Enormously enjoyed the movie (one of my faves from last year) and your discussion of it.
Here's a point that struck me the first time I saw it, which I haven't seen taken up anywhere. The original cover art of The Great Gatsby has several visual parallels in the film. Rebekah Del Rio's makeup strikingly resembles the suspended woman's face. Paired nudes, as in the Gatsby cover's pupils, are pivotal in the film. The various LA cityscapes are shot very much like the New York skyline of the art.
These may all be coincidental; certainly the two share a ripe Art Deco visual boldness, which could produce common elements like that without conscious intention. One could, however, perhaps add Fitzgerald to the list of literary analogues. Given his great novel's concern with reinvention and his own Hollywood misadventures, it may be no more far-fetched than other speculation about this puzzler.
I think something is very much overlooked, David Lynch deliberately left a lot of loose ends and alternative storylines. He was hoping for an extended story on an extended TV series after all.
Well, it is not so obvious to me that Camilla is dead. We don't know what part of the hit scene is fantasy and what is actually outside of Diane's final imaginings. The key on the table is not enough evidence. Perhaps she really was crawling about dazed somewhere and this would have fit into an extended story. Perhaps there would have been some point to this. In fact Diane killed herself without any hard evidence that her friend was dead. I know you did consider that Camillia might have been knocking at the door but you didn't extend this thinking into the accident and everything.
Now isn't it strange that people make such critical decisions of life and death based upon insubstantial and illusory perception. Suppose Diane didn't answer the phone and on the other end was Camilla? So here is a good point to make in context of the meaning of the film.
Also you missed something about when the hitman killed his friend. He had been telling him about the "traffic accident" and both were laughing. What was so funny? Was it that they didn't need to kill Camilla because the accident killed her instead or did she actually escape and the hitmen were killed.
All the reviews take it so obvious Camilla is dead. It heardly seems obvious to me.
I recently borrowed this movie from a friend and have become relatively obsessed with trying to figure it out, mainly because I believe that with enough time and thought it actually can be figured out.
Most of the points you made in your essay seemed very plausible and most likely probable. There is something that I feel you might have overlooked, or possibly even decided to ignore just for the fact that that, to me, it makes everything seem so illogical.
The point I wish to point out is Michael J. Anderson's character. Where does he fit in with everything? Granted he only appears in the first 2/3 of the film, which, I agree, is mostly a dream sequences conjured by Betty/Diane, but there is such a feeling of importance to his character that leads me to believe that the sequences featuring him are not a part of the actual dream. There would really be no reason to include him in her fantasy, especially if you stay along the idea of her taking people from her "real" life and recasting them in her dream.
Now, it is entirely possible that I think too much, and may be taking a total jump here, but the scenery behind Anderson's character is too similar to the Black Lodge in Twin Peaks for it to be a coincidence. It is possible that Lynch is purposefully connecting these two stories. If you take into consideration the fact that the Black Lodge would take people as unwitting pawns and use them to achieve their own goals, and then apply that to this film it could be said that Anderson's character, the Cowboy, and the Man/Woman Behind Winkie's could all be agents of the Black Lodge using Diane/Betty to get to and kill Camilla. Being that I have no way to prove this, it has to simply stay speculation.
Just saw the movie last night and your discussion has been wonderfully helpful.
If you don't mind another thought on the accident/hitmen and a tie-in to perhaps the actual death of Camilla. It is possible that Camilla actually did die in an accident, during the intended hit. This would mean her escape was imagined by Diane. Diane as "Betty" tried to call police and look for information in the newspaper, but of course her desire to deny Camilla's death wouldn't allow her to find anything out. All mention of a "missing brunette" and a missing accident victim by various characters could have just been her way of keeping Camilla alive. If she's missing, she's not dead.
The hit-men talking about the accident and laughing could have been at the absurdity of planning a hit only to have the intended victim (Camilla) literally killed "by accident", and perhaps some profession-directed black humor of the other hit-men being killed the same way.
