Thursday, October 29, 2015

"This Is The Girl" - Thoughts on Mulholland Dr.

Nightmares, betrayal, twisted romance, murder and a Hollywood dream deferred - all concepts of Mulholland Dr., one of David Lynch's most hypnotic and darkest films. In addition to being one of my personal favorites from David's collection, Mulholland Dr. also embodies, in a deeply mysterious and haunting way, the tragic pain of having your hopes crushed by the Hollywood machine. Sprinkled with moments of levity and visual panache, Mulholland Dr. takes the viewer on a journey that is both strangely beautiful and wonderfully disturbing.

I had the pleasure of being invited by --> Twin Peaks Unwrapped to discuss this terrific film, which is the inspiration for this post. You can listen to the podcast here --> Podcast 21 Mulholland Dr.

My Thoughts on Mulholland Dr:

I was fortunate to see Mulholland Dr. in a great little independent film theater near where I live when it first came out. At the time I wasn't sure what I was in for. In fact during that first watch I don't think it fully hit me. I was lost in each scene, in a good way, and I'm not sure the dream logic fully resonated at first. However I watched it again some months later when it came on DVD and then it hit me all at once. Once the film connected in my mind, I remember thinking how brilliant I thought it was. 

 I feel confident saying now that I think roughly 70% of the film is a dream that Diane is having after having decided to kill her ex girlfriend. I believe her dream represents an idealized version of her romance with Rita/Camilla as well as her subconscious struggling to come to terms with her murderous behavior. After the opening credits role, which plays along a cryptic jitterbug dancing scene, the camera pans across a bed and leads up to a pillow. You can hear someone breathing and then there is darkness. I think this clearly demonstrates someone falling asleep. From there the viewer is transported into Diane's mind where she becomes Betty, a different and arguably better version of herself. 

In Diane's dream, Betty arrives at LAX ready to become a star and is full of hope. She has a plan to stay at her aunt's charming apartment and even an audition arranged for her to read for a film role. Betty comes to California full of optimism and is accompanied by an elderly couple who chatted with her on the plane. They wish her well and then she takes cab to start her new life. When she gets to the apartment, Betty finds a naked woman in the shower and assumes it's her aunt's friend. However it turns out that Rita, a name she chooses after seeing a picture of Rita Hayworth on the wall, is actually a victim of a car accident who took refuge in fear when she lost her memory. Rita is confused and distraught so Betty takes pity on her and decides to try to help her figure out who she really is. Along the way they become intimate and Betty falls in love.

Paralleling the girl's story is Adam, a promising young film director whose latest project is coming under a bizarre mob-esque influence to choose a specific girl for the lead role. At first Adam is quite resistant, but after finding his wife in bed with another man (Billy Ray Cyrus) and having his finances frozen, followed by a strange encounter with a man known only as "The Cowboy" Adam changes his mind. Betty and Adam's story connect when she sees him at the studio. Adam has just chosen the correct girl, named Camilla Rhodes, right as Betty finished an intense audition where she acted her heart out. Betty sees Adam from across the studio and they lock eyes. From there Betty goes to get Rita and they go exploring the apartment of Diane Selwyn. After breaking into the apartment, Betty and Rita discover the rotting corpse of a dead woman. The sight traumatizes Rita. She then becomes afraid to go outside without a blonde wig on as a disguise. Later that night the girls end up making love and Betty tells Rita she's in love with her. After they fall asleep. At 2 am, Rita awakes from an apparent sleep trance yelling, "Silencio!" Rita then insists that Betty come with her somewhere.

