla. That was the life that Rita had before her "accident". Camilla is just the name of the next young starlet. It doesn't matter who.
The little teeny elderly couple is a reminder of the life Diane could have had. Commitment. Loyalty. Trust. She knows she's stuck in the wrong parallel universe, and she took her only way out.
The filthy man behind the dumpster is fear itself. In a town with a polished sheen, this is the form fear takes. He is all your nightmares. He holds them all within.
Those kids swing dancing at the beginning are... are...
Dude, I have no idea, honestly. I need to see a good popcorn movie.