I’ve enjoyed this site a lot over the years, and have had my attention drawn to lots of really interesting stuff, such as Alan Shawn’s discussion of various clues to Dianne’s early history of abuse – the movie about Sylvia West, the painting of Beatrice Cenci, etc.
I thought I’d return the favor by offering what I think is a very compelling theory of mine (if I do say so myself) that I haven’t seen mentioned on the site. If it has been and I just can’t find it, sorry about that, and I’m sure someone will tell me where to read more about it.
The theory – in fact, such a strong pattern that I’d almost regard it as indisputable – is that Mulholland Drive is, in large part, David Lynch’s exploration of Borderline Personality Disorder.
He’s been known to focus on particular psychological states and mental health topics before (e.g. his fascination with the “fugue” state), and once you notice the pattern, many aspects of the movie seem to line up very closely with the symptoms of BPD.
Here’s a summary of the BPD symptoms from DSM4:
A pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects, and marked impulsivity beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
(1) frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.
(2) a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation
(3) identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self
(4) impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, Substance Abuse, reckless driving, binge eating).
(5) recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior
(6) affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days)
(7) chronic feelings of emptiness
(8) inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)
(9) transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms
I’ll take these one by one and briefly comment on possible connections with Mulholland Drive.
The initial paragraph seems to be a fine overview of the Dianne character we might after the “break” in the movie.
(1) frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment: Dianne’s response to Camilla abandoning her sets the whole story in motion.
(2) a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation: In other words, BPD sufferers go back and forth between thinking people close to them are wonderful and terrible. We could read the entire first part of the movie as “idealization” (of herself, Camilla as Rita, the “grandparents”, maybe even DeRosa?) and the entire second part as what happens when she switches to devaluation of these same people. (Even if the first part is dream/fantasy and the second part is more like “reality” – we are seeing both through her unhealthy and distorting eyes.)
(3) identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self: Again, we could almost read the whole movie in terms of her switching between different self-images. Her life as a would-be actress is a good fit with this pattern too. And all the back and forth about “this is the girl” seems like a possible manifestation of this same aspect of BDP (“who is this girl, anyway?” she probably wonders to herself, about herself). Here’s a quote from bpd.about.com: “People with BPD often have a very profound lack of sense of self. If you struggle with the feeling that you have no idea who you are or what you believe in, this may be a symptom you can relate to.”
(4) impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating): Well, she certainly seems impulsive when it comes to sex. Not sure whether other aspects of this pattern show up in the movie, though we obviously see a reference to reckless driving (the drag race). Maybe Dianne is or has been both a prostitute and a drug user, as others have suggested, indulging in reckless behavior that leads to a life like the one led by the prostitute who is Dianne’s doppelganger.
(5) recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior: Well, she does kill herself. It wouldn’t be surprising if there had been earlier attempts.
(6) affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days): Again, Dianne shows signs of real mood problems in general. And where has she been while DeRosa doesn’t see her for a few days? Maybe just depressed and/or anxious in bed?
(7) chronic feelings of emptiness: This seems pretty spot on. Think of how she looks when she slowly drags herself out of bed to answer DeRosa’s knock on the door.
(8) inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights): The post-break, “reality” Dianne is a very angry person, angry enough to have someone killed. This is part of BPD – switching in and out of these intense moods.
(9) transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms: This is how I’d see Mr. Roque and friends – part of her paranoia.
A few other notes:
In terms of causes, BPD is thought to be strongly connected to childhood abuse and/or neglect. (See various threads about Dianne’s childhood. I agree it seems likely that the “grandparents” were connected with the abuse.)
Another BPD issue is about blame. Sufferers have great difficulty accepting responsibility for problems they have or have created. Instead they direct blame outwards at others. I wonder if the “bum” behind Winkie’s is basically a manifestation of Dianne’s inability to accept blame herself, e.g. for Camilla’s death. He’s the one who’s making it all happen.
Therapy: Various people have surmised that Herb might be Dan’s therapist – but then commented that he’s too condescending etc. But of course if this is Dianne’s therapist through her own eyes, he is as condescending as SHE sees him (devaluation, refusal to accept others’ points of view as valid).
So what about the blue box/key? It seems to me (similar to what others have concluded) that this is basically the dark part of Dianne’s mind/memory that she is afraid to look into. BPD sufferers often have a form of amnesia, both about their own actions and about the traumas that they suffered as children, both of which are too painful to face.
Club Silencio: As others have suggested, this seems to be the place/time where Dianne begins to penetrate the lifelong silence surrounding her early abuse/trauma – which for better or worse leads to her looking directly into the Box she has been avoiding her whole painful life.
Final note: I’m not a psychologist/expert, but my mother was a BPD sufferer, so I have a lot of experience with this topic, since early childhood, and the connections in the movie seem pretty plain to me. Note that the DSM5 discussion of BPD is somewhat different from the previous one in DSM4, but the DSM4 has been the authoritative source for a long time (since 1994) and would have been a direct or indirect source for anyone looking into this syndrome, such as a brilliant filmmaker with an interest in the extremes of psychological experience.
Thanks for reading - if anyone still is reading as of April 2016.