A Multi-Layered Analysis of Mulholland Dr. (by Alan Shaw)
A SCENE BY SCENE ANALYSIS
Now we see Diane crying on the couch and trying to masturbate. She has on the same top that she had on while kicking Camilla out, and the same jeans on that we saw her wearing when she was on the couch with Camilla. So once again, we can deduce that this memory occurs on the same day as the argument that led to their breakup and Diane kicking Camilla out. Clearly she is distraught over the breakup, and she cannot handle the idea that she will not be able to make love with Camilla anymore. So she masturbates in an effort to find a way to replace the sexual passion that she still feels for Camilla. However, it is not working. She is not getting any pleasure out of it and she is having a hard time focusing on anything but the misery she feels over losing Camilla. Then the phone rings and interrupts her. She looks over at the phone, but we don't know who called her because she jumps ahead to a new flashback at this point.
It is nighttime and the phone is ringing next to a lamp with a red lampshade and an ashtray full of cigarette butts. This phone is probably the same one that she looked at in the last scene, but we have never seen the wall in her apartment that this phone is up against until now, except for during a brief scene inside of her fantasy. In that scene within the fantasy we saw this same phone ringing at what appears to have been the same time of night, with the same number of cigarette butts in the ashtray, and with those butts in identical orientations. In the fantasy and in this flashback, Diane does not answer the phone during the first three rings. The fantasy didn't show us what happened after that, but in this flashback we find out that the answering machine picked up after the third ring. The answering machine's message is the same one we heard in the fantasy when Betty and Rita called the number for "D. Selwyn" while sitting on Aunt Ruth's couch. After the message is through, Camilla starts talking on the other end and Diane picks up the phone and speaks with her. Camilla wants Diane to come to Adam's party. She tells her that a car has been sent to take her to the party and it is waiting just outside of her apartment. Hesitantly, Diane agrees to come. Then Camilla tells her that Adam's address is 6980 Mulholland Drive.
There are some very important revelations being made in this scene. The first one being that this is not only the same phone as the one we saw in her fantasy near the beginning of the movie, but it is also probably the same call as the one being made in the fantasy because of all of the matching details. The call in the fantasy was the result of a chain of phone calls that led up to the phone of an unknown person at that time who never answered the call. Based on the symbolism and plot line, whoever owned that phone was most likely a call girl. We also saw the arm of the "Hairy-Armed Man" making the call to the call girl's phone. Again, based on symbolism and plot line, we can guess that whoever made that call was the call girl's pimp. Now, both mysteries are resolved with a twist, in the great tradition of the Mobius strip that I explained earlier. Diane turns out to be the one answering the call girl's phone, and Camilla is the one making the call. Diane's involvement in the call girl business has already been uncovered in this analysis, but Camilla's complicity in Diane's plight has not been explored as thoroughly. Because Camilla has made the phone call that was associated with the Hairy-Armed Man, we know that Camilla has had something to do with the pimping of Diane in Diane's real life. I believe this scene tells us that the Hairy-Armed Man is not a real person, but instead a symbol of something hairy that strong arms people within its reach like Diane in some way. The hairy thing is Camilla's beauty, represented by her long black hair, and the strong arming concerns the way Camilla essentially uses her beauty to seduce people like Diane to get them to do her bidding.
This is the smoking gun that points to the abusive nature of Camilla's relationship to Diane. We must now question Camilla's motives in wanting Diane to come to Adam's party. Is there some person that she wants Diane to meet there like "Luigi," a character who shows up later at the party? It is very possible that this is part of her motive, but other dark motives of Camilla become apparent as well. When Diane begins to realize all of this, in her mind Camilla's corruption becomes similar to the filthiness of the Hairy-Armed Man's apartment that we saw in the earlier scene of the fantasy.
In this next scene Diane is in a limousine heading up Mulholland Drive. This scene is exactly like the opening scene in the fantasy, except now Diane is the one in the passenger's seat. As the limousine slows down on an empty stretch of road, Diane says the words that Rita said in the limousine in the fantasy, "What are you doing? We don't stop hear." The driver turns around and this time he has no gun. He tells Diane that it is a surprise. As the person who was in the front seat with the driver opens Diane's door, Camilla surprises her by coming out of hiding from behind a tree. She walks up to the car and says to Diane, "Shortcut. Come on sweetheart. It's beautiful. A secret path." Then she leads Diane up the secret pathway to Adam's home. As they walk hand in hand up the dark path with Camilla exposing her leg seductively, Diane begins to believe that maybe reconciliation is possible between them. At this point Camilla seems to be encouraging Diane to have hope again. Things do not stay that way for long.
