Friday, November 10, 2006

Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway

Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr. are David Lynch’s masterpieces. They are both about a character who seeks to escape their present day reality for a few moments to adopt another persona. I will analyze the character of Fred in Lost Highway and Diane in Mulholland Dr., paying close attention to their state of minds, internal turmoil as represented in the soundtrack and who the other characters in the film are in relation to our protagonist. I will also examine various other filmic elements such as framing, camera movement and symbolism that Lynch uses to communicate Fred & Diane’s psychology.

Fred in Lost Highway is a profoundly disturbed man. He is wrought with suspicion about his wife Renee, believing that she is cheating on him. His rage and jealousy eventually overpowers his mind resulting in him being unaware of his murderous act upon her. He has multiple personalities. representing his physical and psychological selves. David Lynch interprets this as a “psychogenic fugue.” He states, “The person suffering from a psychogenic fugue creates in their mind a completely new identity, new friends, new home, new everything - they forget their past identity. This has reverberations with Lost Highway, and it's also a musical term. A fugue starts off one way, takes up on another direction, and then comes back to the original, so it relates to the form of the film.” This reflection of this “dual Fred” is the first of many double happenings in the film, visually and aurally. Before he looks out the window we hear police cars fading out into the distance. This moment in the film is shown from a different angle, revealing one of Fred’s personalities. Another camera angle is used at the end when he is walkiFred’s various personas are apparent from the onset. After hearing the announcement on the intercom “Dick Laurent is dead,” he rushes to the window to inspect. Here we see a reflection of him,ng up his stairs to announce that Dick Laurent is dead. The police then pursue him with their car, which explains the police siren heard in the initial angle used in this scene. But how could Fred be in two places at once? Is it possible that they occurred at the same time? The police siren he hears as he approaches the window could be an intra-diegetic sound only heard by Fred and the viewer. He could be reliving in his mind the previous day’s events. The film’s opening, in a linear theory, could be Fred’s last scene, after he has gone mad escaping the police, about to vividly imagine the same events again. A vicious cycle or mobious-strip. You could start the film at any point and let it make its full cycle and you would not be sacrificing your understanding of the film’s “story.”

As the viewer is introduced to Renee, Lynch has her walking around the corner to a sultry jazz piano soundtrack. She is wearing a sexy red dress, drink in hand and her long dark hair adds to her “femme fatale” aura. The music suddenly stops as Fred emerges from the dark shadows towards her. This break in music indicates that we were hearing an intra-diegetic soundtrack that only Renee and the viewer can perceive. It reveals how she was feeling at that moment; sensuous, and glamorous. Fred emerging from the darkness stops her internal soundtrack to create again a silence between them. It is nothing like the libidinous music played between Pete and Alice as described below. It is obvious that she is no longer attracted to him, and the later “love scene” between them confirms their diminished love.

As Fred is lying in bed he has a flashback of himself playing at the jazz club. The camera then cuts to his SPOV of Renee leaving the club with Andy, the man whom he suspects she is having an affair with. He snaps out of his flashback when Renee slips into bed. Lynch cuts from Fred to an overhead view of the couple in bed. Here they are barely looking at each other, furthering the theory of their lost connection. It then cuts to a close up and match in the action of Renee who then glances over at Fred. It cuts back to Fred who is still yearning for Renee in pitiful silence. He wants to prove to her that he too can please her like Andy does. The film cuts back to an emotionally distant Renee who remains still while looking at him, not wanting to make the first move. It finally cuts back to Fred who leans over to Renee to initiate sex.

When listening to the soundtrack, we are reminded of Psycho as Fred has sex with Renee. The deep cellos insinuate that Fred is capable of violence. That in fact, Fred is like Norman Bates. Even acting surprised at the discovery of the murder like Norman does. The scene in which Fred slits Mr. Eddie’s throat, there is a slight variation on Saul Bass’ Psycho soundtrack. Again, low cello sounds are heard after a crime with a blade has been committed.

