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Dancing in Hollywood's blue box: genre and screen memories in Mulholland Drive.

The opening sequence of David Lynch's Mulholland Drive (2001) offers a condensed image for the film's complex exploration of postmodern subjectivity as mediated for the viewing public by the Hollywood film industry. In this highly reflexive sequence, Lynch portrays the cinematic screen as a depthless, indeterminate space devoted to performance conceived as pure artifice. Jitterbugging couples clothed as from an idealized, timeless moment of 1950s innocence multiply on the screen to fill its space. Background and floor level are erased, leaving the couples dancing gleefully past and even through each other, until a faintly readable image of the film's star-struck central female figure emerges, smiling beatifically, as the implied winner of the dance contest.

Lynch succinctly embodies in this opening sequence a range of ideas about the cinema, conveying both ambiguity and ambivalence about its capacity to project and satisfy desire. For example, viewers can discern apparently directionless but actually scripted and edited movement enclosed within the screen space. The sexual dance is at once enlivened and constrained by the standard of heterosexual coupling. We see performance enacted primarily for an audience's approval and only secondarily for the performer's pleasure. We also bear witness to the Hollywood medium's endlessly proliferating, fractured selves as they become visible in palimpsest (I count only three distinct couples here). Finally, we infer an American culture in which the cliches of genre film both embody and parody the nostalgia for wholeness and coherence. The joyful sequence diagnoses the problem of subjectivity in a culture whose populace gleans self-image from the ubiquitous screen-image, its joyfulness made ironic by the flat simulations that substitute for the "real." (1) Lynch offers in the film a vision of the Hollywood unconscious, exposing the repressed material of the dream factory and the challenges that the almost infinitely replicated selves projected in the world market of images pose to identity. (2)

The claim for a mediated subject is certainly not new, but Lynch forges a special link between the construction of subjectivity and Hollywood production, by way of the overdetermined symbol of the blue box. An image that appears in key scenes, the blue box offers a mystery to be solved to audience and characters alike. It is a portal into a realm of suppressed knowledge. When Lynch's camera draws close to the blue box, it proves to contain both the blankness of the unknown and inexplicably frightful images. In this visual trope, Lynch conflates references to the movie screen and the unconscious, particularly regarding the desires that threaten the self's illusion of coherence and control. The blue box is the theatrical space of performance--most visible in the Club Silencio sequences--and it is also, in two exaggerated close-ups, the blank screen representing the void of unconscious fears and desires into which the main characters terrifyingly vanish. The imagery of the film elicits a psychoanalytic reading of the spectator's insertion into screen space, since the viewer is positioned in such a way as to follow the characters, themselves spectators, into the void.


At the same time, Lynch draws attention to the blue box as the space of fantasy, making literal within the iconography of the film an aim he has claimed publicly, to "]make] films to give his audience a place to dream" (Nochimson, Passion 16). In Mulhol land Drive, Lynch conveys an allegory according to which the dream work that Freud identifies as converting latent into manifest content is equivalent to the production of cinematic narrative. The blue box signifies the mechanism-of cinematic genre--by which this transformation takes place. The central character in Mulholland Drive, Diane Selwyn (Naomi Watts), is an aspiring actress whose imagination is steeped in the classic Hollywood cinema. As she constructs a story--a desperate fantasy--to redeem herself, the film genres she has consumed as a spectator consistently mediate her desires. Hoping to purge herself of trauma and guilt, she fantasizes a narrative of self that is inextricable from the images she has absorbed. Generic conventions structure her escape. (3)

As Heather Love writes, "Mulholland Drive is both a film 'about' fantasy and a film permeated by fantasy at every level: in its setting, its narrative structure, and its visual techniques, the film reflects constantly on the experience of the fantasizing subject" (122). When Love criticizes Lynch for failing to plumb the ideological roles of the cinematic cliches he repeats (121-22), she opens the door toward a broader debate about Lynch's work. Martha Nochimson makes the case that Lynch should not be submitted to psychoanalytic principles because "he trusts [the subconscious] and Freudians don't." (4) In "the Lacanian paradigm, the image ... divorces us from the real," she notes, its "alluring wholeness direct[ing] our desires toward an illusion of totality and away from the erratic surges of energy that are our innate experience of the self," thereby "dooming us to solipsism." Lynch, she argues, believes instead in "the image as a possible bridge to the real," relying on empathy rather than solipsism (Passion 8, 9; emphasis in original). Lynch's realism then consists of receptiveness--a willingness to be "out of control" in order to make "a connection through the subconscious that leads us beyond the tyranny of the rational illusionism" of the psychoanalytic model of fantasy. According to this argument, cliches of cinematic narrative or image constitute the "Hollywood trap of creating substitutes for life" that disperses the energies of the images from the subconscious that would otherwise direct us to the real (12, 13).

Todd McGowan, however, overtly adopts a Lacanian interpretive paradigm, suggesting that what "Nochimson's thesis leaves unexplained is the predominance of 'substitutes for life'--Hollywood fantasies-within Lynch's films" (Impossible 11). Noting, according to the psychoanalytic model, that desire is always for an "impossible object" and that "fantasy constructs a narrative that explains the loss of the object and / or points toward its recovery" (14, 15), McGowan does not judge fantasy as a kind of false consciousness but rather leaves room for the pleasure that obtains to it: "Unlike the social reality, fantasy provides the illusion of delivering the goods; it offers a form of enjoyment for subjects that social reality cannot" (20). By implication, the multifarious fantasies that are the customary material of Hollywood illusions--the cliches of the genre film, for example--allow us compensations for the impossible real. (5)

On the face of it, these are not reconcilable views, and yet I wish to argue for a both / and approach to Lynch's treatment of generic conventions that emphasizes the interpretive suspension that I believe characterizes the film. Mulholland Drive at once submits to the political impulse in Nochimson's analysis--the implication that the dominant ideologies embedded in Hollywood conventions divert the spectator from empathetic receptiveness to irrational reality--as well as inviting the psychoanalytic narrative of McGowan's view, according to which, because the real is unattainable, we necessarily (and justly) pursue the illusions that substitute for wholeness. In line with Nochimson's view, Mulholland Drive's depiction of "Hollywood substitutes for life" reinforces their ideological power at the same time that a critique emerges in the reflexive repetition of the cliches, illuminating their deadening effects for the spectators if not the characters. In accordance with McGowan's argument, however, the film clarifies in its structure of narrative and imagery the interrelation of desire and fantasy that causes a subject to seek consolation in Hollywood substitutes. Indeed, I would suggest that for Lynch the cliches are the point: they are the conventions that offer the only language that Diane--or the moviegoer--has available for accessing her experience. If one accepts the principle that Love quotes from Slavoj Zizek--that "fantasy constitutes our desire ... it literally 'teaches us how to desire'" (130)--then it is only in the terms of such fantasy that we can know or enact desire. (6) If genre determines the vocabulary of fantasy, then the desiring subject does not exist outside generic conventions.

