A Multi-Layered Analysis of Mulholland Dr. (by Alan Shaw)
A SCENE BY SCENE ANALYSIS
In this scene we are introduced to the character of Adam Kesher and the Hollywood big shots who are involved with a movie he is directing for Ryan Entertainment. He is re-casting his lead actress and two of the big shots are trying to force him to accept a replacement actress that they have chosen. He angrily resists them, even to the point of smashing the windshield of the limousine within which the two were driven to the meeting. I have already discussed much of the symbolism in this scene. I have argued that the movie Adam is re-casting the main actress for is about the life of Diane Selwyn, our dreamer. I have already explained that she is going through an identity crisis and so she has created this elaborate fantasy world to rethink her life, and hopefully find a new outlook that can convince her to keep on living. I have claimed that the name "Ryan" in the movie company's name is really short for "Rhymes with Diane," because after all, the company is really just a metaphor for Diane's active imagination and her "open mind." And I have argued that Adam is an important black clad persona of Diane's that is trying to direct her life, as are the two Castigliane brothers and Mr. Roque. I have also mentioned that the character traits of the Castigliane brothers are a twisted version of the Lion in the Wizard of Oz, just as Mr. Roque is a twisted version of the Tinman, and that they have a certain association the twisted character of Diane's father figure. What I haven't discussed is what is the nature of their conflict with Adam.
Adam embodies the belief that the Hollywood enterprise is on the level. He has the naiveté of Betty in that he thinks everything is about great actresses and glamorous movie stars. He believes that there is "no way" that corruption and manipulation can be involved in his movies. Like Betty, he doesn't perceive that image is often more powerful than talent, and that images can be manufactured, bought and sold. To Adam, his work is about real talent. His integrity is not for sale and he will not be manipulated. This is the somewhat idealistic side of Diane that Adam represents.
On the other hand, Mr. Roque and the Castigliane brothers see things differently. They represent Diane's jaded and disillusioned side. To them movie making is all about manipulating people with images that can be corrupt. Here we see the attitude that had taken over Diane when she decided to have Camilla killed. No longer did she believe that Camilla was a glamorous star whom she should emulate. Instead Camilla was a successful manipulator who had used her sensuality to make both Diane and Adam fall in love with her. Her stardom was a sham and she deserved to be eliminated at all costs. The words that came from Diane's mouth during this angry state of mind were, "This is the girl." So those words echo to us over and over again from one of the Castigliane brothers, and later from the Cowboy. The words reinforce Diane's angry condemnation of Camilla and by extension, the Hollywood dream as well.
When Diane said, "This is the girl," in real life to the hit man, she was doing more than just identifying Camilla as the one to kill. She was identifying Camilla as the one in whom she had put all of her hopes. The one who took the place of her aunt as her only family and her guide in her attempt to navigate the Hollywood dream. Yet, Camilla was also the one who had betrayed Diane by replacing her with another woman in Camilla's life. Camilla's relationship to Adam could be forgiven because it was probably just a move to advance Camilla's career. But when Diane saw Camilla kissing another woman, it seemed to Diane that Camilla was definitely breaking up with her for good. Camilla's commitment to Diane was no deeper than the type of commitments that Hollywood makes. If Camilla could replace her so easily, then Diane would get rid of Camilla and turn the tables, replacing Camilla with the same person whom Camilla was using to replace Diane. This is why the Castigliane brothers show Adam a picture of this other woman with the name Camilla Rhodes. The Castigliane's are trying to destroy the image of the old Camilla Rhodes, because in their image over substance view of the world, destroying Camilla means getting rid of the old image of her and replacing it with a new one. "This is the girl," is the statement that tells us that the part of Diane that wants to kill Camilla is at work, and the Castigliane's are attempting to do that in this scene.
