Yes, There’s Actually a Legit Explanation for Mulholland Drive (2001)

Yes, There’s Actually a Legit Explanation for Mulholland Drive (2001)

Hoo boy. Probably no film has caused as much consternation as David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001). Viewers seem split into two camps. On one hand, you have those who were certain there was a logical, understandable story line throughout. On the other hand, you had people who thought that the movie was a complete and total unmitigated piece of incoherent crap, and that any explanation that anyone can come up with is just a desperate attempt to create something out of nothing.

Normally, people would be right to view any theories about what “really happened” in a David Lynch film with skepticism. However, Mulholland Drive is one of the few movies where he wasn’t just being surreal for the hell of it; there was a legitimate explanation behind it. Of course, the “real story” takes a little while to catch on to, but upon further rewatch becomes much more understandable.

So if you’re one of the skeptics, hopefully, this entry will clear the air. The first thing you need to know is that there are three things going on in the film. The large bulk of the movie is a dream that the main character, Diane, is having. The last act is reality. However, the last act is a combination of what’s happening currently to Diane and flashbacks of what happened to her before she had the dream. So, to make the explanation of Mulholland Drive easier, I will break it down into three parts–the reality, the dream and the reality again.

Mulholland Drive, The Reality

Diane Selwyn, a young blonde women with dreams of becoming a major movie star, flies out to California to jump start her acting career. At some point, she meets another aspiring actress–a beautiful dark-haired woman named Camilla Rhodes–during an audition for a movie, The Sylvia North Story. They then become close friends. In spite of their closeness, the two women see the relationship completely differently. While Camilla sees Diane as just a friend, Diane falls hopelessly, madly and deeply in love with Camilla.

But Diane doesn’t just fall in love with her. She becomes completely infatuated, to the point of unhealthy obsession. She is also incredibly dependent on Camilla. Not only does she draw inspiration from her but relies on her to help her find parts and make inroads in Hollywood. So Diane sees Camilla as the perfect person to hitch her wagon to. In other words, she is hoping that as Camilla’s star rise, she will be able to piggyback off her success.

At some point, the two women audition for a 1960s movie musical being directed by Adam Kesher. (Some people think that this movie was actually being shot by another director, Bob Brooker). Camilla auditions, blows everyone away, and wins the lead easily. However, no one is impressed with Diane, and she gets relegated to bit player.

Shooting on the film starts, and Camilla winds up in the arms of Adam. Diane bitterly watches the romance unfold from the sidelines as everyone works together on the set of Adam’s movie. She sees Adam as having stolen Camilla away from her. Plus, Diane may be feeling resentment at not being able to share in the success that Camilla is beginning to enjoy. This could be perhaps, seeing her as a mentor, Diane had hoped that Camilla would take her along for the ride as she made her way up the ladder. Instead, what’s happening is that Camilla is becoming part of the Hollywood in-crowd while Diane is being left behind as a nobody and struggling actress barely scraping by.

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Diane eventually becomes so angry and bitter towards Camilla that she refuses to have anything to do with her. Camilla nevertheless invites Diane for a night out and sends a limo to pick her up and take her to Mulholland Drive. Diane eagerly shows up, expecting perhaps to rekindle their “romance”. However, to her bitter disappointment, she learns that she’s been invited to a Hollywood bash at Adam’s gorgeous million dollar house and that he and Camilla are now engaged. As she seethes, Diane sees another blonde woman who looks like her kiss Camilla, which suggests to her that Camilla traded her poor, broke ass up for a “better model” now that she’s gone Hollywood. Diane also sees a guest at the party, a man in a cowboy hat, make his way across the back of the room.

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After the party, Diane begins to mentally unravel, whether from psychosis, drug use or a combination of both. Whatever the case may be, Adam’s party causes her to snap. She tracks down a hit man, meets him at a diner called “Winkie’s”, and asks him to kill Camilla. She notices a guy with prominent eyebrows by the door staring at her during their transaction. A blonde waitress named Betty serves her. Diane hands the hit man, a scruffy-bearded blonde man named Joe, a large wad of cash. He accepts the money and tells Diane that when he’s completed the hit, he’ll give her a key to open something (what that something is is never explained). The key, incidentally, is blue.

