playing with memories

facts, fiction, and somewhere in between

Mulholland Drive: narrative in a subjective landscape

Image: The Take

There have been moments in life when I’ve been confused, but very few would come close to my confusion during, and after, watching David Lynch’s film Mulholland Drive. That must have been sometime in 2002 and, honestly, I’m still trying to piece the film/story together… trying to make sense out of my confusion.

Mulholland Drive is about two beautiful women – Diane and Camilla – both actresses in Hollywood. Or, correctly speaking, the film is about Diane (played by Naomi Watts), trying to make it as an actress, but failing; and about Camilla (played by Laura Elena Harring), succeeding. The entire film seems to be a fantasy, a dream, played in Diane’s mind… which is where the confusion thrives.

Diane (as small-town girl Betty) comes to Hollywood with hopes of becoming an actress. While staying alone at her aunt’s apartment, Diane finds a glamorous but traumatised amnesiac woman, Rita (who is actually Camilla, but since Camilla can’t remember anything, she adopts the name Rita from a Rita Hayworth poster), hiding in the apartment. Diane (i.e. Betty) helps amnesiac Camilla (i.e. Rita) slowly discover her (i.e. Rita’s) true identity and, in the process, the two women become lovers.

Diane’s acting career fails miserably, while Camilla’s succeeds superlatively. Camilla becomes a glamorous celebrity, leaving Diane for another lesbian lover. Unable to take the pain of her failures (in career and in love) and overwhelmed by jealousy, Diane hires a hitman to kill Camilla. Then Diane commits suicide. Camilla escapes the attempt on her life, but the incident turns her into a traumatised amnesiac. Camilla wanders aimlessly for a while before taking refuge in a Hollywood apartment, where she is found by Diane (i.e. Betty).

Got all that? There’s more, of course, but for simplicity, I won’t go into it.

What’s fascinating about Mulholland Drive is that director David Lynch has been able to take the normal path of narrative, with its objective reality, and turn it upside down into a subjective landscape. The landscape in the film is a fantasy in Diane’s mind. That is, it’s a view of one of the characters in the film – and that too, it’s a fantasy in a troubled mind. A mind which itself is trying to escape from the reality it cannot cope with. It’s fiction (e.g. Betty being dreamed up by Diane) within fiction (e.g. Diane struggling with her failed acting career and resorting to fantasy), creating a totally subjective landscape.

In Mulholland Drive, David Lynch presents reality in fragments of fantasies that his characters dream up while trying to cope with the reality of their lives. The film viewer has trouble identifying with this. If the characters in the film are unable to differentiate between fantasy and reality, how can the film viewer?

A strikingly new picture of ‘reality’

Image: inverse dot com

In spirituality, there are many points of view offering meaningful explanations of ‘reality’ to the common man. Some of these explanations cross over into the realm of science, as science itself has had to cross over into spirituality whenever it has tried to expand its boundaries.

The truth of the matter seems to be that, there is a connection; but no one knows for sure when, where, why or how it happens. In the article Science & Spirituality: Bridging The Gap, Shahriar Shahriari presents a lucid discussion on this subject, bringing together science, the supernatural, and spirituality.

Mr Shahriari’s point of view is based on the theory of “the holographic nature of reality”, which really is the result of the combined work done by London physicist David Bohm and Stanford neurophysiologist Karl Pribram. Apparently, after much scientific investigation, both Bohm and Pribram have arrived at the conclusion that the universe is more like a hologram, where every part (of the hologram) contains all the information processed by the whole. They feel “the whole contained in every part” nature of the hologram provides us with an entirely new way of understanding organisation and order. In fact, this understanding may help us solve some mysteries that have never before been explained by science – and even establish the paranormal as a part of nature.

In Michael Talbot’s book The Holographic Universe: The Revolutionary Theory of Reality, you can find a great deal about the work done by Bohm and Pribram: “The most mind-boggling aspect of Pribram’s holographic model of the brain is what happens when it is put together with Bohm’s theory. For, if the concreteness of the world is but a secondary reality and what is ‘there’ is actually a holographic blur of frequencies, and if the brain is also a hologram and only selects some of the frequencies out of this blur and mathematically transforms them into sensory perceptions, what becomes of objective reality? Put quite simply, it ceases to exist.”

Connecting the holographic theory to spirituality, Mr Talbot explains, “As the religions of the East have long upheld, the material world is maya, an illusion, and although we may think we are physical beings moving through a physical world, this too is an illusion. We are really ‘receivers’ floating through a kaleidoscopic sea of frequency, and what we extract from this sea and transmorgify into physical reality is but one channel from many extracted out of the super hologram.”

This striking new picture of reality, the synthesis of Bohm’s and Pribram’s views, has come to be called the holographic paradigm.