I was quite intrigued by a somewhat hidden aspect of the film which your critique didn't address at all: the overt use of double images. The Salon piece didn't mention this, either! Did you notice how during the bedroom scene -- I believe it's the scene where Rita wakes up and demands they go off to Club Silencio -- that Lynch does some very subtle double imaging? Rewatch it closely, using frame-by-frame advancing. The camera flicks back and forth between Betty's and Rita's perspective in bed, but nearly every time the shot switches, the previous image lingers faintly for a few seconds, such that the non-speaking woman's image lingers faintly underneath the speaking woman's full-exposure image. This aligns conceptually with an earlier shot of Betty and Rita running from "Diane's" apartment in horror, where their images shake and split into double. Furthermore, just before Rita wakes up "channeling" those Spanish words, there's a shot of the two women which clearly must be inspired by Ingmar Bergman's famous image in Persona: the two women's faces form one face together, via a depth-of-field illusion. Half the lips, nose and eyes of each woman form one face, due to the camera angle. And as the image holds, Betty's face becomes more and more blurred and almost takes on the appearance of a painting. (The Salon piece did notice this direct homage.) Presumably, all these clues are designed to tip off that the characters of Betty and Rita are united as the product of Diane's one mind.
I actually watched the film a second time, this afternoon (with some fast-forwarding). It seemed clearer the second time...now it seems to me like the bulk of the film was simply a dream, rather than a psychotic episode. The division point is so clear with The Cowboy telling her to wake up. No??
Some elements defy it being just a dream (like the precognitive image of her death), but I don't think all the pieces necessarily need to fit. There were a few points in your article where I felt like you were reaching, and not just "letting it be." I thought you worried too much about the blue-haired lady/"Silencio" ending, for instance. (By the way, did you notice that the blue-haired lady was part of the crew? Lynch likes to do that, à la Killer Bob....) But I do agree that the early sequence with the diner dreamer/monster plus the scene with the hitman shooting the guy and taking his address book are a little problematic. I had a hard time justifying those. It also didn't seem real necessary to me that Rita started wearing a blond wig, or that Diane and #12 Lady would have switched apartments. Oh well. Actually, it seems like the #12 Lady really didn't serve any purpose at all, beyond simply clarifying that "Rita" wasn't Diane Selwyn. Maybe there was significance to her telling Diane that the apartment switch happened "three weeks ago." Whereas in the dream narrative, I think she told Betty and Rita that she hadn't seen Diane in three days. I dunno.
Thank you for your very thoughtful reassembly ("explanation" hardly seems the right word for a movie of this nature) of Mulholland Drive.
I wanted to add a thought about the thunderclap which seems to so terrify Betty at Club Silencio.
This struck me as a significant scene -- it can't be unimportant that Betty has such an intense fear of thunder that even nightclub soundtrack thunder makes her shake uncontrollably, can it? But even after a couple of times through the movie, I couldn't see that it connected to anything.
After reading your discussion, however, two ideas occurred to me, and I thought I'd pass them on. Whether you believe that the unreal part of the film is a fantasy/delusion of the living Diane or the final wild fling of her dying mind, you point out convincingly that the finding of the blue box in Betty's purse marks the point where the unreal starts to collapse, and this is immediately preceded by the thunderclap.
(1) The thunderclap might represent the gunshot that presumably killed Camilla, or Diane's imagined perception of that shot. I think this works better if you assume that the fantasy is in the mind of the living Diane and has points of intersection with reality, as you suggest in your interpretation. It could come at a point where the "real" Diane realizes what she has done and visualizes the murder of her lover; her imagination of the fatal gunshot brings her out of the fantasy to confront the reality of her actions, leading to her suicide.
(2) The thunderclap might represent the self-inflicted gunshot that killed Diane herself. This idea works better with the "dying dream" interpretation. In these seconds before death, time in the mind is clearly not real time, and perhaps the entire fantasy unfolds alongside the thunderous roar of the gunshot in her own ears. As she nears death, her mind can no longer sustain the fantasy and it collapses as the shot echoes in her consciousness -- both Betty and Rita disappear, leaving only a brief impression of the deceased Aunt Ruth (Auntie Em! Auntie Em!) in the increasingly empty "apartment" of the dying Diane's consciousness.
Or maybe we're all just reading too much into this!
Hi, my name is Riley Miller, and I first wanted to tell you I thouroughly enjoyed your interpretation of the movie. I think it is a very excellent one, and quite sound logically. In reading your postscript I think I have come upon a moment of clairvoyance. Ed's friend witnessed the accident which Ed used to kill (or attempt to kill) Camilla (this is in the real world). Perhaps the murder was in the form of a car bombing or crimped brake lines or something. It was obviously a spectacular or abnormal occurance due to the way Ed's friend was laughing in disbelief, and he then said, "But you liked that story, right?" In any case, Ed is covering his tracks, because in the black book is all the information pointing straight to Ed (name phone number, address, etc), "the history of the world in phone numbers." Ed doesn't want any incriminating evidence around since his friend saw the whole thing. I feel that Lynch makes it clear that Ed is killing his friend to cover his tracks, because he has to cover his tracks in when he shoots the woman and the janitor that sees him. That's Lynch's clue as to why he was killing his friend in the first place. This also insinuates that Ed is a sloppy hitman, and maybe Camilla still lives.
