I've just printed out your hugely-long essay and anxiously await reading it in full. (I thought my Stendhal Syndrome paper was whacked-out. Ye gods.) I could go on all day about this -- the hitman thing, for instance, finally made sense (in terms of the film's larger themes) on a second viewing -- but for right now, there's one thing that's been getting to me:
Is it not just maybe...and I'm only saying maybe here...possible that Diane is not Betty at all, but Rita? If an accident is to be taken here figuratively and not literally, read simply as an unexpected and traumatic event, then the accident on Mulholland Drive was Diane's accident, not Camilla's. Diane was led from the car by Camilla, and what followed was a romantic walk up the hill that actually seems more fantastic than most of the "fantasy" sequence -- and then Diane comes to the party, and her illusions (the ones that exist in the "real" world) are shattered. It's her accident!
Then there's the key: Rita has it, but in the "real" world, it was returned to Diane -- not Camilla.
What does it unlock? The hitman just laughs; but, when the box is found in the "fantasy" world, it's in Betty's possession. Symbolically, Betty is the one acted upon -- Camilla, holder of the key, is the one who acts.
Now I realize that there's an element of recasting in the hallucinatory world anyway, but...think about it. If Diane's love of Camilla is mixed with extreme envy -- and if, in the "dream world" we see Diane taking on qualities of Camilla (Betty's intense acting vs. Rita's stiff, baffled reading of the lines) -- isn't it possible that Diane might go all the way into just taking on Camilla's body outright?
There's a few other things to think about here, too. For one thing, Rita is the one who's scared to learn the truth about herself -- Betty's enthusiastic about it, and pushes her. Which is the woman who seems more likely to know what's really going on here? In addition, if Diane is really trying to hide the truth from herself, what role is more appropriate than that of the amnesiac? Subconsciously, Betty (a figment of her own imagination; or -- possibly -- Camilla, who genuinely does want to know what's really going on) could be pushing her toward remembering what she's created an entire world in order to forget....
What led me to this kinda nutball idea (nutball even in the context of this rather nutball film) is this: When Rita is alone with the box and key, Betty disappears. Could it be that, as the illusion starts to crack (a process that began in Silencio, when the women saw the compelling force of illusion at work), Rita is left alone? Once the box is opened, Rita is apparently sucked inside...
...and then we come to the woman in the bed, who is revealed to be -- well, definitely Naomi Watts; I'll reserve further speculation. The logical assumption to the first-time viewer is that this is Betty; "Betty" is then "revealed" to be Diane. But, in terms of the film's continuity, we have followed Rita inside the box, and so it seems (to me) that Diane has just got to be Rita! And why not? If the characters appear to switch names and identities from one section of the film to the next, why not bodies?
The following scene, with the reunion of Diane and Camilla, bears this out. At the sight of her, a clearly insane Diane says, "Camilla...you've come back." But in the "dream" world, Betty was the one who had left. If Diane has simply reversed their roles on every level (except the physical) in the "dream" world, and is in fact "Betty," this makes sense; after my first time watching the film, that was my conclusion, and seems to be the conclusion of most viewers. But suppose that just maybe Betty is Camilla, and Rita is Diane. Things start to get a lot clearer and more continuous if the obvious assumption about who's who is disregarded.
Um, unless I'm just nuts myself and should probably go to bed. Which is at least as likely as anything else I've said here.
Mike McGee, Second letter
Okay, now I'm well and truly done. Not just with this, but with movies in general. I'm never watching one again. Not if this could be the result. I pray that I have nothing left to say about this film and can try to regain some kind of a normal human life.
Joe the Hitman and the Black Book
I think this sequence is a metaphor for the film as a whole. If we want to provide some logical reason for the scene's inclusion, then maybe Diane (who, one supposes, is on some level "watching" -- or even directing -- the film) is subconsciously nudging herself toward the truth of what she's doing (escaping into a fantasy); or, conversely, is trying to warn herself about how she might inadvertantly bring the fantasy crashing down. At any rate, the book is full of information -- the "history of the world in phone numbers." Joe steals it, I'm guessing, to suppress its secrets. The parallel between this and what Diane is doing is fairly clear. Lynch takes the metaphor further with the blackly comic series of murders that follows. It was probably crucial to Joe's scheme to murder his friend (the only witness to the theft of the black book), but the murder sets in motion a chain reaction of equally "necessary" murders, just as Diane's central lie -- a happy life with Camilla! -- necessitated the fabrication of imaginary lives for all the people in her "real" life. Joe manages to just about pull it all off when he shoots the vacuum cleaner, sets off the alarm, blows the whole thing, and has to run before the cops get there. Betty and Rita consummate their relationship -- Diane's scheme works -- just before Rita is called to Silencio and the fantasy shatters. Just as Joe took his plot one step too far (he really didn't have to shoot the vacuum cleaner), I think that the introduction of a romantic element to Betty and Rita's relationship (not a sexual element) was the final affront to "reality," the one so contrary to the true nature of things that the fantasy could no longer be sustained.