Camilla is killed. After the hit, Diane is pursued by two detectives, presumably about the murder. She unravels even further. She falls asleep and has a dream in which she gets to live out an alternative reality in which everything is the opposite of the way it happened in real life. Now we get to the dream portion of the film:

Mulholland Drive, The Dream

Diane’s dream incorporates all the things she saw and heard in the moments leading up to when she fell asleep. She dreams that instead of her riding out to Mulholland Drive to go to Adam’s party, it was really Camilla (“Rita”) being driven out to be taken out by her hit. However, instead of Joe she hired at the diner, the hit is being carried out by two professional looking hit men in dark suits.

Diane then dreams that Camilla doesn’t get killed. By pure dumb luck, joy riders smash into the limo, killing the hit men. Camilla survives the crash, stumbles down an embankment and bumps into Diane at her place.

Diane then gets to live out the “dream romance” she never got to experience in real life with Camilla. However, she dreams the two of them meeting under completely different circumstances, and with she and Camilla as two completely different other people. Diane gets to be “Betty”, a plucky, bright eyed, practically virginal aspiring actress fresh off the plane from Canada after winning a jitterbug contest there, who is staying at her Aunt Ruth’s place. Camilla is now “Rita”, a nobody with amnesia who most likely has underworld connections (suggested by the wad of cash and mysterious key that Betty finds in Rita’s purse).

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Not only are they two different women now and their backgrounds different, the dynamics of their relationship are completely switched. In real life, Camilla was the confident partner in the relationship who constantly took charge and helped Diane while Diane was the emotionally needy, helpless dependent. In the dream, now Camilla (“Rita”) is the emotionally needy, dependent partner who relies on Diane for everything and owes her entire life to her.

Diane also switches her personality with Camilla’s. She dreams herself (“Betty”) as having the success, beauty, sexiness and talent that Camilla had in real life and “Rita” as being the one who had no real acting ability whatsoever. (When she asks “Rita” to rehearse a script with her, Betty” acts her little heart out but Rita reads her lines like a total amateur.) Later, when Diane auditions for Bob Brooker, she imagines herself being the one who’d auditioned for the part the way Camilla had in real life.

As all this is happening, Diane plays out a revenge fantasy against Adam. In it, she imagines that the blonde woman she saw kissing Camilla at Adam’s party in real life is an actress also named Camilla Rhodes. This actress has powerful connections in Hollywood and wants the lead in Adam’s movie. The studio bosses demand that he cast her, but he refuses. When he refuses, he winds up having the worst day of his life. Not only does his wife cheat on him and kick him out of his house, all his credit cards get maxed out and his bank accounts drained.

Then Diane imagines that the man she had seen at Adam’s party in real life is now a shadowy figure called The Cowboy working on Camilla Rhodes’ behalf. He meets with Adam and makes a veiled threat that if he doesn’t cast her, he will see him again–twice, if he’s not careful. Adam then gives into The Cowboy and casts her, but over the actress he had really wanted, a perky dark-haired actress named Carol.

Diane not only dreams of herself and Camilla but of other people.  She dreams that Joe the hit man is a bumbling, incompetent fool. While he’s doing a hit, everything that could go wrong does go wrong, from accidentally shooting a woman in the next room over to setting the alarms off in the building.

Another side character she dreams about is the man she saw in real life staring at her when she was hiring the hit man to take out Camilla. She imagines that he’s been having nightmares about a scary person who lives behind Winkie’s diner and asks his friend to help him confront his fear. They both go to the back of diner, and a hideous looking, filthy homeless person appears. The man faints.

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A major part of the dream’s narrative involves “Betty” (Diane) helping Rita uncover the mystery of who she is. Diane figures out that Rita has been involved in a mysterious car accident. Later, they are having lunch at Winkie’s when Rita notices that the name of the waitress who is serving them is named Diane. This causes Rita to remember the name, “Diane Selwyn.”

They look the name up in the phone book and track down “Diane Selwyn” as living in apartment 12 at a complex called Sierra Bonita. They knock on the door to find a woman there who sourly tells them that Diane doesn’t live there anymore because they switched apartments recently. So now Diane lives in apartment 17 instead of apartment 12. The woman also informs “Betty” and Rita that she’d like to join them when they visit Diane so she can get her stuff back. Before she has the chance, though, the phone rings and she decides to go answer it.

Diane and Rita break into apartment 17, walk into the bedroom and find a dead woman lying in the bed who, for some reason, reminds Rita of herself. She freaks out and wants to cut her hair as a result. Diane stops her and encourages her to wear a blonde wig instead. Later, when she’s in bed, she invites Rita to climb into bed with her. Rita consents. Diane confesses her undying love for Rita. They have sex. Then Rita has a nightmare. When she wakes up, she insists that Diane take her to a theater called Club Silencio.

