In the spring of 2002 David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive was released where I was living. I was on a study abroad program in Nicosia, Cyprus and I remember going down to the little art theater in the center of the city, about two miles from the strange 1960s style apartment building I was living at, and seeing Lynch’s L.A. opus. It made a big impression on me, and in some strange ways through its dream/death-dream fantasy logic, informed a lot of those three months that I spent listless in a bleached-out Mediterranean city.
The study program itself was the third part of a three-quarter long journey to investigate sites of former violent conflict that were now attempting to reconcile. We went to Belfast and then Cape Town, both of which were exhausting complex places, but where the grand narrative of what was going on was readily apparent. They were places where you could grasp what had gone on there. In Belfast you had barb wired “peace walls” and murals of paramilitary fighters pointing painted AK-47’s at you. In Cape Town there was the inescapable reality of economic disparity, as we spent many of our days working in township schools. In each of these places we, privileged American students, felt we could access the “real” of each situation, and thus we were nicely oriented in our understanding.
Cyprus, however, was a different beast. Conflict had occurred in the 1970s, which had divided the city, and island, in half between a roughly Greek/Christian cultural side and a Turkish/Muslim side. The UN kept a peacekeeping force that oversaw the dividing line. We lived on the Greek side, and on that side everything seemed to be going well. Life was prosperous, but it was also smoothed over, a nice and vibrant presentation of success, of being “moved on” from the conflict of 30 years before. In reality a wall ran through the center of the city, which was basically frozen in time—stores and houses that had been abandoned still had their complete contents left over (taken to the extreme in Varosha, a Greek resort that was left abandoned on the Turkish side and is slowly falling into the sea). This frozen-ness gave the whole place a sense of being static, and everybody knew that the less developed Turkish side lay just a few feet away. As foreigners we could move back and forth across the line during the day, which was a strange experience in those days, and so we could see both sides. Still, the subject, that “real” thing, of what was going on, remained elusive.
Cyprus seemed closed-off. We were exhausted and bored. There wasn’t much to do. People were not friendly. Things were expensive. There was a kind of fake opulence everywhere, but where things seemed inaccessible. It was hot and all the buildings were that bright Mediterranean white. The Russian mob presence, and the corruption through money laundering, was high. I think there were ghosts in my apartment. The point is that there were some serious dark things going underneath the surface here, which were hard to grasp and understand, but which affected our collective physic condition. Well, at least mine. It was a weird time and weird place, and I couldn’t really express what was going on, that feeling that a monster was lurking behind the sunshine, until I got mainlined into Lynch-land via Mulholland Drive.
I was already a Lynch fan at that point. I had grown up watching Twin Peaks, and was up to date with his general oeuvre. This one, however, hit deeper. It was the right film at the right time. It accomplished that task of showing the things behind the things, which look like they are in the right place, and the nightmare world, where everything is just a bit off. Whether that it was the man behind the Winkies diner, the intimations of conspiracy, or the way the plot circled back into itself, the film opened up a space through which I could read the weird place I found myself, and seeing Cyprus through a Lynchian lens seemed to unlock what had before remained elusive.
Now, more than a decade later, I find myself in Los Angeles a similar place of sunshine and whose layered fantasies and nightmares Lynch captured so well in Mulholland Drive. The film has continued to be a lens through which I read places, events, narratives, etc. through, and I’m sure that my experience in L.A. has been informed through the type of perspective that Lynch creates so well.
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