The Blue-Haired Lady
The Blue-Haired Lady herself is (to me, and maybe I'm not giving this element of the film the attention it deserves, but whatever) another one of Lynch's archetypal divine fantasy figures, like the Scarred Man who could be God in Eraserhead, the Good Witch in Wild at Heart, and (for that matter) the Cowboy in Mulholland Drive. What's interesting is her one line: "Silencio." I like the idea that she's calling for an end to the fantasy, but if the film is indeed a möbius strip, I think the line has a double-meaning (which would certainly be appropriate, given the rest of the film). "Silencio" could also be a request to the audience to be silent before the beginning of a play. In this way, Mulholland Drive could just as easily start at the beginning of the "reality" sequence and end with the conclusion of the "fantasy." Or...not end at all, since the structure is circular.
Carnival of Souls
One thing I've yet to see anyone mention (which surprised me, really) is the similarity between the accident that pre-empts the assassination of Rita and the opening to the cult-classic early-'60s horror film, Carnival of Souls. In it, a group of young women in a car race against a group of young men; the women go over a bridge and into a river, and appear to die. But one of them stumbles out of the water -- looking awfully damn creepy and ghostly in a white dress that's now plastered to her body. The woman spends the rest of the film trying to establish a life as a church organist in a nearby small town (curiously, she makes no mention of the accident to anyone, or even seems to mourn her friends beyond appearing to be extremely preoccupied), but she's called over and over to an abandoned pavillion on the edge of town, where she dreams of dancing corpses who beckon to her. The sexual element of the film is undeniable: There's the girls vs. boys opening, a creepy hepcat who fails miserably at seducing the organist (Freud? anyone? okay...), and, most interestingly, all the dancing zombies are male-female couples, save for a lone male who clearly is hoping to win the affections of the organist. The dead finally steal the organist away to join their dance, and we return to the setting of the opening, where police are dragging the river, and recover the crashed car, with all the women dead inside...including the organist.
The volume of stuff written about Mulholland Drive (just in this e-mail!) is...well...voluminous, but I say without reservation (and with a bit of dread, frankly) that it could easily be matched by a potential volume of stuff that charts the parallels between Lynch's film and Carnival of Souls. This volume will not be written by me -- oh, HELL no -- but I can see what it would touch upon. It's less likely, for instance, that what the organist experiences in CoS is a full-on fantasy -- the other characters in the post-crash part of the film (which is to say, pretty much all of it) seem to be alive; but if she's haunting them, she's quite tangible for a spirit. There's also the matter of the organist moving into a boarding house where she quickly develops a kind of friendship with the elderly landlady that recalls Betty and Coco. More than just the plot details, though, the sexual politics of CoS are a compelling match for those of Mulholland Drive: There is a subtle implication that the organist is a lesbian, for one thing -- she follows a conversation with the landlady with a bath, then later strikes up a conversation with a salesgirl before moving into a changing cubicle -- minor stuff, but given that these are really the only non-threatening interactions she has with anyone in the film, it implies a lot. The attempted seduction by her male neighbor nearly ends in violence; the kindly male doctor who tries to help her talk out her problems later appears to her in a dream as the ghoul who eventually pulls her into death. Overall, the film (directed, incidentally, by a man) seems to equate male-female relationships with death...at least for women. How that relates to Mulholland Drive goes without saying.
Just a quick note on the final word in Mulholland Drive, regarding another film ending on the same word, Le Mepris [Contempt], in which the call for silence (in italian rather than spanish, albeit with the same pronunciation) comes from a director's assistant (?) as a scene is about to be filmed for a movie. As a second point, why would someone in a theatre ask for silence? Both of these suggest to me that the show is just about to start....