My friend and I, after our first time through, thought that the nature of the Club Silencio, the blue haired woman, the monster and MAYBE the cowboy were all manifestations of the general evil. The key is the key to Hell. The box, as you said, represents the end of the fantasy, but also the entrance to the afterlife which for Diane is Hell. Perhaps that is why it is next to the gun at the end. Her leaving her fantasy to return to the real world is a similar transformation as her leaving the real world to enter into hell. Her parents are demons working for satan, come to collect her soul. And both the monster and the Blue haired woman are a forms of the devil. My friend thought that the man talking to his psychiatrist is actually Diane's soul, as she sells it to the devil when she hands the hitman the money. Her soul then dies (psychiatrist checks his pulse) or rather is collected when it encounters the devil (monster). The club silencio a vision or forebodeing of Hell for Diane because everything is an illusion, and what seems beautiful is torn away before her eyes, and harsh and hellish reality is put right in front of her, so that she cannot fool herself into an fantastic escape.
As I went on your site (excellent, but unfortunately for me, entirely in English), I saw that you wrote a review about Mulholland Drive. I was not really surprised; indeed by its structure and its thema, this movie is not very away from the authors you usually study in your site. I wanted precisely to tell you something about that. I read your text and saw that you made a link between this movie and Joyce's Finnegans Wake. Of course, it was not an absurd idea, but as I saw Mulholland Drive, I thought more to Borges' short story about a writer (who, of course, is not real) named Herbert Quain (I don't know what is the title in English) and which is in Fictions. One of Quain's works is a piece of theater named "The Secret Mirror." I think you remember that this piece is divided in two parts and that the first part is a fantasy dreamed (or written, I don't remember exactly) by a character from the second part...I think it's remarkably similar to Mulholland Drive's structure, isn't it?
P.S This movie makes me also think to Vladimir Nabokov's "Pale Fire" but it is not as obvious...
Owen Michael Brown
I've been studying Mulholland Drive intensely over the past couple of days. I think certain things need to be clarified. The body that we see decomposed, wearing a black dress, when Betty and Rita enter the house, and see again the second time the Cowboy looks at the body, when the film is hovering on the cusp of dream and reality, and headed for reality. It's important to state that this is NOT Diane's body as it will be found at her death, as when she shoots herself at the end she is wearing a long dressing gown, not a black dress. The black dress appears to be the dress that Rita is wearing at the beginning of the film, yet when we see the head of the decomposing body the first time, it is clear that the dead person had blonde hair, not black hair . . . a parallell with Rita putting on a blonde wig, perhaps. The fluidity of identity being one of the key themes of the film. (Am I looking too far in connecting this with the dwarf actor's head placed on a normal man's body . . . the head is so small compared to the body, that the effect is both comical and freakish) How to solve this conundrum. One suggestion could be that Diane was trying to BE Camilla, so great was her envy of her, and Camilla's dress on her own body is representative of this. She has visually become indistinguishable from Camilla in this particular shot: if we did not later see the disfigured face, we could think it was Camilla, but the face is not clearly anyone; it does not resemble Diane and it does not resemble Camilla, but perhaps it represents a hideous amalgam of the two. It is only the light hair that suggests it is actually Diane. The decayed body, as well being an actual dead body, can also be seen as Diane's inner being, which has gone into moral decay; it is even wearing the dress of the morally bankrupt partner, Camilla. Of course, it's impossible to know whether this black dress is Camilla's or not, but we can assume that it's not Diane's, as we do not see her wear this dress in the film (perhaps, I'm mistaken about that, but I can't recall it). When the Cowboy says it's time to wake up, it is not the real Diane he is talking to -- the figure asleep on the bed is not the real Diane -- but the dream version of Diane, who has taken on the role of Camilla which she so craves. It is to the unpleasant amalgam to which he talks. She now has to wake from that mulatto dream version and become the real version again: it's time to leave the refuge of the dream, and face up to reality.