The Doors of Perception

Image: The MIT Press Reader

“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.” – Aldous Huxley

Jim Morrison chose the name of his rock-and-roll band, The Doors, from a book called The Doors of Perception by British author and essayist Aldous Huxley (1894-1963). The book deals with Mr Huxley’s experiments with mescalin – a hallucinogenic drug – and contains his commentary on the effects of this drug compared to the effects of art. He feels they are similar: both elevate the ‘viewer’ to a state of ecstasy. In his book, Mr Huxley talks about a metaphysical subconscious landscape, The Outer World – a concept, which may also have been a result of his leaning towards Hindu philosophy.

Reportedly, Mr Huxley was an active participant of the 60’s movement, becoming some sort of a guru for Californian hippies. If this is true, and since the book The Doors of Perception was published in 1954, I guess the 60’s movement actually started in the early 1950s. Mind you, in those days, mind-altering drugs were used as an avenue for exploration – asking questions, challenging established notions, exploring spirituality. In fact, one of the most fascinating aspects of Mr Huxley’s book (and the ’60s movement, for that matter) was the attempt at finding the difference – and the relationship – between the mind and the body.

How did it all originate? More influence of Hindu philosophy, you think?

Interestingly, Aldous Huxley chose the title of his book The Doors of Perception from a poem by William Blake (1757-1827):
“If the doors of perception were cleansed
everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”
(from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell)

[The second part of Mr Huxley’s book The Doors of Perception is called ‘Heaven And Hell’]

William Blake, a British poet, painter, engraver (apparently he illustrated and printed his own books) and visionary mystic, approved of free love, sympathised with the French revolutionaries, and believed imagination ruled supreme over the rationalism and materialism of the 18th century. Way-out thinking for 18th century society, wouldn’t you say? In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (engraved and printed in 1790), Blake is quite vocal about his feelings against the established values of his time: “Prisons are built with stones of Law, brothels with bricks of Religion.”

William Blake, Aldous Huxley, Jim Morrison – and the doors of perception. Creative genius at work.

“To be shaken out of the ruts of ordinary perception, to be shown for a few timeless hours the outer and inner world, not as they appear to an animal obsessed with survival or to a human being obsessed with words and notions, but as they are apprehended, directly and unconditionally, by Mind at Large, this is an experience of inestimable value to everyone and especially to the intellectual.”
(Aldous Huxley – The Doors of Perception)


Image: Richard Dawkins, CNS News, Getty Images

Many years ago, I remember seeing a movie starring Lloyd Bridges called “The Deadly Dream”. In it, a genetic engineering scientist (Bridges) believes he is being hunted down by a group of people who believe genetic engineering is a danger to humans, and who are willing do anything, even kill, to prevent its progress. Of course, everyone around Bridges assures him that no such thing is happening, and that he is being delusional, but this makes Bridges even more suspicious of his wife, friends and colleagues.

Although the plot of “humans being endangered by the advance of science” was quite thrilling to me as a teenager, a much larger concept had surfaced in my mind then: That, our waking life is like a dream too, and maybe our dreams are actually the real life. Foolish? Even delusional, you think? Perhaps. But I see a lot of recurring similarity in this concept, not only in science fiction (films like “The Matrix” and “Inception” come to mind) but also in science, spirituality and in real life.

On this, Professor Richard Dawkins – from Oxford University and author of many amazing books on science and philosophy – has an interesting point of view. He says, specifically in science, time changes everything. In a 1996 BBC lecture, “Science, Delusion, and the Appetite for Wonder,” Prof Dawkins says, even a fact like “The earth is not the centre of the universe. It orbits the sun – which is just another star…” would sound delusional to Aristotle, or any Greek from that period.

He elaborates, “Aristotle could walk straight into a modern seminar on ethics, theology, political or moral philosophy, and contribute. But let him walk into a modern science class and he’d be a lost soul. Not because of the jargon, but because science advances, cumulatively.”

Then, in the context of science, which helps us to interpret reality on a day-to-day basis, would delusion – i.e. a false belief based upon a misinterpretation of reality – require time as a vector component to make sense to us? Or, could another view be that it’s a purely subjective matter, as Aldous Huxley discussed it in his book, “The Doors of Perception”?

Or, as in real life, could it also have a socio-cultural and political component to it such as “we are God’s chosen people”… something along the lines that Hitler and the Nazis believed; or, the United States may have used to justify its war against Iraq?

Innocent Ian McEwan

Image: Ian McEwan – Geraint Lewis TLS

Re-reading The Innocent by Ian McEwan sent a shiver down my spine, exactly as it had done the first time I read it years ago.

The Innocent is a love affair between a British man, Leonard, a telephone engineer in his mid-twenties who arrives in Berlin during the 1950’s Cold War, young and innocent, and a slightly-older attractive German woman, Maria.

Predictably, the story concerns the loss of innocence, and Leonard begins to change in some frightening ways. He begins to associate himself with the conquering West and Maria with the defeated Germany, treating her with mounting brutality in their lovemaking, until one day he goes too far. Another crisis emerges when they accidentally kill Maria’s ex-husband, a wife-beater, and then dismember the body to hide it.

