I can now honestly say that I love Mulholland Drive while embracing the ambiguity of the claim: I love both the road and the movie. Though, to be honest, I've always loved the road, and still love it more.
But, when I first watched the movie, I didn't quite love it -- I probably hated it. So, I'm going to write about my change of heart, without any purposeful spoilers, but, just to be safe, I'll give no spoilers of any type until after the fold. And, even then, I don't think I'm really giving spoilers at all.
My purpose here, though, is not to give a theory of the film or even to answer a question. I just want to ask a question: why do people love movies that don't make sense?
I don't have an answer to that myself, so this post is really just a very long question, which has a tl;dr version that I've already given. But, of course, being a philosopher, I also have a much too long, but you can read if you like version coming right up.
So, the first time I watched Mulholland Drive, I had a rough sense of what to expect, but I didn't quite expect what I got.
The movie is weird and didn't make any sense! (That's the amount of spoiler I'm providing here: if you expected a David Lynch movie to just make sense, and now I've ruined that for you, then I apologize, but also, don't you feel that's a wee bit your fault?)
So, I watched it again. The second time, I re-watched scenes over and over. They still didn't make sense.
I'm not afraid to admit to you (because we're close like that) that I spent a lot of time on the second watching, and I actually had hoped it would make sense that time. But it didn't.
I mean, I had my theories and all. And I wanted to avoid the obvious theories, but I couldn't really make anything work all the way through, quite right. Perhaps I was trying too hard to avoid the obvious theories, but, whatever the reason, it just didn't make sense.
So, the third time around, I had Mona Rocha watch with me, and I started reading a bunch of stuff. Here's the articles that helped me the most, here, here, and here (in reverse order of helpfulness). I also got some good reading from Frankie Worrell, who co-wrote a paper on the movie, and that helped too.
Now, after all that reading, and three watchings of the film, I feel like I really get it. Some may argue that I get it too much, or that I've over-analyzed it, but this is all just build up to my question. First, let's distinguish three types of films:
- A film that makes no sense on first watch, but, upon watching a few times, reading about it, and talking to people who get it, it starts to make sense.
- A film that is like 1, except that some not-large portion of it will never make sense.
- A film that is never going to make sense to any significant degree.
I love movies like 1. If you know of some movies like 1 that you would like to recommend (preferably with suitable readings), please do so in the comments. Movies like 2 I find somewhat frustrating, but I don't think it all has to make sense, so I can understand that there's some aesthetic values in leaving a few things undecided. I mean, to use TV examples, I understand why we never find out what happened to the Russian in The Sopranos -- that's just real life; we don't always find out what happens to people who enter into our worlds of experience. I also understand that not everything on LOST is going to be wrapped up, though the amount that never got wrapped up feels rather excessively frustrating to me. More importantly, I understand that there may be aesthetic value in leaving some mysteries unresolved, leaving some puzzles left to the audience's imagination, and concentrating on the characters' perspectives, which may entail not trying to tie everything together to the audience's satisfaction. So, I'm good with 2.
But my question is 3. That I don't get. It seems to me like the two guys who Huck and Jim meet that hold a play that's total non-sense, and everyone pretends to like it because they don't want anyone to think they are too stupid not to get it (or something like that; I need to re-read Huck Finn, but lately I've been pretty busy re-watching movies I don't understand).
And, there's at least three possible interpretations of 3:
3a. The film is open to multiple interpretations and no interpretation fits all the available evidence better than others, and no interpretation is easily disproven.
3b. The film maker* did not intentionally make it make sense, but, over time, interpretations develop that go beyond the original intentions, and now we can make much more of it.
3c. The film maker put together a film that cannot coherently be interpreted, perhaps purposely so.
*I'm going to simplify and pretend it is one film maker. Not because I think that is always or even often so, though I have in mind the person who made up the film's interpretable content, which may be the writer, or the writer plus others, including possibly producers, directors, actors, crew, etc., depending on intellectual contributions to the work itself.
I'm not going to say that I'm going to lie easy with any of these 3, but obviously, there's a big difference between 3a/3b and 3c.
I think if you can purposely make a film of type 3a, that's a certain kind of genius and/or some impressive, but quite painstakingly deliberate work. Maybe the articles above are wrong about their interpretations of Mulholland Drive, and it is more like 3a, but I feel convinced it is closer to 1 or, maybe, 2. But, if 3a happens by accident (maybe the film maker had one interpretation in mind, but others work equally well, and all have flaws [including flaws in the film maker's interpretation that were not intended]), then I'm going to treat it like 3b.
I will want to say of 3b that the film maker may not deserve the credit that develops in the interpretation. I think we have to be open to that possibility. Sometimes great films are not great because the original intentions were great, but because we discover a greatness in them that, frankly, wasn't really there originally. We can still say of such a film that it is great because we have understood it in a way that makes it so. But I don't think you retroactively get credit if someone can take your crap and turn it all shiny.
But, my question is really about 3c. And the question is now in two parts.
I) Do people still praise 3c, even when they can't make sense of it?
II) Why would we praise 3c?
I have read things, which I didn't link to, which treated Mulholland Drive like it is 3c, but in a praiseful manner. As if 3c is a good thing, and this is a good example of it. But I certainly don't get how it would be.
So, that's my question. How would it be praiseworthy to make a movie that actually does not make any sense?
Or is it not?**
**I just realized, I should have written this entire blog post in a way that was open to multiple interpretations, only to have it not make any sense in the end. I'm so kicking myself now for not having done that! I now need a picture at the end that will tie everything together, including my regret for not having done that...