Adam meets them near his pool carrying three drinks. Camilla says, "Ah. Perfect timing." Adam then offers a toast just between Camilla and himself, "Well, here's to love." After the two drink to that toast, Diane indicates that she thinks she can have the same relationship with Camilla that Adam now has. She offers the same toast just between Camilla and herself, "Here's to love." It seems clear that Diane is willing to share Camilla in this triangular relationship, identifying herself with Adam in a way that helps explain why she uses him as one of her personas in her fantasy. At this point Coco, Adam's mother, comes out of the house saying, "Ah, here she is!" It seems clear that she is looking at Camilla. While Camilla was waiting behind a tree for Diane, Coco was looking for her and getting impatient because Camilla was holding up dinner. As Coco is introduced to Diane, Coco says she's pleased to meet her, and she sounds very sincere. But Coco still seems irritated about Camilla. So Camilla looks at Diane because she wants Diane to take the blame. And Diane obediently does, saying, "I'm sorry I was late." Coco does not seem to think that that is the issue, but Camilla looks pleased that she has so much control over the situation. Satisfied that Diane is still willing to act as her pawn, Camilla gives Diane another mischievous look as she takes Adam's arm and then leaves Diane behind. As the four of them walk up to the house, Adam and Camilla take the lead, followed by Coco, and lastly Diane walks all by herself, apparently no longer a special guest of Camilla's. At this point Diane looks deflated, her shoulders hunched as she walks to the house. I believe that she is beginning to realize that she was probably invited to the party by Camilla to play the role of one of Camilla's devotees, who will say only good things about Camilla around Adam's high powered Hollywood acquaintances. She's just Camilla's pawn again.
The next flashback involves the dinner scene at Adam's house. The camera is having difficulty focusing on the scene because Diane is having difficulty focusing on it. To her, this is perhaps the most painful memory of them all. The scene begins with Coco asking about Diane's past and, once again, taking a sincere interest in Diane, in my view. Diane tells her how she came to Hollywood from Deep River, Ontario. She tells about the Jitterbug contest and how it led to her desire to be an actress. And she tells Coco about her aunt and about the fact that her aunt left her some money. It is interesting that at the point where Diane mentions how she became interested in becoming an actress, Coco picks up some nuts. I mentioned earlier that in the fantasy, Coco's last name was similar to "the nut" in French. I think the connection between these two allusions to nuts is that in both cases they are references to the Hollywood enterprise in general and the quest for stardom in particular. This is a commentary from Lynch about Diane's dreams of finding something meaningful in the land of image over substance, like the land of Dorothy's dreams that was "somewhere over the rainbow." Within the fantasy Coco represented a caretaker of people like Diane who were on this type of quest. It is a nutty business to put oneself at the mercy of the fickleness of stardom and the deceitfulness of glamour, but those who do so can perhaps survive if they are careful to keep their most precious relationships outside of the deceptive enterprise. Dorothy ultimately realized this, but Diane was never able to.
When Coco asks Diane about how she came to meet Camilla, the conversation gets pretty interesting. Diane says she met Camilla "on the Sylvia North Story," and a man sitting next to her named Wilkins immediately says, "Camilla was great in that." This man is the one whose dog leaves excrement in the Havenhurst courtyard during the fantasy. This excrement may represent what Diane's mind thinks of how sound his judgment is amongst other things. What Diane certainly believed is that Camilla knew how to "sex" the story up, but did Camilla really know how to represent a story that was so similar to Diane's own story? Probably not, and unfortunately, the director and the studio bosses were probably happy with Camilla because a sexy story is all that fans like Wilkins want. However, Diane does try to buy into this logic, as her corrupt personas in her fantasy world show us. And she probably does this because Diane saw Camilla as a person who could love her and help guide her like she had wanted her aunt to do. But by aspiring to follow Camilla's path, Diane left behind the path that he aunt would have chosen for her.
Following Camilla's path apparently meant more than just being seductive on the set. Camilla seemed to be willing to act just as seductive off of the set as on the set when it came down to getting her parts. We know that she became involved with Adam, the director of at least one of the movies she has been in. And when Diane mentions the movie "The Sylvia North Story," there seems to be some insinuation that she got involved with Luigi, and perhaps this is because he may have had something to do with that film. Apparently at this insinuation, Camilla says, "Yo nunca fui a Casablanca con Luigi" (I never went to Casablanca with Luigi). To which some man replies, "Qué lástima" (What a pity). And to this Adam says with what looks like a shrug of disregard, "¿Qué va?" (What gives? or Who cares?). While Adam says this, we see a look of indignation on Camilla's face toward the person who said, "What a pity." As Diane looks at Camilla during this exchange, her expression indicates she knows something that is not being said. And in the fantasy we find out that Luigi is one of the Castigliane brothers who are power brokers in the movie business, and who try to help the counterfeit Camilla get a role. And in the reality portion of Lynch's film, Luigi happens to be at Adams party. If we allow that the Casablanca could be a house, a hotel, a restaurant, or even the famous movie, then the insinuation may be that Camilla went out with Luigi for reasons that are shameful to talk about. Which means that it seems safe to say that there are rumors out there that Camilla is sleeping around to get her parts. And since this issue comes up while Diane was talking about the Sylvia North Story, we can argue that this had something to do with why Camilla got that part as well. So Diane is being influenced by a person who has denied her a chance at a role with which Diane might have excelled. Thus, the path laid out by Camilla's corrupt ways is the worst possible direction that Diane could be following.
