Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Mulholland Drive analysis - part 11: Diane's alchemical dream


Diane's experience at the Mulholland Drive party (specifically, her state of melancholia), represents her alchemical nigredo stage.

Later (chronologically speaking), the experience at the party
is represented in Diane's dream by the chaotic accident on Mulholland. In other words, the accident is the dream-representation of Diane's nigredo.

Lately we have been discussing Diane's process of individuation. Swiss psychologist and psychiatrist Carl Jung associated the stages of individuation with the processes of alchemy. In the below, we'll go over the basics of alchemy, and we'll begin to look at Diane's dream-representations of alchemical stages.

Alchemy is an ancient tradition, the primary objective of which was the creation of the mythical "philosopher's stone," which was said to be capable of turning base metals into gold or silver, and also act as an elixir of life that would confer youth and immortality upon its user. The philosopher's stone is created by the alchemical method known as The Magnum Opus or The Great Work. Often expressed as a series of color changes or chemical processes, the instructions for creating the philosopher's stone are varied.[a] The Great Work originally had four stages:

1) nigredo, a blackening or melanosis
2) albedo, a whitening or leucosis
3) citrinitas, a yellowing or xanthosis
4) rubedo, a reddening, purpling, or iosis

After the 15th century, many writers tended to compress citrinitas into rubedo and consider only three stages. However, it is in citrinitas that the chemical wedding takes place, generating the Philosophical Mercury without which the philosopher's stone, triumph of the Work, could never be accomplished.[b]

In the framework of psychological development (especially for followers of Jungian psychology) these four alchemical steps are to be taken as analogous to the process of attaining individuation.[c] Let us examine the four steps in greater detail.

1. Nigredo, or blackness, in alchemy means putrefaction or decomposition. The alchemists believed that as a first step in the pathway to the philosopher's stone all alchemical ingredients had to be cleansed and cooked extensively to a uniform black matter. In psychology, Carl Jung (a student of alchemy) interpreted nigredo as a moment of maximum despair, that is a prerequisite to personal development. The nigredo is associated with melancholia, chaos, and the encounter with the psychological shadow.[d]

There are at least two depictions of putrefaction and decomposition in the movie: The partially decomposed body of the woman that Betty and Rita, and in another scene the Cowboy, see lying in bed, above left; and the person behind Winkie's (whom as we've said, represents Diane's shadow), above right.

The accident on Mulholland is obviously a chaotic event.

2. Albedo - following the harrowing, chaotic nigredo, it is necessary for purification provided by the albedo which is literally referred to as ablutio; the washing away of impurities by aqua vitae. Jung equated the albedo with unconscious contrasexual soul images; the anima in men and animus in women. It is a phase where insight into shadow projections are realized, and inflated ego and unneeded conceptualizations are removed from the psyche.[e]

After Rita experiences the chaos of the accident, she is found in the shower at Betty's Havenhurst apartment (as shown at left). The shower represents her albedo/ablutio, i.e., the (attempted) washing away of impurities.

3. Citrinitas literally referred to "transmutation of silver into gold" or "yellowing of the lunar consciousness", and in alchemical philosophy stood for the dawning of the "solar light" inherent in one's being, and that the reflective "lunar or soul light" was no longer necessary. In Jungian terms, citrinitas is the Wise Old Man (or Woman) archetype.[f]

As we've seen, Louise Bonner represents the Wise Old Woman archetype in Diane's dream. Later in the analysis, we'll look at what yellow/yellowing has to do with Diane's citrinitas.

Louise Bonner represents Diane's Wise Old Woman archetype.

4. Rubedo is a Latin word meaning "redness." In an archetypal schema, rubedo would represent the Self archetype, and would be the culmination of the four stages. The Self manifests itself in "wholeness," a point in which a person discovers his or her true nature.[g]

Diane's dream-rubedo occurs at the moment that Rita is 'sucked into' the blue box (which then falls on the floor - see screencap at left), i.e., it takes place just before Diane awakens. Later on we'll look at Diane's rubedo in more detail, including what redness has to do with it. We should observe here, however, that the reason the movie seems like a Möbius strip to many viewers, is because a nigredo is presented to us as taking place both at the beginning of the movie, during the chaotic accident, and near the end of the film, during the chaos in Diane's apartment when she 'sees' the couple who raised her haranguing her, and then shoots herself. It's as if Diane's alchemical process 're-begins' at the end of the movie (by virtue of the fact that the ending represents a nigredo). Within this context, the film acts on each viewer's subconscious (i.e., unconscious) mind.

a. Wikipedia, 'Philosopher's stone'. Web, n.d. URL =
b. Wikipedia, 'Magnum opus (alchemy)'. Web, n.d. URL =
c. Ibid.
d. Wikipedia, 'Nigredo'. Web, n.d. URL =
e. Wikipedia, 'Albedo (alchemy)'. Web, n.d. URL =
f. Wikipedia, 'Citrinitas'. Web, n.d. URL =
g. Wikipedia, 'Rubedo'. Web, n.d. URL =


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