Phone booth is a film about our relationship with our super-ego. In the main we can forget about him, but as we con people and try to cheat on our wives, there comes a time when can feel someone is observing us, someone is listening.
Phone booth takes place almost entirely in a phone booth where the hero argues with his concience made real, and armed with a sniper rifle. But pehapp we are all always in that phone booth, and we feel that there is some "super addressee" who listens in on our phonecalls and even our thoughts, who is with us all the time.
When we are in touch with ourselves we would not even attempt to do something to annoy the best part of ourselves. But sometimes, we have issues and desires that are strong enough to cause a disconnection so that we cannot hear, or feel what our superaddressee thinks of our behaviour. Often this disconnection can continue for a very long time but occasionally, sometimes on a couch, sometimes at the point of death, we are brought back in touch with the view of the internalised other. It is this moment that Phone Booth is effective in portraying. And, as it should be, the hero comes back to his senses, apologises to his wife and the world and weeps.
This is quite a straightforward film. There are few surprises, but it alegorises the structure of our mental life very well. It will leave you feeling more moral and inclided to say "thank you" to your spouse.
Joel the director gave us Flatliners in which medical students edited visual experiences from their lives, and then reexperienced the edits at the point of death. Flatliners allegorises the relationship between consciousness and unconsciousness in the visual field. Phone Booth is set securely in the symbolic. While I am rather fond of Keifer Sutherland, I don't think that he should have appeared in the film at all.
I guess it was the demand of the actor, who probably has not yet gotten over his dad.
Perhaps as a result of my obsession with films of the Total Recal/Existenz/Fight Club/Vanilla Sky genre, where we find out that "it is really all a dream", I was convinced that Dreamcatcher was going to turn out to be someone's nightmare. Perhaps someone had let their "dreamcatcher" fall onto their forehead. Perhaps, a la "Mulholland Dr." it was going to turn out to be the dream at the point of dying of that shrink with a gun to his temple. Either way, I was sure that we would all wake up back to reality at the end.
Aside from the title and the reference to the native Canadian dream catching weaved things, there was plenty to encourage the viewer to believe that we are going to wake up from the nightmare. Even the heros, non-plussed, bantering, never quite suspend their disbelief. But more than this, the cheesy lines (especially those of Morgan and Friends), the overtly borrowed monsters (the locals infected with the alien b. bandits are called "Ripleys"), the scooby doo fan perpetually carrying the same lunch box, and the GUN FROM JOHN WAYNE! THAT TURNS INTO A TELEPHONE! WITH A HOMING DEVICE IN IT! This was really big cheese. It had to be a dream! I was checking for clues that appeared repeatedly, such as the lunch box, to see if I could guess what the dreamers reality could be, after we wake up, such as the ashtray in Mulholland or the gun carrying dog in eXistenZ.
Even after watching this surely-a-spoof, to the world-saving, bitter end and even after finding that NONE of the characters woke up, I still remain convinced that this film is indeed a nightmare, but one that probably belongs to its author. After all, it contains enough of the themes that recur in his other books. This film is Steven King's recurring nightmare: the only sane explanation.
But why? What does it mean? And what of the butt bugs? Are they representative of an Aliens/Misery/Carrie style gynophobia, a sort of gory scatological birth fantasy feared by men with strong mothers? Or is it more down, dirty, and intesticular? I hear that Steven King is somewhat overweight and that eating diet pills prevents the metabolism of fat, causing the sort of side effects that may have inspired this movie. Or perhaps it was both gynophobic and intesticular, i.e. overdetermined, with a bit of closet gay, homophobia thrown in? After all this was perhaps a film about close male friendship and fear of pregnancy, as result of giant, spermatazoan weavels attack from the back. Personally I think that it is probably a touch of dynophobia, with a modicum of homophobia thrown in.
Incidentally, Shyamalan films such as "Unbelievable," give me the same 'wake-up-bud!' feeling.
And as a complete aside, Dreamcatcher bears a resemblance to two rather good Japanese manga called "Devil Man" and "Kiseijuu" (Parasitic Beasts, Parasyte - a fabourite of Utada Hikaru, with film rights owned by James Cameron!).
