No Hay Banda: David Lynch's Mulholland Drive
In Mulholland Drive’s most hypnotic scene, singer Rebekah del Rio is called on stage at Club Silencio to perform a Spanish rendition of Roy Orbison’s “Crying”. It’s hypnotic, heartbreaking, and totally spellbinding. But, in that moment when Rebekah collapses in a slump on the shimmering stage floor, the announcer’s words come echoing back as the sonorous voice continues singing, “No hay banda. There is no band. It is an illusion.”
In this moment, we can’t help but feel as though David Lynch has pulled back the curtain, even if just a tad, on this almost entirely mystifying experience. Mulholland Drive is not simply about the illusions of Betty (Naomi Watts) — and later Diane — as laced through the winding narrative, but it is also about the illusion that film offers us as a medium.
But, we must backtrack a bit. In an earlier scene, Lynch shows us Betty auditioning for a soap opera. A television show whose script — in a practice session depicted just scenes earlier — Betty couldn’t help but laugh at for its cliché dialogue. Yet, when Betty reaches the studio and auditions for the scene, something altogether extraordinary happens. As she eases into the lines, the same ones we heard not ten minutes prior, with her acting partner, the scene takes on a new form. It’s made urgent, tragic, and seductive by their delivery; a sort of whispery, breathy longing saturates the dialogue.
At this point, Lynch has shown us that film can transform the trite into the tantalizing. Yet, it is only when we fast-forward to the hardest break in the film that we truly understand how film can accomplish this transformation. Though Lynch has already shown us this cinematic trick at least on two occasions by this point in the film, we are still entirely unprepared. At this point, Betty — actually Diane — wakes from her bizarre and terrifying nightmare to find that her life is askew. She is not a newly discovered actress, she is not the raven-black haired Rita’s partner, she is not living in her retired actress aunt’s LA apartment. Instead, she is stuck in a dingy, one bedroom flat that looks as though its entire interior is in the process of decay.
And, it is in this moment that we feel Lynch has revealed his final trick, clearly delineating the real from the surreal. The set-up, broken into dual parts by Club Silencio and the audition scenes, has led to the pay-off, as seemingly manifested in the waking from a dream.
Yet, Lynch is not content to let us off so easily. As he slowly wraps up loose ends, weaving back strands of the B, C, and D plots introduced in the first act, he also begins to weave in the surrealism that so saturated the first two acts of the film. Maniacal grandparents jitter about like jumping beans, figures previously seen in other roles in the ‘dream’ section of the film reappear in newly configured positions, and the hauntingly mysterious feathery figure that haunts the back of the diner sits in a cloud of smoke, toying with the surreal azure cube at the center of this tale. As he has done in Club Silencio, in the audition scene, and in the waking scene, Lynch pulls the rug right out from under us yet again.
So, when we circle back to where I began — the Club Silencio scene — we see the crux of the method to Lynch’s distinct madness. “No hay banda.” Lynch warns us. He repeats it for emphasis, “There is no band.” It is all an illusion. Betty, Diane, Rita, the shadowy Hollywood executives, the jittery grandparents, the feathered creature, the car crash, the director. Everything. The entire film is all an illusion. And, yet, in spite of this, we can’t help but get caught up in the fantasy. We can’t help but wonder why the feathered being exists out back. We can’t help but wonder who those shady executives are. We can’t help but wonder if the first half is the dream or it’s all a dream. There may be no band, but we can certainly still be enchanted by “Llorando”.