The girls take a cab to a mysterious theater called Silencio, where all the performances are an illusion. They watch intently as a variety of acts dazzle them with musical tricks referred to as No Hay Banda, which means there is no band. It leads to the final act, also my favorite scene from the film, where a woman lip syncs in a powerful performance before collapsing. The girls are overcome with emotion at the scene. Watch here -- > Llorando After Betty takes the blue box out from her purse. Later Rita, sporting her blonde wig, takes the blue key from her bag of money (we later learn this bag of money was used in Diane's real life to pay off a hit man) Rita then uses the key to open the box. I think it's significant that she is alone in this scene, because when she turns the key there is only blackness inside the box. I think by the time Rita begins wearing the blonde wig her identity is melding with Betty's, because I think in Betty's dream the dead body in Diane Selwyn's apartment is actually a representation of Camilla. The act of turning the key and opening the box essentially suggests that having Camilla killed is going to lead Diane to destruction. Then Rita drops the box on the floor and the film cuts to a scene of the Cowboy telling Diane that it's time to get up.

Upon waking we get a whole different perspective on Diane's true Hollywood story. We learn that her truth was much uglier than the dream place she'd just been in. There is a blue key on her coffee table, which we later discover was a sign that the hit on her former lover Camilla aka Rita was complete. We also learn that she'd had an apparent fling gone bad with a watered down version of Camilla with whom Diane had switched apartments. Then through a series of memories and hallucinations it is revealed that Diane had come to California after winning a jitterbug contest and had been left some money from her aunt. Diane had an affair with Camilla after meeting her on the set of a film where they had read for the same role. Camilla ended up getting the lead role and there was an indication she likely accomplished that with the help of the casting couch, despite Diane being a better actress. It also seems that unlike the tender more romantic love affair Rita and Betty have in her dream, Camilla and Diane's real life affair was more lurid and Diane was ultimately used by Camilla. 

Sexual jealousy leads Diane to a dark place. Personally I think the most important aspect of Diane's struggle is her love for Camilla. Heartbreak is essentially what broke her. She was in love with Camilla and intensely sexually attracted to her. Camilla knew this and rubbed her exploits in Diane's face. I feel this is evident in the party scene when Camilla and Adam announce their engagement in front of Diane followed by a kiss Camilla gives to the fake Camilla Rhodes from Betty's dream. There is an impression that Diane was replaced by a newer version in the weird game Camilla and Adam were playing. It seems this final act of humiliation is what pushes Diane over the edge and drives her to want Camilla killed. The name Betty is later revealed to be the name of the waitress at Winkies diner, who served Diane when she was putting a hit out on Camilla. 

Betty's audition might reveal a bit about Diane's real life past and hints that she might have been a victim of sexual abuse. This rather intense scene not only showcases that Diane was a strong actress who was overlooked, but it also seems to be a clue about a trauma from her past. Perhaps the reason why she'd ended up having an affair with a woman, as she states in her dream that she'd never been with a woman before. However this is just my impression and very much open for debate. For more thoughts on this subject check out -- > Laura Walked With Me.

Are these two Diane's parents or her Aunt & Uncle or are they simply a symbol of her failure? I guess that is up for interpretation, but either way the sight of them tormenting Diane in her hallucinations was the final straw. Overcome with terror she decides the only way out is by putting a gun in her mouth.

This is the price of losing yourself. The woman who Diane switched apartments with tells her after she wakes up that the police stopped by again looking for her. From that point on the rest of the film fills in the gaps of Diane's real life through her memories and hallucinations. She makes coffee and imagine's Camilla is there. She has an erotic memory of being sexually rejected by Camilla on the couch. She recounts Camilla letting her stay late on one of Camilla's movie sets. Diane then seems enraged at the sight of Adam kissing Camilla in front of her. She vividly flashes to the party where Camilla once again humiliates her and fuels Diane's jealousy, first by making an over the top engagement announce to Adam and then by kissing another woman in front of Diane. 

These experiences stir Diane's anger and jealousy. She masturbates while crying furiously. She appears to hate herself for still being attracted to the person that hurt her the most. Plus she knows the police are likely closing in on her and mostly importantly, she's guilt ridden. After all Diane loved Camilla. She remembers making the arrangements to kill Camilla, where she sees Dan looking at her and "Betty" the waitress serves her. Finally she has a terrifying vision of the elderly couple, possibly her parents or Aunt and Uncle, chasing her through her apartment as she screams in terror. Whomever they are supposed to be, I believe they represent ultimate failure to Diane. It drives her mad and she shoots herself.

