Some of David Lynch’s films use a more traditional storytelling method than others; sure Lynch is primarily known for his surrealism, but on that rare occasion, some of his films run on a linear fashion. Take for example The Elephant Man (1980), Blue Velvet (1986) and The Straight Story (1999), three of Lynch’s films that don’t get too dreamlike or surreal, they don’t jump time or go into trippy dream sequences, nope, these three films run on a more or less linear fashion; they tell their tale in a way that is digestible for anyone willing to take a crack at them. But then there’s the dark, dark side of Lynch. I’m talking about that group of films in Lynch’s fantastic filmography that dive wholeheartedly into the surreal, the non-linear and the open for interpretation; these are films that usually end up meaning something different to everyone. Lost Highway (1997) is a good example of this, and so is the film I’ll be analyzing today, Mulholland Dr. (2001).
Now here’s a film that I instantly wanted to see again the first time I saw it. I mean, literally, I saw it and immediately popped it back in and pushed play. I watched it twice, back to back! I was enthralled, amazed and transfixed by this film. It spooked me, it had this alluring aura to it that I devoured and became addicted to. Mulholland Dr. quickly turned into one of my favorite Lynch films, and it quite arguably is Lynch’s best film. Don’t know how many of you out there agree, but Mulholland Dr. to me was the apex of Lynch’s career, the pinnacle of his work, he took everything he knew about filmmaking up to that point put it in a blender and hit puree! I don’t believe he’s done a film as good as this one again.
When it was released, Mulholland Dr. got awards all over the place! Lynch was nominated for best director that year at the Academy Awards, he won the Best Director Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and Mulholland Dr. was named ‘Best Picture’ by the New York Film Critics Circle, amongst other awards. The film certainly got a reaction from audiences, more so than any other Lynch film, there was something special about this movie and audiences and critics picked up on it immediately. Now here’s the deal with Mulholland Dr, there are a myriad of interpretations of the film out there, but I got my personal one and seriously, it is solid! Air tight! So if you’ve never seen this movie, don’t read this article because I’m going to go into a deep analysis of the film, this is my take on one of Lynch’s most mysterious and alluring films, it’s like a puzzle you have to put together little by little. I’ve seen the movie many times and my take on it makes sense the more and more I watch it. What I’m going to do is actually deconstruct the film (which is told in a non-linear fashion) and retell it linearly, while trying to explain what the film means to me. Just remember, this is just my take on it, maybe you have your own take it on it too, which of course I urge you to share on the comments section! if you haven’t experienced Mulholland Dr. yet, what are you waiting for?
CAMILLA AND DIANE; TWO ACTRESSES TRYING TO MAKE IT
The whole story starts out with these two actresses waiting for their “big break” on a film project, their names are Camilla Rhodes and Diane Selwyn. In order to make ends meet, Diane works at the local ‘Winkies Diner’. To complicate things just a little bit more, they are in a relationship. Apparently, for Camilla the relationship is more sexual, while for Diane, being with Camilla is an obsession.
CAMILLA BECOMES FAMOUS, DIANE WALKS IN HER SHADOW
One thing leads to another and Camilla gets a big break on a film called The Sylvia North Story! Camilla actually gets a major role on the film! Unfortunately, while Camilla get’s to be a star, Diane gets NOTHING! Fortunately, Camilla uses her fame to get Diane bit parts in some of her films. For example, Camilla landed a role in a film from a young director called Adam Kesher whom Camilla ends up falling in love with while rehearsing a kissing scene. This romance that develops between Camilla and Adam Kesher obviously makes Diane insanely jealous because Diane is obsessed with Camilla; we can see the jealousy in Diane’s eyes when Camilla and Adam rehearse the kissing scene.