The club is a strange theater in which all the performers pretend to sing or play their instruments to a recording. The MC makes a point of showing this to the audience, in order to tell them that everything they see is an illusion. He also causes thunder to flash in the theater, causing Diane to tremble violently in terror.

A torch singer is then introduced to the mike and gives a moving rendition of Roy Orbison’s “Crying.” Diane starts to cry profusely. The singer collapses and is carried offstage. Just then, Diane gets a mysterious blue box in her purse, which has a keyhole that matches a blue key that had been found in Rita’s purse days earlier. They rush back to the house to open it. Diane’s alter ego–Betty–disappears and Rita looks around in confusion wondering where she is. Rita finally opens the box and inside of it is darkness. Next comes a sequence of images of a woman lying in a bed, and The Cowboy urging someone to “wake up.”

Back to Reality

Diane wakes up into the cold hard reality in which she’s a nobody living in a dumpy apartment, and is now being pursued by detectives. The neighbor from apartment 12 arrives that morning to collect her belongings. Heartbroken and mentally unraveling, Diane masturbates in a last desperate bid to hold onto Camilla. Her mind continues to unravel even more, and she starts to have hallucinations of Camilla standing there in her kitchen, which terrifies her, because she knows that Camilla is dead.

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Later that night, Diane is sitting on the couch staring at the blue key that was delivered to her by the hit man. She hears a knock on the door and starts hallucinating that an old couple have crawled out from under it door and broken into her house. Terrified, she runs screaming into her bedroom, grabs a gun from her nightstand and kills herself. The movie ends with a blue-haired woman, who’d been sitting in one of the balcony seats during the Club Silencio sequence, saying, “Silencio.”

The End.

Yet Questions still Remain…

Above is more or less the consensus behind Mulholland Drive’s explanation. Yet there are still many puzzling things that happened in the movie that to this day have people scratching their heads. Below are the most common questions:

Why are All the Identities Different in the Dream?

In Diane’s dream, she is “Betty”, Camilla is “Rita” and a blonde woman at Adam’s party takes Camilla’s name. Why?

The point of Diane’s dream is to create an idealized fantasy in which all the bad things that happened to her never occurred. However, there is a problem. Every so often, the dream threatens to upset the narrative by referencing all the bad stuff that happened in real life.

By switching around identities, Diane’s idealized fantasy remains undisturbed when the dream begins to reference real life. For example, the dead body in apartment 17 is really supposed to represent the murdered Camilla and is a reminder that Diane had her killed. However, Diane doesn’t catch on. The reason why is that she substitutes herself in place of Camilla, gives herself an alter ego named Betty and keeps Camilla alive in the form of Rita. This mental trickery of swapping everyone out for each other is Diane thwarting the dream’s insistence in reminding her of what she did. And it works. After all, how could she have killed Camilla? Camilla is now Rita and very much alive, her real life self is dead in the dream and she is a completely other person, Betty.

This switching around of IDs works especially beautifully in the segment of the dream that begins to replay the traumatic moment when Adam cast Camilla as the lead in his movie. Adam casting Camilla was the moment in real life when Diane lost her and became left behind. By imagining a different woman in Camilla’s place, Diane never loses real life Camilla to Adam and stardom, and they get to stay in love for the remainder of her dream as “Betty” and “Rita.”

Who are the Old Couple?

This is a hotly contested issue.  The elderly couple who appear as terrifying hallucinations in the final scene were seen two previous times–standing next to Diane in the opening scene of the movie when she won the jitterbug contest and later as a nice couple that Betty met when she first flew in from Canada. Some people think they are either judges of the jitterbug contest or Diane’s grandparents.

A very intriguing theory is that they’re a symbolic representation of Adam and Camilla. This is suggested by the fact that the old couple, who initially look sweet and unpretentious, drive away from the airport in a very fancy limousine. They also look at each other in the exact same way that Adam and Camilla looked at each other during their engagement party, but in a very weird, unnatural, forced way.