Finally, I am a Steven King fan and mean him no disrespect. Even if I were right in my analysis of Mr. King, and he were scared of women and scared of being a homosexual, that would in my view be no bad thing.
This review is intended for those that have seen the film and attempts to unravel the plot. In that sense it is a spoiler, and so I recommend you see the film at least once before you read what follows.
First of all we should note that the film is in two parts made up of the first 105 and the last 30 or so minutes, where the names, personalities and fate of most of the characters change. About this break in the narrative (for the most part) only the actors remain the same, their names, their situation in life, even their characters are different.
The film starts the credits are displayed on a background of a fifties style semi-animated dance. We may later presume that this depicts the jitterbug dance contest that Diane (appearing in the last 30 minutes of the film) won, enabling her to come to Hollywood.
We then find ourselves on the back seat of Limousine cruising alone 溺ulholland Dr.・with someone who will call herself Rita. The drivers of the car pull up and go to blow out Rita's brains but just as they are about to pull the trigger, a group of youngsters come careering around the corner in two cars, one of which pounds into the limousine killing most of the youngsters and the would be assassin. This is one of three or four explanations of the shooting, or in this case attempted shooting, of a girl and there is reason to believe that most or perhaps all of these explanations are describing the same event. Rita now with amnesia crawls out of the car and ends up in an apartment building that has just been vacated for a holiday.
The film then switches to a scene where a young Jewish man called Dan is talking to his shrink in a diner. Dan relates that he has brought his shrink to where they are sitting since he has had two dreams, both of which figure this diner. He says that what the dreams have in common is that he discovers a horrible face behind a wall behind the diner. Dan and the Shrink leave the diner to go and check behind the diner where there appears the blackened face of a homeless man. Dan falls over dead or dead faint. We do not see this homeless person until the last scene of the film, when it the same face appears to Diane when she blows her own head off. So what we have here is a man awake, briefly, attempting to interpret two frightening dreams in front of an audience (his shrink) only to find that his two dreams were prophetic to face his own death at the point of realisation. The only connection with this scene with the rest of the film is that Diane sees Dan in that Diner at the cash register. This otherwise unconnected snippet is, I believe a hint, provided by the Director to the interpretation of the rest of the film ・which bears the same structure. A woman awakes briefly and sees two dreams (perhaps as she dies a la American Beauty), which prophesise her own death, at which point in reality she sees the face. This face can perhaps be interpreted as a glimpse of true reality, in Lacanian terms, the real that lies behind all the facades and diner walls・in the film. It is the face of death, when the fantasy ends our narcissism turns to dirt and dust.
The film changes to show the arrival of Betty (who becomes Diane in the second half of the film) in Hollywood. Her ridiculously naivety and is alluded to when she is made the subject of derision by two old folks riding away in their taxi. The same couple appear in miniature under the door of Diane's apartment at the point of her suicide. It is possible that they represent her parents. She arrives at apartment managed by an old woman called Coco, only to find that Rita is hiding in the shower.
The next one and an half hour of the film shows Betty trying to help Rita (taken from the name of a poster ・Rita has no name in the first half of the film) find out her identity, interspersed with scenes showing a film director, sporting a David Lynchian hair cut, be forced by a Mafiosi midget in a wheel chair to change the leading lady of a 50's style film he is directing.
Betty and Rita go the diner. Rita that finds a clue to her own identity, a name that she vaguely remembers. Looking up the name in a telephone directory, they find the corpse of someone called Diane in another, more run down apartment. When they return to their own Rita dons a wig, which makes her took strikingly like Betty. They have a lesbian sexual encounter. And then Rita dreams of a nightclub called Silenzio which Rita and Betty go to see.
The nightclub scene, like the Dan in the diner, is another of the more analytical scenes giving a clue to what is going on. The nightclub MC explains that the show has all been recorded and then we are shown two demonstrations of this fact. A trumpeter comes on an plays a few notes but then falls (or is pushed?) over while the notes, from we now find was a tape recording, continue playing. A woman comes on and sings a Roy Orbinson song in Spanish, with great emotion and it really looks as if she is singing the song. But when two people come on and drag her off stage we find that she two has only been miming. As the MC has explained, the action has all happened before, what we are seeing is an apparent (but illusory) coherence between to streams of irreal events ・a tape recording and people miming. Rita and Betty, who are watching burst into tears. They have reason to; the nightclub is explaining who they are, and what is going on in the film.
