The Beauty of Misdirection in Mulholland Drive

No hay banda! There is no band! Il n’est pas de orquestra! This is all... a tape-recording. No hay banda! And yet we hear a band. If we want to hear a clarinette... listen. Un trombon “à coulisse”. Un trombon “con sordina”. Sient le son du trombon in sourdine. Hear le son... and mute it... drop it. It’s all recorded. No hay banda! It’s all a tape. Il n’est pas de orquestra. It is... an illusion!” — Bondar
— Mulholland Drive

This is the opening dialogue to one of the most memorable scenes in David Lynch's 2001 masterpiece, Mulholland Drive. Among the ethereal, dream-driven visuals, and the brooding, ominous score that envelopes the narrative, there are moments of pure Lynchian misdirection.

We see examples of Lynch's mastery in this regard elsewhere in the film, especially during the audition scene. Lynch sets up a certain mood, and then takes a hard left turn into a different territory. The YouTuber, Nerdwriter, did an excellent video on this very scene, and topic.

When I first saw Mulholland Drive, a lot of substance went over my head. It is not the kind of film made to be watched half-buzzed in a dorm room; yet that is how I saw it the first time. The narrative is almost incomprehensible the first time around, occasionally allowing for momentary glimpses at its larger truth while never revealing a card in its hand. Lynch forces you to figure out for yourself the true meaning behind his film, and even his handful of clues can seem more frustrating than helpful.

I will always remember the scene in Club Silencio, though. After my first time watching the film, it was all I could think about. After my second, third, fourth, and even fifth time (throughout which I have discovered hidden meanings, important symbols, and distinct Lynchian aesthetics), that scene is still the most memorable. I hesitate to say it is the most important, in the context of the film, but it is the most important for me -- the filmmaker, the film student, and the cinephile.

It's different from other examples of Lynchian misdirection. In the audition scene, for instance, Lynch toys with the tone of the scene -- starting with a more uncomfortable, predatory atmosphere, and suddenly changing the entire feeling of the scene by showing us that Betty is inviting said atmosphere for the betterment of the audition. It is an interesting changing of the guard, but it doesn't necessarily toy with our emotions in the way the scene in Club Silencio does.

Perhaps the most genius part of the Club Silencio scene, too, is that we are told immediately that nothing is real. "There is no band", we are told. And yet, when the alluring singer steps on stage, and we hear an incredibly powerful, emotional performance of Roy Orbison's song "Sorry" in Spanish. Because of the powerful editing, cutting between the singer and Betty/Irene's reactions, and the emotional acting of Rebekah del Rio, we are lulled into the idea that her performance is real -- that her singing is actually happening. Then, when she faints and that thin veil is ripped away from our eyes, we are shocked. The power of the performance is thrown into question, and the emotions we have felt during the scene feel wrongly placed.

When I first saw that scene, I felt the aforementioned things. I also felt stupid. After all I was told at the beginning of the scene that everything was an illusion. And yet, I believed the illusion just minutes later. 

Mulholland Drive at night.

Mulholland Drive at night.

Lynch is a master of this kind of deception and misdirection. He doesn't try to hide it. The scene at Club Silencio stands, in my mind, as one of the most important moments in cinematic history. For a director to show the audience his hand, only to still amaze them with the trick, is a power few filmmakers have; even fewer could pull it off with the cinematic grace that Lynch did in Mulholland Drive.

Lynch, and his masterpieces, are beautiful misdirections. Even in his interviews Lynch controls the direction of the conversation, and jerks it down odd roads whenever he desires. That kind of filmmaking prowess must be learned from. Club Silencio may never be replicated, but the ability to create an illusion like the one we saw there is vital for future filmmakers to understand.

And, at the very least, it gives everyone an excuse to watch Mulholland Drive.