David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive” is probably one of the strangest movies ever made. There I’ve said it.
It’s a story of… well, that’s the question ain’t it? What’s the story about? A decade and a half have nearly passed since it came out and people are still scratching their heads over what it could it possibly mean.
A Crude Synopsis of the sensible part…
The film starts with a brunette in a car, driving up Mulholland Drive when there’s an attempt to murder her which fails, thanks to a couple of drag-racers around. She escapes, takes shelter inside the house of an old-time actress who was going away on vacation. The next morning, a blonde woman calling herself Betty (whose aunt was the owner of the house) arrives at that house and discovers the brunette. The brunette seems to have lost her memory and calls herself Rita. Together they try to uncover Rita’s real identity using various clues and whatnot. In between are various scenes involving Betty auditioning for a film and various other seemingly-unrelated parallel storylines.
Where it becomes something else entirely
The way I see it, Diane Selwyn was an aspiring actress who had dreamt of making it big in Hollywood. But soon she realized that having a knack and having real talent for acting are just NOT the same thing. She meets Camilla Rhodes, a fellow actress who’s better looking than her and apparently sleeps with directors to get herself roles.
They become friends but Diane is a lesbian and soon she develops erotic feelings for the bisexual Camilla.
Camilla invites her one day to a party, and humiliates her in front of her director and his mother. She publicly makes out with the director in order to infuriate Diane and the plan works. Frustrated, Diane contacts a hitman and pays him 50k to kill off Camilla. The hitman shows her a blue key and tells her that when the job is done, she’ll find the key again. The plan works, Camilla is killed off and soon Diane finds the key in her apartment table.
Overridden by guilt, she falls into a sort-of hypnotic dreamlike trance (or she’s just probably asleep). And it’s in her dream that the first quarterly narrative of the film is conceived. She regrets her decision to murder Camilla and hence in her dream we see an alternate ending to the planned hit… Camilla escaping thanks to some drag-racers.
We must remember that Diane was sexually attracted to Camilla and hence their first encounter aptly shows Camilla naked inside a shower. Also, Diane reacts very friendly to Camilla instead of freaking out on seeing her. Really, when you enter a house and you’ve been told by EVERYONE that it’s empty and you suddenly find a naked brunette in the shower… do you really not panic for even a second? Or do you just naively welcome her and talk to her? Again, a sign that it was lustful dreamland where loads of stuff are expectedly weird.
The part where Diane/Betty auditions for the film and simply stuns the directors and producers with her acting, is just a restatement of Diane’s original ambitions: to become famous and be a fantastic actress. The scenes where director Kesher is FORCED to accept the actress Camilla Rhodes are just Diane’s brain in denial mode: in her dream, she tries to convince herself that Kesher was NOT in love with Camilla and that she wasn’t a great actress either… that she got the part simply because the situations were such.
After Diane’s audition, as she’s led to director Kesher to try out for the role, we see the director looking very interestedly at her… and this is Diane trying to imagine a world where the tables are turned; where she is the one having an affair with the director. But the idea doesn’t materialize as a conflict soon arises… one part of her tries to dream that the director was forced to accept Camilla and the other one tries for the Diane-director love story leading to Diane’s casting. Sadly both theories can’t work and the former eventually triumphs, but the conflict forces Diane to abandon the scene… as she escapes the movie-set and goes forth on her adventure with Rita to uncover her identity.
In a parallel scene we are shown Kesher (the director) entering his house only to find his wife cheating on him. And this was probably just an outcome of the anger Diane had felt for Kesher when he had fallen for Camilla and given her the role… thus, in a way, ‘cheating’ on her.
Hence in her dream, Diane has revenge. Returning back to the main storyline, Betty and Rita are now going to visit a woman named “Diane Selwyn”, a name that Rita suddenly remembers.
They find her house locked and as they break into the house, they find a corpse on the bed… dead and decayed. They return home shocked and they get Rita a blonde wig to disguise her. Now at this point, the disguise may seem really unnecessary… no one actually came hunting for a brunette involved in an accident and the housekeeper Coco could care less as to whether Betty’s companion was blonde or brunette… she just wanted to get her out.