Lynch's visual references to the movie screen as the site of fantasy reinvent this particular commonplace by way of the implicit pun on "screen" as both a flat surface for projection and a device for concealment. Freud's 1899 essay titled "Screen Memories" avails itself only of the latter meaning, for obvious reasons. In fact, however, it illuminates the mechanism by which cinema shapes a fantasy for the viewer. Freud analyzes the way an apparently trivial memory from childhood is remembered because it is useful to the unconscious in order to represent subsequent material that would be unacceptable to consciousness. That is, the "screen memory" employs the innocence associated with childhood at once to conceal and project memories and desires that are otherwise subject to repression. Freud concludes, "Our childhood memories show us our earliest years not as they were but as they appeared at the later periods when the memories were aroused. In these periods of arousal, the childhood memories did not, as people are accustomed to say, emerge; they were formed at that time" (Gay 126; emphasis in original). That is, the image in a screen memory is "real" because it is fresh, seemingly untransformed. As the trace of a prior or arguably more authentic image is erased, fantasy substitutes for memory.

Mulholland Drive literalizes the "screen memory" by demonstrating that the formation of images and personae on the cinematic screen can rewrite censored desires and acts into innocent manifest content. The film does so by showing how Hollywood genre conventions compose screen-ready images fit for the most morally exacting audience. Freud's account of the screen memory allows for my conflation of memory with dream: the screen memory functions in accord with the dream work, transforming elements of life--people and events as well as repressed desires--into material that can escape the psychic censor. Diane Selwyn's dream constitutes the first three-quarters of the film's narrative, its beginning signalled by a close-up on her red pillow, where the bed serves iconographically as the site of dreams. Her dream acts as a harmless substitute memory. It flattens out her murderous rage at her sexual betrayal by her lesbian lover into a story of innocence, courage, and romance. It transposes guilt and frustrated desire into a fantasy of fulfillment. When Diane accesses the language of genre film, Lynch suggests that her dream supplies a redeeming screen memory, a narrativized set of images at once obfuscating, because they are displaced, and cinematic. The fantasies that are the stock in trade of the classic Hollywood cinema offer Diane translation into pleasurable self-images. Diane's alter ego Betty states the central principle overtly: "It'll be just like in the movies. We'll pretend to be someone else."

The fact that Lynch devotes so much screen time to Diane's cinematic fantasies suggests their seductiveness not just to his traumatized protagonist but to Lynch the filmmaker as well. At the same time, he allows the narrative sequence to seem to judge against fantasy when in the concluding section of the film, Diane's fantasized performance of mediated selves fractures the coherence of her narration and, at last, her identity. She founders upon the illusion of wholeness that the narrative cinema purports, exposing the ideological incommensurability of genre films with reality, just as fantasy is inevitably disjunctive from the satisfaction of desires. The blue box Diane enters in order to form her screen memories confronts her with absence as well: her own and that of her object of desire. Lynch represents this recognition by her disappearance and death, as her illusory performance of presence is negated. In this sense, her effort to control desire by channeling it into ideologically coherent and ethically normative generic forms is thwarted by their distance from reality and its inescapable ambiguities. Diane cannot tolerate such ambiguity; likely enough, she would not enjoy a film by David Lynch.

Lynch allows the audience to trace the transformation from Diane's traumatic experiences and transgressive desires, narrated at the end of the film, retrospectively into the Hollywood movie of her life that begins the film. (7) In the process, Mulholland Drive alludes to multiple genres: to the gangster film, the crime/detection film, film noir, the Western, the horror film, the amnesia mystery, the family melodrama, the nostalgic musical, the "star is born" vehicle, and even the slapstick comedy. Within each generic frame, Lynch reflexively evokes the image of the screen or film production as it dictates both narrative and identity. Diane thereby represents the problem of mediated subjectivity in her screen memory. She at once introjects narratives of Hollywood-its star system, its scripts, its conventions of image and character--and projects generically inflected narratives upon the object of her desire, Camilla Rhodes (Laura Elena Harring). Diane's selfhood first disappears into her consolingly fantasized performances of the images she has consumed at the movies; once the screen is dismantled, confronting her with the real memory of her failure as an actress and her responsibility for Camilla's murder, she disappears into madness and suicide.

Reading backward from the last quarter of the film--its narrative of the "real"--to the dominant fantasy narrative, I will survey a few examples of the conversion of Diane's fears and desires by way of the language of genre films. The dominant generic structure visible in Mulholland Drive is film noir, clear from the opening sequence of the primary narrative, when a mysterious amnesiac survives the apparent designs of some criminal element and a night-time car crash up in the Hollywood hills. This projected figure intrudes on the life of the Betty-surrogate as if from the mystery of the unconscious, descending the darkened hill to enter the house that appears, in Freudian terms, as the conscious mind. As a response to the culture that produced it, film noir epitomizes the ambivalence I have ascribed to Lynch's film. As J. P. Telotte remarks, noir can be seen "in a reactive context, as a response or resistance to the dominations of power in society, and thus as a generic effort at revealing, examining, and ... gaining some freedom from the forces that both structure and violate our daily lives"; at the same time, it is "a symptom, a distortion ... that is caused by the same desires and powers that propel our culture and our lives" (12; emphasis in original). That is, noir both subverts and reproduces the features of American culture it diagnoses. (8) Troubling aspects of the world of 1940s American culture appear in film noir as the repressed desires of its apparently transgressive figures--in cruelty and criminal impulses, for example, in the erotics of violence, and in the violence of sexuality.


If Freud's interpretation of dreams hinges on opposition, on the assumption that the most repressed material seeks its representation in images displaced from their origins in desire, noir, too, invokes an opposition one of whose terms may be largely suppressed until the narrative resolution. Despite its ideological subversions, the noir narrative may close at the point at which the dominant values of the social order and the rule of law are reasserted--The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Double Indemnity (1944) offer two such examples. In such cases, the imagery of noir may rely on an opposition between the daytime and nighttime worlds, in which the largely unrepresented daytime world becomes visible when the denizens of the night are punished; The Night of the Hunter (1955) is an obvious example. When Lynch frames the material of Diane's fantasy with the lighting, claustrophobic settings, and stock characters of noir, he suggests that she has perceived the genre according to these oppositional terms which, out of her own guilt, she values hierarchically. The world of noir is seductive for its transgressive gestures, its critique of and resistance to the dominant ideology, but it is dangerous for the same reason, because it exposes desires to consciousness. Diane displaces her guilt and murderous impulses by fantasizing a figure who is threatened by images from the world of noir. Deflecting her own desires into a noir vocabulary, Diane constructs a narrative in which the conventional noir figures are antagonists rather than antiheroes. The innocent, pink-clothed dream-Betty thus seeks to protect from apparently external threats the beloved object--whom the dreamer in fact wishes to murder--and in this way Diane protects herself from knowledge of her own occulted desires. The film juxtaposes the noir world of dark, uncontrolled desire, hideous fantasies of death, and anxiety over exposure to a sunny Hollywood dream of innocence and control.