Daniel Coffey, responding to James Stanley
I just watched Contempt for the first time last night, and was amazed to see the connection of the final word spoken: Silenzio/Silencio. I don't think that the blue-haired woman in the MD is "asking for silence." She's looking right at the camera (from what I remember) and I get the sense that she's breaking the spell of the film and speaking directly to the viewer, and "Silencio" is a pronouncement, not a plea.
I think that there is a very different possibility to this movie that is not mentioned in even one other persons review. It is much more like The Wizard of Oz and it is much simpler. In my opinion, the beginning of the movie is actually more the middle. The end of the movie, beginning with Diane waking up is a changover and is actually the beginning. Diane is rejected by Camilla, goes to the party and finds out she is engaged, pays to have Camilla killed, sees the blue key (because the hitman assumed that Camilla was killed in the car wreck), and then she kills herself out of an inablity to deal with Camilla being "gone". This is the end of Diane's story. The rest of the movie is dedicated to Camilla, but Diane's story is told at the end to not let the begining make since till the movie is finished. Camilla has no idea that she is about to be killed, and is ultimately saved by the car crash. Camilla really does get out of the car and walks to the front of the house and falls alsleep in the bushes. This is another changover, and it changes to Camilla's dream. In the dream she wakes up and goes inside the house. Then a young girl comes and finds her (Dianes character). They then proceed through the entire storyline. The Wizard of Oz idea comes into play with the fact that dreams often only reflect shattered images of reality. That is why no one has the same name, and has completely different personalities. But notice that everyone that is in the dream seen by Camilla's character is at the party the evening she announces her engagement. But they are portrayed differently. The changing of faces and misleading images can be accounted to reality and fantasy do sometimes become crossed in dreams. Kind of like when you see yourself from another persons eyes in your dreams. You know its you, and you know who you are, but you just can't quite reach "yourself". I believe that Diane kills herself because she THINKS Camilla is dead (as well as the hitman does) but Camilla is not dead. Camilla is just lying in some ladies bushes dreaming an all to frightening dream. I think that even if I am wrong, this movie is very good...its good enough to keep me guessing.
Loved your deconstruction. At first I thought the entire thing was Diane's death vision, a notion put forth by one of your other visitors. But... As for Lynch's clue #10 "Where is Aunt Ruth?" I can tell you, having worked in the entertainment industry and being a Canadian, that for an actor of Ruth's generation and location there is an old joke, "acting in Canada" *is* being dead. So the answers are; dead, dead, and in the bedroom. Yet Ruth seems to interact with the proceedings. What if this whole thing is Diane's private Hell. Her Möbius loop punishment for all eternity.
I think the first part (rather 2/3) of MD is Diane's dream and the last part is her reality mixed with flashbacks.
But what everybody is misinterpreting in MD is the scene with the hitman in the diner, where Diane presumably hires the hitman. This scene is not subsequent to the dinner party "humiliation" of Diane, but is a flashback in Diane's mind during the dinner party. No murder is mentioned in the hitman scene, because Diane is not having Camilla murdered, she was helping her to the lead role of The Sylvia North Story by having the hitman scare the director Bob Brooker into casting Camilla. Notice that Adam's speech is interrupted before he can tell what Camilla and he are going to do together. This explains the Ryan Entertainment scene in her dream where Adam is forced to hire Camilla Rhodes.
Further, much of Camilla's infidelity seems imagined by Diane. It's not realistic that Adam and Camilla would kiss in the car during the taking nor during the dinner party the way they do. This goes for Camilla kissing the blonde Camilla Rhodes as well. It's all more or less imagined in Diane's head out of jealousy, cf. Fred in Lost Highway.
Actually, Camilla is involved in a car crash and is killed or missing. MD is a tribute to one of Lynch's colleges Jennifer Syme, who dies likewise. The appearance of the detectives and the fact that Diane's neighbour from no 12 says "it's been 3 weeks" and the contents of Diane's dream all point to an accident, a car accident -- on Mulholland Drive, which is why this is the title of the movie. Maybe Camilla is really missing from the accident scene and the neighbour is just indirectly telling Diane to give up any hope. That would explain Diane saying "you've come back." The reason Diane kills herself is not so obscure. Maybe she misinterprets her own cut and interrupted flashbacks along with the blue key, so that she at the end thinks that she actually had Camilla killed. Suicide out of lost love is another -- not so likely -- possibility.
