There's a movie that I've seen twice now, and I still don't understand it, yet I think I know what's going on. Is that confusing enough for you? This intriguing piece of film is from director David Lynch and is called Mulholland Drive
. Roger Ebert says of Mulholland Drive
, "I think it's a delusion to imagine a complete film lurking somewhere in Lynch's mind--a ghostly Director's Cut that exists only in his original intentions." In my own words (and meant to echo Ebert's posthumous acumen) I call Mulholland Drive
simply "baffling to the extreme." And just
to establish my credentials, I'll begin with this statement: I'm no stranger to David Lynch.
I enjoyed Twin Peaks
back in the 80's (yes, I'm that old). I've seen Eraserhead, The Elephant Man,
(in many ways I prefer Lynch's Dune
to the SyFy version even though SyFy's is more accurate to the book with respect to things such as "kris" knives and "the weirding way"). I'm also a fan of directors who famously put to celluloid things that are difficult to grasp. For example, I like the movie Eyes Wide Shut
, which many people dismiss as Stanley Kubrik just wanting to parade a lot of nudity and orgies in front of an audience. To anyone that is willing to listen, I say that Eyes Wide Shut
is a masterpiece and not pornography
, misunderstood by men certainly more than women because men have difficulty in grasping the concept of a thing as tenuous as intimacy. Eyes Wide Shut
is all about intimacy, and when viewed through that lens, all the events in the movie fall into their proper place.
Mulholland Drive, however, is none of these things. It's at once a dream and at other times a nightmare. Perhaps what I mean by this is that it is both surreal and pointless. Betty (Naomi Watts) is a perky blond and Rita is a voluptuous brunette and we're never completely sure if they aren't the same person. And that simple sentence barely scratches the surface of this film. Rita doesn't remember anything, even her name; Betty decides to help her. A viewer is treated to the most talked about lesbian love scenes in twenty years, yet how can we be sure that what we see isn't just a fantasy built around one person pleasuring herself? In Mulholland Drive, nothing leads anywhere, mysteries are started and not solved, and it's quite possible that the entire film is a capsule of the last thoughts that go through a dying woman's mind because at some point there's a corpse, and it more than likely belongs to our narrator. Mulholland Drive is not a Memento where you can hope to explain the mystery. Trust me. I've been trying to explain Mulholland Drive for almost a decade. I fail yet cannot deny that it exists, that there is no continuity, and that the violence it depicts oftentimes makes as much sense as what we as survivors must bear witness to.
Mental illness is a slippery slope whether it is shown to us in a movie like Mulholland Drive, or whether it is diagnosed by a psychiatrist equipped in this day and age to deal with it in familiar terms: cognitive dissonance, dementia, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and on and on and on. The word "crazy" and its acceptance as just being is long gone. Those of us who aren't psychiatrists yet live with someone diagnosed with a mental illness should feel better about our situation because we now have a word for what's going on with mom. And with words, there's medication, right? Because people understand what's going on, right?
I think not so much. I think more so that people in using these terms are trying to create the illusion that we have a grasp on the ephemeral. As a caveat to having a loved one with a diagnosed mental illness, there is some comfort to being able to explain the bizarre in terms that one can google. Human beings are ill equipped to deal with things that are irrational, and I think our minds crave answers to the most basic question: why?
By now all of us know what mass murderer, Elliot Rodger, did in Santa Barbara over the weekend. The only thing that we know for certain is that this young man was filled to the brim with hate. But here's the thing...like trying to figure out Mulholland Drive, I think the kind of hate that Elliot Rodger expressed in his manifesto is something we should try to understand, but to which there may be no answer at all. His kind of hatred is like a force of nature. Can one understand the motive behind a tornado? For all that we know, there's no motive. There's no reason why. It just is. Understanding the roots of hate in someone that has already committed the most heinous of actions by examining a narrative left in the wake of his suicide, is putting trust where I think there is none. Sure he wrote this 140-page story of his entire life, but in the end, we comb it looking for answers and building theories that may seem structurally sound but rest upon a web of lies from someone consumed by hate.