Such false dichotomies are unstable; to project desire into acceptable fantasy does not erase the subversive power of the desire itself. At the point that the oppositions break down for Diane, the repressed breaks through to consciousness, destroying the ideological coherence of her fantasy. Most central to her fantasy is the time-honored trope of the Dark Lady. Tracing back at least to nineteenth-century American fiction, the Dark Lady opposes the Fair Lady as the monstrous feminine opposes the angel in the house. Although the blonde vixens of such noir films as Wilder's Double Indemnity have challenged the trope, Lynch offers the classic formula. Rita is coded as the dark woman of mystery, apparently implicated in a criminal plot, as suggested by the cash in her purse, (9) and Betty is the effervescent blonde whose energy and optimism signal her lack of worldly knowledge. When the mise en scene reveals the breakdown of their opposition, it signals the collapse of the ethical opposition implicit in their physical coding. A striking pan captures Rita in the mirror, standing in her blonde wig next to Betty, reversing, in a sense, the Lacanian recognition of otherness in the mirror, since what we and the women recognize is their identity with one another. The image denotes a momentary breakthrough to the real, since the two figures are both Diane, the dreamer, and their conflation indicates the collapsed distinction between innocence and criminality, the daytime and nighttime worlds that she strives to keep separate. The mirror also alludes to the "screen" on which we see Rita performing her likeness to Betty; the image literalizes the wish fulfillment in Diane's movie of herself that would make Camilla, the other, continuous with herself.

The film's disruption of the identity/ other opposition continues when the women's identities begin to merge as they engage in sex--in this case, lesbianism serves largely as a trope for the disruption of otherness, underscored in the visual match between the women's faces that Lynch achieves during their postcoital scene. (10) The Club Silencio sequence that follows reinforces the visual and emotional identification between the women as they cling to each other and weep at the performance. As their difference dissolves, their displacement from Diane likewise begins to dissolve. First Betty and then Rita disappear from the screen, as the underlying opposition between fantasy and reality breaks down. The "real" Camilla, who represents the other who cannot be merged with the self, has resisted her projections. Beyond the reach of Diane's fantasy, Camilla ensures the return to the real. Unlike Rita, Camilla fulfills the plot of film noir's femme fatale, the threatening figure of difference who both entices and thwarts desire; in seducing and abandoning Diane, who has futilely tried to write herself into the plot as a heroine, Camilla dooms the fantasy to failure because she exists independently of Diane's fantasy.

As in considering Mulholland Drive's rehearsal of noir elements in general, it is useful to recall that it is always from Diane's point of view that the cliches of genre film are deployed. This is especially important in relation to the representation of Rita. Diane places Camilla in the femme fatale position because that is her function with respect to Diane's frustrated desires in the "real" narrative of the film. Yet her fantasy projections work only according to the visual and not the ethical conventions of the femme fatale, since she envisions Rita as profoundly innocent, a victim whose lost memory--like Diane's act of repression--promises to seal her from guilt. Diane thus strips the fantasized femme fatale of her treacherous power. In this regard, it is significant to note the name Diane's unconscious gives to the figure of fantasy. When the amnesiac looks to a film poster to supply herself with a name, she might more readily have chosen the name of the titular figure of Vidor's film, Gilda (1946), rather than that of the actress who played her, Rita (Hayworth). But that would have derailed the symbolic displacement, because "Gilda" might have identified her vampish behavior as an intrinsic identity. Instead, "Rita" draws attention to the performative, to the position of the actress who plays a vamp but who may be blameless in "real" life. Diane, however, gets trapped within her own use of the genre. Drawn by her narrative of Rita toward a central function of the femme fatale--as the figure of unknowability, she engages the object of seduction in a project of knowing--Diane cannot keep the oppositions intact, the desire separated from the fantasy. (11) In the end, Diane's perception of the femme fatale as wholly destructive rather than subversive-of existing only in relation to the lover, as object, rather than to herself, as subject--punishes her. (12)

Opposition also organizes Lynch's handling of narrative time in the film, whose discourse broadly reverses the sequence of the story. (13) Lynch develops a tension among the temporal, psychological, and moral trajectories of the film. Temporally, it is inverted; the last quarter of Mulholland Drive is chronologically prior, since the party scene at which Camilla and Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) announce their engagement motivates Diane's revenge and supplies the latent content for the fantasy that dominates the narrative. This last section, however, reads as morally subsequent to the first three-quarters of the film, since it opposes a postlapsarian consciousness to a prelapsarian vision--that is, only at the end do we have direct access to Diane's murderous desires. At the same time, the sequence follows the linear noir plot within which the fall from innocence is eventually exposed and punished. (14) From the psychological angle, an initiatory trauma--Diane's recognition that Camilla has abandoned her to marry her rival--produces the secondary trauma marked by her repressed memory of her crime. Together, these traumas serve as the nodal point in both the temporal and moral structures of the narrative, which can only be understood by the viewer retrospectively, from the endpoint back to the beginning. Trauma provides the connective tissue in some of the film's most powerful noir images. For example, Diane's walk up through the dark woods near Kesher's house on Mulholland Drive toward the recognition of her sexual rejection, constituting her traumatic event, inverts Rita's descent over the darkened hill after the car accident that begins the linear narrative.


Lynch also provides verbal cues that serve much like the "switchwords" that point indexically toward a dream's concealed thoughts, as Freud described. (15) "This is the girl" is among Diane's most repressed memories, when she identifies Camilla to the hit man she has hired--it constitutes the dream's deeply buried latent content and its central noir plot element. The phrase recurs in various displacements toward transgressive desires expressed by others: in the Hollywood Mafia story centered on the fascistic control of Mr. Roque (Michael J. Anderson) over Kesher's filmmaking; in the Cowboy's (Lafayette Montgomery) instructions to Kesher in the darkened corral; in the blonde "Camilla Rhodes" (Melissa George) who replaces Diane in the party scene as Camilla's lesbian interest. When the latent content signaled by the phrase finally rises to narrative consciousness late in the film--i.e. during the scene in which Diane meets the hit man in Winkie's--it seems by the logic of narrative sequence to provoke Diane's complete breakdown and suicide, narrated almost immediately thereafter. Once the opposition between fantasized innocence and real guilt collapses, so does the subject who depends for stability upon that illusion of opposition.