Old Couple in Mulholland Drive
Old Couple in Mulholland Drive

Personally, it seems to me as if the old couple are just another one of Diane’s “identity switches.” Remember that although she tries as much as possible to create an alternative reality, the dream insists on reminding her of what really happened. So, what it looks like is that Adam and Camilla showed up right in the beginning of Betty’s story arc to remind Diane of them and the murder. Naturally, Diane–trying to disguise the truth from herself as much as possible–switched their identity with a friendly unassuming elderly couple she knew in real life (again, it’s up for debate who they actually were). She succeeded in fooling herself, but the dream went, “Not so fast. This is Adam and Camilla,” and had the couple replicate the adoring look that Adam and Camilla had given each other at the engagement party.

Why Does the Blue Key and Cash Appear in Rita’s Purse?

Diane hopes to create an alternate version of her life in her dream. Unfortunately for her, her dream is not going to let her off that easy and decides, every so often, to put in little reminders of what really happened. This is why the key and cash appear in Rita’s purse. It’s the dream intruding on Diane’s fantasy world, going, “Not so fast. You can pretend that Camilla is this other mysterious woman named Rita in your fantasy narrative all you want, but this is the woman you killed. Here is the cash you gave the guy to kill her. Here is the key he gave you.”

Diane, as “Betty”, refuses to acknowledge what this cash and money mean, so the dream does something very clever. It turns the two items into a major mystery that winds up being too intriguing for her alter ego–the oh, so plucky Betty–to ignore. She then investigates it. However, what is an intriguing mystery for Betty is really a major trap for Diane, as the solution to it is the reality Diane is trying to avoid. This trap explains why, when Rita opens the box, Diane wakes up. Waking up to reality was the only solution to the mystery of who Rita really was and why there was money and a blue key in her purse.

What is the Blue Box?

Many people feel that the blue box in Diane’s dream is an object from real life. I think this is overthinking things a bit.

When Diane dreams up this big “mystery” about what the blue key in Rita’s purse opens, the dream conjures up a corresponding blue box to match it. In other words, it goes, “Blue key? Blue box!” But the box is more than just a thing the dream creates to complete the mystery’s narrative. It’s also really a MacGuffin that’s designed to bait Diane into opening it. Because it’s a trap, it’s designed in a way as to not cause suspicion.

So at first, when Betty first gets the box, she is eager to open it. What is so threatening about it? It’s just a box, and it looks no different from some cheap thing that you would keep trinkets and other items in. But just as she’s about to open it, she realizes that it’s a “gotchya.” She realizes, “Oh, shit! This box isn’t a harmless little thing after all! It’s a portal that’s going to make me wake up and confront everything that’s happened.” When it hits her, she cowardly disappears and forces Rita to open the box, because she doesn’t want to open it herself.

The box may also be an incorporation of what happened between her and Joe at the diner. At some point, he tells her he will give her a key when the hit is done. She asks him what it will open and he laughs knowingly. However, Diane seems to remain genuinely dumbfounded, so when she has her dream, the real life nagging question of what the key will open gets played out as a mystery involving the blue box.

Why Does Adam Gaze at Betty?

When Betty/Diane visits the set of Adam’s movie musical, he keeps gazing at her. Betty, flustered, then abruptly leaves in a panic. What is going on there? Some people have interpreted it as a romantic gaze. But it is certainly not. It’s Adam giving Betty the same “deadpan stare” that he gave all the other people who’d been tormenting him the day before. But why?

Remember, everything that happened to Adam in Diane’s dream was a revenge fantasy that she inflicted on him. But Diane lies to herself that she has nothing to do with what’s happening to Adam or that she is the type of person who would do anything diabolical. She’s Betty, after all, Little Miss Innocent who wouldn’t hurt a fly.

Well, she can fool herself, but she can’t fool her subconscious. It knows that she’s an evil, spiteful person who is torturing Adam in a revenge fantasy and was responsible for killing Camilla. So her subconscious first has Adam feeling “disturbed” by her presence, as if he has sensed that a dark force has entered the studio. He looks at her to see who has disturbed him this much and why. She averts her eyes to make him stop looking at her. She then smiles and watches the audition as perky, innocent, sweet “Betty.”

However,  her dark presence is so strong now that Adam is compelled to keep turning around and looking at her with suspicion:

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He then keeps gazing deeper and deeper into her eyes to figure her out, because “eyes are the windows to the soul.” This unnerves Betty because his suspicious gaze starts to cut too deep; if he keeps at it, he will soon uncover some dark truth about her that she doesn’t want to confront (the fact that she is really Diane, that she is the one who has been torturing him throughout the entire dream). So, “Betty” immediately bails.

