My Cult Characters #4: The Cowboy In Mulholland Drive
Posted on Monday October 6, 2008, 16:19 by Nick de Semlyen in Empire States
Greetings, dear readers, and welcome to another episode of My Cult Characters. First, apologies for this blog’s long absence. I’d like to tell you I’ve been busy on a mission to return a gifted mountain gorilla to her birthplace near the ruins of Zinj, but I haven’t — that’s the plot of the film Congo.
Anyhow, on with the show. I won’t sugarcoat it — my next pick is a freak, even by David Lynch’s standards. He appears in Mulholland Drive, the film I love the most out of Lynch’s freaky filmography, and while he could easily be snipped out of the film without making much of a difference, for me he’s the icing on this curious-tasting cake.
I am referring to The Cowboy. A Wild West-styled creep so out-there he’s known to his friends as The Lone Deranger, this chap turns up at several points in the splintered narrative, mostly hovering malignantly in the background of crowd shots. But his moment in the limelight, and the reason he’s made my list of unforgettable minor characters, comes with his showdown with Adam (played by Justin Theroux, cousin of Louis, a fact which makes this confrontation even more deliciously strange).
For reasons I won’t go into, mostly because I don’t have a clue what they are, Hollywood director Adam has been summoned to a spooky corral in the middle of the night. He has been warned beforehand that he will be met by “The Cowboy”, to which he’d mockingly replied, “Should I wear my ten-gallon hat and my six-shooters?” But his smirk has faded by the time he reaches the ranch — to find The Cowboy standing in the shadows, actually wearing a ten-gallon Stetson, as well as a red neckerchief and skeezy moleskin jacket, in which he may well be packing pistols. The Cowboy is pale as a corpse, expressionless and talks in a horribly slow Texan drawl. The effect is unpleasant.
“Howdy!” he greets Adam. “Howdy to you,” Adam replies. After a modicum of edgy small talk, Adam attempts to get to the point. “Well now, here’s a man who wants to get right to it. Kinda anxious to get to it, are ya?” asks The Cowboy.
He proceeds to ensnare Adam in slippery double-talk about being “a smart aleck”, tests him to make sure he’s listening, then compares their dysfunctional conversation to a buggy, insisting, “I’m drivin’ this buggy. Fix your attitude and you can ride along with me.”
Finally, the ever-pedantic cowpoke — who comes across as half-serial killer, half-deputy headmaster — reveals the reason they’re both there, issuing a stern warning to Adam to cast a specific girl in his film. Adam stands in stunned silence, as the broncobuster departs with these unforgettable words: “You will see me one more time if you do good. You will see me two more times if you do bad.”
I won’t reveal whether The Cowboy re-appears one more time or two more times, except to say that it’s not enough times for me. I want to see Lynch make a spin-off, in which The Cowboy drives around in a buggy, getting into uncomfortable situations with waiters, car-park attendants and minor celebrities. It would be like Curb Your Enthusiasm, but way more awkward and with more dwarfs.
As a post-script, I was lucky enough to get the chance to interview Lynch myself earlier this year, ostensibly on the topic of transcendental meditation. It was as surreal an experience as I hoped, with folk singer Donovan in attendance strumming his guitar, a huge bowl of black coffee at Lynch’s feet, and the director himself, sat on a throne with antlers, yakking about the cow he hand-picked for INLAND EMPIRE’s ill-fated Oscar campaign. Since he was on the subject (kinda), I seized the moment and asked about his inspiration for The Cowboy. Lynch looked down at the bowl of coffee, stared up at the ceiling, then violently fluttered his fingers for a long moment. Finally he stopped, beamed a giant smile and said, “I like cows. And I like cowboys.” And that may be as close to unlocking this character’s mysteries as we’re ever going to get.
Posted on Monday October 6, 2008, 23:03
David Lynch sounds cool :P
I'm totally with you though, the cowboy is a great character.
I need to watch this film again...
Posted on Tuesday October 7, 2008, 09:33
So is the film all a demented sex fantasy, a pre-death hallucination, or just Lynch having a laugh?
Posted on Tuesday October 7, 2008, 10:07
Not much of a Lyncher myself, but I always thought the cowboy signifies Diane's denial about not getting a great part. She's a talented actress, of course, but through some demented Hollywood conspiracy (executives, cowboys) she's denied the role she was meant to play.
Posted on Tuesday October 7, 2008, 12:02
I love that character, he gives the impression of being infinitely dangerous and sinister, but importantly, not unkillable. I like to think of Mulholland Drive as a continuation of Twin Peaks, with maybe Diane having previously won the pageant that's in the last episodes of TP, thus sending her on her bid for stardom (she does actually mention having won a beauty pagenat in the movie). Plus I have elucidated the secret meaning of all of David Lynch's movies...but I'm not telling anyone.
Interesting side-topic; what is Lynch's best joke? I think it's either the botched murder in the dingy office in Mulholland Drive or (not sure if this can strictly be considered Lynch's joke) when David Duchovny tells Cooper after observing the delectable Audrey "I still pull my pants on one leg at a time, if you know what I mean," to which Cooper replys to the cross-dressing FBI agent "Actually no I don't." Or when Andy gets hit in the head by a rock in I think the third episode of TP (3rd including the pilot).
Posted on Wednesday October 8, 2008, 11:47
Speaking of in-jokes, The Cowboy is played by Monty Montgomery, producer of Wild At Heart.