Although Lynch's most obvious borrowings are from the codes of film noir, Mulholland Drive is congruent with other genres as well. The opening jitterbug contest, for example, alludes to the "star is born" plot, a subgenre of the musical that can be traced back to the likes of 1930s Busby Berkeley films, where Ruby Keeler, for example, is picked out of the chorus line to star in a stage musical. Toward the end of Mulholland Drive, Diane painfully narrates her arrival in Hollywood, after winning the jitterbug contest, and her desperate desire to be cast in a role awarded to Camilla; the director, she reports, "didn't think so much of me." In the dream, Lynch recasts Diane's defeat twice as victory. In the opening sequence, which seems in retrospect to represent Diane's undisplaced memory but which also serves as the entry to the fantasy narrative, the superimposition of her smiling face upon the dancing figures is a visual metaphor for her rising out of--and above--the dance troupe. The non-naturalistic use of screen space in the jitterbug sequence emphasizes the artificiality implicit in fantasies projected in the cinema. Lynch's image recalls Berkeley's extravagant production numbers when the camera zooms in on the star figures as the rest of the dancers move kaleidoscopically around them, but it is made ambiguous by its ghostliness--asserting it as a fantasy existing in the no-time and no-space of memory.

A more obvious allusion to this genre appears when Diane's ambition is reenacted in the story she dreams of her surrogate, Betty's, audition. In a reflexive treatment of an already reflexive genre, Lynch plays out the narrative of Hollywood "discovery," its effects heightened both by his use of the camera and the psychoanalytic implications of the audition scene. When Betty enters the claustrophobically arranged audience at her audition, Lynch satirizes the Hollywood industry for its superficial projects and cast of insincere, lecherous powerbrokers and hollow performers. But once Betty begins her scene with Woody (Chad Everett), the camera pulls in tightly; when Betty fills the screen, excluding the Hollywood players from the frame, the taint of Hollywood seems to drop away. That is, the screen memory excludes the production of its images from the field of her consciousness and from the audience's view as well. Betty "becomes" the character, creating a startlingly credible performance of a seductress, conflicted by her desires for her father's best friend, in a role that is foreign to the Betty-character Diane has imagined. (16) Her performance wins her, back in the Hollywood narrative, shocked adulation. This is the moment when the star is born. The genre into which Diane inserts herself, however, confronts her with ideological contradiction. The "star" is discovered only once her authentic identity as a superlative performer is made legible first to studio authorities and then to the public--an implicitly paradoxical process conflating performance of self with authenticity. (17) For Diane, the contradictions are compounded by wish-fulfillment, in that her theatrical success occurs only once she releases her conflicted erotic desires from repression, performing the transgressive sexuality--displaced from lesbianism into a kind of surrogate Oedipal incest--which "Betty" is intended to screen from her own and others' view. The "star," curiously, is Diane, not Betty.

Lynch thereafter exaggerates Diane's fantasized success in the juxtaposed Cinderella sequence, which reconfigures her jealous witness to Camilla's stardom and sexual relations with the director, Adam Kesher. Cinderella is the myth underlying any star-is-born narrative, and in his allusion, Lynch uncovers the myth's contradictions. In the dream narrative, Betty is taken to be introduced to Kesher on the same set where Diane has stood as a bit player on the fringes; their eyes meet in a cliched, closeup, shot-reverse shot moment of sexual desire and professional discovery, and then she runs off the set, away from the prince her fantasy has appropriated from Camilla. The moment of conjugal gaze signals Diane's revenge against Camilla, displaced from jealous homosexual murder into triumphant heterosexual rivalry, but Betty's flight from the scene is equally telling. She races off the stage and from the screen of fantasy, refusing entry into the scene where her desires will be fulfilled. Diane's innocent double flees not just from the repressed knowledge of her desires, but also from the fact that her capacity for desire made her performance successful. Cinderella cannot face the possibility that desire, not innocence, rewards her with a prince.


Another genre Diane appropriates to structure her fantasies is the Western, in relation to its convention of manly confrontation. The Western enables her to imagine humiliation for her rival, Kesher, as punishment for capturing Camilla's affections. In her dream, Kesher is fighting for control of his film with a Mob like Hollywood tycoon (the organized crime film is another genre to which Lynch alludes in which conflict is coded in terms of conventional masculinity). The Cowboy summons Kesher to a late-night meeting. The site of the meeting--a corral high up in a canyon--appears as an empty stage, the effect emphasized when the light above the arched entrance buzzes on just before the menacingly deadpan Cowboy appears. The exchange that follows suggests an inverted Western duel--the shoot-out displaced into verbal combat, in the dark instead of at high noon, and the bad guy wins the power play. Like many of the images that appear in Diane's dream, the Cowboy is translated from the traumatic party scene. He appears as another overdetermined symbol, representing among other meanings the heterosexual, masculine threat Kesher poses to Diane, Diane's desire for vengeance against Kesher, and the dangerous necessity that Diane return to "real" life from her fantasy.

The Cowboy provokes--and signals to the viewer--the transition between her fantasy and the real when he opens the door to her bedroom to say "hey, pretty girl, time to wake up." The Cowboy here signifies Diane's internal "duel"--her wish to repress knowledge of her feelings and actions countered by her need to "wake up," to release and confront the memories she has attempted to screen out. (18) The Cowboy's vow to Kesher--"You will see me one more time if you do good. You will see me two more times if you do bad'--indicates the manner in which repetition poses a threat to the con scious mind. In addition to his other meanings, that is, the Cowboy also signifies the return of the repressed. Diane will see him the additional time during the party scene when she confronts the jealousy and loss that motivate her to arrange Camilla's murder. In Diane's story, this is the Cowboy's first appearance, but in the film's discourse, it is his third--i.e, the recurrence confirming that she has "done bad." That he does return indicates that, while Diane's fantasy narrative fails to satisfy the ideological requirements of the Western genre, since the outlaw escapes the showdown, her "real" narrative accomplishes the genre's regulatory function in a suicide that punishes her as an outlaw.


A fourth genre that mediates Diane's fantasies is the horror film, whose conventions allow her to wash herself clean by displacing her murderous guilt onto externalized figures of evil. About an hour into the film, and well into her Nancy Drew fantasy of Betty's search for Rita's lost identity (the detective story is another genre that structures her dream), Betty answers the door to a figure who insists that "Someone's in trouble" and then asks aggressively "Who are you?" She is the mad psychic, Louise Bonnet (Lee Grant). Beyond her reference to uncertain identity, what is significant is Lynch's visual acknowledgment of the screen trope, where the screen both disguises and discloses the repressed. The camera looks at Louise from Betty's point of view, through the screen door. The mesh screen, which offers another metaphor for the movies, remains between us--and Betty--and this hooded, shadowy figure. In the sequence, Louise does the work of the horror film, externalizing Betty's fear as she investigates the mystery of the unknown, perhaps criminal amnesiac, Rita, who has attached herself to Betty. But in her hood and long, wild hair--and in the audience's anticipation of a hag's face before she emerges fully from the shadows--Louise also serves as an approximate visual match to two other, far more important images in the film's horror narrative.