Rita finds a blue box in Betty's purse, which fits the key that she found in her own purse. This is where the audience becomes aware that all is not as it seems and that there is a connection between Rita and Betty. Returning to their apartment Rita opens the box only to fall into it and darkness, and that is how the first half of the film ends. It is important to note that falling into the darkness of the box, is very similar to the falling into darkness that we see at the end of the film. We should note that the black face is shown holding the blue box - in other words both the first dream and the second half of the film end facing that monster behind the diner.
The second half of the film starts in the squalid apartment where Rita and Betty found the corpse where we find that Betty, now called Diane, lives. She is no longer a fresh-faced dreamer just off the plane but a jaded would-be actress come Hollywood groupie that seems to having an affair with Rita, who is now called Camilla. Camilla/Rita is getting married to the Director, who she kisses in front of Betty. Diane, out of jealousy hires goes to the diner again and hires the hitman (that we have seen earlier in the film seemingly employed by the mafia-midget) to bump off Diane. The hit man tells her that he will leave a blue key when he has done the deed. She sees the key and goes into her bedroom and blows her brains out.
A number of reviewers have supposed that the first part of the film is Diane's romanticised, idealistic dream and the last half portrays the seedy reality. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that the first half of the film is a dream. The film's title might be an abbreviation of "Mulholland Dream" as much as "Mulholland Drive." The logo on the poster is "a love story in the city of dreams." The film starts with a shot of the camera falling into a pink pillow. Betties own words, as she steps off the plane into Hollywood, 的 am in dreamland,・could not be more overt. Added to that, her over the top kindness, naivety and idealism, her meteoric success (she bowls everyone over at her first audition), and her luck in seducing a mysterious rich and beautiful female all within two days of her arrival in Hollywood.
According to this explanation, Diane, when she is spurned by her lesbian lover, hires a hit man to kill her and then dreams of what she wishes her life is would have been, before she, overcome with guilt commits suicide when she finds out that the hit man has carried out his job (and hears detectives at the door). While this interpretation is plausible I do not think that it sufficiently explains the film, and in particular two scenes: the nightclub scene or the scene with Dan in the Diner.
It seems more plausible to me that the second half of the film, in which we see Diane (was Betty) and Camella (was Rita) fall out, is also a dream. And moreover there is reason to believe that Diane/Betty and Rita/Camella are really the same person.
This interpretation is suggested first of all by the scene with Dan and his psychoanalyst in the diner. He has had two dreams both of which lead him to the same place, both of which forsee his own death. It is tempting to see this isolated scene as a precis is of the film as a whole.
Secondly, and this evidence will only be persuasive to those that admire David Lynch, the presumption that the second half of the film expresses "the reality of the situation" assumes a reality which is Hollywoodishly melodramatic and contrived. Like Betty's success in the first part of the film it is all too Tinsel Town and about as believable. What is some woman in a run down apartment in Hollywood doing having an affair with a movie star, that is about to get married to a famous director? Where does she get the money to pay for a hit man? How would she even get to know such a cold, calculating gun-swinger? In his earlier films such as Blue Velvet and Eraser Head David Lynch is described as being the master of demonstrating the macabre of the mundane. Why would he resort to a reality thick with hit men, limousines and failed love affairs with film celebrities?
Thirdly, in that little piece of reality that we are shown in this film ・the sordid flat and the death, possibly by suicide ・there is enough to provide material for two dreams. First of all we are told that Diane used to live in the flat 12. We see the anonymous next-door neighbour, one of only two characters in the film that maintains her identity. She is a rather dikey looking woman in both the first and the second half of the film. In the first half she says that Diane used to live with her and that she wants to pick up her things. In the second half she wakes up Diane to pick up her things. The irritable way that she behaves in both these brief scenes is plausibly like the way that one would expect an ex-lover to behave. It is clear that the two females, Diane and this woman from number 12, used to live together so this draws into question the existence of Diane's other lover ・Camilla/Rita. We are told that she picks up her stuff that Diane had from the time when they used to live together, thus suggesting their final separation. It is also quite possible that the girl from number 12 leaves behind the blue key that we see on Diane's coffee table an event which would also signify the death or estrangement of her as a lover. We also see Diane masturbating. That is plausibly mundane enough, but the luscious Rita/Camella who says they should stop doing this seems more like she is part of a masturbatory fantasy.