Yet Adam reveals to us the conflicted nature of Diane's world. Part of her does not want Camilla killed, and in fact this part of her is still interested in becoming like Camilla. This is the Betty part of her that is trying to protect Camilla at the same moment that Adam is meeting with that part of Diane that is committed to putting an end to Camilla. This tension causes something of a replay of what happened when Camilla was in the limousine at the beginning of the fantasy. Part of Diane's mind tried to kill her, while another part created an accident to smash up the limousine so the Camilla persona could escape. Now, after Adam has met with the Castigliane brothers and realized their intent, he goes outside to their limousine and smashes it in a way reminiscent to the first limousine being smashed up. And then he flees in a way reminiscent to Camilla's flight. In all of this, Adam's defiance connects him to the Betty persona, even as the real life Adam's love for Camilla connected him to the real life Diane. We see this especially clearly during the double toast at the beginning of the party scene at Adam's house. These two people are both in awe of the image that Camilla embodies, and so they both fall under its spell. But not everyone falls under Camilla's spell in real life or in the fantasy as we shall see.
In this scene, Betty checks up on Rita as she sleeps. This demonstrates how protective the naïve Betty persona is of the Camilla persona.
In this scene, Ray Hott goes to speak with Mr. Roque. The first thing we notice is that Ray has to speak to Mr. Roque from behind a glass wall with a speaker in it. Mr. Roque is sitting in a wheelchair and he is in the dark until Ray begins to speak with him. Mr. Roque does have an assistant in the room with him, but the assistant does not move. And Mr. Roque does not move much either, or say many words. He
lets Ray do most of the talking, but somehow his silence is ominous and we know that Ray is afraid of him. Ray tells Mr. Roque that Adam doesn't want the fake Camilla Rhodes, and Ray wants to know if Adam should be replaced like the Castigliane brothers suggested. With just a few words, Mr. Roque indicates that he is on the side of the Castigliane brothers, and Ray realizes that this means they should "Shut everything down."
In this scene we see two men, Joe and Ed, who seem friendly to each other. Joe is a blonde with short hair, and Ed has long dark hair. As they talk in Ed's office, all of a sudden Joe pulls out a gun and kills Ed. When he tries to make it look like suicide by putting the gun in Ed's hand, he accidentally fires a shot through a wall and the bullet hits a heavyset woman in the next room. As the woman screams, Joe goes over to that room and struggles with the woman, finally dragging her back to Ed's office. A janitor with a vacuum cleaner notices Joe dragging the woman, so Joe calls to the janitor telling him that the woman is hurt and he is just trying to help her. He asks the janitor to come to Ed's office to call a hospital for the woman because Joe needs his help. Then Joe goes into Ed's office, and positions the woman by the wall that the bullet went through. And then he shoots her twice in the back. Just after that the janitor walks in and Joe shoots him and then positions his body next to the woman's. When the janitor was shot, the vacuum cleaner turned on and so as Joe puts the gun back in Ed's dead hand, he next shoots the vacuum cleaner. This causes it to short out, which causes a problem to the building's electrical circuits, which causes an alarm to trigger in the building. Joe wipes away all of the fingerprints he thinks he has left, and then he grabs Ed's black book and heads out the window and down the fire escape.
I believe Joe is Diane's assassin persona, just as the Joe from real life is a hit man Diane employed. Her murderous rage is driving this persona, and he is interested in killing everything that is connected to Camilla in Diane's life. However, to understand the connection to Camilla here, it takes following a number of clues. The first clue is the hair. Joe's is short and blonde, like Diane's, and Ed's is long and black like Camilla's. Another clue is the black book, which Ed calls, "the history of the world in phone numbers." This black book makes Ed a likely candidate for the pimp of the call girls because that business is run by the one with all of the phone numbers. More evidence of this comes from a particular interpretation of the discussion Joe and Ed have right before the shooting. The two of them are talking about an accident which they say was something "unreal" which no one could have foreseen. It seems clear that they are referring to the "unreal" accident that Rita had at the beginning of the fantasy. Then Joe says to Ed, "Gee, I hope you're not going to get in any trouble." At which point Ed says, "Oh that was just a thing man." And a little later he mentions explicitly that it was a car accident. So the question is why would a car accident involving Rita make Joe think Ed might get in trouble? Some reviewers have suggested that Ed was involved with the drag racers, perhaps even being in the other drag racing car that was not in the accident. But certainly that would be a bigger deal than the "that was just a thing" that Ed describes. If Ed had a relationship to any of the dead people at the scene, wouldn't he acknowledge that it was a bigger deal than he seems to be indicating? However, if Ed was a pimp sending the Rita persona to a John, like Mr. Roque at the beginning of the fantasy, then the problem Ed would be facing would mainly amount to an unhappy client whose call girl never showed up. And in that case it makes sense for him to say, "that was just a thing," because he has many more numbers in his black book. Losing Rita does not hurt his business that much.