Were Diane and Camilla Lovers?

It’s debatable, and my money is on, “They were just friends; this sexual part was all in Diane’s head.” Many people point to the couch scene as the smoking gun that they were in a sexual relationship, assuming it was a flashback. The problem with that scene, though, is that it’s too illogical to be real. In it, we see Camilla looking and acting extremely frustrated at Diane’s insistence that they stay together. She even says that she’s told Diane this before, that they can’t see each other anymore. Yet that moment starts out also with her splayed on the couch half naked and looking happy to see her.

Would a person who’s clearly told another person several times in the past that they can’t see each other anymore show up to do that again, all naked and ready for sex? Of course not.

So what is that scene on the couch? It’s a masturbation fantasy gone wrong. Diane goes to the couch to masturbate to Camilla. She creates a masturbation fantasy in which Camilla is lying there naked and seductively on her couch like a vamp, ready for action. Diane sits down on the couch and imagines herself topless and in cut offs (instead of the bathrobe she’s wearing), then tries to have sex with Masturbation Fantasy Camilla.

But then “reality” intrudes on the fantasy, and the next thing Diane knows, Masturbation Fantasy Camilla tells her that they can’t continue to see each other anymore. (Why? Perhaps it’s Diane’s psyche reminding her that Camilla is dead). The masturbation fantasy goes wrong and Diane in real life is left alone on the couch still trying to pathetically carry on masturbating, which is why we see her sobbing her eyes out staring up at the ceiling. She was staring up at the ceiling the entire time during the couch scene, which was really in her head.

What Was the Conspiracy to Hire Fake Camilla for Adam’s Movie All About?

I have read a lot of theories claiming that the plot point involving the fake (blonde) Camilla Rhodes getting cast as the lead in Adam’s movie was Diane explaining to herself why she lost the lead to real Camilla. I don’t think this is the case at all.

To reiterate, in her dream, Diane creates an alternative fantasy in which everything went the opposite of how it did in real life. When the blonde Camilla auditions for Adam’s movie, Diane doesn’t seem all that upset. So, if Diane had dreamed up this elaborate conspiracy to explain why she didn’t get the lead in Adam’s movie in real life, why would she be calm when the blonde Camilla got it in the dream?

Because Diane was never upset that she lost the role in real life to Camilla. She was upset that Camilla won the role, because that was the moment when she lost her to Adam.

If so, what was the whole deal with the studio bosses forcing Adam to cast blonde Camilla in the lead of his movie about? For one, it’s part of Diane’s revenge fantasy against Adam. In real life, the blonde Camilla plants a sizzling kiss on the real Camilla at the dinner party Adam is hosting. This suggests that this blonde woman is romantically interested in Camilla and therefore a threat to Adam. So in the dream, Diane imagines Adam being forced to cast this rival love interest (the blonde woman) for the lead in this film, when instead, he had wanted a dark-haired actress named Carol (who looks a lot like the real life Camilla).

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Another reason behind this elaborate conspiracy involving the studio bosses is to create an alternative fantasy in which Camilla winds up losing the role in Adam’s movie to someone else. Camilla in the dream is represented by Carol, the dark-haired actress that Adam decided from the beginning would be his lead. When Carol loses it to the blonde Camilla, Diane couldn’t be happier because the awful moment in real life when the real life Camilla won the role never happens, and she can now rest easy that Camilla is hers forever and not Adam’s.

What Does the Homeless Bum Represent?

Many people feel that the bum behind Winkie’s is symbolic of Diane’s fear of failure. Others think that the bum may have been her fear that a homeless person discovered Camilla’s body or found out what she’d done.

EDITED TO ADD [February 22, 2019]: Having seen the movie again today, I think the scene involving Winkie’s is yet another “identity switch” in Diane’s dream.

In real life, “Dan” was staring at her when she was making her transaction with Joe, as if he was aware of what she was doing. As a result, she became paranoid that he either knew what she was up to, or might’ve remembered her face long enough to later finger her to the two detectives investigating Camilla’s murder.

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When Diane had the dream, the part of her mind that was paranoid about Dan in real life replayed the moment when she noticed him staring at her suspiciously while she was talking to Joe. Because she was trying to hide from herself the reason why he showed up in her dream, she switched and blurred their identities. Instead of her being the one sitting at Winkie’s being paranoid about Dan, she made Dan paranoid of the bum that lives behind the diner. When Dan approached the bum, he conveniently dropped dead. The reason is so that he doesn’t discover the blue box that the bum was holding, which we know symbolizes Diane’s murder of Camilla.

