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Mulholland Drive (c) D.R. DESIRING WOMEN AND
By Rachael JOHNSON

Casting the Hollywood Actress as a Mythic and Surreal Character and Interpreting her as a Figure of Modernity

Ce qu’il y a d’admirable dans le fantastique, c’est qu’il n’y a plus de fantastique : il n’y a plus que le réel” (André Breton, Manifeste du Surréalisme)

[“What is admirable in the fantastic is that the fantastic no longer exists : there endures nothing more or less than the real.”]

Viens-tu du ciel profond ou sors-tu de l’abîme, O Beauté ? Ton regard, infernal et divin, Verse confusément le bienfait et le crime...
(Charles Baudelaire, Hymne à la Beauté, Les Fleurs du Mal)

[“Do you come from the heavens deep or do you arise from the abyss, O Beauty ? your expression, diabolical and divine, heds confusedly the kind deed and the criminal act”]

  Lynch's lovers : Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring (c) D.R.

David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001) is a terrible yet gorgeous tale of romantic affliction. The locus of desire is Hollywood and the dominant figure of desire is that epitome of male, universal longing, the actress. The dark but lovely dream of Mulholland Drive is however an extraordinary, particular tale of love, simultaneously subversive, murderous and utopian. It is the love of one actress for another. Female homosexual love has often been conceived in the modern popular and poetic imagination as sensual and dangerous and as erotic and pathological. From Charles Baudelaire’s ode to Lesbos (Les Epaves, 1866) to Tony Scott’s vampire flick The Hunger (1983), the figure of the lesbian has been adorned with toxic glamour as she has also been used, in monotonous and conventional fashion, in heterosexual male pornography. David Lynch’s portrayal of lesbian love in Mulholland Drive is, I suggest, influenced by such poetic understandings of the female homosexual as an extraordinary radical figure of perverse modernity. Lynch’s lesbian lovers exhibit a Baudelairean paradoxical character and sensuality. Equally, Mulholland Drive’s romantic, oneiric narrative manifests Lynch’s love affair with surrealism. As the embodiment of amour fou (mad love), Lynch’s sapphic love story is perfectly surrealist. Revealing surrealist truths of romantic love, sexuality and death are powerfully intertwined in Mulholland Drive. The surrealist heroine of this Hollywood dream, the actress Betty/Diane - for she is two characters - succumbs to violent self-hatred, murder and self-destruction. Lynch’s depiction of women and Hollywood could be effectively likened to surrealist expressions and understandings of character, violence and myth. Moreover, Mulholland Drive surreally and pointedly alludes to women’s ambivalent, marvellous and tortured role in Hollywood, unveiling the actress as the perfect yet dehumanised woman. The powerfully iconographic yet ambiguous history of women in Hollywood sets the stage to Lynch’s tale of love and failure in the city of dreams. It is a leading haunting theme of Mulholland Drive obsessing Lynch’s dream in suggestive yet salient fashion. With a sweet and savage post-modern playfulness, Lynch casts the actress as a perpetually playing and deviating modern and surrealist character and recognises her as a golden repository of myths to be re-read and transfigured. Perhaps poetically polemical, Mulholland Drive remains richly ambivalent. David Lynch relates the dehumanisation of the actress as a surreal, comic and grotesque enigma. The life of the actress is a dreadful riddle as her love story remains a ravishing and richly perplexing tragedy. Ultimately, the love of Hollywood women creates a potentially utopian realm which is at once deeply dangerous and romantic. It is a form of modern and surreal love amorously interpreted by a post-modern director. Finally and paradoxically, it may also be a form of love which may be read as absolute and autonomous and as authentic and feminine.