A Multi-Layered Analysis of Mulholland Dr. (by Alan Shaw)
A SCENE BY SCENE ANALYSIS
I've already described how this scene with the hit man, the prostitute and the pimp, shows us the movement from the pink persona of Diane to her state of prostitution. I've explained this by discussing the meaning of the two phallic symbols of the hotdog and the red rod. There are also other red symbols that appear in this scene, such as a red lampshade, a red fire/emergency truck and a red rose, that we see before the three characters make it around the corner near the beginning of the scene. And there is a red trash can that appears a little later. The red lampshade is symbolic of prostitution as we have already discussed, the fire truck here probably is symbolic of the danger that Diane is in, and the red rose is indicative of the lost love involved. The red trash can is a reference to the dirty, fallen state in which Diane ends up. I believe that the fact that red is reemphasized so much in this scene is to hammer home the connection to prostitution just in case the profession of the woman is not entirely clear to anyone for some reason. And, as I've mentioned before, anytime something is emphasized twice or more in this film, it is very important. That Diane has fallen into a state of prostitution is a difficult but critical component of this film's subtext. While I have tried to make these points before now, what I haven't described yet is why the hit man is in this particular scene.
While the prostitute talks to the hit man and the pimp stands behind her, we see bruise marks on her arm. As the prostitute gets a cigarette from the hit man, we see the pimp's hand move to her bruised arm as he offers to light her cigarette. She looks suspiciously at him while his hand actually touches the bruise, but she then looks relieved to see that he only wants to light her cigarette. This shows us that Diane has been injured by her pimps in a way I think is analogous to the way that Beatrice was injured by the abuse of her father and Diane was injured by her father figure and by Camilla's betrayal. And both Beatrice and Diane turn to the hit man for their justice. The pimp is unaware that the reason the abused woman is drawn to the hit man is because he can kill off the pimp, as the hit man has already done with Ed, the call girl type of pimp in an earlier scene. But now the hit man expects the prostitute to connect him to another target, a brunette who is "maybe a little beat up." By repeatedly returning to the scene with Betty and Rita, we know that this scene with the hit man, the prostitute and the pimp is happening at the same time that Rita holds up the blue key in front of Betty. Clearly, Rita/Camilla is the target of the hit man. But we also see in this scene that Diane and the prostitute have a similar connection to the hit man. This is because in real life the hit man showed Diane the blue key after taking it from his shirt pocket, and in the fantasy the prostitute reaches into that same pocket to get a cigarette. Other than just indicating for us that Diane and the hit man smoke the same type of cigarettes, this scene also shows us that the hit man supplies what the prostitute wants in the same way that he gives Diane what she wants, by going into his shirt pocket. Then the prostitute gets into a blue van that is apparently owned by the hit man. So now the association with the hit man brings both Diane and the prostitute into contact with a blue object that cause some type of movement or transition in their lives. However, they are going in a dangerous direction because as Beatrice's life show us, the hit man's justice will not lead to a happy ending.
As the prostitute gets into the van, the scene shifts back to Betty and Rita in the bedroom. It is here that Diane asks Rita about the money and the key, and as I mentioned before this scene's close association with the scene before it give us the answer to Diane's question. The money came from Diane's work as a call girl prostitute, and the key came from the hit man. Together they are the payoff for the hit and the signal indicating that the hit had been successful. As Rita struggles with these questions we switch to a scene where Adam learns that Ray from Ryan Entertainment is shutting down the movie. Adam is having trouble resisting the forces at work that ultimately want to replace and kill off the Camilla persona, and so he just says he is going home. Earlier I mentioned how his "I'm going home" statements are a clue that explains that we need to go to Diane's home to understand the source of her childhood trauma that in some ways is the beginning point of all of her later troubles.
The scene shifts back to Betty and Rita, and now they are both on the couch. And Diane is wondering where Camilla was going when the accident happened. Camilla remembers that the location was somewhere on Mulholland Drive. Diane gets excited because this is a clue. She suggests that they call the police and find out about any accidents on Mulholland Drive. But Rita looks worried. So Betty says, "It will be just like in the movies. We'll pretend to be someone else." This is Lynch giving us another hint that we are in Diane's dream world right now. The story of Diane's life is being told in this dream, "just like in the movies," and the characters in her life are pretending to be "someone else." The scene ends with Betty and Rita agreeing to try to find out whether or not there was an accident on Mulholland Drive. As they make this agreement the camera moves to a new position so that we can see the painting of "Beatrice Cenci" centered right between the two women as they hold hands.
We now go to the scene with Adam in his car finally arriving at his home. As I have described before now, he walks in on an infidelity that destroys his family. I explained at length earlier how this infidelity relates to Diane's sexual abuse, although on the surface the scene appears to be only about Adam's break up with his wife. Yet, as I have already stated above, when Adam pours pink paint over the family jewels he is telling the story of Beatrice Cenci's abuse all over again. When Adam is thrown from the house beaten and bleeding we get the impression that he is finally starting to realize that the part of Diane that wants to pay back Camilla for the suffering Diane has gone through will inevitably win this internal struggle. And that's bad news for the Rita/Camilla persona. Even though the Betty persona has not given up yet, and is in fact shaking hands with Rita to signify her allegiance to Rita, we see that Adam is losing the fight that was in him. To emphasize this point, a thug working for the Castigliane brothers later shows up at Adam's house with music in the background playing the words, "Baby, I'm going to bring it on home to you." Then the thug proceeds to beat up the guilty parties in Adam/Diane's home, meeting out a type of justice that Diane would like to see, although it is short of the hit man's justice, which is ultimately what Diane's vengeful side wants.
Meanwhile, Betty has decided to try to save Rita from the ultimate retribution. Betty and Rita hide the money and the key in a hatbox in the closet. Then they head to Winkie's to call the police from a pay phone. Once again we see the arrow from Diane's subconscious pointing away from the back of Winkies where the beast and the God-awful feeling are found. The Betty and Rita personas obey the sign and, unlike Dan, they stay away from the back. But Betty does call the police and she does find out that there was an accident on Mulholland Drive. Then they go inside of the Winkie's and there they see a waitress with "Diane" on her nametag. This triggers another memory in Rita. She remembers the name Diane Selwyn. They go back to the aunt's apartment and look up the name in the phonebook. There is only one entry for "D. Selwyn" and so they call the number. An answering machine picks up and they hang up without leaving a message. The voice on the answering machine is not Rita's, but she does recognize that it is the voice of someone she knows. So they are not sure if Rita is Diane Selwyn or not, but they believe that they are getting close to unraveling the mystery of Rita's identity.
There are many issues in this scene which help us unravel the mystery of Diane Selwyn's dark struggle. For one thing, the waitress at Winkie's is yet another short haired blonde, who, like the prostitute, might be a true doppelganger of Betty. In her real life, Diane saw this woman at the Winkie's while she spoke with the hit man. At that time the woman had "Betty" on her nametag, so we know that it is from this waitress that Diane gets the name of her innocent persona in her fantasy world. But why does a person like this represent innocence to Diane? She does where a pink blouse, but I think the connection to innocence goes deeper than that. Later, in Diane's real life, we see Diane drinking from a coffee mug that looks suspiciously like the coffee mugs at Winkie's. This indicates to me that Diane may have worked at Winkie's in the past, bringing one of their mugs home with her at one point. If this is the case, then it was during a time that Diane now sees as an innocent period of her life. Which would mean it is a period of time before she got involved in the call girl business and before she met Camilla, in my view. But if Diane did work at a Winkie's before meeting Camilla, this means that her aunt's money didn't last very long.
Later, when they are back in Aunt Ruth's apartment, as they are calling the number they found for "D. Selwyn," Betty says, "It's strange to be calling yourself." And even though at this point in the film we think she means it's strange for Rita to be calling herself, later we figure out that it is Betty, who is the primary and central Diane persona, who is calling herself. This is reinforced when Rita responds to Betty with, "Maybe it's not me." With this initial exchange, I believe we are being told that we should pay close attention to this dialogue because it will contain truths that even the speakers themselves may not understand. After hearing the answering machine message from Diane Selwyn's number, Rita says, "That's not my voice. But I know her." To this Betty says, "Maybe that isn't Diane Selwyn's voice. Maybe that's your roommate. Or if it is Diane Selwyn, maybe she could tell you who you are." As we find out later, it certainly is Diane Selwyn's voice, as Betty was quick to allow for, but here is the only time someone tells us that maybe Diane and Camilla may have been roommates once. I think this is the important truth that we are supposed to hold onto from this conversation. It explains how close Diane and Camilla had once been in the real world. And since we find that they are no longer living together when Diane moved to apartment #17, we are getting a hint that a gradual break up was probably occurring between Diane and Camilla before she left apartment #12. And in fact, we will find that Rita hints at this later in the reality scenes when they are on Diane's couch together probably for the last time.
In this scene a thug, named Kenny, working for the Castigliane brothers dishes out some retribution at Adam's house. We've discussed this scene already. The way Lorraine and Gene treated Adam was so outrageous, that it is nice to see Adam getting help dealing with them from some corner, even if the help is coming from other enemies of his. But what this shows us is that the two conflicting sides of Diane, the side that wants to love her and the side that wants her dead, both hate the memory of the incest from the past. But this is ultimately a setup for how the Adam persona is finally won over to the other side. In the scenes to come, the argument is made to the Adam persona that you can either be a victim of the scars of the past, or you can dish out some scars of your own.
In this scene, a growing darkness is descending upon Adam. It is nighttime now and the Adam persona is learning just how far he has fallen. Like Diane, he has fled from the abusive family, but he soon learns that even though he used to have money, he is now broke. And people who he is afraid of know where to find him. He has one hope. Go to see the Cowboy, and learn how to play ball with corruption.
When you look at this scene as a picture of Diane's life at one point, it is not hard to guess where that point was when a similar situation confronted Diane. Like Adam, Diane thought she had a lot of money when she first arrived at LA with her aunt's inheritance. But, I believe, she found herself broke and living in a seedy hotel before finally giving into someone like Ed, the pimp of the call girls. In the end, her only way out of the situation that she and her Adam persona were in was to follow the path of the Midnight Cowboy, another reference to prostitution. This link to the movie "Midnight Cowboy" is made because of the late hour that Adam and the Cowboy meet together. The movie "Midnight Cowboy," involved prostitution between a younger man and older women who were his Johns. So, for Diane we can assume that as a younger woman she was dealing with older male customers. Older like her father figure.