Lynch then puts in a special cut that stands out from the rest. There is an extreme close up of Renee’s face, however this might be Alice as it is too dark and close of a shot to see the color of her hair. We are reminded of the love scene in the desert where Alice is overexposed. The soundtrack then changes from the disturbing cellos to the “Song of the Siren”, the same song played at the desert love scene. The song is a symbol of lust and ecstasy. Fred is taken to an imaginary land where the woman he loves is happy to be with him. The song abruptly cuts with Fred’s quick orgasm. In this scene the song lasts approximately 29 seconds, a quick trip to heaven and back. Renee then puts her hand on his back and comforts him, whispering, “It’s OK.” We can see in his eyes that this enrages him and the soundtrack enhances his rage.
It cuts back to a lower angle of Fred looking down at the floor where Renee is (later in the film) found dead. Frenzied violins are heard, characteristic of the horror genre, when there is a discovery of a dead body. The soundtrack suggests the character’s perplexed state of mind. After a few moments of silence he tells Renee “I had a dream last night.” The eerie music slowly starts to fade in again as Fred recollects his dream. He exits the dark corner of a room as if to suggest coming from an evil place. Soon after, Renee calls his name, “Fred,” with a dream-like echo. It cuts to a burning fire, implying that he is in his own personal hell.

Suddenly, from around the corner smoke starts to come out of the bedroom, similar to the smoke in the bedroom in Mulholland Dr. after Diane kills herself. The smoke continues to reinforce the idea that whether or not he is dreaming, he is in a constant state of purgatory. The shot remains as a subjective POV as Fred walks across the hallway towards the bedroom and comes around the corner to notice Renee’s seemingly lifeless body in bed. He narrates, “There you were lying in bed, but it wasn’t you, it looked like you, but it wasn’t.” The camera continues from a slow walking SPOV into a fast track SPOV into Renee, suggesting that he has killed her. The soundtrack increases in volume and speeds along with her scream, until the next cut, where there is a moment of silence and he is waking up from his recollection and/or waking up from a dream within a dream. What happens next supports these two possibilities. The eerie soundtrack continues as he looks over to Renee. She is covered in shadow. As he takes another look, he perceives the Mephistophelian-looking Mystery Man with long hair, replacing Renee. A loud industrial sound is heard, scaring the viewer (works every time!) and further enhancing the surrealism of the situation. Segments of this scene are duplicated in moments of the second tape that is received at the house the next morning. As Fred and Renee watch the tape the same SPOV shot of Fred walking in the hallway is repeated. Perhaps Fred had a video camera with him that night and it is him who is creating the videotapes? Fred is also suspicious of Renee’s past life, suspecting that she was a porn actress. He might have discovered that Andy is a pornographic film producer and this adds to his suspicions. Fred perhaps sent the tapes to his own house in the hopes of scaring Renee into a confession before he watches it. Perhaps Fred even had a plan with the devil (Mystery Man) to kill his wife, whom he believes is deceiving him. The film’s next scene will show Fred and the Mystery Man meeting at Andy’s party.

The soundtrack in this scene is quite unique and suggests that Fred is in his own dream world. As he is at the bar having a drink he notices the Mystery Man across the room. As the Mystery Man approaches him the up-tempo party music fades to silence as they begin to speak. As they speak, the same eerie soundtrack from the bedroom begins to play quietly in the background. The same soundtrack is repeated whenever Fred is alone or preoccupied by his thoughts. The concept of duality plays itself here as the Mystery Man is in front of Fred, as well as in his house. The Mystery Man can also be considered Fred’s other side or alter ego; like Mother is Norman Bates’ alter ego. As he leaves Fred, the party music fades up again as Fred returns to “reality.” “This dialogue between them is one of several scenes throughout the film in which all exterior action and sound is suspended, placing the foreground into an ominous, displaced space of time.”

“I like to remember things my own way… how I remembered them. Not necessarily t
he way they happened” - Fred in Lost Highway

After the murder, Fred needs to create another reality for himself. His prison cell has become his new hell, with perpetual graphic flashbacks of Renee’s murder. Symbolic soundtrack elements are heard in the jail sequence. The flashbacks are accompanied by high pitch sounds and video distortion, implying that Fred still does not recall his murderous act and therefore recollects the murder in black and white video flashes. Later in the courtyard, birds chirp in the distance. Birds are a symbol of freedom; these are intra-diegetic sounds as Fred wishes for freedom. Fred, to escape his current “reality,” now relives his entire relationship from the beginning with Renee, with a few twists. His name is now Pete, and he is a mechanic instead of a musician. Renee is now named Alice and is blonde. He even keeps his macho mustang, but it is now black instead of red. For simplicity sake, I will now refer to Fred as Pete and Renee as Alice as I analyze the film’s second part.