As Diane continues to talk about the Sylvia North Story she says, "Yeah… I wanted the lead so bad. Anyway, Camilla got the part." At this point, Coco gives Camilla a look that suggests Coco sees Camilla's corruption. Diane continues, "The Director …" "Bob Brooker?" interjects Wilkins. "Yes," Diane says. "He didn't think so much of me… Anyway, that's when we became friends. She helped me get some parts in some of her films." To this Coco says, "I see," and she pats Diane's hand in sympathy. The insinuation here is that in Coco's opinion, Camilla's help may have been no real help at all.
As we jump ahead to a later point in the party we see Diane drinking coffee from a cup that has SOS in a decorative design on it's side. Diane needs help right now. Adam is saying at this moment, "So I got the pool and she got the Pool Man. I couldn't believe it. I wanted to buy that judge a Rolls Royce… Sometime good things happen." During this monologue, Luigi looks at Diane in a way that appears to show he is interested in her, but it is the interest of a John. So perhaps the SOS on her cup stands for "Same old Stuff." And if this is connected to Adam's statement about how "Sometimes good things happen," the unspoken issue, of course, is that money and corruption may be a part of the equation. Good things happen in Hollywood for people like Adam, but what about for people from Deep River, Ontario?
At this point a blonde woman comes over and first whispers in Camilla's ear, and then she kisses Camilla on the lips. Lipstick gets onto this blonde woman's lips, and she looks at Diane slyly. And then Camilla looks at Diane with an even guiltier expression, but still defiant. She seems to be confirming that the kiss was meant for Diane to see. It was meant to break her heart. As the blonde woman proceeds to leave the room, she glances back as if to see one more time if the damage was done. And indeed, Diane is beside herself with grief. For a brief moment, this is when she sees the Cowboy appear and walk quickly in one door and out another. Next Adam says to everyone that he and Camilla have an announcement to make. Adam asks Camilla, "Do you want to tell them. Camilla says, "No, you tell them." Adam says, "Camilla and I are going to be …" Then, instead of finishing the statement they start laughing and giggling. The unbearable heartache that Diane is feeling only gets worse with this new development. She is on the point of breaking down when a set of dishes break and Diane jumps in her seat as we switch to another flashback.
In Diane's final memory of Camilla, Camilla is just put a knife into Diane's heart. Making Diane witness Camilla embracing her two new love interests while she leaves Diane behind, is unforgivable in Diane's eyes. She finally realizes that Camilla is yet another important person in her life that has abused has. As dishes are breaking in the background, Diane suffers something of an emotional breakdown, and her love for Camilla turns into a murderous hatred.
In this flashback, we are at Winkies and a set of dirty dishes has been dropped and broken, just like the noise we heard at the end of the last flashback. Diane is jumpy and whirls around when the dishes break. After the waitress apologizes, Diane notices the waitress's name tag. It says "Betty" on it. Diane goes back to her conversation with the blonde man, whom we come to realize is a hit man. She shows the hit man Camilla's photo resume and says, "This is the girl." The hit man tells her not to show him that picture in a public place like Winkie's. Then he asks her if she's got the money. She shows him the money in a black pouch by her side. The hit man then says, "Okay. Now once you hand that thing over to me, it's a done deal. You sure you want this?" Diane replies, "More than anything in this world." The hit man seems satisfied with that remark and reaches into his shirt pocket and produces a blue key. "When it's finished, you'll find this where I told you," he says. After a few moments, Diane notices a man at the cash register who looks back at her after she started staring at him. Then she refocuses on the hit man and his blue key. She asks him, "What's it open?" He just laughs in a somewhat sinister way.
As I have mentioned before, in this scene Diane fixates on different things for various reasons, but that does not mean that there is reciprocal interest being focused on her. Even the man at the cash register did not start looking in Diane's direction until after Diane looked at him. Therefore, unlike a few other reviewers, I don't believe that the man at the cash register is a witness who can turn Diane in to the police. Instead, I think Diane's hit man was careful in what he said so as not to alert anyone who may be listening in or watching. The significance of the scene is to show us that Diane sees things like the man, the waitress and the key as certain types of symbols marking her movement up to the point of no return, and then her passing that point. The key represents the point of no return. The name of the waitress, "Betty," is what she saw before seeing the key, while the man, "Dan," is who she saw after seeing the key. Therefore, the name Betty is the connected to the image of her innocence because it is associated with the time before the key, while Dan is the doomed one who is killed by her demons because he is associated with the time after the key. With this in mind, when Diane asks the hit man what the key opens, her own associations tell us the answer to that question. But so does the next scene in dramatic fashion.
