Mulholland Drive is like two blue raccoons fighting in a dumpster fire; it’s weird complicated. David Lynch throws a myriad of elements and themes at the wall that stick in profound ways. The film is a prime example of postmodernism in movies and a paramount work of fiction in the twenty-first century. The film utilizes intertextuality to draw parallels with old works of a film like Sunset Boulevard, fragmentation in its approach to storytelling and structure, and, paranoia with its use horror. However, the film shines brightest when it uses metafiction and irony to tell the story of a failed actress that is reduced to murder.
Mulholland Drive uses irony to criticize the film industry while also satirizing it. It’s a film about the grimy inter workings of cinema at a superficial level delving into deep-rooted conspiracy territory. While I am not well versed in Lynch’s opinion on the film industry, Mulholland Drive makes it seem like he holds strong contempt towards the Hollywood power structure. Hollywood is portrayed as a seedy, borderline cult-like entity where few have power and all obey a devilish supernatural cowboy that muscles Adam into picking Camilla. It’s a lot to take in, and it’s painfully ironic as it’s all being portrayed through the lens of a real Hollywood production. The paranoia that comes with along with the irony only adds to the horrific and mysterious side of the movie. No one has control in the hellish landscape of Hollywood.
The irony carries over to the Betty character in Diane’s dream. Betty is an amalgamation of every girl from a small town trying to make it big. She’s corny, goofy and charming. Her personality clashes with the tone of the film by being an ironic, upbeat light colliding with the shadows behind Winkie’s and the LA mob. Some of her lines get a little meta too as she references being a detective, i.e. LA Noir and says to use a payphone “just like in the movies.” Betty is the fun side of the Hollywood dream that sharply contrasts with the Hollywood truth that is presented in the film. She’s an ironic, metacharacter that lies in the heart of many failed actresses. At least, in their dreams.
This is where the movie gets confusing and thought-provoking with its use of metafiction in Diane’s dream. Outside of “based on a true story” films, all movies are fiction. They’re fake. It’s just a green screen or forced perspective. The people on screen aren’t real; they’re actors. Mulholland takes these universal truths about movies and turns them on their head. Without trying to summarize heavily, Mulholland Drive is about Diane, the protagonist, and her real dream of grandeur. This isn’t made explicitly apparent to the audience until the movie nears its conclusion. We are then left confused, questioning the validity of what we experienced, like a dream. However, by retracing the steps of the film, It’s apparent that the events of the film use metafiction to heavily convey the story. This is apparent in the tone and atmosphere of the film at first. The monstrous vagrant behind Winkie’s, the mysterious cowboy and unsettling nature of Betty and Rita’s “investigation” all hint at the underlying truth of the situation. However, it’s the departure to Club Silencio that hammers in the reality of the film and shines the brightest light on its use of intertextuality. Betty and Rita watch the offputting master of ceremonies proclaim that everything is fake, an illusion. We hear a trumpet, but no one is playing. The crying woman gets up and sings her rendition of Crying in Spanish that directly references events of the dream. This is the when Betty realizes it’s a dream and discovers the blue box. The viewer knows now that this is a dream. The crying woman collapses, but the song continues. We have been explicitly told that we’re watching a dream, watching a movie. Here, the film knows it’s a movie and reminds the viewer that it’s all fake, all for a show. The dream sequence ends thereafter, and the events of the film are thrust back into the real dark world for Diane. Movies are oddly similar to dreams. We can get engrossed in a movie, believing what we see, just like the singer in Club Silencio, forgetting that it’s all fake. Mulholland Drive comments on the action and idea of being swept up in a movie by being a movie that sweeps you in.