#CriterionMonth Dreams and the Depth of Love in David Lynch’s ‘Mulholland Drive’


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With its mysterious, expectation-defying, nonlinear format, Mulholland Drive unlocks the door to a world of deep, endless thought. After following a detective-like quest towards identity, the audience gets thrown into a radically contrasting journey, later realizing the events that drove the film’s majority were merely an illusion. The complicated brilliance of David Lynch’s ninth feature allows its beholders to formulate a multitude of theories on what is real versus imagined, even though the true meaning will never come to light. “A love story in the city of dreams” is the tagline of the 2001 thriller, but when it comes to discussion, the film’s complex depiction of love and romance are frequently neglected. The moving relationship between Betty (Naomi Watts) and Rita (Laura Harring) in the “dream” not only reveals more depth about Mulholland Drive’s “reality,” but the film overall also explores universal ideas on how love ─ and a lack thereof ─ can affect an individual’s mind.

During the film’s initial two hours, viewers are immersed into the life of Betty Elms, a young, aspiring actress who embodies bliss and optimism. Aiming to boost her career, she’s moved from Deep River, Ontario to Los Angeles where she unexpectedly meets Rita, a victim of a car accident that has caused her amnesia. Betty notices that she’s vulnerable, and she dedicates her time to aiding Rita through the mystery of her identity. For the closing 20 minutes of the film, which is typically believed to be reality, Watts and Harring’s characters transform into Diane Selwyn and Camilla Rhodes respectively. A complete inverse of Betty, despair and self-hatred consume Diane. Her failed acting career and rejection from Camilla, her former lover, have triggered a dark, abysmal depression. In Diane’s dream, she creates an idealized version of herself and the life she desires through Betty, along with Camilla’s incarnation of Rita. This fantasy allows Diane to grasp everything she’s missing, and what she truly yearns for. Betty and Rita’s companionship-turned-romance is a glimpse of what the audience later learns about the relationship’s true nature in real-life.

Throughout the dream, negative influences are conjured upon those who have wronged Diane. In the real world, film director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) cast Camilla as the lead in his next feature instead of Diane, a contributing factor to the descent of her career. As a result, in Betty’s world, Adam experiences a run of tragic events: mob-like threats about casting, loss of creative control, cancelled credit and his wife cheats on him, kicking Adam out of his own home after he discovers it. Rita faces a tragedy as well through her car accident, but the outcome for her isn’t disastrous like Adam’s. Instead, Rita is cared for, nurtured. As she’s guided through a frightening journey of regaining her memory, Betty devotes herself to making Rita feel secure. The two almost become codependent on each other, but express it in the most endearing, tender way. This commitment is a testament to Diane’s deep love for Camilla, and how she would treat her if given the chance. Even though the rejection angers her, the love Diane keeps close outweighs everything.

Betty and Rita’s lovemaking scene demonstrates crucial evidence about Diane’s desires. As they kiss, Betty declares her love for Rita, twice. Rita continues to embrace her, but she doesn’t reciprocate vocally. This exchange not only indicates that the romance between Diane and Camilla is unrequited, but also the extent to which Diane longs to be loved by her. The attraction to this woman absorbs Diane in both the real world and through her idealized self, displaying that returned passion from Camilla is what she craves most of all.

The warm manner that others treat Betty with ─ especially Rita, as their relationship advances ─ reflects the influence of love when it’s existent and thriving in someone’s life. Love has the ability to benefit the mind, adding a rush of elation and confidence within it, which is demonstrated in the film’s upbeat vibe when focusing on Betty. As the audience gets closer to confronting the traumatic actuality, the mood grows darker, intimating that something dreadful awaits. After the crucial Club Silencio scene, Diane awakes from her fulfilling dream unkempt and bitter, almost disgusted with herself. In reality, Camilla either directly refuses Diane’s flirtation or chooses to tease her, chipping away at her well-being little by little. Diane can’t fathom a life without her, or even her acting career, which is deteriorating just as much as her romantic life. Love is completely withdrawn from Diane’s world, and its absence has lead her into a living nightmare, enveloped in loneliness, anxiety and despair.

Craving and wanting love isn’t narcissistic; instead, it’s an imperative, uncontrollable force that exists inside everyone. Due to love’s irresistible nature, Mulholland Drive raises the question: what can happen to us if we’re deprived of it? Betty, who experiences love, is comprised of blissful traits; Diane, who can’t attain the meaningful relationship she desires, is inundated with darkness. This juxtaposition exemplifies that individuals are truly lost and empty without human connection. Being devoid of that essential element inserts us into a world of isolation that can drive us mad, just like Diane. Many believe that the monster behind the diner introduced early in the movie has a connection to Diane, as both of their faces fade in and out together towards the end. In her world, the creature is not just a monster, but a disheveled, sad bum divested of everything, as Diane is divested of love. The creature represents exactly what it was described to create, a “god-awful feeling.” This feeling continues to overwhelm Diane’s existence, forcing her further into the void that ultimately leads to her demise.

Lynch constructs insightful excellence veiled in melancholy, as the reasons for Diane’s suffering are displayed with compelling intricacy and truth. Overall, his alluring classic has the capacity to broaden awareness, and expand one’s outlook on life, desires and how individuals react when experiencing an intense connection. No explanation could complete the beauty of Mulholland Drive, but if anything, it should inspire us to encourage and celebrate love, because as the film demonstrates flawlessly, the world would be quite dismal without it.


You can view Mulholland Drive on Criterion here.


By Ciara Pitts

Ciara Pitts is a lesbian freelance writer from New Jersey. She’s obsessed with sapphic cinema, as well as the works of David Lynch and Joachim Trier. Her favorite movies include Thelma, Mulholland Drive, The Summer of Sangaile and Bound. You can follow her on Twitter @CiaraNPitts.

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