The poetic use of the dream world in cinema is a classic mode of narrational style. With frequent use, it has become somewhat of a cliche – of an “easy way out” that people chalk up to laziness, pretension, and predictability. But in certain ways, the dreamworld provides an opportunity for two simultaneously existing universes to be at play in the same movie, which provide each other with narrative themes, depth, and interpolations.
In both The Wizard of Oz and Mullholland Drive, albeit two very different genres of film, actors exist in parallel universes – whether we accept them as dream worlds or inexplicable other realms – as manifestations of different aspects of the self. Subconscious desires, tendencies and visual themes are used to separate the worlds and make them distinct, while using the same faces. In The Wizard of Oz everything in the real world of Kansas is black and white, and everything in the post-twister land of Oz is in technicolor. In Mullholland Drive, all of the colors in Diane’s apartment, face, clothing, hair, are more muted, almost deathlike. The innocent world of Betty seems to pop more with a colorful innocence, a playfulness.
The conversation that occurs in Winkie’s with the man talking about his dream world is an fairly overt clue to the fact that we are watching a dream – however, it could be interpreted that everyone has a dream world, and sometimes they compete intensely with reality. The man in Winkie’s appears in the dream world and the real world, even though Betty or Diane didn’t know him. This introduces the idea that perhaps we are all walking around in our own dreamworlds – that sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference. And that the material of the real world can be easily shuffled around in our dreamworld to make something that is equally as real to us.
In The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy wakes up, it doesn’t mean we as viewers are any less invested in the Lion and the Scarecrow and the Tin Man, or in the quest they have shared. To Dorothy, as it is to us, the world of dreams doesn’t disappear upon waking. If anything, it infuses the “reality” we are presented with, with another layer of meaning.
In a way, that is how I felt about Mullholland Drive. Because the film is structured in a way that intentionally obscures our bearings on reality, reality is never of paramount importance. The world which we are shown is no less real to us than the world that is later revealed as real. By accepting the concurrent worlds as equally important, the question of what is dream and what isn’t ceases to determine what the viewer is invested in. The construction of the fabula therefore, is more based upon experience than logic. In this way, the style of the film overrides the structure, or rather, dictates the structure. The conceptual and visual themes in the movie are just as important as plot points. In my mind, this means that the film can be analyzed parametrically, especially since what we see and perceive as viewers is based on limitation.
In The Wizard of Oz, we wake up with Dorothy. We are with her at the bedside when she is trying to explain the world she was just in. But when Diane wakes up, we are in some ways still with Betty. Because Betty turns into someone else, it is more difficult to follow her in her new life. But because of this, in some ways, we never fully leave the dream world and we never fully wake up. The black and white turned to color world is more clear cut, more comfortable. Mullholland Drive makes us question what is dream, what is real, and why? And it doesn’t give us any answers…so we make them up. Or we try.


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