So why the wig? Again, as is often the case in dreams, trivialities often get blown way out of proportion and it’s just probably Diane’s protective instinct towards Camilla that makes her do it… that maybe if she changes her ‘identity’, places a wig on her head, the world (read: Director Kesher) would no longer be trying to snatch her away from Diane… she’d be a NEW person entirely.
This is followed by an impressively shot lesbian-sex scene, and then Rita starts talking (in her sleep?): “No hay banda. No hay orquestra. Silencio. Silencio.” As if in a trance, Rita gets into the streets and reaches a place (theater?) named “Silencio” as Betty follows. Now this part is probably the creepiest of the entire film, as a terrifying man onstage repeatedly demonstrates how there’s no band onstage (“No hay banda”), and yet music is playing… no orchestra can be seen (“No hay orquestra”) and yet we hear trombones, flutes, pipes. A Spanish singer then takes stage and right in the middle of the song, she faints but the song keeps going. “It’s all recorded” says the man onstage.
This is probably Diane’s brain finally trying to be realistic about the situation and blaring out the message, “MOVE ON”. That all of our actions, our destinies are predetermined (“It’s all recorded.”) and that no matter who quits or who dies, the song of Life simply keeps going on and on.
We cannot see the bands or musicians in front of our eyes, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no music. Suddenly, without explanation, a blue box is found inside Betty’s handbag. The both of them rush home in order to figure out the box. As Rita takes out her purse and the key, Betty vanishes nowhere. Rita puts the key in the box and the screen is suddenly warped out and re-appears, now in realtime.
Reality Pt. 2:
This marks the end of Diane/Betty’s dream. There’s a scene where the cowboy from earlier comes and tells her that it’s time to “wake up”. As she wakes up, she comes to her table, takes up her cup of espresso (yep, same damn cup from that scene) and again notices the blue key, again plunging into her own sense of guilt and shame.
In a parallel scene we are shown the homeless man/monster handling the box and letting loose miniature figures of the old couple who had accompanied Betty to LA. They were probably judges of that jitterbug contest which Diane won. And Diane hallucinates them entering her room, their devilish smiles pasted on their faces, and she’s driven to insanity and she takes her life.
They reminded her of her past innocence which probably further heightened her sense of dread and guilt. Previously we were shown a parallel scene (during the dream sequence) of a man inside the Winkies’ restaurant who meets the man/monster outside. The monster possibly represents all evil and his reappearances suggest how really thin the line is between innocence and evil and even though we hope to never face it… it may just be lurking around the corner. As was the case for Diane, who was driven to murder her lover Camilla out of jealousy.
They say that we often have premonitions of the things to come, in our dreams and most certainly, Diane ‘sees’ her own self dead lying on her own bed in her dream. She recycles and reuses the faces and people she sees in reality to effectively design her dream… as she sees the bag with the 50k she paid to kill Camilla off, with Rita, along with the key, she proposes to ‘hide it away safely’… again an attempt to cover up her sense of guilt as symbolized by the money.
The blonde waiter who kisses Camilla during that party with Kesher, becomes Camilla Rhodes herself in Diane’s dream. And when the hitman first shows Diane the blue key and she asks the hitman the use of the key and what it unlocks… he laughs almost maniacally as if it was some sick joke… and Diane’s brain twists and convolutes it as to make the key open a “box of horrors”.
Indeed, it is the box itself which shatters Diane’s dreamland and later on, unleashes the ‘old couple’ who drive her to suicide. As if symbolically, the object that confirmed Camilla’s death also finalised Diane’s suicide. It was to happen, it had to happen and did happen… because it was all recorded, all taped. At the very end, the spooky figure from the theatre utters “silencio” i.e. Silence, indicating the film’s conclusion and end as well as Diane’s life… silenced forever.
It’s a brilliantly made film, one that keeps you at the edge and gets your pulse racing and your brain into knots. The storyline dwarfs everything but the background score, acting and direction are equally praiseworthy. Everyone involved in this film does an amazing job and therefore, apart from being a mind-numbing film, Mulholland Drive is a surreal, stunningly beautiful, complex and captivating work of art.