As for the Cowboy, appearing twice in those successive moments. The theme of things done twice is already established. The Cowboy has told the film director he will see him twice if he makes the wrong decision. The man in Winkies has his dream twice. The idea of things happening twice has a sinister resonance. The Cowboy appears twice here to Diane, once to Diane as her dream appropriation of Camilla, wearing the black dress, once to look at the corpse . . . in other words to gaze at the rotting reality of the illusion . . . he appears twice BECAUSE SHE HAS DONE THE WRONG THING, not the right thing. In Diane's dream, he is cast as an unsympathetic figure, but in truth he is a kind of moral guide. His message of a person's attitude deciding their future, is twisted in the dream to seem negative, where in fact it is a familiar piece of advice: if you do the right thing, you will not suffer the way Diane does, ending with her shooting herself. It's important to realise that all Lynch's films have a strong underlying morality to them. One shouldn't shy away from that in analysis.
It's possible to notice that in the dream death scene, both when Rita and Betty enter the house, and when the Cowboy is looking over the corpse (it is important to state that this repeat of the death scene -- it is identically composed to the first time we view it -- is NOT part of reality; it is still part of the dream) there is something white and frilly lying on the left of the corpse, which is not in the previous shot, where the figure is just lying asleep. It is only there AFTER the death. I have found myself curiously fascinated by this piece of material. What exactly is it, and then, what does it represent. I can't stop myself associating it with the blotch of lights we see at the start when there's that transition from the jitterbug scene to the red bed, and the stones in the wall that become blurry through Diane's vision when she is masturbating. There is seemingly no connection, and no logic can be applied to such a connection, but it's still something that nags away at me. What IS that white frilly thing, and why is it there? I also wonder at the significance of other things. The most obvious is the ring pull that lies alongside the blue box in the homeless person's paper bag. Most logically, it represents the truth having been let out from the can, but perhaps that is too blatant a meaning for Lynch. But one can look for too much meaning, I guess. I'm also wondering about the little replica of a piano that lies on the table when Diane and Camilla are about to have sex on the sofa. The camera lingers on it, so one must assume it has significance. I guess it's easy to tie it in with Club Silencio. The fact that it's a replica of a musical instrument, but no sound will ever come out of it.
At the end of the film, when we briefly see the monster/homeless person's face, doesn't there appear to be a curtain, and this face is actually behind the curtain? It's clearly reminiscent of Twin Peaks. And in the first Winkies scene, the young man says that he sees through a wall to the monster, so the idea of hiding and revealing, denying and accepting is obviously strong here. When the monster appears from behind the wall, it is effectively a laying bare of the psyche, the mists of deception clear, and the man falls. What we don't know is whether he is dead or not. One can only guess about that. But it would make sense if he was dead, since he had to face his demon just as Diane does, and she is dead. Lynch appears to be saying that if you the let the lies and self-denial build and build into a great monster, then when the moment finally comes -- and it must -- to face your demon, it is too strong for you, and you will be overwhelmed, and you will perish (in the metaphysical sense, not necessarily the actual sense).
The one thing that troubles me is the first appearance of the red bed. The fact that we hear breathing, but the pillow has no head on it. Can we really assume that it is Diane's breathing we hear? I'm not sure. And if the camera sinking into the pillow is a signal that we are entering a dream, where is the sleeper? Like I said, no head on the pillow. The breathing we hear does not sound like someone in sleep, it sounds like someone hovering above, breathing heavily, feverishly, perhaps with a sense of panic. It sounds more masculine than it does feminine. Yet how is this explainable in any way? It is far easier to accept what seems to be the case, rather than what perhaps is. Which seems to be the central theme of the film. Perhaps there is no need to question this moment -- that it's just Diane breathing heavily in her sleep, and her head has slipped away from the pillow -- but then everything in this film appears to NEED to be questioned. It's inevitable that after a while a viewer is going to start questioning things that never need to be questioned. But nevertheless, this moment bugs me, as does the white frilly piece of material, because I can't figure them out, and I think they need to be figured out.
These are my own thoughts on the film at this time, anyway. The debate will no doubt go on for years and years. It's that kind of film.
After writing the mail, I was thinking this: perhaps Betty leading Rita to the corpse is Diane's way of saying to Camilla: this is what you have become as a person. Diane's way of shocking Camilla into a realisation of the hollow person she's turned into. She was not able to do this in reality, so she does it in the dream. That's another take on it. There are, of course, so many possibilities, permutations. This is why it is such an extraordinary film. Alot is made available to the viewer; nothing is really set in stone.