However, if you interpret the conversation the way that I just have, you can see why Ed is in deeper trouble than he knows. Joe is trying to track down Rita/Camilla, and he has come to a pimp to find out if she was one of his girls. Since Rita/Camilla is associated with Diane's sensual persona, which is what Diane embodies when she is involved in her call girl liaisons, the pimp was connected to Rita/Camilla. Ed confirms this when he tells Joe the story about the accident and so Joe now realizes that Rita may be somewhat bruised and hiding out in the streets, as he indicates in what he says in the next scene in which Joe shows up. For now, Joe decides that it may help him locate Rita/Camilla if he has Ed's phone book. Ed doesn't know that Joe is an assassin who is after one of his girls, so Ed doesn't realize he has told Joe too much. Since Joe needs the book, and Joe's goal is to kill Rita/Camilla without anyone knowing it was him, Ed must die, as must any other witnesses in the building who happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
The assassin with his short blonde hair, kills his a friend with his long dark hair is another parallel to Diane and Camilla, because they were also friends once. And if Camilla and the pimp are connected, just as Diane and the hit man are connected, this raises the question about whether Camilla was engaged in fixing Diane up with Johns? I believe this was in fact the case, but Camilla would have been more likely to focus exclusively on powerful Hollywood men. This issue also comes up because of the way a man Diane believes to be Luigi, one the powerful Castigliane brothers, looks at Diane in the real world of Adam's party much later in the movie. Luigi, in a way similar to Mr. Roque at the beginning of the fantasy, is acting like one of Diane's Johns showing interest in her on the same night that Mr. Roque does in the fantasy. We later see a hint of the same type of sexual relationship with Diane concerning the Cowboy. They could all represent powerful Hollywood men in Diane's life who are her Johns, and they may all be forcing her to relive the abuse she went through as a child? This would explain some of the intensity of the anger Diane feels toward Camilla. Did Camilla become a symbol of the abuse, corruption and betrayal Diane experienced as a child? The next set of scenes presents compelling clues that this was in fact the case.
Incest is a betrayal from someone a child loves and so it is the worst type of betrayal. It can often lead a child into a life of sexual promiscuity, which I believe is the story behind why the call girl business is so often lurking in the shadows of this film. Ed's character assumes the role of Diane's pimp mainly because he has a black book that Diane saw Joe with at the time Diane was arranging the hit on Camilla in her real life. To Diane, a black book represents phone numbers, and phone numbers represent the call girl profession. So since Joe is her ally against Camilla, she creates a scenario in her fantasy for how Joe came to have this book. Yet as Joe becomes Diane's agent to lash out at the abusers like Camilla and the pimps in her life, we see the innocence of Diane being further destroyed. And this is why I believe the two innocent people are killed by the hit man in Diane's fantasy. Diane is trying to hold on to some of her innocence, as most clearly represented by Betty, but she is losing that battle. The actions of the hit man kill off the innocent as well as the guilty characters by the end of this scene, and similarly we will see how the innocent character of Betty is lost by the end of the fantasy.
The next three scenes are important to understand in parallel to some degree because each focus on the childhood abuse to some degree, and I believe that they all illuminate one another. So I will try to discuss them together as much as possible, drawing conclusions from scenes that build upon the points from the other scenes. This series begins with Betty talking with her aunt on the phone about an audition that her aunt has arranged for her. While describing how hard she will work at learning the lines of the script so she can try to be like a movie star, Diane then tells her aunt about how she found Rita, naked in the aunt's shower. The aunt says she doesn't know Rita and this is a shock to Diane because she thought Rita was the aunt's friend. This dialogue is very significant because it shows us that Diane realizes that Rita was not the Hollywood connection that her aunt would have chosen for her. In fact, Betty says that she "opened the door," referring to the shower door, which led to Rita, while "Coco unlocked the door" to the aunt's apartment. I believe this is a cryptic way of saying that even though Coco was trying to help her go in the path that her aunt wanted her to go, she mistakenly opened the door that led to Rita/Camilla. While Betty is still discussing this on the phone with her aunt, the camera pulls away from Betty and begins literally following the path that leads to Rita. In this way, Lynch is saying to us that we are now going to learn what doorway Diane went through and where that path led her.