ADAM BATTLES WITH PRODUCERS OVER WHO IS GOING TO STAR IN HIS MOVIE
Adam is trying to cast the right actress for a part in his film and he’s got a girl in mind, unfortunately, his producers don’t agree. They want another actress! This of course is this young director’s worst nightmare! Now this meeting is the most uncomfortable meeting ever, everyone is on the edge! The producer is portrayed as a man that’s so hard to please that no one can get him an adequate cup of coffee! He tastes a cup of espresso they bring him and he spits it out on a napkin! This of course is Lynch venting out his frustrations with movie producers and the business side of filmmaking. Producers often times clash with a directors artistic vision, especially with directors like Lynch who value art over commerce. Many of Adam’s problems probably mirror in one way or another Lynch’s own frustrations with the business side of filmmaking; starting with the hard to please producers. Adam hates this meeting because they are forcing him to choose an actress he doesn’t want, so he storms out of the meeting and vents out his frustrations by smashing the window of one of the producers limos!
ADAM FINDS HIS WIFE CHEATING ON HIM, GETS A CALL FROM ‘THE COWBOY’
After the meeting with the producers, Adam goes home only to find his wife in bed with the pool man. To avenge this, he takes all her expensive jewelry and smothers it with pink paint, she tries to stop him, so he starts to fight with her at which point the pool man punches Adam in the face and kicks him out of his own home, Adam takes the hint and leaves. He then goes to stay at a cheap hotel in town, to hide away. Here he discovers that the studio has cut off his credit line and he is practically broke! He then receives a phone call to meet up with a character called “The Cowboy”. Just who is this cowboy? And what does he want with Adam?
DIANE AND CAMILLA BREAK UP
Even though Camilla is romantically entangled with Adam Kesher, she still lives with Diane, and they still share intimacy. But Camilla wants to put an end to it, so one day, right in the middle of having sex with Diane, Camilla tells Diane “we can’t keep doing this”, meaning, let’s break up. Diane doesn’t like what she hears and replies “don’t say that, don’t ever say that” with an obsessive look on her face. Diane ends up kicking Camilla from their apartment. Camilla begs Diane not to make things harder than they are but Diane says she’s not going to make it easy, because it’s not easy for her either. Obviously, Diane’s attraction towards Camilla was obsessive. How so? Well, once Camilla has moved out Diane crumbles, she looks a mess, she’s obviously depressed. While walking through her apartment, she imagines that Camilla is talking to her. She speaks to the wind saying things like “Camilla, you’re back!” but there’s no one there. She’s alone. Camilla’s attraction was physical and not romantic, while Diane’s was obsessive.
ADAM MEETS THE COWBOY
So Adam goes up to this corral up on a mountain to meet The Cowboy. Now this is a really mysterious character in the film: he knows everything and seems to have everything under control. Now if you ask me, The Cowboy is GOD, yup, not just symbolically, but literally. Why do I come to this conclusion? Well, according to the bible God knows everything, and this cowboy guy, well; he seems to know it all. He is one step ahead of Adam and the whole mess going on with Diane and Camilla. There are more symbolisms that let us see he is god. Adam must go to the top of the mountain to meet him, kind of like how Moses had to go to the top of the mountain to meet God and get the Ten Commandments, which is essentially what The Cowboy does with Adam, he gives him a commandment. When the Cowboy arrives, a light bulb on the corral mysteriously turns on, when he leaves, the light bulb mysteriously turns off, as if he’s presence emitted some kind of mystical energy, a common motif in Lynch’s films. The Cowboy tells Adam that he is the one in charge; that he’s the one “driving this buggy” and that Adam better do as he’s told. He tells Adam to choose the girl that his producers have chosen for him. Why does The Cowboy want Adam to choose this new girl? More on that later!
CAMILLA AND ADAM GET BRUTALLY CRUEL WITH DIANE
So Camilla and Diane have an ugly break up, but apparently they are still in speaking terms because Camilla invites Diane to a dinner party at Adams home. On the dinner table, a conversation reveals to us just how Camilla and Diane met and how Diane has been living on the shadow of Camilla’s success. Diane also tells us a bit about how she won a Jitterbug Contest and that this is why she ended up trying to be an actress. We saw the Jitterbug Contest way back at the beginning of the movie, when we see all those dancers doing ‘The Jitterbug’ during the very first scenes of the film. While at this dinner table, we hear Adam talking about his ex-wife; he says that the judge decided that Adam would get the pool and that “she got the pool man”; which means they are now divorced and Adam got to keep the house. Things take a turn towards the brutally cruel when we see the blonde actress who The Cowboy told Adam to choose for the film kissing Camilla right in front of Diane’s face! This move is particularly cruel on Camilla’s part when we consider that she knows just how badly Diane took their break up. But the cruelty towards Diane does not stop there. Right on this very dinner table Camilla and Adam announce that they are going to get married!