Is the blue box actually a reference to Diane's soul? Throughout Betty's dream, the blue box appears to represent the fate of Diane's soul or her worst fear. This is only my opinion, but it was my sense that since in real life the blue key meant Camilla was dead, in Betty's dream the blue key that opens the blue box leads to nothingness and death. Once she opens the box her dream is essentially over and Diane's fate is sealed.

The Cowboy gives Adam some solid advice and warns him that a man's attitude determines the fate of his life to a large extent. I love this scene! Watch here --- > The Cowboy All I can say about the Cowboy is that he was at the party when Camilla and Adam announce their engagement. In fact Betty sees him right as the two are obnoxiously gloating. My best guess is that his look stood out so in her dream logic he became the reason Adam chose Camilla to be in his film. What do you think the Cowboy represents?

In Betty's dream, I think Dan represents her subconscious fear of her own demise. So in thinking that, I think it's fair to assume that in Betty's dream, Dan is Diane or a variation of herself that is afraid to face the consequences of what she has done. I believe he took form in her dream, because she saw him looking at her in Winkies as she was making the arrangements to have Camilla killed in real life. Watch here --- > Dan's Nightmare

Could this person be a representation of the devil or a symbol of death? If the box is Diane's soul and this person is death, then the final scene of the movie makes a profound kind of sense. Diane killed someone and killed herself, the consequences of which equal the bleakness of your soul rotting in a paper bag next to a garbage dump, metaphorically speaking. Of course this is just my opinion and I think a lot of interpretations can be drawn.

I've always felt that the Adam character is a representation of how David Lynch has felt about outside influences on his work. Maybe I'm stretching, but that was always my impression. Outside of that, in Betty's dream, Adam is forced to choose Camilla Rhodes as the lead in his film. I think Betty dreams it this way, because its a softer kinder version as compared to what really happened in Diane's life. In real life it appears that Adam chose Camilla because they were fooling around and he was self absorbed. However in Betty's idealized dream, Adam is a victim of circumstance and the situation was out of his control.

In a final thought, when it comes to watching David Lynch movies I've always tried to be flexible with adhering a literal meaning to every aspect. I try to take it all in and think it through after. I also like to go with how a film makes me feel and although I am probably an analytical person by nature, I don't need to understand everything to enjoy Lynch's work. With that said, I think the core of Mulholland Dr. is probably one of his more linear films. Compared to Lost Highway and parts of Fire Walk With Me, I think Mulholland Dr. makes a fairly clear statement. California has always represented a place where dreams come. From the Gold Rush to the magic of Hollywood and everything in between, California symbolizes hope and magic for many people. Hollywood, in particular for young people, holds the allure of fame, fortune and adoration. However in reality most dreams are crushed and for some people such as Diane, it ultimately breaks them. I might be wrong with every theory I have about this movie. but if it wasn't so good, I wouldn't care to think about it at all. I love Mulholland Dr because to me what makes it horrifying isn't so much that it's a scary movie, it's the way David Lynch takes you into Diane's mind so you feel her bleakness. The concept is very dark, but yet I find it to be a beautiful masterpiece.


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You may also like  --- > Revisiting Wild at Heart


  1. I like your interpretation mostly. A bit too literal at times perhaps for a movie that reveals a kind of emotion that words don't convey well. Humiliation and loss seems to be at the core and the waves of emotion shown by Betty/Diane intensify with the apparent shifts through reality and daydream. Best experienced without too much literal interpretation, methinks. But much of what you wrote describes what I feel watching MD.

    1. Thank you for reading Al! And I agree MD is much more enjoyable as an experience.

  2. It's an excellent movie, and I agree with most of your interpretation.
    I primarily enjoy how the dream life is presented more realistically than the very surreal "real life' section.
    However, I think the movie opens after Diane has shot herself, and first we see her dying fantasy, then the compressed reality as her life flashes before her eyes.

    1. Thanks for reading & I like your take on the film. MD is truly a masterpiece!