Last Year at Mulholland Drive: Ambiguous Framings and Framing Ambiguities

Steven Willemsen*, Miklós Kiss

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

    294 Downloads (Pure)


    This article proposes a cognitive-narratological perspective on David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001) and the numerous contrasting interpretations that this film has generated. Rather than offering an(other) interpretation of the film, we aim to investigate some of the reasons why Lynch’s highly complex narrative has gained a cult – if not classic – status in recent film history. To explain the striking variety of (often conflicting) interpretations and responses that the film has evoked, we analyse its complex narrative in terms of its cognitive effects. Our hypothesis is that part of Mulholland Drive’s attractiveness arises from a cognitive oscillation that the film allows between profoundly differing, but potentially equally viable interpretive ‘framings’ of its enigmatic story: as a perplexing but enticing puzzle, sustained by (post-)classical cues in its narration, and as an art-cinematic experience that builds on elements from experimental, surrealist, or other film- and art-historical traditions. The divergent strategies for ‘narrativizing’ Mulholland Drive, we argue, are driven by a distinct ‘cognitive hesitation’ between these conflicting arrays of meaning making. As such, the film has been trailblazing with regards to contemporary cinema, setting the stage for the current trend of what critics and scholars have called ‘complex cinema’ or ‘puzzle films.’
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)129-152
    Number of pages24
    JournalActa Universitatis Sapientiae, Film and Media Studies
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2019


    • Narrative complexity
    • framing
    • puzzle film
    • art-cinema
    • David Lynch
    • Mulholland Drive

    Cite this