Sound and Light in Mulholland Drive

Mulholland Drive startles with its inversion of the conventional expectations of the movie audience. It was mentioned in Monday’s class that the film frustrates with its lack of a sense of reward that arrives at the end from successfully puzzling out the plot, which in itself overturns the anticipation of a logical resolution; other aspects also clash with the traditional unfolding of a film.

Sound in Mulholland Drive presents a particularly notable technical feature, above all with its general absence. Modern films are marked by their almost constant inclusion of background music that to a great extent dictates the mood of a given scene, but Lynch chooses to forgo music for long stretches. This in fact builds the atmosphere as vaguely disquieting, since the audience has no auditory cues to cling to before they are taken visually by the progression of events on the screen, and all other sounds and speech sound louder and starker against the silence. When a soundtrack is layered in, however, the music is often incongruous with the transpiring actions—for example, the orchestral music played as Betty exits LAX with the elderly couple strikes the listener as oddly ominous with the strings’ long and mournful notes, and the jaunty, jazzy music that fills the air as Adam confronts and is thrown out of his house by his cheating wife seems inappropriate for the situation. Sound, therefore, is an unreliable device in orienting the audience within the movie’s framework.

Light, too, poses an ambivalent aspect. Traditionally, the most frightening experiences for characters in movies come to pass in the dark, but some of the most traumatic encounters for the characters of Mulholland Drive happen in broad daylight. The nameless man in the Winkie’s diner who wished never to see the horrifying face of his dreams meets that exact face in a scene suffused with sunlight; similarly, it is afternoon when Rita and Betty discover the rotting corpse of Diane Selwyn. The overabundance of light in daytime scenes provides not illumination but more distraction, with its unsettling quality of surreal dreaminess. In contrast, emotionally charged events that drive the narrative forward occur frequently in the dark, either in shadowy interiors or at night-time or both: Rita’s accident, Adam’s meeting with the Cowboy, the first steps of Betty and Rita’s sexual relationship, the visit to Silencio.

Lynch’s auditory and visual cues thus generally serve to mislead the audience in the process of signification throughout Mulholland Drive, but the deceptiveness of such elements invites further reflection.

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One Response to Sound and Light in Mulholland Drive

  1. klockek says:

    Sound and light in Mulholland Drive demonstrate the ways in which convention can be shattered in film; the technical features indeed create eerie effects in the sunshine and ominous scenes in the disquieting silence. The combination of these effects distinguish Lynch as an artist of the unknown. However, I think that despite these chillingly correct observations it is important to note that there is no real “process of signification” in Mulholland Drive. We have discussed how the lack of a narrative structure strips the relationship between the signified and the signifier within the sign. There is no clear process of signification throughout Mulholland Drive.

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