In short, this part of the dream was both an expression of Diane’s paranoia about “Dan” and a wish fulfillment that something happened to him before he had a chance to tell the cops anything. Dan dying at a convenient moment is also Diane thwarting the dream’s attempt at reminding her of her crime. Had the dream allowed him to encounter the bum, he would’ve seen the blue box and Diane would’ve immediately been reminded of the fact that she had killed Camilla.

Why Does Diane Imagine the Hit Man to Be an Incompetent Boob?

There are two theories. The first one is that since Diane is being pursued by detectives in connection to Camilla’s death, she thinks that the hit man may have bungled the job and given her away. So she imagines him being such a moron that he leaves behind evidence of his wrongdoing, such as the black book he had on the table at Winkie’s when he was exchanging money with her.

A second theory is that this sequence is Diane secretly hoping that Joe was such an idiot that he accidentally let Camilla go when he was trying to kill her. This is suggested in the scene where he asks a blonde woman if she’s seen any new women out on the street. He asks specifically about a battered brunette, suggesting that Camilla escaped his clutches and is now walking around bruised.

What’s the Meaning of “Silencio”? [Added 3/3/20]

The word, “silencio”–which is the spanish word for “silence”–is said many times in the third act. Clearly, it means something symbolic. But what?

It refers to death. In death, the world ceases to exist. Because there is nothing to see or hear, there is silence. When Rita starts babbling, “silencio,” during her nightmare, this is Real Life Camilla–who is dead–beginning to speak to Diane for the first time in her dream. Diane aka “Betty” tries to calm her down by saying, “It’s okay,” but Rita says, “It’s not okay.” Why is it not okay? Diane, who insists on fooling herself about Camilla being dead, has deluded herself that because she has won Rita, everything’s great now. But the dream, through Rita, resists Diane’s delusion, and now Camilla is complaining about there being “silence.”

That “silencio” means “death” is confirmed in the very last scene of the movie. What does the blue-haired lady in the theater say when Diane finally kills herself? “Silencio.”

What was the Meaning of the Blonde Wig Diane aka Betty Makes Rita Wear? [Added 3/3/20]

There are two ways to interpret Diane’s actions when she gives Rita a blonde wig. One interpretation is that Diane was a raving narcissist to such an extent that she could only love Camilla unless she could mold her in her image. Another interpretation is that Diane becomes so obsessed with Camilla that she loses her sense of identity.

My feeling is that this is yet, once again, an identity switch Diane pulls to keep the dream from reminding her of real life. When Rita sees the dead body at Sierra Bonita, she reacts with horror. Why would she take the dead body so personally that she assumes it has anything to do with her? Because the body references her. Diane (as “Betty”) doesn’t want to understand the reference (because it’s a reminder that Camilla is dead), so she forces Rita to take up her identity.

What Was Club Silencio All About? [Added 3/3/20]

Club Silencio is the most dream-like part of Diane’s dream, and the most mysterious. However, I think the explanation behind this sequence is pretty straightforward.

Before this sequence, the very thing that Diane had been yearning for throughout the entire duration of her dream finally happens. After pining for Rita for so long, her love is finally requited. All seems well and Diane couldn’t be happier. But all of a sudden, Rita starts having a nightmare in which she rattles off a bunch of phases in Spanish, including “silencio.” Diane reassures her that everything is okay. But Rita is inconsolable and says, “It’s not okay.”

Why aren’t things okay? Well, remember that a consistent pattern in Diane’s dream is to conjure up an alternative fantasy, only to have real life intrude again with a powerful reminder. Rita has a nightmare and insists, “It’s not okay,” because the dream is now reminding Diane that Rita is really Camilla, who is dead.

Rita then invites Diane to Club Silencio. Why? This is the dream’s last ditch effort to finally force her to realize that none of it is real, that it’s just a fantasy she has created. The MC of Club Silencio does this by shocking Diane/Betty with a loud lightning bolt. She trembles violently–not because she is spooked by the bolt, but because she has finally realized the horrible truth: this is all a dream.