These two images represent Diane's own heart of darkness and, in their power, ultimately thwart her escape into fantasy. The first is the Bum (Bonnie Aarons) who lurks behind Winkie's restaurant and who, in Diane's displaced, reflexive reference to her own dream, scares, apparently to death, a dreamer who has conjured this nightmare figure as the image he hopes never to encounter in "real" life. (19) Like the climactic demon in a horror film, and more shockingly even than the Cowboy, the Bum is the return of the repressed, the image of the dreamer's most transgressive desires. The Bum appears of indeterminate sex, in reference to the origin of Diane's trauma in her sexuality. It is telling, therefore, that after Diane has awakened from her dream and the narrative has presented its latent content as her revenge for Camilla's abandonment of her, it is the Bum who is in possession of the blue box that triggers the film's climax. This scene links the Winkie's scene between Diane and the hit man to the scene of her madness and suicide, and in its juxtaposition conveys causality. The Bum is another overdetermined symbol. It externalizes Diane's fear; (20) the figure makes visible the corrupted, fleshly site where desire and death, eros and thanatos, coalesce. Diane fears that to confront the abyss of desire is to die. If the Bum is the return of the repressed, and if, as I have suggested, the blue box signifies both the unconscious and the cinematic screen, then repressed material controls the narratives of both the psyche and the movies.

The blue box, then, is where Diane's fantasies play out their contradictions--a Pandora's box, a metaphor for the psyche's screen. The images that escape from the box when her control over her fantasies erodes are of the elderly couple--perhaps her parents--whom we saw flanking Diane in the ghostly jitterbug scene and then escorting her safely to Los Angeles at the beginning of her dream. Here, maniacally inverted in tone and effect, they are avenging figures of Diane's guilt, driving her to suicide. Similarly, just as the screen offered Diane, the consumer of movies, a diet of escapist images, its genres also embrace cliches of punishment. In this sense, the film genres that mediate Diane's fantasy doom her; having relinquished control of her fantasy to the generic structures, she must follow them out to their inevitable ends. Like the Western, the horror movie demands punishment of taboo desires and return to a regulated social order. When the Bum unleashes the blue box, we come to understand that Diane is the Bum. She is her own horror and thus causes her own death. The indeterminacy of the Bum's sex offers an important clue to the source of Diane's horror, from her perspective.


Mulholland Drive offers a tender representation of Betty and Rita's lesbian love in Diane's fantasy. The film seems, however, to pass narrative judgment against Diane when she punishes herself for what may be seen as her transgression against normative sexuality: her excessive lesbian desire. (21) Lynch encourages this reading subliminally with the other image that doubles the hooded Louise: the corpse whom Betty and Rita find in Diane Selwyn's apartment. He plays up the horror-film suspense with point-of-view shots from a floating Steadicam as Betty and Diane draw toward the corpse with the excruciating slowness of a nightmare. The sequence is edited so that the audience sees only the briefest flash of the corpse's face, but the straggly, long, dark hair and visage darkened by rotting echo the Bum's appearance. Diane's selection, albeit unconscious, of the horror genre to perform and perhaps constrain her fears finally leaves her with the self her fantasy has tried to erase, now literally naked--and corrupt--before her. By the logic of the genres she appropriates, her death becomes inevitable.

Mulholland Drive offers other reflexive references to film genres as well as allusions and homages to specific films--its images are in fact steeped in cinematic history. As I've noted, the film overtly refers to Gilda when the sexy amnesiac takes her name from a film poster. The early image of the street sign for Mulholland Drive echoes the marker placing Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (1950) in Hollywood; the scene where the subjective camera approaches Rita in the shower recalls Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) is an even more significant reference point, alluded to in the grey suit, like Madeleine Elster's, that Betty wears to her audition and generally in the fantasy of doubling that sexual obsession stimulates. The doubling of self in which Diane's fantasies engage likewise refers to Bergman's Persona (1966), and even Kelly and Donen's Singin' in the Rain (1952) comes into play when the Club Silencio sequence challenges the psychological effects of synchronized sound on which the cinema depends. (22) Mulholland Drive is so rich in allusive texture precisely because it inquires into the cinema's structuring of experience through its premise that Diane visualizes herself in images she has consumed at the movies. I should like to shift, however, from the cross-hatching of cinematic genres that construct Diane's fantasies of identity to the paired scenes that, moving beyond the conventions of the classic Hollywood genre film, overtly represent the notion of performance implicit throughout the dream narrative--and that, as a result, point to the indeterminacy of the blue box into which Diane falls.

These are the Club Silencio sequences that frame the last quarter of the film: the first serves as the climax of Diane's dream, and the second serves as a coda to the film narrative as a whole, external to the diegesis of Diane's self-narrative. These sequences refer to theatricality, to the artifice inherent in performance, and explicitly to acting, to the way sound and movement on a stage or screen actualize a persona or identity, and hence to the way a screen memory gains credence through its performance in the imagination. Significantly, Lynch stages these scenes in a theatrical space rather than on a self-referential film screen. The cinema can more directly convince the audience of its verisimilitude than the theater and, as film theory has long maintained, the camera readily stands as a surrogate for the viewer's own subjectivity. For example, the camera almost always frames a space that, according to our knowledge of the photographic image, establishes a greater "reality" beyond the frame that the stage cannot so readily imply. Many of the tricks available in film technology are more easily effaced as tricks than the special effects of the theater that may even draw attention to themselves--hence the connotations of the term "theatrical." The immediacy of the film medium also enables the viewer to conflate actor with role, while the theatrical audience confronts actors in the flesh who are placed within the stage space inevitably continuous with our own position in nondiegetic space--we must do some work to lose our awareness that a person is performing a role. And the editing that splices together cinematic time and space can efface the disjunctions that are conventionally marked off in dramatic performance far less seamlessly by changes in lighting and sets. Therefore I think that Lynch uses the Club Silencio, in its first appearance, at least nominally to offer the audience--us as viewers, and Betty and Rita as the diegetic audience--the opportunity to resist absorption into the illusions of cinematic time and performance.