DIANE DECIDES TO KILL CAMILLA
After the particularly cruel night, Diane can’t take the loneliness and rejection. Being without Camilla proves to be just a bit too much for her. How do we know? Well, Diane masturbates as she cries, but masturbating just isn’t the same as being with Camilla. So, when Diane just can’t take it no more, she decides that she wants to kill Camilla, so she hires a hit man to do the job. Diane meets the hit man at the Winkies where she works at. She gives him a picture of Camilla, so that he knows who he’s got to kill. After she hands the hit man the money for the job, the hit man hands her a blue key. Now just what is this blue key she’s just received and why has she received it? What does it open?
THE BLUE BOX, THE BLUE KEY, DIANE COMMITS SUICIDE
Here’s where we gotta stop and explain just what the blue box and key are. This is an important question in this film because when the blue key is used and the blue box is opened, people disappear! They go somewhere; but where? Now If ‘The Cowboy’ is God, then there’s gotta be a Devil in this movie, and that Devil is this ugly bum/monster in the alley behind the Winkies, it is he who owns the Blue Box and Keys, so it is my belief that this blue box is essentially a door way to hell. In the film, you get a Blue Key only when you’ve done a heinous thing, like making arrangements to kill someone. When Diane receives The Blue Key from the hit man, we see The Bum Behind the Winkies (Satan) dropping the blue box and releasing these two evil looking old people that I see as demons from hell, I mean, one look at these old dudes and you’ll agree with me, they are demonic looking! It seems to me they’ve come to get Diane for the sins she’s committed! What was Diane’s sin? Attempting to get Camilla killed by paying the hit man! So we see the old demons chasing Diane to her bed room, once there, Diane grabs a gun from her night table and shoots herself in the head!
THE COWBOY RESURRECTS DIANE
So Diane has committed a sin, sure, she has to pay for it, so this is why demons from hell came for her. But what if God considers the events that led to her death unjust? The all knowing, omnipresent Cowboy (Omnipresence being another trait that God possesses) apparently decides that Diane has had a rough life, that the events that led to her suicide where unjust, so he decides to give her a break. So this is essentially a battle between God and Satan for Diane and Camilla’s soul! God things she deserves a break while the Devil wants her to pay for what she’s done. This is the reason why after Diane dies, the Cowboy walks into her room and tells her “time to wake up”, who else can wake people from the dead but God? This type of action lets us see that The Cowboy is indeed a character that is supernatural in nature and why I conclude that he is God. In the film, he is like a watcher, he is always lurking somewhere in the background, observing what is going on. During the cruel dinner scene, he was there seeing the events unfold, if you pay attention, you’ll see him walking in the background. So it is my belief that The Cowboy saw what was done to Diane, saw how these cruel acts made her commit suicide so he decided to give Diane a second chance; so now Diane is going to live again. Will her life be better this time around?
DIANE’S SHINNY NEW LIFE
So Diane does get to come back to life, only this time, things are happier, scratch that, things are perfect! On this second chance at life Diane’s new name is Betty Elms. She’s just arrived at Los Angeles, the name of the city itself an allusion to the fact that this is really Diane, coming back from the afterlife. If you pay attention, when she’s coming down the escalator at the airport, Lynch focuses on the words “City of Angels” and on the walls, we see little designs of clouds, as if she was coming down from heaven. This time, the two demonic old people that had come out of the Blue Box and tortured her till she killed herself seem angelically nice. Betty says she just met them on the plane, and we kind of get the idea that they function as guardian angels to Betty. This time around Betty/Diane is still an aspiring actress, but things are different. Her attitude has changed! She’s all positive about her prospects as an actress and we gotta remember, one of the things the Cowboy told Adam was that our attitude in life determines the kind of life we will live. So anyhow, Betty’s aunt Ruth is letting her stay in her house so that she can go to a big audition. Everything seems perfect this time around, even the way Lynch shot the scenes, everything’s colorful and brightly lit as opposed to Diane’s previous life which was all dark, grey and depressive. Could this new life be The Cowboys way of giving Diane a chance at living a better life, a happier life? Maybe he figures she suffered enough and deserves a shot at happiness? Apparently so because when Dianne goes to an audition for a film it goes splendidly well! The producer and director love her! Apparently she’s going to get the part!