I just saw the movie (twice) and read your review. Like you I've been thinking about it for the last few days. My impressions were more general. I saw the movie as about hollywood, the history of cinema and all the people involved with hollywood: directors, producers, actors, moviegoers, the general public and opinions, world situations, etc.
I came from Greece in 1956 at 11 years of age and my intro to the cinema was on the boat coming over. It was a cowboy movie. When my family settled in Manchester NH I saw a lot of movies; cowboys, monsters, sci-fi serials, serious movies, light-hearted movies, mysteries, cops and robbers, funny movies, everything. Since then I've seen many films by Lynch, Coppola, Hitchcock, Fellini, Wells, Scorsese, Kazan, Spielberg, Lucas, Allen, Capra, Kubrick, Ford, Huston, Tarantino and many others. Sometimes they and their movies are swimming in my head.
When I saw Mulholland Drive all I could think about was that it was a quilt from the greatest films, directors, actors and acting and filming techniques of hollywood. For me it's the history of hollywood taken from the lives and pictures of the great directors, actors and movie personalities that shaped the movie industry' especially in the late forties fifties and sixties. The blonds and psychos , the 'Pinko' black-lists of the House Un-American Activities Commitee, the cowboys , the mafia strong-arms , the inside out views of reality, the extra terrestrials and altered reality, volence, sex, drugs and rock and roll; it's all in this movie. And it's all about acting removed at least five times from reality. At least in the old days of acting there was a band. Now 'No hay banda.' If it gets any further removed from reality there will only be 'Silencio.'
Oh, by the way, I also have some strong impressions on the particulars. All that "Blue" reminds me of electricity. My guess is that the main story is about schitzophrenia or Dissociative Identity Disorder and electro-shock (convulsive) therapy that was popular in the fifties. Many of those who had that done to them lost their memory and attempted (or committed) suicide. Betty has won a "jitterbug" (neurotic) contest. She comes from "Deep River, Ontario." (Look it up on Google). Here's a quote: "The Utopian town where our atomic scientists live and play has no crime, no slums, no unemployment and few mothers-in-law." This is a strange place. Deep River is a Utopian attempt to create a happy environment where all is ordered for the best.
The first experiment using electro-convulsive therapy was performed on a homeless person in Italy. Could this be the "monster" and the "blue box" with the homeless person? The modern blue key reminds me of the rods of a nuclear reactor and the regular blue key of Ben Franklin's experiment with lightning. Betty goes into a convulsion at the sound of a thunderclap in Club Silencio, which could be her 2 AM visits to the shock room where all memories and alter egos are erased. I think this is where the "killing" of Camilla takes place. The Roy Orbison song says it all. "I was all right for a while." When Betty gets off the plane she's fresh and smiling and ready to start a new life. She's so new that even her tormentors are her friends (Irene and her husband; probably her parents or grandparents responsible for her condition; they think they've gotten away with it (that scene in the limo) , but they're still in her head; and eventually they come back and push her over the edge). To add to this, the bird's eye view of Los Angeles skyscrapers is reminiscent of the scene of NY skyscrapers from Sybil. Also Aunt Ruth sure looks a lot like Sybil's psychiatrist (Joanne Woodward). And there are references to Aunt Ruth's famous leather couch (of course the couch could be the famous Hollywood casting couch where many starlets got their start). Also when Betty gives that knockout of an audition with that 'lecherous Chad Everett', I think it may be her "reacting" to real child abuse.
First of all I would like to ask you to forgive my poor English but I'll try to do the best to make myself as uderstandable as possible :) I saw the film several times and after all that I was able to make up my own interpretation. I've decided to write this mail because I guess I found the answers to the questions you left unanswered and you had doubts about. Maybe my interpretation will turn upside-down yours but please read it carefully as it follows:
I'm surprised that in all reviews and interpretations of the movie so little attention is paid to the Aunt, for I think she's the principal character. Betty/Diane is Aunt Ruth in her young years! It's her story. Look, the movie is about a young girl who came from Canada to make a career in Hollywood. She was dreaming to become a famous actress, a movie star. It's Aunt's dream -- that's why she had Rita Heyworth's poster on the wall -- a movie star from the 50's. All the movies Adam is making are placed in the 50/60's, also Diane's apartment is far from being modern (the fridge, the oven), the dance contest she wins.... Also Camilla has always this dramatic look like movie stars in the 50's had -- she never looks "modern." Why? There's no other reason in this insistence in the 50s. One more thing: Aunt makes her appearance when Betty disappears. Betty didn't leave the room, wasn't sucked by the bluebox -- she vanished to reappear as the Aunt! This is the clue: where's Aunt Ruth? And there is no other explanation to this clue and I tried to guess all the clues I remember and everything seems to fit. The reality of Betty and Diane are probably the two possible ways her life could have been. Similarly, the older lady saying SILENCIO at the end of the film is probably Rita some years later. She was the one who instistently repeated this word, which took the girls to the club (one of the most important scenes) and the movie ends with the same word said probably by the same person -- 'silencio' -- here I am and nothing depended on me.