The film's irony is that, even in this palpably artificial context, the audience is still fiercely absorbed. Lynch exaggerates the illusory nature of performance as Bondar, the stage magician and emcee (Richard Green), incantatorily reminds us and the female spectators that there is no band playing the music we hear, that we hear what we want to hear. Like Diane throughout the dream sequence, the audience actively transforms the illusion into an experience of reality, as is most obvious when Rebekah Del Rio, in tender close-up, lip-syncs Roy Orbison's song "Crying." Betty and Rita, our stand-ins on screen, are moved to weeping, but are no less shocked than the film's spectators when Del Rio falls to the floor and the music continues; despite repeated warnings from Bondar, we, like the young women, have once again willed illusion into reality, in this case by the cinematic magic of synchronized sound. Such is the power of fantasy to fill absence with an object of desire. (23) Lynch edits in frequent reaction shots, close-ups of Betty and Rita, with contrary effects: we are allowed to gain distance on the degree to which they are taken in by the verisimilitude of Del Rio's performance, at the same time that we are drawn closer to their surrogate position as spectators, with the result that we see through their eyes and process of identification with the performer. The film's narrative logic suggests that the shocking recognition of this lesson--that apparent reality is but performance, conforming to one convention or another--destroys Diane's redemptive screen memory, thereby destroying her psychic coherence. Hence the sequence of events: returning home from the Club Silencio, Betty and Rita discover the blue box and open it so as to reveal its secrets. Betty, Diane's morally chaste dream surrogate, disappears from Diane's dream even before the box is opened, since innocence is erased by the insistence on knowledge; Rita does so when she turns the key to disclose the void of its screen. In the end, the blue box is empty except for the fantasies and illusions the viewer projects into it.


Blue serves Lynch as the color signifying fantasy in its manifold implications. The blue key that opens the box to negate Diane's Betty and Rita phantasms and to release her avenging angels is the dream-representation of the blue key the hit-man leaves on Diane's table to convey that he has killed Camilla. Lynch's central iconic images also recall clich6s of Freudian dream interpretation: the key represents phallic power, which both opens and destroys the vaginal box. In this way, our understanding of Diane's desire returns to its psychosexual origins. (24) When the key opens the box--that is, exposes the screen on which illusions play--it reveals Lynch's allegory, in which curiosity, the desire to know that propels a plot and that Peter Brooks has called the "epistemophilic urge" (11), eventuates in the postlapsarian knowledge that the fantasy of erotic fulfillment can be only that, illusory. The conjunction of box and key--the moment of unlocking--signifies the intersection of fantasy and reality. The blue key is the literal key to Diane's repressed truth, her reality principle, so that, once used, it destroys the possibility of her escape from guilt. (25) Lynch also uses the same vibrant shade of blue in the closing sequences of the film. It is the color that flashes on Diane's face, apparently through her window, as she succumbs to the madness of her guilt; presumably, she interprets the blue light to be from the flashers on a police car, though after she shoots herself, the flashing light appears instead to have been lightning. Blue becomes the color of Diane's guilty conscience projecting a fantasy of punishment from the repressed material that is returning to her.

Finally, color provides a link to the Club Silencio sequences, which are bathed in a rich blue light. Lynch constructs the Club Silencio scenes according to conventions of the mystery/detection genre, whose narratives are motivated by the desire to know, to uncover secrets and unlock doors. The women's trip to the Club Silencio is triggered by their wish to understand Rita's mouthing of "silencio" in her sleep. That is, they hope to plumb the secrets of her unconscious--which the viewer only in retrospect knows is identical to that of the dreamer, Diane. The epistemophilic urge represented by this journey is heightened by Lynch's camera work at the entry to the Club: the subjective camera, centered on a blue-black alleyway, and traveling in a joltingly fast track toward the door, suggests both the erotics and anxiety of searching out what lies behind the door. In the first sequence, Bondar vanishes in smoke only after gesturing into being a show of lightning and thunder, which tints the entire scene--stage and audience--blue. Visually and on the soundtrack these theatrical effects foreshadow Diane's suicide, seeming, in fact, to represent her death as the moment when fantasy vanishes. The closing Club Silencio scene then recapitulates the moment in which the master of illusions disappears from the stage. First, the superimposed fantasy image of Diane from the jitterbug sequence briefly recurs, now accompanied by a smiling Camilla to suggest her fantasy realized. This possibility fades as Lynch dissolves to the empty stage, shaded the same intense blue. Smoke appears again; when it clears, the colors shift from blue to the dark, naturalistic reds and browns of the scene visible in the earlier sequence. This serves as a visual metaphor for the puncturing of illusion at the point at which Diane dies and, figuratively, leaves the stage empty.


The only remaining figure onscreen is the androgynous audience member who presides over the first Club Silencio scene from the balcony--the highly overdetermined image of a blue-haired figure (Cori Glazer)--who now, in medium shot, pronounces "Silencio" before the screen goes black. As in the case of the Bum, the androgyny of this figure--an older woman? a man in drag?--points toward Diane's psychosexual conflict, arguably returning to the potentially conservative sexual politics that punish Diane for her non-normative, obsessional lesbian desires. (26) In relation to Nochimson's argument, by contrast, the androgyny may be seen to break down the will to control associated with the "masculine" reason that distances us from the vitality of the image in the subconscious (Passion 11-12). In this sense, the figure's intoning of "Silencio" may be seen to silence the inauthentic narrative--the film itself--to which Diane entrusted her identity.

The most potent possibilities for the ambiguous blue-haired figure's meanings attach to Lynch's reflexive cinematic metaphors, however. Blue is the color of illusion in the film. In this sense the blue-haired figure may be another illusion, a messenger from the world of illusions to which Diane has committed herself both in pursuing an acting career and in subscribing to the Hollywood "substitutes for life" that, like the superego, summon her selfhood into the ideologically conventional, but untenable, positions of that blue realm. Furthermore, the figure is clearly situated as a spectator, surrogate for both Diane and the extra-diegetic viewer, and the blue tint of its hair signals how we, like the doomed protagonist, live "under" such illusions. In this case, its pronouncement of "Silencio" not only names the club that houses illusions but also, as a directive, suggests both the urge to repress desire and the intuition that desire leads to death. Finally, in its placement on the balcony above the action, the figure appears shamanistic, "Silencio" recalling a movie director's command to "Cut" the action; the blue hair in this instance may encode control over the illusions performed in the theatrical space of fantasy. Once Diane has stopped fantasizing, once the events brought forward into her consciousness unmask her screen memories, the fantasy that is the film itself ends abruptly.