David Lynch has a knack for mixing popular music as well as original scores in his films. When it comes to popular music he always chooses the perfect song. When Pete first sees Alice exit Mr. Eddie’s car, the song “This Magic Moment” by Lou Reed is playing. The lyrics perfectly harmonize what is presented on screen:

This magic moment
o different and so new
Was like any other

Until I met you

And then it happened

It took me by
I knew that you felt it too

I c
ould see it by the look in your eyes

Pete is caught in one of his scopophilic gazes, dumbfounded by Alice’s beauty. This is not the first time he is overwhelmed by her sexual energy. Lynch bathes Alice in an angelic light and Pete is looking at her like she is his savior. Quite ironic, as she later leads him to his downfall. There is back and forth cutting and they are always looking in the direction of one another with perfect eye-line matches. The next time Lynch uses pop music between the two is their love scene in the desert. Here they are both brightly lit, almost overexposed as “Song to the Siren” by This Mortal Coil plays.

Here I am, here I am waiting to hold you. Did I dream you dreamed about me? Were you here when I was full sail?

It is the same song that briefly played during Fred and Renee’s sexual interlude. Yet this time the song lasts much longer. In Fred’s fantasy, Pete (Fred as his alternate self) effortlessly brings pleasure to Alice, and it lasts more than 29 seconds. The surreal love scene and beautiful song come to an end when Pete confesses that he wants Alice. Creepy synthesizers fade in and she replies, “You’ll never have me,” and walks away. This climax between them is also the end of the relationship; reflected by the headlights dying out. This is the last time we see Pete and Alice in the film. Lynch reveals that Pete and Fred are the same person in the following match in the action: As Pete gets up to follow Alice into the cabin, it cuts to another angle and it is Fred that stands up, confused about his whereabouts. He then dresses himself in Pete’The overexposure can be a perception from Pete’s POV as he iss clothes (again assuming this particular identity). However the theory of Pete and Fred being one and the same is later dismantled when the police are at Andy’s house investigating his murder. The police officer states, “We got Pete Dayton’s prints all over the place.” Another police officer, after seeing Renee in a photograph, says, “That’s Fred Madison’s wife.” If one interprets this scene as “reality” and not a continuation of Fred’s dream, then the theory of an amalgamated Fred and Pete is not valid. However, I believe it is still part of his dream world, just elements of “reality” creeping in. Two people that can also be one entity are the Mystery Man and Fred. This is evident when they / he kills Dick Laurent. After the Mystery Man shoots him and whispers something to Fred, he disappears as he has done many times before. Again, Fred creates alternate realities to escape his current day realities. In his fantasy world he is the one having the affair, not his wife. However, things can go wrong even in one’s fantasies. He still kills someone, perhaps to redeem his wife of her life of sin, but even in a dream state one can be reminded of ones sins. The exploding / imploding cabin is a symbol of Fred’s emotions. The Mystery Man inside the cabin is his conscience, reminding him of his sins. When the cabin explodes, this is Fred’s exploding passion of killing his wife. He was finally able to express real passion, even if it is murderous and evil. The cabin exploding, but seen in reverse, is a sign that rage still resides in Fred. The cabin will never be allowed to completely burn down and be a lost memory, or to become ashes that blow in the wind with the desert sand. The cabin is a similar symbol as the blue box in Mulholland Dr. which I will discuss later.

The theme of recreating one’s reality appears with Diane Selwyn in Mulholland Dr. The reality that she wants to escape from is the diminished relationship with her lover Camilla, her insignificant acting career, and the loss of her Aunt Ruth. The ultimate event to escape from, like Fred in Lost Highway, is the murder of Camilla, her love.

“It’ll be just like we’re in the movies… We’ll pretend to be someone else.”
Betty in Mulholland Dr.

Since there are many theories as to what is a dream and what is not in Mulholland Dr. I will briefly outline my interpretation so that subsequent analysis will be rooted in this theory. Diane is the film’s main character and she creates a dream world for herself to escape her reality. Diane’s reality starts as a SPOV of her lying down on her bed at the film’s opening scene after the credits. As she goes into the pillow and we fade to black and we can assume she is dreaming. Everything that follows is a dream up until the point where her neighbor wakes her up. We are now in “reality,” but it is not necessarily presented in linear order. We now see Diane’s real relationships, Camilla does not want her anymore, she gets small parts in small films, and her only loving family member, Aunt Ruth, is dead.