BETTY ALMOST MEETS ADAM KESHER…AGAIN!
After her splendid audition, a casting director decides to take Betty to meet a hot young film director whom she considers better. This young filmmaker as fate would have it ends up being none other than Adam Kesher! Here’s where we understand why The Cowboy (God) wanted Adam Kesher to choose another girl! If Adam hadn’t chosen somebody else, Betty would have auditioned for Kesher’s film and she would have ended up meeting Kesher and Camilla again! Kesher might have recognized her from when he knew her as Diane, Camilla’s obsessive girlfriend! But Betty is not Diane anymore, she’s Betty! Had Kesher not chose another actress, Betty would have ended up right back with Camilla and Kesher, the two people who psychologically tortured her and made her commit suicide! To avoid all this, The Cowboy made sure that Kesher chose somebody else. Still, for a brief second Adam and Betty do see each other from afar, but apparently, Kesher can’t recognize her. Thankfully, Betty remembers she has to meet Rita and so she leaves before she can actually meet Kesher. Phew! Crisis averted!
CAMILLA AVOIDS HER OWN DEATH, LOOSES MEMORY
Diane is dead, and she’s come back as innocent and happy Betty, but we gotta remember that Diane paid a hit man to kill Camilla and said hit man is still out to kill Camilla! And so, as Camilla rides a Limo, she doesn’t know it, but she’s about to get shot by the drivers, who are the hit men. These are the hit men that Diane paid for in her previous life! Anyways, suddenly, a freak car accident sets her free from being murdered! The hit men die in the accident and Camilla manages to escape, but there’s a catch, the concussion that Camilla receives makes her forget who she was! So now Camilla doesn’t know she’s Camilla, she doesn’t know Adam or Diane, she can’t remember a thing! So she begins to wander aimlessly through city of Los Angeles, not knowing who she is or where to go to.
CAMILLA RE-ENCOUNTERS DIANNE IN THE FORM OF BETTY
Eventually Camilla, in her disorientation, finds an empty apartment and decides to hide in it. She doesn’t know it yet, but this is the same apartment that Betty/Diane is staying in! Yup, as fate would have it, Camilla aimlessly wonders right back into Diane’s second chance at life! These two women who had been lovers in a previous life have now re-encountered each other, the only problem is that neither one of them recognizes each other. Camilla can’t remember who Diane is because she’s lost her memory and Diane can’t remember Camilla because she can’t remember anything from her previous life! So they both treat each other like perfect strangers! Camilla can’t remember her name so she gives Betty the first name she sees on a movie poster which is Rita. So on this second go, Camilla is now known as Rita and Diane is now Betty. Betty ends up pitying Rita and wanting to help her, perhaps because the attraction and feelings she had for Camilla in her previous life are still there somehow. To me it always seemed like their love, their attraction for each other was so strong that even now, on this second life their souls end up converging. “Perhaps we’ll meet again in another life” is a common phrase; I think we could apply it here.
BETTY AND RITA BECOME DETECTIVES
Rita came into Betty’s apartment with a purse that had two things: a Blue Key and a large amount of money. What was the money for? Perhaps Camilla was going to get someone killed as well? At any rate, Camilla must have done a seriously evil deed in order to receive the dreaded blue key. So anyhow, Betty wants to help Rita remember who she is, so she calls the cops trying to figure out what happened at the scene of the accident. Rita suddenly remembers a name ‘Diane Selwyn’! Betty doesn’t realize it, but Rita is talking about Betty’s past self! Rita/Camilla is starting to remember who Diane was! Then Betty decides to look up Diane Selwyn in the yellow pages, they find out there’s only one Diane Selwyn, they call her but get a recorded message; when Camilla hears the message she recognizes the voice and says “I know that voice!” Of course, she recognizes it because Diane use to be her lover and roommate! Next they decide to go see where this Diane Selwyn lives. When they get there, they walk into the empty apartment and start exploring it until a hideous smell leads them to the bedroom where they discover Diane Selwyn, dead on her bed! In other words: Betty discovers the body she used to inhabit in her previous life! With her brains blown out! The body decayed! The horror! She doesn’t recognize herself though because the body is so decayed.