Lynch reverses the Freudian narrative according to which healing follows upon the recovery of repressed memories. Once Diane stops performing herself within her fantasy according to the logic of her desires, the narrative loses its linear force as she becomes the victim of chaotic memory and waking delusion. The line between fantasy and reality drawn by the distinction either between sleeping and waking or acting and being has been erased. When, according to Nochimson's narrative of Lynch's intentions, Diane "lets go" (Passion 11), rather than attaining the real, her subjectivity is fractured by the gap between reality and her projected desires--perhaps because she has let go only within a solipsistic, "rational" context of genre clich6. And her fantasy is, in line with McGowan's view, compensatory only so long as she can continue its narration; once the Cowboy wakes her, she must die. The opening of the blue box--the confrontation with its blank screen--signals her descent into the black hole of an undifferentiated and uncensored unconscious. The verbal refrain--the switch-words--points ironically to Diane's dissonant identity. As I suggest above, Diane's dreamwork variously deflects the sentence "This is the girl" from its historical referent--her identification of Camilla as the hit-man's target---onto her rivals for Camilla's affections. In the end, however, according to the principle that all figures in the dream are the dreamer herself, "This is the girl" refers to Diane. "This," she discovers, is no one--but is also, literally, the final target of her murderous urge.

Mulholland Drive places contradictory views of the subject in proximity to one another, brought together by an offscreen gunshot to Diane's head. On one hand, Lynch gives extensive screen time to a view of identity that rests upon postmodern commonplaces about the indeterminacy and performativity of the subject. Diane is what she performs and nothing more--for much of the film, she has narrative existence only as her own fantasy. On the other hand, Lynch circumscribes her within a deterministic narrative: the self is constructed by its own history and by the representational conventions that make such a history visible to us. Diane thus is her past actions and the generic conventions of plot and trope that allow those actions to be recognized, interpreted, and judged--she has, in this sense, a determinate reality. Lynch represents such contradictory views not only in his central character but also in the narrative structure itself, wherein, by displacing "reality" at such length, the screen memory that constitutes most of the film attains a concreteness that is difficult for the viewer (like the dreamer) to shake. By offering time as both linear and recursive and following the language of dreams, Lynch favors a hypertextual playing out of simultaneous but conflicting "inner" and "outer" narratives of apparently indeterminate priority.

In the end, Mulholland Drive's ontological confusion and disruptive temporality expose the workings of the classic Hollywood narrative. Lynch shows how generic conventions produce cinematic narrative much as Freud's dream work depends on the displacement of latent material into manifest content. Tracking that conversion process through the "blue box" with some precision, his film registers the viewer's dependence on the screen image. He illuminates how the classic genre film, abetting escape from real conditions by offering fantasies of plenitude, remains blind to its own ideological contradictions as it displaces its audience's desires into palatable images that serve as communal screen memories.

Works Cited

Andrews, David. "An Oneiric Fugue: The Various Logics of Mulholland Drive." Journal of Film and Video 56.1 (Spring 2004): 25-40.

Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. Trans. Sheila Faria Glaser. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1994.

Brooks, Peter. Body Work: Objects of Desire in Modern Narrative. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1993.

Chatman, Seymour. Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1978.

Chopra-Gant, Mike. Hollywood Genres and Postwar America: Masculinity, Family and Nation in Popular Movies and Film Noir. London: I. B. Tauris, 2006.

Doane, Mary Ann. Femmes Fatales: Feminism, Film Theory, Psychoanalysis. New York: Routledge, 1991.

Double Indemnity. Dir. Billy Wilder. Paramount, 1944.

Freud, Sigmund. Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria. Ed. Philip Rieff. New York: Collier, 1993.

--. "Screen Memories." The Freud Reader. Ed. Peter Gay. New York: Norton, 1989. 117-26.

Fuller, Graham. "Babes in Babylon." Sight and Sound 11.12 (December 2001): 14-17.

Gilda. Dir. Charles Vidor. Columbia, 1946.

Hayles, N. Katherine, and Nicholas Gessler. "The Slipstream of Mixed Reality: Unstable Ontologies and Semiotic Markers in The Thirteenth Floor, Dark City, and Mulholland Drive." PMLA 119.3 (May 2004): 482-99.

Hudson, Jennifer A. "'No Hay Banda, and yet We Hear a Band': David Lynch's Reversal of Coherence in Mulholland Drive." Journal of Film and Video 56.1 (Spring 2004): 17-24.

Kerr, Philip. "LA Confident." New Statesman, 14 Jan. 2002, 44-45.

Le Cain, Maximilian. "In Dreams: A Review of Mulholland Drive." Senses of Cinema 19 (March-April 2002).

Lentzner, Jay R., and Donald R. Ross. "The Dreams That Blister Sleep: Latent Content and Cinematic Form in Mulholland Drive." American Imago 62.1 (2005): 101-23.

Lopate, Philip. "Welcome to L.A." Film Comment 37.5 (Sept.-Oct. 2001): 44-50.

Love, Heather K. "Spectacular Failure: The Figure of the Lesbian in Mulholland Drive." New Literary History 35 (2004): 117-132.

Lynch, David, dir. Mulholland Drive. Perf. Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring. Studio Canal, 2001. DVD. Universal, 2001.

The Maltese Falcon. Dir. John Huston, Warner Brothers, 1941.

McDowell, Kelly. "Unleashing the Feminine Unconscious: Female Oedipal Desires and Lesbian Sadomasochism in Mulholland Drive." The Journal of Popular Culture 38.6 (2005): 1037-49.

McGowan, Todd. The Impossible David Lynch. New York: Columbia UP, 2007.

--. "Lost on Mulholland Drive: Navigating David Lynch's Panegyric to Hollywood." Cinema Journal 43.2 (Winter 2004): 67-89.

The Night of the Hunter. Dir. Charles Laughton. United Artists, 1955.

Nochimson, Martha P. "Mulholland Drive." Film Quarterly 56.1 (2002), 37-45.

--. The Passion of David Lynch. Austin: U of Texas P, 1997.

Persona. Dir. Ingmar Berman. Svensk Filmindustri, 1966.

Psycho. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Paramount, 1960.

Sherwin, Richard K. "Anti-Oedipus, Lynch: Initiatory Rites and the Ordeal of Justice." Law on the Screen. Ed. Austin

Sarat, Lawrence Douglas, Martha Merrill Umphrey. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2005. 106-50.

Singin' in the Rain. Dir. Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly. MGM, 1952.

Sunset Boulevard. Dr. Billy Wilder. Paramount, 1950.

Taubin, Amy. "In Dreams." Film Comment 37.5 (Sept.-Oct. 2001): 51-54.

Telotte, J. P. Voices in the Dark: The Narrative Patterns of Film Noir. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1989.

Toles, George. "Auditioning Betty in Mulholland Drive." Film Quarterly 58.1 (2004): 2-13.

Vertigo. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Paramount. 1958.

Zizek, Slavoj. Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture. Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 1991.


(1) I wish to thank Carolyn Durham for pointing out Lynch's allusion to a contemporary Gap ad in this opening sequence--an allusion that underscores the invitation to consumption implicit in such screened images. I am also very grateful to the anonymous readers at Post Script for their excellent suggestions--including a more complex reading of Lynch's closing blue-haired figure in terms of the superego--and for their alertness to my inaccuracies.