At first her fantasy is pure and innocent as she gets to L.A. and arrives at her Aunt Ruth’s apartment. Everything is dreamlike and surreal, even Naomi Watts’ acting. Soon we are thrown into a nightmare sequence at the Diner “Winkie’s.” Here we are hearing a discussion about a dream – inside Diane’s dream; exactly as described above in Lost Highway. This is a special scene and contains loads of symbolic messages that will reoccur throughout the film, so it is important to understand it completely. The scene starts with an establishing shot of the Winkie’s sign, a police siren is heard to indicate danger is near. There are two men engaged in what we assume to be a doctor / patient relationship. Dan (the patient) tells Herb (the psychiatrist) that he had a “dream about this place,” and that he is “scared, like I can’t tell ya.” An un-nerving soundtrack starts when he says the word “scared”. His name, DAN, rhymes with Diane, therefore he is an extension of Diane. He represents the fear that Diane harbours about finding the blue key that recalls Camilla’s death. The reason why she dreams of him is that in the “reality” part of the film, when Diane pays the assassin to kill Camilla, she sees him at the cash register at the exact moment the assassin for hire (Joe) shows her the blue key. Joe says to Diane, “When it’s finished, you’ll find this where I told you.” The location he is referring to is behind the dumpster at Winkie’s. After Herb convinces Dan to face his fear, they exit the diner. When they open the door, an intense bright light shines from outside and an odd sound is heard as if they are walking into another dimension. As Dan walks to the back of Winkie’s we cut to his SPOV. He first notices the phone that Betty uses to call to inquire on the accident that happened on Mulholland Drive. He then notices an arrow pointing opposite to the direction he is walking in, a clear sign from Diane’s subconscious warning Dan (herself) that she will not like what he/she finds. Finally, behind the dumpster a monster is revealed, but this monster is also Diane – at her most ugly. All of her internal pain and guilt is externalized. The monster is a symbolic figure; he is the keeper of the blue key and the blue box. When she looked around the corner in “reality” and finds the key there, the reaction Dan had was probably very close to what Diane was feeling. Discovering the key gave birth to the monster inside of her, similar to the monster that is the Mystery Man in Lost Highway.
Later, when Betty is walking to the phone described above there is another visual hint that the monster is Diane’s double (or Freudian “ID”). The camera starts off on the arrow that Dan saw pointing him in the other direction. We now associate this arrow with the monster behind Winkie’s. The arrow is pointing left, therefore the camera pans left and we now see the reflection of Betty and Rita walking towards the soon to be revealed phone. Again, the arrow symbol reminds one of the monster and now the arrow is pointing towards the reflection in the window. What do we see? Diane/Betty the monster. To accentuate the monster concept there is massive foliage from the trees behind her drooping down giving her the same hairstyle as the monster. Again re-enforcing that they are one. The second still image is a few frames later as Betty’s hair masks her face and she is now hiding Rita. A visual sign she wants to assume / consume her identity.

In an interview, Naomi Watts says that when people ask her about the Dan character and if he was real or a in a dream she says, “One of the things I learned doing a project a long time ago is that there is this whole research about dreams called Gestalt that says you are everyone in your dream. Not only every character but every texture – like the fabric in your dress or every leg of the table; everything you design or create in your dream is another version of yourself."
Another moment of reality that sneaks into her fantasy is when Louise Bonner, the psychic type lady, knocks at Aunt Ruth’s apartment. When Louise asks who she is, Diane replies, “I’m Betty.” Louise then replies, “No you’re not!” A clear sign that she is in a dream and she is not who she says she is. Another indication that she is in a dream is after Rita remembers the name Diane Selwyn. When they call, Diane Betty says, “It’s strange to be calling yourself.” Another wink from Lynch that this is a dream is when Betty is practicing her lines with Rita. Lynch begins this scene in a different way than the others. He is hiding information from the viewer by starting it with a medium shot of Betty saying, “You’re still here?” Then a cut to a close up of Rita saying, “I came back. I thought that’s what you wanted.” Then another cut to Betty who says, “Nobody wants you here.” The shot then cuts back to Rita saying, “Really?” and the camera zooms and tracks out to reveal Rita reading lines from a script. Again, this is another sign from Lynch leading us to question whether what we are seeing is real or not.

Like Fred in Lost Highway, Betty is keen on changing Rita and molding her into her own doppelganger. After they witness the dead body (looking like a mixture between Betty and Rita) in Diane Selwyn’s apartment, Betty helps Rita transform herself into a “mini-me” of Betty. In the dream world Betty has control of Rita. But in “reality” it was Camilla that was controlling Diane, using her to get ahead in the Hollywood system. After they stare at the transformed Rita in the mirror the image fades into Betty lying down in bed. Lynch is superimposing the images of the two women together, implying that they are one. He again shows us this concept visually after they make love. Their heads are lined up perfectly to form one person. We see two eyes (one of Betty’s and one of Rita’s), one nose (Rita) and half of each woman’s lips to form one mouth.

