The Truth (Or Lack Thereof) Behind Mulholland Drive

Very few films have been as hotly debated as Mulholland Drive. If you’ve never seen the film, let’s just say that it requires a lot of piecing things together in order for it to make sense to you, the viewer. You have to be creative. It’s a head scratcher that requires more head scratching than most, and it has perhaps the most abrasive twist of any film. Not to mention the fact that the premise is not entirely clear, and the plot has probably too many loose threads to be considered cohesive. It is an unconventional film that first lures you in with conventional intrigue but ultimately pitches you out of the moving vehicle right when it seems like clarity is on the horizon. Due to the way the film treats its viewers, there are many theories regarding not only the plot of the film itself, but the overall intent.

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Attempting to analyze Mulholland Drive is like trying to fit one week’s worth of clothes into a carry-on bag. No matter how experienced you are, or how many different tactics you use, or how close you get, nothing ever fits perfectly. To put it simply; it’s not easy. And even if there was a “right” answer, David Lynch wouldn’t ever acknowledge the truth. For people who want closure, it can be aggravating. For people who want lots of depth, you’re drowning in an ocean. For the casual movie watcher, well, good luck.

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When attempting to decipher a film, it always helps me to piece it together in my mind first before I start extracting the important themes and ideas. It’s an analytical approach of seeing the big picture before looking closely on all of the details that make it great. Mulholland Drive is one of the very few films in which this tactic does not work, and that drives me crazy. To truly get the most out of this film, one must first examine and understand the small details before you can even begin to put together the plot and see “the big picture”. Because this movie is so difficult to pin down, it is understandable that there are many theories out there all claiming to be more insightful than the others or disproving this and that because of inferences and analogies to other works outside of this film.

Mulholland Drive is very open-ended, so in reality there IS a lot to talk about, and many of those theories bring up a lot of good points. Anytime you get people talking intelligently about a film I’m happy, but at the same time, I prefer to look at things a little bit simpler. I’m not saying that any specific theory is more right than any of the others, I’m just saying that many people have gotten way too wound up about this film to do it any justice. We all view films as individuals. We interpret what we see based on our own lives and perspectives. Since Mulholland Drive has so many opportunities where constructive material is lacking, it also has many areas where we NEED to add our own ideas to make sense of it. Because of this, a particular theory that makes sense to one person may not work for another. That’s what is so great about this film, and it is a trait that only a few other movies also possess to such a degree.


My perspective is that even if the film is great as a piece of interpretive art, it didn’t necessarily get there on purpose. That’s right, for all I know, Mulholland Drive may be a masterpiece by accident. Stranger things have happened. The film was originally shorter as it was supposed to be a pilot for a TV show that Lynch was pitching. The production studio declined, so Lynch added in an ending and some extra material to make it a feature film. The result purposefully feels like two different parts. Much of the first two hours of the film being the leftovers from the attempt at a TV show. This can be seen in how it is much more straight forward and cheerful than the last half hour, almost similar in tone and intent as Twin Peaks. That last half hour is a detour to the bizarre where Lynch throws a lot at the audience in an attempt that something will stick and the mystery presented in the first two hours has at least a resemblance of a resolution. That “resemblance” is what all these theories have argued about since.  

All of this makes Mulholland Drive a giant “F-you” to Hollywood. With so much focus on plot, narrative, and in all honestly, sticking with what works, Hollywood rarely ventures outside of its comfort zone. This film does the opposite. Lynch’s TV pilot dejection must have convinced him that he would have to do his own thing in order to maintain the integrity of his work. Proof is the fact that since then Lynch has only made one other feature film. He is, after all, one of the greatest directors and visionaries of our time. It’s perfectly probable that he became so fed up that he pieced together Mulholland Drive as a message more than a work of art. Perhaps it would have been impossible for him to tie up all of the loose ends he had planned for the TV show in a single feature film, so instead he gave us fragments of all of these ideas at once. These ideas may not have ever intended to make a complete story, but to some people they did. Some theories call out Lynch as a “hack” because of this, claiming that he doesn’t explain the film simply because he himself has no idea. I disagree. There may or may not be coherence, but the reason Lynch refuses to give anything away regarding the “correct” interpretation of this film is because by doing so he would admit that it was somewhat a joke and delegitimize all of the mental exorcising that his fans have been attempting over the last 15 years, which is what he was fighting for in the first place. 


There are hints that this idea is what Lynch ultimately settled on. Consider the tone in the first two thirds of the film; cheerful, bright, and optimistic. Even if it was all a dream or took place entirely in the subconscious of the main character, there’s a distinct change in the way the film is presented to its audience. All of a sudden, things get dark. Really dark and disturbing. That abrupt and unexpected switch is really what makes the film so great and endlessly debatable. That abrupt and unexpected switch changes the film’s outlook on movies and hollywood from excitement to dread. All of the sleeze seeps in and poisons the good intentions of the characters from the first part of the film. It tells us that Hollywood is not great. It’s manipulative and soul-crushing. Like the scene where Betty and Rita go to the theater, everything is fake. Nothing is spontaneous and real. That is a strong sentiment and surely one felt by Lynch when his ideas were shot down for his next TV show.

Like the X-files, the truth about Mulholland Drive may be out there, or maybe not. This film can be something very important, or it’s just rubbish. Looking at it in one light it is one thing, but in another light it can be something completely different. For one person it is science fiction, for another it’s all a dream. There’s no right or wrong way for the film to be received. It could be the most influential film you’ve ever seen, or it could be unbearably self-indulgent. That’s a very difficult line to find and walk along. The fact that this film does all of this so well is surely worth something. It’s a rarity. As such, it should be celebrated. Mulholland Drive is a masterpiece, accidental or not.



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