The scene fades to a scene outside behind the Winkie's. It is dark and there is a flashing red light. We see the beast there and he is looking at us. He has a blue box in his hand and is putting it into a paper bag. The image seems to reflect that the beast is telling us "it's in the bag." Diane's doom is a done deal now. The beast has accomplished his goal. The beast then drops the bag and we see the blue box on the ground still inside the bag. After a little while we see tiny versions of the two grandparents coming out of the bag, apparently after having gotten out of the blue box. They are making strange noises and they are walking strangely. They seem quite monstrous even in their small size.
This scene is a prelude to what's to come. The monstrous grandparents are surely demons at this point. And this gives us another metaphor for the blue box. Since the beast is yet another persona of Diane's, clearly being the darkest one of them all, this beast is showing us here that Diane is actually the one responsible for opening this box and letting it's demons out. In that way, the box is a type of Pandora's box, and the blue key was a type of transitional object that opened that box and forced her into a new reality of guilt and self-loathing. By opening up what had been boxed up inside of her, Diane has revealed a terrible truth that had been hidden by her attempts to forget the past. Those two sweet old people that we saw in the beginning of the fantasy were false memories of parental figures who were actually her abusive tormentors. And in this scene we see that her mind is descending back into the fantasy to tell her that their true nature has now been uncovered and they are coming for her again.
We are back now in Diane's living room. We are finally finished with the flashbacks and her brief descent back into a fantasy with the vision that we saw in the last scene. Diane is now in the present again. We can tell this because she is finally back in the nightclothes that she had on right after the fantasy ended. All the other scenes that took place after she was taking the coffee to the couch had her in different outfits, and were therefore flashbacks, with the exception of the last scene, which appears to have been a brief return to her fantasy world again. That return to the fantasy world was not good, because it means that her mind is becoming very unstable now, as it is less able to distinguish fantasy from reality. And in her unstable state, her fantasy world has become a complete nightmare. In the real world the blue key is on the coffee table again. The Winkie's coffee cup is back and the piano ashtray is gone again. The look on her face is that of a person who seems to be mentally unstable. She is just staring ahead, sometimes focusing on the key, and other times looking at nothing in particular. The day is gone and it is now night. She may have been sitting in this one position on the couch all day. Although the flashbacks she was having represented the reality that she couldn't stop thinking about, she has finally begun to make a complete break with reality.
Suddenly, she hears a loud knocking on the door. In her mind, the little demonic grandparents crawl under the door laughing. She hears more loud knocking. Then she hears voices in her head. One of the voices is a woman screaming. After hearing this she gets up and runs to her bedroom. The scream in her head seamlessly becomes her own scream of horror, perhaps the same scream she cried out during her childhood, as she sees that the demons have grown to full size and are following her into the bedroom. Blue lights are flashing all around as she is backing into the bedroom with the two demons on her heels. Finally, she falls onto her bed, reaches into a drawer near her bed, grabs a gun and then shoots herself in the head. After that we see that we see that her body is alone on the bed and everything quiet. Then blue smoke begins to fill the room.
For an epilogue, first we see the face of the beast in the blue smoke. Then the face fades into Diane's face. This tells us that the beast was indeed a completely corrupted and grotesque persona of Diane. Then the smoke goes away and the city lights of Hollywood at night fade in. In front of these lights we see the Betty and Rita personas of Diane, united and happy again. We know that this is the Betty and Rita personas instead of images of Diane and Camilla because the Rita persona is wearing a blonde wig. As Diane dies, the fact that the Rita persona has on the blonde wig also tells us that Diane finally accepts her own image as the glamorous persona that she believes in and loves. This is clear because when Rita wears the wig she becomes a doppelganger of Diane, thus no longer representing Camilla's corrupt image. It is as if at this twilight moment of her life, Diane has finally made peace with herself.
Slowly the images of Betty and Rita and the city lights behind them fade away, and we find that we are back at the stage in Club Silencio. Then our view switches from the stage to the box seat in the balcony where the lady with the blue-hair is still sitting. She looks at us for a little while and then she says in a deep whisper, "Silencio." No more can be said. Like Hamlet's dying words, "The rest is silence." Diane is dead. And the scene fades to black as the film comes to an end.
David Lynch was compelled to give ten clues to think about when interpreting this film. Like everything else that has to do with this film, Lynch's ten clues are illusive. But I will attempt to address each one since they all focus particular attention on specific issues in the movie that Lynch felt were worth noting. However, I believe a separate conclusion is still necessary as a fitting commentary on this exceptional work. I present that conclusion of mine after addressing the ten clues.