By Paula Sullivan
When the screen faded to black and the credits started rolling, I was as baffled as the next person. In order to try and understand the movie, I read a number of synopses and have come up with my own explanation of Mulholland Drive. I have set this essay out in two stages: “Reality” and “Dream/Fantasy”, not in the order of the movie but in order of the events happening. Just as a note, I use the terms Dream and Fantasy to mean the same thing; it’s all a creation of Betty’s imagination.
“Reality” (Last one third of movie, with a bit of explanation)
Following her success in a local jitterbug contest (shown by the images of dancing people during the opening credits), a young, Diane Selwyn moves to Los Angeles in search of movie stardom. Diane, through strings of auditions, meets and has an affair with an actress named Camilla. Diane doesn’t find a lot of success as an actress and depends on Camilla to get her ‘extras’ parts. But Camilla is guaranteed success after she seduces director Adam Kesher. Diane, now feeling rejected, both by the person she loves and the business she longs to be a part of, is jealous of Camilla and decides to have her killed by a hit man, with a regular looking blue key slid under her front door as a sign that the deed has been done.
This section of the movie also has flashbacks of events that led to Camilla’s murder. You see Camilla ridiculing Diane in public. In chronological order, it starts when Camilla shows Diane a secret path to the house, giving you the impression that Diane wasn’t allowed in the front door. It also shows where they are both at work. From letting her stay on the set where she flirts with Adam to the dinner party at Adam’s house where she flirts with him (again) at the table and then kisses passionately, her new lover (Melissa George). In the dinner party scene, Diane even receives pity from Adams mother, Coco (who in the fantasy is the manager for the apartment block where Betty lives), who talks about Diane’s failed career. She says what set she met Camilla on and mentions the director (he was the same director who, in the fantasy, thought that Betty was excellent, see below for further explanation) who did not "...think much of..." her. "She helped me getting some parts in some of her films."
Fantasy seeps into reality. This is shown in the scene where Diane's neighbour knocks at her door to collect her things. Diane wakes, opens the door, the neighbour gets her stuff. Note, we see an ordinary looking Blue Key on the coffee table. Diane's neighbour warns her of snooping detectives. "Oh, by the way, those two detectives came looking for you." I believe that the two guys who in the fantasy part of the movie are actually the detectives that are trying to find Camilla’s killer. Diane, obviously feeling guilty (as Camilla is actually dead), hallucinates that Camilla (clad in bright red) is in the room with her, "Camilla... you've come back."
In the “Shirtless” scene Camilla insists they break off their relationship. Diane’s reaction and actions show that she is clearly upset. In her desperation, Diane tries to force her way with Camilla. I believe that the scene, in her “fantasy”, where Adam goes back to his house and finds his wife having an affair is Diane’s way of “getting back” at Adam for “stealing” her lover. (Note, in reality, Adam, at the dinner party, states that “things worked out well, she got the pool man, I got the pool”).
The Diner scene seems simple. It shows Diane paying the hit man with the large amount of money her aunt left her and showing him who she wants killed (i.e. Camilla). Also in this scene you see the man who was describing his dream in the beginning of the movie. I believe that he is one of the detectives looking for Diane, and just happened to be in the diner at the same time. People may dispute me by stating that in the fantasy part, he states “…this is the first time I’ve been here”. My only explanation for that is, it’s Diane’s fantasy and that is what she wanted him to say (i.e. her way of incorporating him into her fantasy).
Diane, unable to cope with the consequences of her actions, creates or has a dream in which Rita (who in reality is Camilla) is still alive after having escaped from her murderer (possibly the “hit man”), who is in the car, with nothing other than amnesia. This is also spurred on by the fact that her neighbour states, “those detectives came again, looking for you”. Diane, racked with guilt, at what she has done, kills herself.
“Dream/ Fantasy” (First two thirds of the movie)
In this dream, Diane is Betty. She is a woman on whom Camilla (as Rita in this fantasy) is dependant on for uncovering her identity. Rita and Betty fall in love with each other. But as they go searching, reality leaks into the fantasy world. During the search, the two find a decaying corpse, who is actually Diane. In the fantasy, Rita is completely dependent on Betty, which mirrors how Diane is (or should I say, was) reliant on Camilla in real life.
Another scene that shows reality seeping into fantasy is the detached scene where the hit man kills the longhaired guy. The longhaired guy giggles about the car crash, and the hit man seems to take an offence to it, probably because Camilla was supposed to be shot, not killed in a car accident. The change in the mood, from reality (giggling about the car crash) to fantasy (the hit man being sensitive about it) is Diane’s subconscious switching back to the fantasy. This a long shot, but the black book could be the hit man’s book of “appointments”, all those that have to be killed, who owes him money, etc. Diane, in her fantasy, believes, or should I say wants, the director to be forced to cast Camilla. This is shown with the two mysterious brothers demanding that Camilla be cast and if not, they would (and did, until “Camilla” – Melissa George – was cast) pull the plug on the movie. Also Diane probably believes that she would have been better for the part than Camilla. The scene where Diane/ Betty gives the outstanding audition and everyone in the room is impressed supports this. This could also be Diane’s idea of Hollywood, as she is bitter about losing the audition to Camilla. In Diane’s fantasy she also seeks “revenge” on the director. At the audition Betty gives an outstanding performance based on sheer talent, but as the scene progresses you see a casting director telling her that the picture will never take off and that the director has “never been the same” and that he “just doesn’t have it anymore”. As the lady believes that Betty is an undiscovered talent, she shows Betty to another movie, a better one, that Adam is directing.
