Mulholland Dr. and psychoanalytic theory: part 2 of 2

Last night, by way of procrastination and consolation, I posted the first half of an old essay of mine about the psychoanalytic functions of Lynch’s Mulholland Dr., focusing primarily on the film’s form. The concluding part deals with the content of the film. Incase you are wondering, I am maybe 20 words ahead in my dissertation-writing than I was yesterday. :S

Here’s part two:

Not only does Lynch engage with psychoanalytic theories though his use of apparatus, he also does so through the narrative of Mulholland Drive. In particular, Freud’s ideas about the structure of the mind are relevant to analysing Diane’s thoughts and behaviour throughout the film. Freud divided the mind into three operations: the id, the ego and the superego. The processes of the id are completely unconscious; it obeys the pleasure principle – the compulsion to obtain immediate gratification in whatever form it may take. The ego mediates behaviour by compromising between the id and the superego. The superego is split into the conscience and the ego-ideal; the conscience is the internalisation of the rules and restrictions of society, while the ego-ideal represents an individual’s goals and what he/she would like to be. The human mind is full of conflicts between these different urges.

Exploring Diane’s behaviour in terms of these three drives is valuable when trying to shed light on the events of the narrative trajectory. When Diane has Camilla killed, she is obeying the compulsion of the id while suppressing the demands of both the ego and the superego. Freud believed that dreams are motivated by repressed urges:

…dreams arise out of inner conflicts between unconscious desires (primarily sexual ones) and prohibitions against acting out these desires. (Tang, 2001: 2)

In this light, it is possible to read the first part of the film, the fantasy narrative, as fulfilment of Diane’s repressed ego-ideal. In this section, her alter-ego is talented and causes a sensation when she goes to her first audition. She lives in a nice apartment, as opposed to Diane’s drab bungalow.

More importantly, however, she re-envisages her whole self as the kind of person she wants to be in real life. Diane is a depressed loser whose optimism has been beaten out of her by lack of fortune. She is also effectively a murderer, and her guilt plagues her to the point of suicide. Her alter-ego, Betty, is impossibly compassionate and cheerful. The power balance in the relationship is in her favour; she drives the story and is in control of both her own fate and that of Rita. There are numerous occasions where Betty compels Rita to do things she would have been too afraid to do alone. It is Betty who suggests opening the bag to find out Rita’s real name, Betty who makes the decision to hide the money they find, Betty who persuades Rita to let her phone the police to find out about the car accident and Betty who breaks into Diane’s apartment – all to help Rita find out who she is and what is happening to her. As Martha Nochimson points out:

Her generosity towards Rita is, perhaps, not quite as altruistic as it might seem; she is also in love with the control she seems to have over her. (2004: 174)

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Mulholland Dr. and psychoanalytic theory: Part 1 of 2

I’ve been trying in vain for days to get my film/theology dissertation started and am feeling frustrated at my complete lack of focus, so in an effort to cheer myself up, I thought I’d post up some more previous academic writing of mine. This is the first half of an essay I wrote about three years ago analysing David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. through the lens of psychoanalytic film theory. Not the best thing I wrote that year (sadly I wrote a great piece on Jean-Pierre Jeunet and auteur theory which I was very proud of but which has completely disappeared off the face of the planet), but I think this one got quite a high mark anyway:


David Lynch is a film practitioner who wholeheartedly engages with psychoanalytic theory throughout his work by exploring ideas of the subconscious – much of what is considered bizarre about his films is actually an articulation of the unconscious drives beneath the surfaces of his narratives. This examination of psychoanalytical ideas is particularly evident in his eighth feature, Mulholland Drive, a film that evokes Freudian ideas about the function of dreams and Christian Metz’s concepts of cinematic apparatus.

In contrast to other films by Lynch, the first part of Mulholland Drive appears relatively straightforward: a woman (Laura Harring) survives an attempt on her life and a car crash but develops amnesia. Lost and frightened, she hides in a vacant apartment, where she is discovered by the chirpy and benevolent Betty Elms (Naomi Watts). Betty helps “Rita” in her quest to discover her identity, and during this time the two fall in love. Along with a subplot about a young movie director’s unfortunate run-in with mysterious Mob types, and several other seemingly unrelated story lines, this represents the basic plot of the first two thirds of the film.

Two hours in, seemingly on the cusp of solving the mystery of Rita’s identity, the film undergoes a radical transformation and an entirely new reality transpires. Betty disappears and wakes up as dejected and lonely Diane Selwyn (Naomi Watts), a failed actress who has been abandoned by the woman she loves – Camilla Rhodes, played by Laura Harring – for successful movie director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux). After a series of humiliations, Diane hires a hit man to kill Camilla, and later, destroyed by guilt, she commits suicide. This section, which comprises the last twenty minutes of the film, is a confusing series of flashbacks which, at first, seems impenetrable.

The most widely accepted interpretation[1] is that the first part of the film is a fantasy and the second part represents the grim reality. Diane, broken-hearted and consumed by jealousy, has Camilla murdered. She then reimagines her failed career and disastrous relationship in a dream in which she is a good and kind person who succeeds in Hollywood on sheer talent. More importantly, Camilla is reinvented as someone who loves her and is entirely dependant on her.

The film is multi-layered and invites numerous interpretations. Lynch has declined to comment on the film’s symbolism or narrative and therefore it is up to the audience to deduce or even create the film’s meaning.

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