Club Silencio is also the dream’s last ditch attempt to confront her with the death of Camilla. When the torch singer performs, “Crying,” Diane cries, too. The reason why is that the part of her that knows that Camilla is dead begins to grieve her death. So, the singer symbolizes her grief over Camilla’s death (“crying over you”) and perhaps her regret at having killed her. The singer also symbolizes Camilla’s actual death–almost near the end of her performance, she suddenly collapses to the ground, as if she has died. It is exactly at this moment when the box that belongs to the blue key that was found in Camilla’s purse appears in Diane’s bag. The key had been a mystery to Diane. But it was only a mystery because she didn’t want to remember what it stood for (her killing Camilla). Now that she’s knows, she is ready to use it, so the box for it appears.

Who is the Cowboy?

This is yet another hotly contested issue. It’s still uncertain. Some people feel that he is a manifestation of Diane’s conscience. Others, who believe in the “Diane Was Abused” theory, think he was her abuser. What is known is that she had seen him (or someone who resembled him) in real life at Adam’s party.

8 thoughts on “Yes, There’s Actually a Legit Explanation for Mulholland Drive (2001)

  1. Great analysis, however I would add that I still can’t agree with a few things: in the dream, when betty and rita see the dead body in the apartment, this is not a reference to camila being dead in real life, but a reference to the notion that diane is already contemplating suicide in real life. The reason I believe this dead body is diane and not a reference to camila being dead, is the fact that the body is not only in the same apartment complex diane lives in (the neighbour in the dream is also diane’s neighbour is real life) but also in the same bed where diane ends up killing herself (and where she is sleeping during this dream sequence). I also believe adam looking at her that way was not him feeling scared or intimidated by betty, but him seeing the “right girl” right in front of him and having to let her go because he was forced to pick someone else. This is further supported by the lyrics in the background “baby you may love me too, oh my darling if you do, why haven’t you told me”. This is also supported by her dream depiction of the other director who also rejected her for a part in real life, the clueless director during her audition scene who can’t recognize talent when he sees it. If diane’s dream tries to justify her not getting one part by portraying a director as someone incompetent, then it’s only logical that she would do the same in relation to the other part she also didn’t get, and try to justify why she didn’t get the part in adam’s film as well, as opposed to creating a revenge fantasy against him. It’s more likely to be a wishfulfilment fantasy since every other element in the dream is as well. the revenge angle on it doesn’t really fit with the rest of the elements in her dream in my opinion. other than that great analysis, probably my favourite lynch film

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  2. Regarding the dead body in the apartment, the reason why I think it’s a reference to Camilla is Rita’s reaction to seeing it. She immediately reacts with grief and then starts cutting her hair in a panic. Why would Rita do that if the body wasn’t a reference to Camilla?

    In any case, you could be right, too, that it’s a reference to Diane’s desire to kill herself. But even if it were, I’m confident that it’s also about the dream trying to remind Diane about the murder. So, that scene could be both a reference to Diane’s secret wish to commit suicide and Camilla’s actual murder.

    Regarding Adam’s gaze, I’m sorry, but I’m going have to strongly disagree with you on this one. In other parts of the movie, Lynch does get a bit “cute” in not giving the game away, but in the case of Adam and Diane/Betty, he does drop some very strong clues about what is going on there.

    For example, in the dress audition scene, there is a brief exchange between Adam and a dark-haired actress named Carol, who looks similar to Camilla. This is the actress who he had wanted in his movie all along and is the reason why he keeps flying into a rage when the studio bosses strong arm him into casting Blonde Camilla. Carol was always his first choice.

    Another clue: the timing of Betty’s arrival at the studio after the studio bosses arrive to make sure he casts Blonde Camilla. He begrudgingly accepts, says in an annoyed voice, “This is the girl,” and broods as he smokes a cigarette watching her lip sync. “This is the girl,” is what Diane says in real life when she asks Joe the Hitman to kill Camilla.

    Right after this, Betty aka Diane shows up. The timing of Adam being forced to cast Blonde Camilla, saying “This is the girl,” and then repeatedly staring at her blankly until she nervously runs away is Lynch pretty much saying that the studio bosses are really “her.” They are carrying a revenge fantasy–on her behalf–to screw with Adam, who hates Blonde Camilla because in real life, she planted a kiss on Real Camilla, suggesting to Diane that she is a love rival.

    The idea that the earlier scene with Bob Brooker has any bearing on Adam doesn’t really make sense to me, because that scene with Brooker in and of itself was enough to explain why she didn’t get the part for the Sylvia North Story. Her rationale was that he was an old, out of touch fuddy-duddy who had no idea what he was doing or talking about. That’s as good an explanation as any for why she’d get screwed out of a part, so why create this whole other elaborate scenario with these studio mob bosses screwing her out of a different part for a whole other movie?