If, however, professionals can assume that Elliot Rodger is a reliable narrator for his own story, then his justifications for being a monster go far beyond a detailed suicide note. "I am Elliot Rodger...Magnificent, glorious, supreme, eminent...Divine! I am the closest thing there is to a living god," the 22-year-old college student, son of a "Hunger Games" assistant director, boasted. "Humanity is disgusting, depraved and [an] evil species. It is my purpose to punish them all. On the day of Retribution, I will truly be a powerful god, punishing everyone I deem to be impure."
His demented manifesto dropped like a bomb. And his misogyny pivoted around one idea: that men should go out and get sex from women, that women are obstacles to prevent men from achieving some kind of self worth through the loss of virginity, or (with virginity removed from the equation) then lots of sex is not only an entitlement but a right of passage. We can call this "crazy" all we want, but to tell you the truth, I see this kind of thing every day.
I know young straight religious men who openly brag about the things their wives do to ingratiate themselves toward them in the perceived privacy of their homes. I say "perceived" here because they have no idea how their husbands talk about them behind their backs. And since I know mostly men who are younger than myself, most of this kind of talk revolves around talks of power in a relationship, what one "can" and "can't do" in relation to sex (meaning the wife has given permission for some things and not others), and how much (quantity) one is receiving. And there is a "comedic shaming" among men who fall short or may have a perception of being in the proverbial "doghouse" because they "don't wear the pants in their family." That phrase actually disgusts me as I feel it reduces one or another party to being property and not a person.
To someone like me, the antics of "common men" who draw down salaries superior to my own and have homes and children makes me feel like an alien with green skin and purple antennae sitting on a couch in a room full of talk I was never meant to understand. The absurdity is enough to convince me that even though the body ages, many men are just children and they never grow up, and never cease bullying, shaming, and bragging. But even outside of marriages (which are a social and financial arrangement) bars across America on Saturday nights are filled with men who overreact with rejection. Why? Maybe Elliot Rodger, the latest in a string of gun-toting psychopaths, has an answer: "men feel entitled to get sex from women."
Why does this attitude even exist much less multiply and spread? It turns out misogyny has been with us as a culture for a long time. For example, this week we get a new Disney movie called Maleficent. It's a $200 million dollar spectacle of wizardry and dark storytelling for those who are familiar with the tale of Sleeping Beauty. Most people, however, probably don't understand the name "Maleficent." The Latin word commonly used to signify "witch" is malefica" in the feminine. And there is no better place to begin with an understanding of misogyny than by learning of witches.
Before the 15th century, witches could herald from either sex. But that all changed when the separate elements of witchcraft--harmful sorcery or maleficium, diabolism, heretic cultic activity, and nocturnal flight--all collapsed into a single concept of satanic witchcraft. Clerics of the 15th century explained a proclivity for witchcraft as resting in the female gender because of longstanding Christian concepts of the physical, mental, and spiritual weaknesses of women.
Remember Adam and Eve? Oh Eve, for talking to the snake in that garden, you have condemned your entire sex to feelings of enmity, prejudice, disgust, and abhorrence by men for thousands of years. Misogyny doesn't have to be so clearly defined either (as in Elliot Rodger's manifesto). It can take many forms, some of which are difficult to recognize. For one, it even extended to speech. Ever read the phrase "where be women, are many wordys?" in a Middle English text? I studied Middle English as part of my undergraduate work, and I can tell you that literacy in the 15th century was reserved for men and women of status and also the clergy. For the wider population, the following was true (as one 15th century preacher wrote): "Eve, our oldest mother in paradise, held long talks with the adder, and told him what God had said to her and to her husband about eating the apple; and by her talking, the fiend understood her feebleness and her unstableness." Further links of the mouth and female genitalia followed society from the 15th century and into the Renaissance, serving to entrench the idea that for women to be chaste they also had to be chaste in speech.
Violence like the kind that Elliot Rodger visited upon his victims will be the subject of debate for decades. I don't think you can point the blame on any single thing, be it video games, lack of good parenting, bullying, or a cultural understanding of gender roles (or the lack thereof). It goes deeper than any of these things to something so ambiguous that my lips fail to find the words to describe it. However, I do think it's taught and not inherited. Wherever it comes from, people should stop being shocked about it and realize that this kind of misogyny (or any hatred really) is a function of our modern society. It exists and maybe it's not so much a mental illness as it is a widespread clarion call that teachings of entitlement and hate speech are insidious and destructive and, if not taken seriously, threaten every single one of us.