This is Lynch's gift to the film's fans. He is not didactic in his films; he leaves alot open-ended, and this is one of his finest characteristics as a film-maker. I would say it's possibly the greatest film I've seen. Perhaps there are greater films, but I've seen quite alot. There is certainly no deeper and more complex film. Eraserhead had those qualities, but Mulholland Drive surpasses it, due to the scope of it, the power of the themes.
Just read your eminent piece on Mulholland Drive. Very impressive!
I've just seen the movie once, a week ago, and have since read some theories on the net. Planning on watching it again soon. Thinking about the movie yesterday I suddenly realized something. I had seen the monster/creature before. It has an uncanny resemblance to the insect-eating (homeless?) man in the end of Hellraiser that turns out to be a winged creature! There is a connection here -- Hellraiser also has a magic box as central ingredient. It was about ten years ago I last saw Hellrasier but I think I remember that figure quite well. If I'm right he also puts the golden box in a bag, but I'm not sure about that. I'm gonna check that out. The blue box, just like in Hellraiser, can mean a port between two worlds (reality and fiction/dreams).
I enjoyed your site immensely! I think that the whole sequence of Joe the hit man killing that guy over the black book and the absurdity that follows serve a purpose in her fantasy in this way: We know from the neighbor knocking on the door and mentioning that detectives have been there, that they have been wanting to talk to her. Obviously this would induce her to be worried that they might find out about her connection to Joe the hit man and the murder of her friend. But how could that happen? In the restaurant she sees the black book, and I think that after the murder is paranoid that perhaps her name might be in it. If the hit man is caught and she is listed in it, then that might be her downfall.
In the fantasy sequence part of the movie she has created a scene that shows that the book is something Joe acquired after the car accident which interrupted the attempted hit on Rita (wishfull thinking, Joe actually had it in the restaurant before the real murder). It has now in fantasy become something did not even belong to Joe -- he stole it from his friend Ed. In the fantasy, if Joe is caught with the book, the one thing that might happen is that he gets blamed for killing Ed, as well as the fat lady in the office next door and the cleaning man.
Another thing in the sequence that (in fantasy) further breaks Joe's connection to the real murder is that his friend Ed is the one who has been telling the "funny" story about the car accident that no one would expected. Joe tells Ed that he hopes he won't get in trouble over the whole incident.
I have an explanation that is more speculative that the last one, but I'd like to take a stab at the scene with Joe, his buddy in the leather jacket, and the prostitute Laney.
Review the scene where Joe kills his buddy Ed over that black book. Recall what they say about it -- it's "Ed's famous black book" and it contains "the history of the world -- in phone numbers". Very interesting.
It's important to understand what I am getting at to note that the Internet Movie DataBase states on their "Alternate Versions" page for Mulholland Dr. that there is a scene that was deleted due to time constraints. It is described as follows:
"A full scene of dialogue with the hitman Joe and the pimp Billy in Pinky's** Hot Dog stand with Joe asking about information on the missing woman and about the hot dogs served while the drugged out streetwalker Laney looks on."
** actually the sign in the background says "Pink's" not "Pinky's".
The end credits identifies them as Billy and Laney, but interestingly the IMDB lists the character's names as "Billy Deznutz" and "Laney, streetwalker". Apparently these two characters were supposed to have a little more of a part in the film than the way it turned out. It appears that this scene in the diner has been cut down so all we have left is a short scene where they leave the diner (some food still in hand) and are walking down the street talking until they end up next to the van.
Why was it so important to include this in the movie? Why not drop it out? After all we would hardly miss it. It must be important. This bunch is obviously supposed to be in the prostitution business and they are looking around for a new girl on the street with dark hair, who is "a little beat up" looking. Obviously this would be our dark haired accident victim.
I think the implication of all this is that (in fantasy) the black book contained the names and phone number of prostitutes and/or their customers. That's why Joe stole it -- him and his new buddy want it for themselves because they are also in the prostitution business. They are looking for the girl because they could use her.
In reality the dark haired beauty is an up and coming actress who is getting involved with a rich director, but in the fantasy she is a call girl on her way to see a client when she is in the car at the beginning!
I am not sure if you or anyone else has mentioned it, but David Lynch's clue about noticing the location of the accident is a reference that the car stops at the same place in the road in the fantasy and in reality but with a different girl in the back seat. In fantasy the car stops just before the guns are drawn for one girl to be killed and in reality the limo stops at that same spot in the road in order for another girl to use the shortcut through the brush up to the house where the party takes place. Maybe I'm way off base with this? What do you think?
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20 March 2003