Fourthly, there is a parallelism between the two main female characters that suggests that they are parts of one and the same person. Further, noting that David Lynch has integrated psychoanalysis into the film, it seems plausible that Rita is the unconscious of Diane/Betty. In the first half of the film which all agree is a dream Rita is the hopeless doting, big breasted beauty that takes Betty into her arms. In the second half she is the equally attractive but betraying lover that drives Diane to self-destruction.
The first half of the film ends with Rita finding a blue box in Betty's purse which fits the blue key that she has in her own purse. Betty is mysteriously absent. Rita opens the box, and with the box falls into 20 seconds of blackness. There are a number of reasons why does not fit in with the standard interpretation・of the film. If we are in Diane/Betty's dream then why is it that it Rita wakes up out of it when it would be more plausible the other way around. It is clear that the dreamer is at least for this part of the dream, identifying with the Rita character. This is certainly a dream, but perhaps it is more plausible to suggest that this is not Diane/Betty's dream at all but a dream experienced by Rita.
Both Rita and Diane take, or are about to take, a bullet to the head. Camella's death, signified by the key on Diane's coffee table, precipitates Diane's suicide. So it is clear that like Rita's fall into the blue box, the key in the second half of the film is what plunges Diane into permanent darkness. Do we need to assume a hit man (who elsewhere kills three people - I will come back to that) and an double death? I think that it is more plausible to assume that Rita's demise is Diane's demise because they are the same person.
We see that both Rita and Diane pick up a name in a diner. Rita sees the name Diane and thinks perhaps that her real name is Diane. Diane sees the name Betty, which is the name she is given in the first dream sequence.
Rita and Diane do almost everything together. We hardly ever see them apart in either half of the film. In one of the rare occasions that we do it is when Betty does her wonderful, and out of character, audition that we see her practice with Rita. In the audition we see Diane suddenly flip out of her Disney land character to give an outpouring of oedipally motivated sexual desire the actor she is playing against is a friend of her father. But later, in the second half of the film we are told that Camella/Rita beat Diane to the leading part of a film by the same third-rate director. We are told that the film was likely never to be made. Did the real Diane really get the part in that audition? Did she allow the sexually seductive Rita side of her personality to win the audition for her?
Both Rita and Betty have a lot of money in their purse and we are given no explanation of how it got there. Even more unexplained is the significance of Camilla Rhodes.
The character of Camilla Rhodes, that we are told so little about, blurs the distinction between Betty/Diane and Rita/Camilla still further. Camilla Rhodes is exists as an overlap between the two characters. Camilla Rhodes shares the same name as Rita/Camilla. But at the same time, Camilla, like Diane is Rita's lover, as is suggested by the kiss at the party. Camilla like Rita is a blonde that like fifties songs. When we are first shown her photograph by in the scene with the man that spits out espresso, the photographic image is sufficiently similar to Betty for us to suppose that Rita was to be murdered to secure a part for Betty. It is to make way for Camilla Rhodes that the mafia take out a hit on Rita. It is to make way for herself that Diane takes out a hit on Rita, who has robbed her of a part.
Betty dresses up Rita as a blonde looking very much like herself in the first part of the film and Camilla is everything that Daine wants to be in the second. Rita/Camilla and Betty/Diane come as pair, bound by an ambivalence that turns from sensual motherly lesbianism to bitter rejection. In the last image of the film we are shown Betty and Camilla's faces followed by the woman from the Silenzio nightclub that sings the song crying for you who says Silencio. I think that she is saying that Betty and Camilla are that night club, like the tape and actors that do the miming, they are both void of intent, fantasies taking place after the event. Like imaginary and the symbolic according to the Lacanian theory, Betty/Diane and Rita/Camilla and only give the appearance of self-hood and authenticity by their misperceived identity. In the end, the one certain reality of the film is that a self-loathing woman, (and with long hair it would seem from her corpse) comes face to face with her reality, the black face and death.