Later, at Club Silencio Lynch uses Roy Orbison’s “Crying Over You” to express Diane’s emotions towards Camilla. At this point in the film we are nearing the end of the dream as the color blue begins to increasingly appear. Blue symbolizes the unknown, “feeling blue” or depression and death. Before discussing the song, it is interesting to note how often the color blue is featured from the point they are in bed. As we can see in the above picture the sheets they are sleeping on are blue. After they get into the taxi cab the camera pans along with it and in the far background there is a slight indication of blue; they are going to the blue box. Oddly enough we have another sign here that Diane’s dream is going in the wrong direction. Above the car there is a red X, similar to the arrow pointing Dan back in the right direction. When the cab arrives at Club Silencio we see the name of the club in blue neon and inside the outer door frame the interior door is a glowing blue. The overall tint of this still is blue as well. To the left there is another dumpster. Will another monster appear at this club? What will this monster lead her to confront or realize? After the MC’s introduction, he disappears in blue smoke. The room even illuminates with blue flashes of lightening. There is a woman with blue hair sitting in a balcony. Then finally there is the discovery of the blue box.
When Rebekah Del Rio sings a Spanish version of “Crying Over You,” here Lynch again has found the perfect song to express how Diane is feeling towards Camilla.

but I saw you last night
you held my hand so tight

and you said so long

left me standing all alone
and crying crying crying crying
it's hard to understand

but the touch of your hand

can start me cryin
I thought that I was over you

but it's true so true
I love you even more
than I did before
but darling what can I do

for you don't love me

and I'll always be
crying over you
crying over you

yes now you're gone

and from this moment on

I'll be crying, crying, crying, crying over you

The blue box is similar to the cabin in Lost Highway. They are both intriguing as to their mystical power and one is anxious to find out what is inside. When Rita opens the box we see that it is empty, like the first time we see the inside of the cabin. Mulholland Dr., like Lost Highway, have characters that disappear when they open the door (to the cabin and to the blue box). Alice disappears, never to be seen again, and Pete is transformed into Fred. When Rita opens the box, what is presented is truth and / or reality. What is reality or a fact? The fact is that Camilla has been killed. The blue box represents Diane’s hidden secret, when it is opened reality / truth is let out of the box. This is why Rita / Camilla disappears; she is dead, therefore she cannot exist. Diane cannot escape the truth, it has caught up with her, even in her dream. When she wakes up we notice that the walls in the house are blue. She is living in the blue box, like mentioned before is a symbol of truth. She is now awake and can assume what we are now seeing is reality and no longer a dream.

In many ways Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr. are similar, if not two versions of the same film, harboring disturbed characters who are compelled to flee and create alternate worlds to escape their present day realities. Lynch has “designed films with an open architecture in which equally plausible interpretations of the films can be constructed.” Lynch uses many aesthetic devices to reinforce their inner psyche, whether it be through the use of soundtrack, camera movement or symbolic objects like the blue box or an imploding cabin. Jean-Luc Godard once said “All you need to make a film is a girl and a gun:” But this recipe is too simple for Lynch. He adds a dash of lesbians, ½ a cup of microscopic grandparents who drive you to suicide, ¼ cup of an espresso snob, and a pinch of creepy eye-brow-less alter ego’s to come up with a masterpieces such as Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr.


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Anonymous said...

Hi corey! I came across the link to your blog randomly on youtube as I was browsing some film parts. As I liked Mulholland Drive I was intrigued to find you've written about it and find out what your interpretation is. I'm impressed as people who I watch independent films with would say your not meant to find any logic in Lynch's films, where as with this film I could see parts fitting like a jigsaw and it made an impression on me long after. So just wanted to say thanks and well done on a great essay. Just realised how long a comment this is, anyways I'm gonna have to get hold of Lost Highway and watch that too.

Mike White said...

"wrought with suspicion" or "fraught with suspicion"?

Greg said...

It's a long piece you wrote here and it will take me some time to finish it but it's interesting. I think David Lynch does have some ideas about symbolism etc. but he also likes to allow people to draw their own conclusions.

Anonymous said...

Perpetual modernness is the measure of merit in every work of art.