The postmodern analysis of the production of simulated images that replace the real is probably best known in the work of Jean Baudrillard. See, for example, his Simulacra and Simulation (1994).

(2) Others have alluded in general terms to the clich6 of the "dream factory" in relation to Lynch's film, but I wish, by looking at cinematic forms, to explore in somewhat more literal terms the machinery manufacturing dreams in Hollywood. See, for example, Le Cain, Love 121, Nochimson "Mulholland," 38, Hayles and Gessler 494, and Taubin 51.

(3) A thorough discussion of the conversion of Diane's latent thoughts, by way of wish fulfillment, into the manifest content of the dream of "Betty" appears in the essays by Sherwin and well as Lentzner and Ross. The "cinematic form" identified in Lentzner and Ross's title, however, refers largely to image and symbol rather than genre.

(4) In keeping with her argument about the distinctiveness of Lynch's conceptualization, Nochimson uses the term "subconscious" to refer to "a level of nonrational energy on which all kinds of meaningful activity takes place" as opposed to the "unconscious" which, she suggests, to him means "'nothing is going on'" (Passion 6). I shall, however, retain the more conventional term "unconscious" to refer to the psychic realm wherein images and desires are stocked.

(5) McGowan's thesis is that, unlike conventional films and lived experience, where "the worlds of desire and fantasy overlap and commingle[,] Lynch's films ... attempt to hold these worlds separate" (Impossible 18). This artificial separation offers the viewer a heightened perception of each realm, but McGowan does not suggest that Lynch privileges any realm--even the real itself--so much as cast light on the effects on the subject of their disjunctions and interrelations.

(6) Love is quoting from Zilek's "The Seven Veils of Fantasy," which appears in The Plague of Fantasies (London: Verso 1997), 7. See also McGowan, who asserts that the film "depict[s] the role of fantasy in providing reality with structure" ("Lost" 68). This essay, reprinted in revised form in The Impossible David Lynch, offers excellent analysis of the film's representation of fantasy and desire.

(7) The correspondences between Diane's "real," waking life and the images of her fantasy--i.e. the translations of latent into manifest content--are surprisingly direct and coherent, even though, in keeping with the Freudian system, the symbols are overdetermined. For this reason, I would qualify the claims for the film's fundamental resistance to interpretation appearing, for example, in the work of Andrews and Hudson, in that it is possible to "make sense" of the narrative structurally, even though its implications remain ambiguous.

(8) I acknowledge that there has been considerable debate within film criticism over whether film noir constitutes a genre as such. It seems reasonable, however, to proceed on the assumption that, whatever one terms the category, film noir does possess relatively consistent conventions that a moviegoer such as Diane (and Lynch's audience) would recognize. It is also worth noting the demurral of critics like Mike Chopra-Gant to the notion that noir typifies a zeitgeist in which "the mood of early postwar American society was particularly neurotic or anxious" (147). Nevertheless, because that cultural reading has been common, it seems a likely context for interpreting Lynch's film.

(9) The dream's conflation of the genital symbol of the purse with criminality is of course not accidental, since Diane has arranged Camilla's murder out of sexual jealousy.

(10) Andrews points out the scene when Betty's and Rita's profiles coalesce as a symbolic moment of "identity transformation" (36) reminiscent of Bergman's famous blended image of the women's faces in Persona (1966). See also Lopate 49.

(11) For a superb discussion of the femme fatale's function in film noir as "epistemological trouble'--and, in fact, in specific relation to Gilda--see Doane 102-3. Clearly, since the position of the femme fatale figure is conventionally inscribed in the gaze of a male subject, the image is complicated by the psychosexual implications of the lesbian relations in Lynch's film. Yet it is also arguable that Diane has in some sense placed herself in a subject position with respect to Camilla that imitates the heterosexual masculine position, at least insofar as Camilla has become for her the menacingly powerful, beautiful, and unreachable other and object of obsessive desire.

(12) Zizek's analysis of the femme fatale is illuminating in this regard: noting that the femme fatale "embodies a radical ethical attitude, that of 'not ceding one's desire,'" he concludes that "what is really menacing about the femme fatale is not that she is fatal for men but that she presents a case of a 'pure,' nonpathological subject fully assuming her own fate" (63, 66; emphasis in original).

(13) I use here the distinction common to narrative theory between the chronological chain of events (story) and their telling (discourse). See, for example, Chatman 19.

(14) See Sherwin's fascinating discussion of the film in relation to the Oedipus monomyth, 122-27.

(15) See, for example, Freud's Dora, 57, fn. 3.

(16) Ironically, this performance is reminiscent of the femme fatale figure she refuses to imagine for her Rita-fantasy.

(17) See Toles's perceptive close reading of the audition scene in relation to performance and selfhood.

(18) It is perhaps this function of the Cowboy that has prompted some viewers to suggest that he is her pimp and Diane a prostitute; see, for example, Fuller 15 and Sherwin 111. When he tells her to "wake up," he brings her out of fantasy and back to the tawdry reality of a sexuality debased by the system of exchange that constructs both material and psychosexual existence.

(19) The figure is not named as such in the film's narration, but Nochimson notes that it is "identified in both the pilot script and in the film credits as a 'bum'" ("Mulholland" 45, fn. 1).

(20) Le Cain speaks of the figure as "unnameable fear" (5), and insofar as our desires are not wholly knowable to us, I would agree. The film, however, ultimately seems to name Diane's fear with more specificity, in that it points toward her guilt at Camilla's murder as the repressed traumatic memory.

(21) See Love's discussion of the film's clich4d representation of lesbians and lesbian desire. See also McDowell on the sadomasochism in this representation; and Sherwin 141, fn. 11, on the narcissism of Diane's love for Camilla.

(22) Andrews notes the connections to Sunset Boulevard, Vertigo, and Persona, 39, fns. 14 and 22. Others have noted the likenesses to Sunset Boulevard; see Nochimson, "Mulholland," 40 and Kerr 44.

(23) See McGowan's Lacanian discussion of Mulholland Drive's representation of how fantasy transforms the impossible object into the mysterious object, "Lost" 72 ft.

(24) The Freudian reading also returns the film to its fundamentally heterosexual coding of desire. Diane's transgression is in part the assumption of the "masculine" role of violence against the female object, displaced within her fantasy-narrative into the "manly" but comically fumbling and hence impotent hit man.

(25) McGowan for this reason interprets the blue box as "the point of exit from the fantasy world" ("Lost" 83). Lynch shoots and edits this sequence to convey the rupture, as first Betty, then Rita, disappears from the screen.

(26) It is important that Betty is a young woman who has apparently never before felt lesbian desire. That is, Diane's wish-fulfilling screen memory expunges her of this core feature of her identity.
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