This interpretation sheds light on the blue box and blue key. Rita has the box, Betty has the key and the black faced man in sitting semi-darkness holding them both is the cinematic equivalent of Lacan's Borromean knot. By the end of the film two sides of the dreamers personality have fallen back into the chaos that preceded them.
This assumption throws light on the reason why so many people have to die when the hit man kills his brother, in the first half of the film. In an apparently comic interlude, a hit man kills a man with long hair, who has apparently survived the car crash (like Rita) and then kills an overweight woman in the next office after a stray bullet passes through the wall. He is then forced to kill a third person, the cleaner before shooting up his vacuum cleaner. What was the necessity of killing two extra victims when he only wanted the book of secrets held by the first? I suggest that the triple homicide mirrors the way in which the only real event of the film, the suicide of a woman in an apartment, causes the death of her in her reality (and of indeterminate age we presume that has won a jitterbug contest so she is likely to be older than either Diane/Betty or Rita/Camilla), and the death of her two (alter-) egos.
Finally, the fact that the director is one of only two characters (I believe) that remains in character, with the same name, in both halves of the film suggests a third interpretation of the film that may have been less intentional. The director maintains his part throughout. He also bears a resemblance to David Lynch. Why is this director making 50's films, just like the world that Diane and Betty stepped out of?
I think that this is another hint. David Lynch was born in 1946 and would have been exposed to 50's music and the jitterbug. In his films and in his dreams he can appear as about 30 for as long as he wants. This not something unique to David Lynch, in our narcissism we all presume that we are immortal. As was claimed in the famous lines from the Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles:
"Because we do not know when we will die we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well and yet everything happens only a certain number of times and a very small number really. How many times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your life that you can't even conceive of your life without it. Perhaps four or five times more? Perhaps not even that. How many times will you watch the full moon rise, perhaps twenty, and yet it all seems so limitless."
If both the lead females of "Mulholland Dr." are, in both of their roles, fantasies then "the real dreamer is elsewhere". It is probably unfair and neurotic even look for her but I think that she may be a much older woman, possibly rather similar to
1) The lady on the balcony in the nightclub scene.
2) The psychic that came to Betty/Rita's flat in the first part (whose appearance is otherwise unexplained.)
Further evidence for this is that we are told that Diane came to Hollywood after having won a jitterbug contest. Unless she was really retro then that would mean that she was in her teens
in the 50's and about 60 years of at the time of the action of the film (there are various reasons why it is clear the film is set in the present, e.g. the director's car). This explains to me why the director in the film is directing a 50's style film.
The Director in the film is clearly modelled on David Lynch. The haircut, the rabid attempt to keep control of his film, the arty detachment ・the guy is just like out of Eraserhead. But why so young? And if he is so young what is he doing directing films about the 50's? Lynch would have been about
the right age for the jitterbug and late fifties music (he was born in 1946). What we see here is a parody of David Lynch who despite being a man of 56, in his films he can be forever young and he is not ashamed to use the facilities that hollywood provides for narcissism to the full, while making a joke at his own expense. This young david Lynch making films about the 50's is a hint. He is like the dreamer that we never see, of the dreams that we do see, in "Mulholland Dr."
I think that this makes the film all the more macabre. Even the Diane at the end of the film is still a lot younger, a lot more chipper than the reality of the corpse and the black face that is felt at the end of the film. In reality, it is only this black face, that was there from the beginning.
I have no idea what is going on with that cowboy but I think that the "you will see me twice" has something to do with the double dream structure that I am proposing for this film.
Now that in 2014 I have seen Satoshi Kon's "Pefect Blue" (1997?), I am more confident of the above interpretation. Mullholland Dr. appears to be almost a remake of Perfect Blue and in Perfect Blue it becomes apparent that the aspiring actress and her double are really the fantasy of a failed older woman.