Frightening? McEwan is unperturbed, going headlong with macabre plots such as this one in a series of novels, and winning much acclaim in the process.

According to Christian Perring, Ph D, who reviewed fiction in connection with metapsychology, McEwan’s stories have often brought out the sinister side of human nature. His early collections of short stories and novels took pleasure in their own perversity, flirting with taboo subjects while maintaining an emotional distance from their characters – largely through poetic use of language.

It seems McEwan is drawn to the theme of youthful sexuality, of the innocent and the not-so-innocent, as they recur in his novels from time to time. His early works have an adolescent quality to them, skilfully styled, yet refusing to engage in profound analysis of the lives he describes.

Critics have tried to trace elements of McEwan’s earlier fiction to his past. Reportedly, while studying English at the University of Sussex, McEwan was deeply disturbed after finding out that his father would get drunk and beat his wife, Rose.

McEwan, who has won literary awards such as the Booker and the Whitbread, among others, was once quoted in a review of Atonement (a later book) by Thomas Wagner: “I have a great sense of the randomness of life… Some people want to make me out to be a sort of gothic writer about horrors that intrude. I’m saying I’m reflecting what happens when peoples’ lives are utterly transformed or destroyed by sudden events.”

When asked by David Wiegand in a 2002 interview, “What about the secrets, the shocks in your writing? Are they planned?” McEwan apparently replied: “Ideally, I hope to surprise myself. For me writing a novel is like beginning an investigation, and you don’t quite know where that investigation will take you. I might have a clear idea of where I might end up even, but along the way, I hope to be surprised.”

District 9 busts the myth of good and evil


From an unexpected quarter of the world, comes a film that takes head-on, and then shatters, the myth of good and evil. That film is District 9 and it comes from South Africa. What’s more surprising is that District 9 is a sci-fi thriller that deals with aliens on Earth; but, interestingly, steers clear away from the United States (the favourite invasion ground among aliens) to take its roots in, and over, Johannesburg.

District 9’s director, Neill Blomkamp, adopts an ingenious news broadcast-like technique to tell us the story, jumping cuts and cameras and viewpoints here and there to give his film-viewers the feeling that everything is happening in real-time. If that isn’t enough, Blomkamp keeps the adrenalin flowing with suspense, action and an incredible skill in storytelling.

Early on, in the mid-eighties, we learn that a huge alien spaceship arrives over Johannesburg and becomes immobile, perhaps due to a technical fault. A mission, when sent up to the spaceship, finds a huge population of weak and undernourished aliens, and rescues them by bringing them back on Earth. These aliens, which look like large prawns on land and are given that nomenclature by humans, are quarantined in a colony of their own just outside Johannesburg. This colony is District 9.

Twenty years later, with a total failure in integration between the humans and the prawns, matters come to a head between the two populations, and the South African government decides to relocate the prawns farther away from Johannesburg. It enlists the services of a large multinational company, MNU, which is also the second-largest weapons manufacturer in the world. When MNU forces, led by a mild-mannered Wikus van de Merwe (played by South African actor Sharlto Copely), enter District 9 to inform the prawns about their forced relocation and serve them eviction notices, things get out of hand.

During the operation, Wikus becomes accidentally infected by a mysterious alien fluid from a canister which he confiscates from a prawn. A genetic metamorphosis sets in in Wikus, and he slowly, and then rapidly, begins to turn into a prawn. When his metamorphosis comes to the MNU’s notice, MNU jumps at the unexpected opportunity of using a part-human-part-prawn to learn how to use prawn weaponry which they were, so far, unable to do as the weapons are genetically coded to prawn bio-technology.

As MNU scientists and doctors prepare to cut him open for medical experiments, Wikus escapes from MNU’s grasp and is then on the run as a fugitive. Rejected by his own people (including his wife) as a freak, Wikus hides in District 9 and ends up befriending a prawn leader when the prawn leader suggests that it can reverse Wikus’ metamorphosis if it could go back up to the spaceship hovering above Johannesburg. To make this possible, says the prawn, it requires the mysterious fluid in the canister which is in MNU possession. So, the two of them attempt to get that mysterious fluid back from MNU headquarters.

Scorched by Wikus’ daring mission to attack MNU headquarters and escape again, MNU soldiers step up their chase. Wanted alive for his unique bio-technological importance, Wikus is now hunted not only by the MNU, but also by the Nigerian mafia ruling District 9. The Nigerians believe that if they eat Wikus’ flesh, his alien powers will be transferred onto them. So begins a hunt for Wikus… right until the gruesome end of the film.

Although disturbing to watch and, in places, heart-wrenchingly emotional, this is where District 9 excels. Director Blomkamp turns the concept of good and evil on its head, showing us the predatory nature of humans and the greed that resides within us. The viewers of District 9 end up believing that being human is, perhaps, not such a good thing after all.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: