A Multi-Layered Analysis of Mulholland Dr. (by Alan Shaw)
A SCENE BY SCENE ANALYSIS
In this scene we find Betty and Rita rushing back through the front gate at 1612 Havenhurst. Betty is holding the purse out in front of her like it is a bomb. Both women are walking extremely fast. As they enter Aunt Ruth's apartment, Betty takes the blue box out of her purse. When they get to the bedroom, Betty lays it on the bed while Rita reaches into the closet where the blue key is hidden in a hatbox with all the money. When Rita picks up the hatbox and turns around, Betty is gone. However, it is not until Rita has opened the hatbox and pulled out her purse with the key in it, that Rita finally notices that Betty is gone.
If Betty is gone, what hope is left for Rita? Rita doesn't give up. She calls out, "Betty? … Betty?" Then after a little pause, her voice gets meeker and she says, "¿Donde estás?" (Where are you)? Now she begins to worry. She puts the purse down and goes to the hallway to call out her name into the rest of the apartment, "Betty?" Slowly she returns to the bed. She is really getting scared now. There is no way for her to avoid her fate anymore. She picks up her purse, opens it up and takes out the blue triangular key. Then she picks up the box, putting the key into it and slowly turning it. All the while, she has a look of fear and hopelessness on her face. After turning the key all the way, she opens the box, and we are looking down into it from her point of view. All of a sudden the camera zooms into the darkness of the box, and then the box drops and lands on the floor, and Rita is gone. There is no trace of either Betty or Rita. Then slowly the camera moves up to the door of the bedroom and we see Aunt Ruth walk into the hallway and then look into the room. It is as if she heard something and has come to see what it was. However, she sees nothing. Not even the blue box. It is as though Betty and Rita were never there. And so, satisfied that there is nothing there, Aunt Ruth leaves the room.
To understand this scene it is important to remember that in the last scene two of the most horrific facts that Diane was forced to confront within the metaphor and symbolism were that she was sexually abused during her childhood innocence, and that she had Camilla assassinated. These two facts have especially dreadful consequences for her two favorite personas. How can Betty and Rita survive such revelations? And a similar question confronts Diane's real life existence as well since she has realized that she now shares a kindred spirit with the Crying Lady. She is brokenhearted and she has been given over to a murderous rage. Yet, as terrible as all these realities are, there still remains the mystery the blue box. Betty and Rita can only hope that its contents can transition Diane into a better place and save their existence before it is too late. So this scene opens with their frantic quest to get back to the safety of Aunt Ruth's place, which represents the love and supportiveness of the aunt, so that from there they can open up the blue box.
But their hope that some answer can be found inside of the blue box is misguided. This hope is connect to the naïve question Diane asked the hit man when she was shown the blue key for the first time in her real life existence. She asked the hit man, "What's it open?" And the answer to that question is the same as the answer to what is in the blue box. And what did the key open? Well that becomes clear when we look at the circumstances surrounding her discovery and subsequent possession of the key. Even though this issue involves later scenes, I will address it now because of the importance of this mystery.
Diane did not have the key delivered to her house and placed on the coffee table after the murder, as some reviewers suggest. That doesn't make any sense because the hit man is trying to use the key as a secret signal between the two of them whose significance only they will understand. The reason he is doing this is because both of them want to have no contact with one another after Camilla turns up dead or missing. Either one of them might get caught if they are seen with the other person after the killing. So then with that logic, why would the hit man go into Diane's house and put the key on her coffee table when for all he knew, the house might have been under surveillance. Instead, I believe that the hit man left the key somewhere away from the house and Diane went to that place periodically to see if it had shown up yet. When it did show up, Diane took the key home and placed it on her coffee table herself. But the fact of the matter is, when Diane saw the key, that moment changed her life. The existence of the key told her that Camilla was dead, and Diane's innocence had died along with Camilla. This is why I believe that the key was behind Winkie's, because Dan, an innocent bystander who saw the key earlier when Diane saw it for the first time, died when he saw the horror that existed there. Seeing the key led to the complete destruction of any innocence still left within Diane's life. The key opened Diane up to an existence like the one the Crying Lady experienced after killing her children. It opened a door to a life of utter guilt and shame. Diane could never again be like that innocent girl that her aunt had loved, and in addition to this, she would never again see Camilla. The key opened up a life of desolation, loneliness and ruin for Diane.
That is what happened in real life, and it explains what happened to Betty and Rita in the fantasy. Betty, who represents Diane's innocence, cannot survive this truth. Certainly opening the box which represents this truth would have destroyed Betty. But the innocence of Betty was destroyed even before the moment the box was opened. This is because when she brought the blue box into the bedroom she immediately put it onto the bed. This connection to the bed forces Betty to confront the other awful truth that was exposed in Club Silencio. The electrifying scene of her going through spasms as she is being raped as a child is what destroyed Diane's innocence long ago. It is that early childhood abuse which was the reason that Diane's innocent persona had been absent from the magical world within her mind until she started this fantasy. If you remember, Diane's innocent Betty persona has been transported into her "open mind" because she has a memory at the beginning of the film of her long lost joy when she won the Jitterbug contest. The Betty-like innocence had to be reintroduced into her mind by the memory of her younger years because that innocence had been wiped out long before the murder of Camilla. So, after the scene in Club Silencio where Diane finally confronts all of this, when the Betty persona later makes contact with the bed Diane simply cannot hold on to her any longer.
With Betty gone, Rita has only enemies left in the world of Diane's fantasy. To her, there is no real alternative to opening up the blue box, because there is no other place to go, and her only hope is that the blue box will show her something that might save her. But, as I said before, what was in the blue box was the reality that the key opened up for Diane. Simply put, it was empty because Diane's life had become empty, desolate, and lonely. There was no Camilla in Diane's life anymore, so Rita's existence was wiped out when she sees the black emptiness inside of the blue box. And now that both the Betty and Rita personas are gone to Diane, all that she loved has been lost. Diane now has no hope of being the person her aunt had believed she could become. To her, that person had always been some kind of mixture of Betty the innocent, and Rita the star. But now all she has is a state of self-loathing. This is a realization of the final lines in the audition script for the story of her life. "I hate us both," was how that script ended, and it is how her fantasy is ending as well.
The scene ends with Aunt Ruth coming in to the house after Betty and Rita are completely gone. And we must understand that this is a scene in Diane's mind that is saying that she is still missing her aunt. To Diane's terrible misfortune, their lives never came to overlap in Diane's adulthood. And when Diane tried to make it in Aunt Ruth's world without Aunt Ruth, in both her real world and in the world of her fantasy, she failed completely.
The fantasy is now just about completely over but Diane still must wake up. The camera tries to fade out of Aunt Ruth's apartment in the fantasy and fade into Diane's apartment in real life. But apparently the camera is having trouble making the transition, because Diane's mind apparently does not want to let go of the fantasy. However on the second try the scene successfully switches. I believe that this technique is a device that Lynch uses to warn us that the character involved in the previous scene is having trouble dealing with the issues that will come up in the next scene. And so, since there is some resistance, the camera represents this resistance by fading in and out twice while trying to make the transition. Here the message we are being given is that Diane is not looking forward to going back to her real life.
But the fantasy is not entirely over yet, and that is clear when the camera moves toward Diane's bedroom and then goes inside. There we see the back of a woman lying in the bed. The woman is in a black dress that looks like the dress Rita wore in the limousine at the beginning of the fantasy. The woman also has black hair so it seems clear that this woman is supposed to be Rita or Camilla. She appears to be sleeping, and the sheets are in disarray, but there are no bullet holes in the sheets, which is significant as we shall see presently. We hear the sound of a door opening. Then the Cowboy says, "Hey pretty girl." We see him at the bedroom door now. "Time to wake up," he says. He's smiling. Then the scene quickly fades to black. When it comes back, we now see a brown clad woman with brown hair on the bed, and there are the bullet holes we saw when Betty and Rita discovered the dead Diane Selwyn of the fantasy. Then we see the Cowboy again, and he is not smiling this time. He leaves the room, closing the door behind him and it clicks shut. Then the scene fades out. We then hear knocking after a pause. Then the scene fades back in and the woman on the bed is a blonde and she has a dingy white nightgown on. The knocking continues. The woman gets up and we can finally see that it is the real Diane Selwyn. She slowly gets out of bed. Her bed sheets are not messed up and there are no bullet holes. She puts on a dingy white robe as she finally gets completely out of the bed.
With this final exit from the fantasy world of Diane, we again see that the Cowboy seems to be familiar with going into and out of Diane's bedroom. Since we saw a Cowboy hat in the bedroom of Aunt Ruth when Betty was there, we have to consider the idea that if this issue has come up two times, then he may be yet another person who should be thought of as one of Diane's Johns. At this point we have now had hints of four older men who have had some type of interest in Diane sexually. There was Mr. Roque, Luigi Castigliane, the Cowboy, and the magician. Since they are all older men, taken as a group they present us with more evidence that sexual abuse as a young girl is what started Diane down the path of engaging in exploitative sexual relationships with older men.
With the Cowboy being the last image of Diane's fantasy, he becomes associated to the harsh reality or rude awakening that forces her out of her dream world. What he says and does brings her back to her world of despair. This leads me to believe that we can connect his actions very closely to the actions of Diane's grandfather, because he is the one associated with her harsh reality. He came into her bedroom one morning saying "Hey pretty girl. Time to wake up." What he saw was the young Diane who, while still a girl, was now starting to express a womanly sensuality, much like that of the Rita persona. This caused a terrible "accident," which is to say, something overcame the grandfather and he sexually abused Diane. Then when he leaves, the girl's image has changed to the bullet-ridden image of the dead Diane Selwyn, the one that is some terrible mixture of the Rita and Betty personas. And from thereafter, her girlishness and womanliness were never able to merge in a healthy way. This is the harsh reality that greets Diane as she awakens from her fantasy.
Now we can finally interpret the Cowboy's words to Adam about the significance of seeing him one more time or two more times. Of course, his words were meant for the Diane in her Adam persona, not for the real Adam, so like everything else in the fantasy, the words apply to Diane and not to Adam. In this scene there is a strange fade to black that happens after we see the Cowboy one time. This means we are seeing him more than once if you count seeing him before and after a fade out as two times. When the Cowboy, like the grandfather, saw Diane the first time in her bed, he saw her growing sexual persona and she was still whole and undamaged. But the second time he sees her, it is after the sexual abuse and it has left her destroyed. In one sense, the Cowboy is saying that if Diane's mind just remembers the first part of the her grandfather's visit to her bedroom, the sexual abuse can stay a repressed memory and she can continue to keep the innocent Betty persona and the Rita persona in an uncorrupted form. But if she remembers the entire incident, then her Betty and Rita personas will be destroyed by the misery and the corruption that followed that trauma. In the Cowboy's logic, remembering too much is the "bad" thing of which Diane is ultimately guilty.
We are now in the real world. Diane gets out of bed and goes to the door to let her neighbor, DeRosa, in to get things that she had left there after the apartment switch. DeRosa says that she has been waiting three weeks to pick the stuff up. Diane tells her what box she put her things in, and DeRosa goes and gets the box. Before she leaves, she notices that her piano ashtray is on the coffee table. Diane says, "Take it." As DeRosa gets her ashtray, we notice a blue key on the coffee table. Then, after looking the place over one more time, DeRosa leaves, but she does remember to warn Diane that two detectives came by again looking for her.
By having DeRosa focus our attention on the coffee table, Lynch has given us some important details that we will need to remember soon, namely what was on the coffee table and when. Later, we find out that the fact that the blue key is on the coffee table tells us that the hit man has already killed Camilla. This fact helps explain why Diane is so depressed and unresponsive to DeRosa. Some have argued that DeRosa's personality is somewhat combative in this scene, but I disagree. DeRosa clearly wants to help her when you look at the way DeRosa looks into her eyes at the beginning and end of her visit. However, Diane is simply refusing to be helped.
When DeRosa is gone, Diane goes into her kitchen to make coffee. While she is standing over the sink she believes she sees Camilla alive, in a red dress, standing in the kitchen with her. Smiling, Diane says, "Camilla, you've come back." This line is suspiciously similar to what Dorothy said when she thought Toto had been killed but then he returned to her, "Toto, Darling! Oh I got you back! You came back!" Unfortunately for Diane, it was just a vivid flashback to a memory of Camilla standing in the kitchen at that spot sometime before their breakup. Diane's face contorts as she realizes that she is letting memories of Camilla invade her mind and take over her thoughts. She's upset with herself. Then we skip forward in time and see Diane in a different location, looking back at the spot where she had the flashback. She seems to be thinking of how pathetic she has become. After this, she continues to make her coffee.
She pours her coffee into a cup that appears to have come from Winkies. Then, with coffee cup in hand, she heads for the couch. As she gets to the couch, she suddenly sees a topless Camilla lying on the couch looking up at her. And then we suddenly see that Diane is topless as well, climbing over the couch with a glass in her hand instead of a cup and none of the nightclothes that she had on are anywhere in sight. In fact, she is wearing cutoff jeans now. So it is clear that this too is a flashback. On the coffee table, DeRosa's piano ashtray is still there, and there is no blue key. In this flashback Diane and Camilla are making out. Camilla says to Diane, "You drive me wild." But then her mood changes, and she tells Diane, "We shouldn't do this anymore." Diane is very upset when she hears that. She gets very serious and seems a little unstable as she replies, "Don't say that. Don't ever say that." And then Diane tries to force herself on Camilla. But Camilla pushes her back saying, "Don't Diane. Stop it! Diane, stop! I've tried to tell you this before." Diane pulls away and says, "It's him isn't it." Then the scene switches to a different flashback on a movie set.
In the above flashback, we see what has occurred during one of Camilla's visits to Diane's new apartment within the last three weeks. It probably occurred later on the same day that Camilla was in the kitchen in the flashback that Diane had a little earlier. At some point Camilla took her red blouse off while Diane and her were making out. But it appears that her real purpose for the visit was ultimately to break up with Diane, because she has a relationship with Adam that is turning serious, and she may be worried that Diane will try to interfere. Diane has already seen signs of this relationship with Adam, and so she has been afraid of this possibility, as her subsequent flashback in the next scene reveals.
Interestingly enough, at this point I think it is possible to answer a mystery that never gets resolved explicitly in the film. Why did Diane and DeRosa switch apartments? Some reviewers have suggested that it was because Diane was trying to hide from the police after Camilla's murder, but I have already discussed why that theory is unsound. It is clear that Camilla was not murdered until after the apartment switch. Other reviewers have suggested that Diane and DeRosa were lovers who had broken up, and DeRosa had just moved out of #17 into #12 because of their breakup. This does not make sense either because we clearly see that Diane has some of her own things in boxes as well. We know this because Diane has placed all of DeRosa stuff in one box, and when DeRosa is holding that box she looks at the other boxes in the room that are full of things just "to make sure" that none of them contains something that belongs to her. And Diane would not have things packed in boxes, as she clearly does in that scene, if DeRosa was the only one who was moving. I believe we must accept that Diane and DeRosa really did switch apartments.
In my view, the secret to understanding why they switched apartments comes from clues that hint at what happened while Diane was in Apartment #12. In the fantasy we are told that Camilla might have been Diane's roommate in the scene where Betty and Rita have tried calling the "D. Selwyn" in the phone book. "Maybe that's your roommate," Betty speculates. And since Rita and Betty essentially became roommates in the fantasy, this most likely was the case for Diane and Camilla in real life as well. Yet the two of them did not seem to be roommates by the time Diane moves to Apartment #17, so Camilla must have moved out before the switch. And Camilla had not just moved out on Diane while they were living in #12 together, but Camilla says she tried to tell Diane something, perhaps around that time, that had to do with why she later breaks up with Diane. "I've tried to tell you this before," Camilla says while on the couch with Diane as they are dealing with why Camilla wants their sexual relationship to end. We are not told why Camilla moved out, but it probably had something to do with what she is talking about in this quote. Since Camilla and Adam are probably secretly engaged at this time, Camilla may have moved in with Adam, although Adam or Camilla preferred to try to conceal this from others until after the party for some reason. But even though Camilla has not told Diane the entire story, when Camilla moved out of #12, Diane was most likely devastated.
Diane's obsession with Camilla was extremely unhealthy emotionally for Diane. In fact, now that we see Diane having flashback images of Camilla visiting Diane in #17, it does not take much of a leap to consider that Diane may have begun having flashbacks of Camilla in #12 after Camilla moved out. If she was traumatized by Camilla moving out and having flashbacks in #12 of her old roommate, Diane certainly may have thought that she too ought to move out of #12 so as not to be haunted by the memories of their former togetherness. Or perhaps she began seeing the therapist we saw with Dan in the Winkies in the fantasy, and the therapist suggested that she move out of that apartment. Whichever scenario is the case, Diane probably asked her neighbor, DeRosa who lived in #17, to switch apartments with her to help her distance herself from her obsessive memories about Camilla. Of course, she would not have asked DeRosa if there had not been a friendly relationship between them. And DeRosa agreed out of compassion for Diane, but also with some level of disdain for Camilla, which I believe we see in her eyes when she gives Rita an uncomfortable look during the fantasy when Betty and Rita first meet her. DeRosa probably saw that there were problems in the way that Camilla was treating Diane, problems that we begin to see in the next scene.
This scene is another flashback. In this memory of Diane's she is dressed in character for a bit part in a movie that Adam is directing and in which Camilla is the leading actress. Adam wants to show someone who is probably the lead actor how to perform his make-out scene with Camilla. So Adam orders the set cleared so that he can work the scene out with just Camilla and the lead actor without distractions. Camilla asks Adam if Diane can stay and he says yes. Then he proceeds to show the actor how to make out with Camilla. Camilla starts smiling at him and obviously getting into it. She looks over at Diane, smiling as if to tease her. Adam seems to be really enjoying himself while Diane watches. Diane cannot help but be jealous, and the pain shows in her eyes. At some point Adam yells, "Kill the lights," as he begins giving Camilla another big kiss.
Not only does this memory of Diane's show us that Camilla and Adam have begun flirting openly with each other, and perhaps they are already in a relationship, but the scene also shows us that Camilla enjoys making Diane watch her in this type of situation. This is our first real indication that Camilla may have been subjecting Diane to some type of emotional abuse for her own satisfaction. And it seems clear that Camilla is also showing Diane how she is promoting her career by flirting with the director. It is a self-promotion that is wildly successful, as we find out with the all but certain announcement of her engagement to Adam at the dinner party.
Next Diane is having a flashback that takes us back to her apartment. I believe that the flashback of the last scene went further back in time than the one before it because it explained why Diane believed there was something going on between Camilla and Adam. But this current flashback seems to occur just a little while after the argument on the couch. If you remember, the first flashback showed Camilla in Betty's kitchen with a red blouse on. The next one is when Camilla has taken off the blouse and they are making out. Then there is one that goes back further in time to explain what Diane is thinking during their argument. The flashback we are now in explains what happened on that same day after the argument. We know this because Camilla is wearing that same red blouse that she had in the first flashback, and they are breaking up now, which is what started to happen in the second flashback. And the breakup has been a very emotional one for Diane. As this flashback starts, she is kicking Camilla out of the apartment. Camilla is saying, "Don't be mad. Don't make it be like this." Diane obviously did not want to break up, so she responds, "Oh sure. You want me to make this easy for you. No. No fucking way! It's not gonna be! It's not easy for me!" She is angry and almost out of control as she slams the door shut on Camilla.