BETTY AND RITA GET IT ON...AGAIN!
Rita is horrified after having discovered the dead body; she decides she wants to cut all ties with who she was, so she puts on a blonde wig. Now Betty and Rita look like two blond twins or something. So anyways, one thing leads to another and Rita and Betty end up naked on the same bed, their previous passions resurface and voila! They end up making out. Funny how Betty asks Rita “have you done this before?” and Rita replies “I don’t know”, in reality, they’d both been lovers before, they just can’t remember! In the midst of the passion Betty tells Rita she loves her, but Rita doesn’t say the same, which kind of mirrors their previous relationship which was only physical, at least from Rita’s side. On a personal note, this is one of the most erotic love scenes ever filmed! So after their make out session, while they are both sound asleep, suddenly Rita starts saying “Silencio!” which means ‘silence’ in Spanish, then she says “No hay banda” which means “There is no band!”. When you first see the film, this is a really spooky moment because it’s like, suddenly Rita can speak Spanish? What else don’t we know about Rita? So right there and then, at 2 in the a.m., Rita begs Betty to come with her somewhere. That somewhere is a place called “Club Silencio”, a place that apparently Rita frequented.
Now here’s a scene in which many of the films themes are accentuated. Club Silencio is a theater in which we see performers doing illusions on stage. First we see an illusionist come up on stage and tell us that “there is no band”. We hear a trumpet, we hear a trombone, but it’s all recorded, nothing is real, the overall message is that everything is an illusion. The phrase “life is but a dream” or “life is an illusion” applies here. To me the Illusionist is the same character as the bum behind the Winkies, he is Satan coming to claim these girls souls. Both have done horrible deeds, and both must pay for what they have done, I mean, just the guys face let’s you know he is evil. When the illusionist stares at Betty, we hear thunder and blue light and Betty starts shaking uncontrollably. To me what’s happening here is that the illusionist is placing the Blue Box (which is essentially a doorway to Hell) on Betty’s purse. He recognizes these two souls as souls who have eluded him when they should have gone to hell to pay for their sins. When the blue light fades and the smoke disappears, the Illusionist is also gone from the stage. Suddenly, Betty realizes that the Blue Box is in her purse. After that we here Rebecca del Rio sing a Spanish version of Roy Orbison’s ‘Crying’ a song that applies perfectly to Diane’s unrequited love for Camilla. Read these lines from the song and you’ll see what I mean:
“When you said “so long” left me standing there all alone, alone and crying”
”I thought that I was over you, But it’s true, oh so true, I love you even more, than I did before”
”But darling what can I do? For you don’t love me, and I’ll always be crying over you”
After Rita and Betty give a good cry together they both know what they have to do with the Blue Key that they’d found in Rita’s purse! They have to use it on the Blue Box that magically appeared in Betty’s purse! Again, this sudden appearance of the Blue Box in Betty’s purse alludes to supernatural events happening which is why I go with the God/Satan angle with this movie. It’s really the angle that makes the most sense.
FINALLY RITA AND BETTY USE THE BLUE KEY ON THE BLUE BOX
After Club Silencio, Betty and Rita go back to Aunt Ruth’s apartment, look for the Blue Key and put it in the Blue Box; we see the camera zooming into the box, as Betty and Rita are sucked into it, then they disappear! We know what’s happened; they’ve both been sucked into hell! Then, Lynch ends the film with this mysterious old lady with blue hair looking at the camera. She looks at us from high above in a theater balcony of Club Silencio and whispers the words “Silencio”, then the movie fades to black and we’re left wondering what the hell we just saw. Of course, if you ask me I say that old lady with the blue hair is also God, the cowboy in another form, same as the devil took the form of the magician. God looks at us from high above amusing himself with the theater of life, because as the saying goes “all life is a stage”