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David E. Chapkin (London, England)

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Mulholland Drive [DVD]
Mulholland Drive [DVD]
Dvd ~ Justin Theroux
Price: £5.28

38 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Full and Proper Explanation, 1 Jan. 2009
This review is from: Mulholland Drive [DVD] (DVD)
Although the film is structured by way of dream/fantasy as opposed to being plot or character driven, it is entirely coherent although non-linear of course. As I recall, this is a film about Diane Selwyn who was possessed by two obsessions centred around a fixation. The first obsession was her dream of Hollywood and "making it". Her second obsession was with her lesbian lover, the dark haired woman suffering amnesia (her name is Camilla Rhodes) and the jealousy she felt when she fell out of the woman's affections. As is related at the end, Camilla Rhodes was the central point of fixation about which Diane Selwyn's life revolved when she came to LA, looking as so many have for love and a star-studded film career. But she was disappointingly let down. Her dreams of Hollywood, riding on the introductions of Camilla had come to naught; her affair with the woman, long over.

Actually, the seminal sequence at the end where she (Diane) is riding in the limo along Mulholland Drive is one of the few sequences that could be called "real life" in the film because of course this is Diane Selwyn's experience, not her fantasy, Betty, the dream personae whose name she took from the waitress in Winky's restaurant. We see her going into the director's house where all is revealed i.e. her shattered dreams of becoming a successful Hollywood actress and the betrayal she feels culminating in the announcement that her lesbian ex-lover is to marry the film director.

What Lynch did in the film was unique because Betty, the central character, is just a construct of Diane Selwyn's. She is not real. Rather it is Diane Selwyn who is real who in the opening credits is revealed as the star-struck girl from some no-name town in Canada who happened to have won an insignificant, local jitterbug contest. With her head full of unrealistic dreams, she'd travelled to LA, the city of dreams. But those dreams eventually collapsed. In response, she adopted a fantasy life of sorts - I see it as a projection - in which she created the personae, perhaps split off from herself, of the fresh, talented, rather naive, but business-like Betty.

Characteristically, it is Betty at first instance, Diane's projected personae, who meets Camilla Rhodes in the film. And naturally, this is the woman who spurned Diane in real life and for whom Diane would like to turn back the clock. What was required was that Camilla, her ex-lover, would have no memory of Diane and how their tryst went awry, hence the accident and the subsequent amnesia. Better still, Diane seeks to extinguish from memory her entire past. In this way, and it is of course Diane Selwyn's fantasy, she is provided a second go-round, a way out so to speak from the disappointment of her reality. Here within the wish-fulfilling fantasy she can reinvent herself. Here she can show how splendid an actress she is. She is discovered. Her gifts as a person can be recognised. And she can seduce and recapture her life with her lover again but without Camilla (or Diane) having any memory of the defeating past.

Most interestingly, this is what the film is - a psychological response to shattering loss. And whereas there is portrayed Diane Selwyn's wish fulfilment fantasy (which collapses when reality intrudes and more memory is recovered) there is also the nastier, more fearful undercurrent fuelled by Diane's guilt because of course she has in her mad jealousy hired a contract killer to murder Camilla. For this she will burn in hell as she reveals (in the person of Betty) to Camilla when Diane's suicide (she'd shot herself in the mouth) is discovered in the bedroom of Diane's house.

At first I thought the primitive emotion that underpins her murderous jealousy was personified by the fearful thing (it's actually a homeless tramp) at the back of Winky's restaurant, i.e. at the back of her mind, which the fellow, who relates his dream to a friend in Winky's, sees. But of course this, interestingly enough, is also the fear of most people in the West; namely, that they will one day end up penniless, without a home or a friend, discarded by loved ones and the society around them. And of course this is what happens to the blue box, the box which is the core of Diane's Selwyn's being, whose key is of course found in Camilla's handbag - and which, symbolically, is used obviously to unlock Diane's being/heart. We see in a later scene the blue box being placed in a brown paper bag by the tramp which he then discards among the rest of the rubbish. It is also pertinent that when Camilla looks into the box in an earlier scene - the camera telescopes through the box - that it is empty and falls to the floor. This signifies that Diane's (empty) dream (and empty soul too) is over and with it, the dream personae, Betty (as we see, Betty has disappeared from the room and the house).

Now there are some interesting details to be gone through here. Instead of the hired killer being successful (hence he's characterised as a ridiculous bungler), Diane fantasizes that the car crashes and Camilla escapes, without her memory of course. Diane's wish to see her lover dead is not realised. Most properly, the fantasy is a form of defence mechanism that serves to relieve Diane of some of her guilt. And true to form, the fantasy has been constructed as one does in dream - to formulate in some fantastic way, a way out of a reality that appears doomed. Because of course Diane's dream of a life has completely collapsed. Hollywood is heartless. Behind the scene lurks a sinister enforcer, the cowboy. The power brokers are much removed, the scene artificial, corrupt and fake. As in the theatre sequence, the performance is phoney and ends with the singer collapsing. As in the fantasy, so this proved a moment of crisis for Diane Selwyn. The dream had been defiled and seen to be false, yet the ferocity of the fantasy remained and could not be kept out. Hence, the scene at the end, when the little gremlin-like Hollywood-infatuated oldies try to get at her from under the door. Unsuccessfully, she tries to flee her own fantasy but cannot. They squeeze in under the door and come at her. With no way out - and she feels doubly boxed in by both her Hollywood dreams and her guilt (afterall she has hired a contract killer to murder Camilla and is being sought after for questioning by detectives), she takes the only avenue available to her, suicide.

People have asked me why the blonde-haired girl, whose picture is shown by the Hollywood mafia guys to the director (the "This is the girl" woman), is also named Camilla Rhodes (that's the name at the bottom of the picture). As you may recall, this is the woman who appears in "real life" at the end of the film at the director's house who kisses Camilla Rhodes on the lips. She is one of Camilla's lovers and is of course a real rival of Diane's for Camilla's affections. It is one thing for Diane to be betrayed by a man (the film director) - and as portrayed, the proposed marriage seems insubstantial, almost farcical - but it's something altogether different that Camilla should feel attracted/lustful towards another woman. But ultimately, in terms of Hollywood, Camilla (her dark-haired lover) is her actual rival. Camilla lands the big Hollywood parts and of course the part in the director's film. But she cannot give herself over in her fantasy to hating Camilla so she replaces her with her rival, the blond woman, hence this woman is given the name Camilla Rhodes.

The story of Diane Selwyn is a tragic one. Afterall, this is the tale of a woman who ends up committing suicide. It is also the story of how this impressionable woman's failed dreams led to her demise and how she tried in desperation to resurrect that dream in the fantasy guise of Betty. This was bound to fail as more and more of her ex-lover's memory was recovered, and concomitantly, as more of Diane's reality intruded. Sadly, Diane Selwyn must be viewed as one of the many lost souls who having fed into the American dream was cast down and discarded - along that murky road down Mulholland Drive - when the fantasy life that provided hope and sustenance collapsed around her.

David Chapkin
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