“‘I learned that just beneath the surface there’s another world, and still different worlds as you dig deeper.’ – David Lynch
The Academy Award-nominated 2001 work of David Lynch, Mulholland Drive, is remembered by most as a macabre, satirical nightmare dreamscape of Neo-noir centering around a typical girl next door’s dream of becoming the next Hollywood starlet. That is about the only thing viewers can agree the film is about. Reviewers speak of “surrealism,” “imagination,” “nightmares,” and a few of the more philosophical pieces look at semiotics in relation to the performance at Club Silencio, yet no one seems able to truly crack the language of Mulholland, even with Lynch’s clues and hints. In my analysis, I want to propose something radically different – Mulholland follows Lost Highway as a similar story of Hollywood dark side, but with a new twist, revealing actual occult brainwashing techniques. Not only that, Lynch’s film will make “twilight language” references to a host of esoteric subjects, including the Manson murders and the CIA’s MKULTRA mind control programs.
Before delving into that topic, author Michael Hoffman defines “twilight language” as follows in his Secret Societies and Psychological Warfare: “The path to unlocking this gnosis was centered in “twilight language,” a once nearly universal subliminal communication system used in Egypt, Babylon, the Indian subcontinent and among the Aztecs, consisting of a combination of numbers, archetypal words and symbols, which in our time are sometimes embedded in modern advertising, and in certain modern films and music…. In Oriental Tantra, the mantra (including dharani, kavaca, yamala, etc.) is sonically calculated to induce a particular action. It forms part of the original sanskrit concept of sandhyabhasa (twilight language). In Tantra, ‘Sandhyabhasa…is a language of light and darkness…in this higher type of discourse, words have another, a different meaning: this is not to be openly discussed.” (pg. 207)
In my Lost Highway analysis, I mentioned that David Lynch is a fan of Buddhist and zen philosophy. Presumably, he is also aware of this Tantric conception of twilight language and its significance in terms of using and manipulating symbols and events. The opening of that analysis is appropriate for Mulholland Drive, as well:
“The telling of the story is non-linear, yet influenced heavily by classic 1940s Noir. Lost Highway is influenced by zen philosophy and Jungian dreamscapes, but as for the deeper occult elements, it’s necessary to understand why the stories are presented in a interlinking duality, as they are in Mulholland Drive. Zen philosophy is concerned with duality and its transcendence, as ultimate principles, as well as with the individual’s particularized psyche, and its relation to the whole of reality. Zen is therefore a quasi-religious philosophy concentrated on ultimate metaphysical principles, known in philosophy historically as the problem of the one and the many. For Lynch, these philosophical questions are not just abstract philosophy, but also relate directly to the psyche in its conscious and unconscious/sleep states.”
In terms of decoding films and life in general, Lynch himself has said: “We all find this book of riddles and it’s just what’s going on. And you can figure them out. The problem is, you figure them out inside yourself, and even if you told somebody, they wouldn’t believe you or understand in the same way you do. You’d suddenly realize that the communication wasn’t 100 percent. There are a lot of things like that going on in life, and words just fail you.” (Lynch on Lynch, pgs. 25-6) From this platform we can further posit that Lynch does have a secret significance for his films and the symbolism has a definite, although obscure, meaning, if the viewer is skilled enough at decoding the “twilight language.”
Before delving into the film, an important influence on Lynch should be considered. Sunset Boulevard, the dark 1950 film directed by Billy Wilder, shares many parallels to Mulholland Drive. Sunset is the famous story of a washed up silent movie actress who loses her mind and becomes lost in an obsessive fantasy of her own making, leading to the death of a young screen writer who becomes her consort. For its time, Sunset was an extremely bizarre movie, underlining the dirty underbelly of fame and fortune that most 1950s Hollywood fairy tales ignored. Though not entirely evident, it is arguable that Norma Desmond (the washed up actress) dissociates into a completely fictitious mental world where she remains a glamorous starlet. In the same way, Diane/Betty (Naomi Watts) in Mulholland will embrace the same fate as Norma. This is why Rita/Camilla first stumbles onto “Sunset Boulevard” at the beginning of the film, following her car accident, and why Diane/Betty’s apartment features classic Hollywood posters adorning the walls.
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