When the camera moves away from Betty while she is on the couch talking on the phone to her aunt, at first it is not clear why the camera has left her. Then as it moves forward we realize we have suddenly changed to the point of view of Betty, and we are seeing through her eyes as she walks from the couch to the bedroom where she finds Rita. This is an important detail because when the camera adopts the point of view of Betty we are being told to look from her eyes and see what she sees as she walks. It is a short walk to the bedroom that Camilla is in, and there are a couple of significant things that Betty sees as she walks there. The first thing we notice is the pink flower, representing Betty, Diane's innocent persona. And then we see a shelf with a picture of Betty's aunt on it. There are other things on the shelf as well, such as a magnifying glass, which encourages us to analyze the many clues that Lynch leaves for us, and there is also a bong on the shelf, whose relevance I discussed earlier. But the picture is the most important thing on that shelf in this context, because Betty is also in that picture as a little girl with her aunt. The picture tells us that a loving relationship existed between Betty/Diane and the aunt that extended back to Betty/Diane's childhood. And now we are aware that a picture and Betty/Diane's childhood are something on which Lynch wants us to focus while the camera continues to move.
The next significant thing that we see is another picture, which this time is a painting on which a special light is shining. As the camera moves, it lingers a little on this painting, and then it continues on to the bedroom door. The door is closed at this moment, and from Betty's point of view we linger at this closed door briefly as Betty "opens the door" that leads us to Rita. The scene continues, but we must understand what the reference to the painting was all about in order to really understand what the path was that led Betty/Diane to the Rita/Camilla obsession. The painting is a famous one called "Beatrice Cenci" by Guido Reni, although some argue that it may have been painted by Elisabetta Sirani, a protégé of his. Beatrice Cenci was a young Roman noblewoman who lived from 1577 to 1599. She was a victim of the incestuous advances of her father and so she hired two hit men to kill her father and then make it look like an accident. Even though she was caught and executed for the crime, along with other family members, the sympathies of the public were with Beatrice. She became legendary as a symbol of the lost innocence of victimized daughters, and she has inspired many works of art, books, plays and even a few movies that attempt to capture her story. One author, Percy Bysshe Shelley, who wrote a play about the tragedy called, "The Cenci," said Beatrice's story is about "the most dark and secret caverns of the human heart."
We see the "Beatrice Cenci" painting right after seeing a picture of Betty/Diane as a little girl and right before seeing Rita/Camilla on the bed. Later in this scene we see both Betty and Rita sitting together on the same couch where Betty was talking with her aunt over the phone at the beginning of this scene, and the painting is in the background right between the two of them. It is clear that Lynch wants us to probe the connection between this picture and Diane's relationship to Camilla. And I believe the only logical conclusion is that Diane's sexual abuse as a child led her into an unhealthy image of herself, which then led her into a relationship with Camilla. Camilla's role in Diane's life comes after the abuse, but by encouraging the view that Hollywood success comes from exploiting a sexual image, Camilla pointed Diane down a path that led her to continually relive the abuse.
After moving down the path leading to Rita, Betty opens the door to question her. But Rita is in tears because she doesn't know who she is, she has amnesia. As I mentioned before, this is the Rita/Camilla persona of Diane, not the real Camilla. So as Betty begins to help Rita discover her identity, the real issue that is being investigated concerns Diane's identity crisis. When Betty picks up Diane's purse to see if Rita's identity is somewhere inside of it, Rita has a look of fear on her face. When Rita opens the purse they find stacks of money and a blue triangular key. The money is very ominous, while the key is very intriguing. I think its triangular shape relates to the three-way triangle between Diane, Camilla and Adam, but we know it also signifies Camilla's death at the hands of the hit man. Rita is afraid of these objects because they inevitably lead to the issues which are making her a target to be killed. Even without her memory, Rita instinctively knows that the truth can be very dangerous. Yet, Rita faces her fears and holds up the blue key. As she does this, the scene shifts to a scene at "Pink's" hotdog establishment, where we see three people who will help us to understand why the path that Diane chose ultimately led to that blue key.