Is the one who has the power, the one who is "arranging" things. Pay attention to his words to Adam: "in some ways man's attitude determines the way his life will be." Then he says, "the lead part is not up to you;" and also, "if you do good you will see me one more time, if you do bad you will see me two more times." If you remember, Adam never sees the Cowboy again. His words are directed to the main character -- Diane. She is the one who sees the Cowboy twice: 1) at the party and 2) when he wakes her up. "She did bad"-- she wanted Camilla to be killed and she saw him twice -- if she hadn't have arranged the murder, it wouldn't lead her to her suicide, the Cowboy wouldn't have to come the second time to wake her up. When she is goodhearted, compassionate, she is having a good life (Betty) and when she has bad feelings, is envious, she has this ugly reality (of course it's not that simple but I don't think to be a good idea to dwell on the subject much longer).
For me, Mulholland Drive is the Lynch's symbolic view about the life itself, how life really is and how powerless a human being is about his own life. It also shows how important in all that are our dreams, wishes and strong desires to achieve our goals. It's a vision from a point of view of a man and a man of Hollywood. As Lynch said in one of the interviews: "It comes from MD surroundings, from the fact that from one side you can see the whole valley and from the other, Hollywood. This was one of the first ideas that came to me, this was the basis of everything." Well, those views are insistently shown during the movie, you have to agree that they cannot escape our attention. That was aimed to show us that in LA there are two different worlds: the real one in which their ordinary lives live common people and the world of the movies, of fiction --unreal in which everything is illusion. Nevertheless, those two worlds for obvious reasons can not be completely independent nor separated from one another, they coexist to have a mutual influence. I guess that's why we see in the movie same actors as different characters. That's why the accident occurred in Mulholland Drive -- one of the clues.
Here I have to say that I don't divide the movie in reality and dream or fantasy. What you call dream for me is -- let's say -- another, parallel or second possible reality. Some things in Betty/Rita world have too strong and direct -- real -- repercussions in the world of Diane/Camilla to be just a dream or Betty's imagination (for example: at the beginning of the film we see the phone ringing which remains unanswered -- one of the clues -- and we hear it ring in Diane's apartment on the masturbation scene. Diane didn't answer the phone so that's why she didn't learn that the murderer failed in killing Camilla! Another: Adam's wife is having an affair -- Betty world -- and they get divorced -- Diane world --, stealing the Ed's book -- Betty world -- and possession of it -- Diane world, etc).
The movie is full of symbols and symbolic scenes, the most important of them is the one in the SILENCIO club. "Silencio, no hay banda, it's all recorded, it's an illusion." In SILENCIO someone revealed Betty the truth about the life: nothing is real, you think that you live your own life (like the musicians possibly are convinced that they are the ones that are playing while in reality there is no band), that you are free to make decisions about it, that things are up to you, but the truth is that everything is already planned, and you are only playing your part. No matter what you do, what you want -- it will always be the way it should be, the way it's arranged (look what happens to Adam when recasting the lead role). Rebekah Del Rio is the very example of this: We see a woman who sings about love in an incredibly touching way. Through her voice, her face, her looks we are shown that she really loves someone very deeply, her feeling is so strong, real. Then we see that she still sings -- still loves -- but her body is being removed from the floor. Look how the girls react to this song: they both are deeply touched, Rita even more than Betty. That's because they realized that the same can happen to them. No matter how real their love may be (the love scene speaks for itself), the life will take it's own way. And it's exactly how things turn out: everything between them ends in the way none of them can help; Betty suddenly disappears and Rita is taken by the bluebox. Now they only have their parts to play.
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--Allen B. Ruch
20 March 2003