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    1. interesting points of view, I don’t think we’ll ever get the other to agree with the opposing opinion but I think that’s kind of the point when Lynch never gives us any explanations about his films. It’s very true the dead body could be a reference to both dead camila and suicidal diane, my mind just drifts more towards it being a reference to diane’s suicide because it’s the same bed and all, even has the same green blanket by her feet if my memory is right, and rita being the one reacting to it and not betty I always saw it as a way for her dream to add another layer between her real self and the dream, so she would wake up yet. instead of her reacting directly to seeing her own dead body, her subconscious reacts through the character who is (as far as we know at that point) the one who’s called diane in the dream, so it makes sense: diane is reacting to diane’s dead body, without being too straight forward to the point she would get to aware of reality at that point (rita is also the one sitting at winkies where diane is sitting in real life when she hires the hitman). I always saw that as a way for her to indirectly react to it without getting too close to reality at that point. Of course as we move on those layers imposed by her subconscious between reality and dream get thinner and thinner until she eventually has to wake up.
      Regarding the other point, the main reason why I think that’s not a revenge fantasy and a wishfulfilment one is because I find it fits better with the themes of the story, how she feels she was sold on a giant lie we know as hollywood. She feels she was owed something from the industry, so in her dream it makes sense she would conjer up a giant conspiracy to justify her failure, more than exact revenge on a director who never even treated her poorly in real life (he just seems ignorant to the fact diane was interested in camila all the time). With adam being a succesful director and diane being obviously professionally jealous of camila and her success, it’s fair to say diane also wanted the lead role in adam’s film of course. it makes sense she would fantasize that the director wanted her instead for the lead role. There’s even someone telling betty “he’s got a project you will kill, knock right out of the park” (this is definitely also a reference to the fact she literally killed the project by killing the lead actress), but it’s also her ego boasting about how she would be great for that role if she was given the chance to show her talent, just like she did in the first audition scene. plus both are audition scenes that happen back to back so there’s a natural expectation that there would be a continuation of that motif from one scene to the other, Lynch must’ve known this would be how the scene would be perceived. Add to this the romantic music in the background about expressing love for someone when adam looks at betty, and what you have is a romantic exchange of looks and admiration. You can say this might all be misdirection from Lynch but I personally find there are too many signs pointing towards this interpretation of the scene happening at once, and fewer towards the revenge one, for that to not be the intention. Of course, just like with the dead body, it can also be true that both of these interpretations are correct, and the film was made to work on both levels who knows. I completely agree with what you said about the brunette being a representation of camilla, but that doesn’t go against my theory either, it’s like the dream is telling her adam wanted camilla for the part. Both women we see audition are camilla, so camilla would get the part anyway, unless diane had a chance to show what she’s worth. she knows (wishes) he would’ve picked her (camilla was destined to get the part due to her previous success, success which diane had none of and was never even considered for the role because of it). Another aspect that supports this theory is the overall feeling we get from the start of the film that the whole thing was a giant sick joke at diane’s expense, that she was doomed from the start, how she remembers the nice and innocent elderly couple at the start as people with malignant intent, who were setting her up for a trap in some way. continuing this rationale that she feels she was duped by everyone, it makes more sense thematically for the dream to be about her fighting against unseen massively more powerful forces that take accountability for her failure away from her, than for her to be the powerful forces themselves. hollywood is the enemy in her mind, it doesn’t make sense for me that she would see herself as hollywood itself in the dream. Even though it’s a wishfulfilment thing, there’s always elements of reality creeping in, and hollywood being the antagonist makes more sense thematically for me, it’s how someone like diane would interpret it in her subconscious.
      that’s just my opinion though, Lynch’s films will always get these differing opinions out of people I guess. and again great analysis!

      Liked by 2 people

    2. The only true character is laura, the lesbian roommate. She dreamt both camilla/rita (the brunette, the negative, impersonation of fucking your way up) and diane/betty (the blond, the positive, impersonation of succeeding thanks to your talent). Remember the guy in the dinner says there are two dreams.

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      1. I like your theory.i know it doesn’t make any sense and it can not be true. But i like it a lot

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  3. So I just had a flash tonight. What if it’s two dreams. Diane and Camilla each dreaming their own nightmare of sorts.

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