The following scene is interesting. You see Betty and Adam lock eyes. This could be interpreted that Adam could know something about Betty or vice versa. Or it could have been a look of ‘love at first sight’. I believe it to be possible that Diane (in reality) could have fancied Adam. Another explanation could be that she wanted to hurt Camilla so she created a little bit of sexual tension between Betty and Adam.
Notice that in the fantasy Betty and Rita are lovers and Rita is obsessed, “Where were you? You’re late.” Rita gets upset that Betty was late in returning home from the audition. Note, in reality the role was reversed, Diane was obsessed with Camilla.
I believe that the explanation of the fantasy happens in the Cabaret Silencio. Here a singer sings a Spanish version of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” this could have some relation to how Diane, in reality, was continually sad. In the club you hear music and the MC continually states that it is an “illusion”, and the audience begins to realise that all they have seen is only an illusion of what has really happened. Here Diane seems to be in the process of waking up from the dream. The mysterious blue box serves as a more direct metaphor for Diane to wake up or is in the process of waking up. This is further seen where Aunt Ruth appears at the doorway (and in reality, she actually died), here Diane is trying to restart the dream/ fantasy, as she receives a sense of calm or happiness (compared to the reality of the situation) from it. The only explanation I can think of for Diane’s violent shaking is that she may be trying to wake herself up.
When they take the Blue Box back to the apartment, Betty disappears before the Box is opened, which I believe it to be that Betty’s woke up, and Rita is sucked into it as she is only part of Diane’s dream/ fantasy, therefore she “dies”.
The Cowboy is a complete mystery, but the following is the only explanation I have for him. I believe he represents Diane. He is one of the self-projections Diane has of herself. He helps to fulfil her fantasy of destroying Adam. "How many drivers does a buggy have?" Adam replies, "One." Diane, through The Cowboy and the mysterious brothers (her belief of Hollywood, see above), takes away from Adam his control over his movie (and in part, life) and puts him in a ‘no win’ position. So in the end of Diane’s fantasy, Adam has nothing especially control, while Betty has everything, even the girl. The Cowboy also says, "Now, you will see me one more time if you do good. You will see me two more times if you do bad." We see him twice, after the first scene we see him in. Once, when he goes to wake Diane, "Hey pretty girl. Time to wake up." The second time we see him is during the dinner party, after the Blonde Actress kisses Camilla and walks off, we see the Cowboy walk pass her and out of the house. I assume that it is that someone has done something wrong. Since you see him twice in reality, Adam can’t be the one who has done anything wrong, as the compulsorily casting of Camilla was in Diane’s fantasy. You could say that Diane is the one who has done something wrong. She put the “hit” out on Camilla. Another explanation for the Cowboy is that it is possible that he was just someone Camilla saw (at the dinner party) and put into her fantasy.
For all the other characters, for example the waitress who in the dream has the name “Diane” and in reality has the name “Betty”, my only explanation is that Diane has incorporated everyone that she can remember into her dream but has given them new names and roles. Another such character is Melissa George’s character, who, in the dream is the “Camilla” that has to be cast and in reality is Camilla’s new lover.
On the whole I think that this fantasy is Diane’s way of dealing with the fact that her failure is Camilla’s fault. This movie shows Diane’s denial regarding her relationship with Camilla and how it deteriorated. The elderly couple could have a number of meanings. They could be judges from the jitterbug contest, could be her parents, and could just be people from her past. Possibly even the people who did sit next to her on the plane to L.A. Which would support the theory that Diane has incorporated everyone she knew into her fantasy.
I think the Bum is Diane’s soul. He looks so terrible, because he represents all the bad deeds that Diane has done in life. "He's the one that's doing this," says the Detective in the beginning, but it's actually Diane who is “doing this”. Another reason why it could be Diane is that towards the end of the movie, the Bum is holding the Blue Box, which I believe is a sight metaphor for that the things that the audience has already seen are or were an illusion.
David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive is a movie that shows how one person dealt with the trials and tribulations of Hollywood. Betty, unfortunately, became a victim of Hollywood. A struggling actress, who never got her “big break”, tried riding on the success of another actress, and was pitied for her situation. Then, unable to cope with misery of her situation, not only killed herself but her lover out of jealously. As the lights are slowly turned on in the cinema, the audience is left with complete confusion and a sense of sadness for Betty.
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