I’m looking over the threads on the topic of Mulholland Drive, and the one I remember being a really good discussion thread seems to have disappeared. So, I wanted to devote this thread to the “newbies” and some of the veterans who could assist those still trying to dissect the film. David Lynch provided 10 clues to unlocking this thriller in the DVD. This is apparently the key to understanding this film. Let’s see how many can answer all 10, or if we can get all 10 answered. The clues are:
1) Pay particular close attention in the beginning of the film: at least two clues are revealed before the credits.
2) Notice appearances of the red lampshade.
3) Can you hear the title of the film that Adam Kesher is auditioning actresses for? Is it mentioned again?
4) An accident is a terrible event . . . notice the location of the accident.
5) Who gives a key, and why?
6) Notice the robe, the ashtray, the coffee cup.
7) What is felt, realized and gathered at the club Silencio?
8) Did talent alone help Camilla?
9) Note the occurrences surrounding the man behind Winkies.
10) Where is Aunt Ruth?
1) Pay particular attention in the beginning of the film: at least two clues are revealed before the credits. The red comforter and pillows, upon which Diane will later awake, and Betty/Diane’s appearance with the elderly travelers seen later in the film, who may be her parents or grandparents.
2) Notice appearances of the red lampshade. First time: Nobody answers the telephone next to it, but the final ring carries over into the next shot, where we are introduced to Betty for the first time. Second time: When Rita/Camilla calls Betty/Diane to tell her that the car is right outside to take her to Mulholland Dr.*
3) Can you hear the title of the film that Adam Kesher is auditioning actresses for? Is it mentioned again? The film is entitled “The Sylvia North Story.” We hear the name again at the dinner scene at Adam’s house, when it is revealed that Diane auditioned for a part in the film, but lost it to Camilla.
4) An accident is a terrible event… notice the location of the accident. Mulholland Drive is the location of Rita’s accident in the dream sequence, whereas in real life the limo ride culminated in the dinner party where Camilla and Adam Kesher announced their engagement in front of Diane.
5) Who gives a key, and why? The hit man gives it to Betty/Diane, to inform her that the job is done.
6) Notice the robe, the ashtray, the coffee cup. The robe turns into a pair of cutoffs, the empty ashtray wasn’t there before, and the coffee cup turns into a glass of iced tea (or a glass of scotch on the rocks), as Betty/Diane walks towards the couch with Rita/Camilla in it. This indicates that the scene has seamlessly segued into a flashback, as we see Diane give the same ashtray back to her neighbor just a few minutes earlier in the film.
7) What is felt, realized and gathered at the club Silencio? Sadness, that everything is an illusion, and that Betty/Diane has the blue box, and Rita/Camilla had the key to that box.
8) Did talent alone help Camilla? No. It is strongly implied that she is sleeping with the director. In Diane’s dream interpretation, a vast mob conspiracy is behind a girl named “Camilla Rhodes,” while her own dream persona is the one who appears to have real talent. Diane feels the world is against her, and an unfair collusion behind the scenes kept her from the part in The Sylvia North Story (see clue #3.)
9) Notice the occurrences surrounding the man behind Winkies. The dream comes true, except it’s day, not “half-night.” The significance of the location is that in real life, the restaurant was where Diane arranged to have her lover killed. In her dream of the events, a monster lurks there, described as being “the one who’s doing it.” Subconsciously, she associates the location with something terrible. When the man in her dream comes face to face with the monster, which he believed to be a dream of his own, the realization that it is really there causes him to drop dead from shock, prefiguring Diane’s own breakdown and suicide when she confronts her actions.
10) Where is Aunt Ruth? She’s working on a film in Canada in Diane’s dream. In reality, she’s dead.
Ho hum. All these answers and solutions to questions unworth answering and puzzles not worth solving.
No offense to Lynch, but these make his movie seem like those schoolhouse or bookclub editions of classics that felt like they were written by people turning the piece so didactic that it disallows the work to speak for itself.
Lynch’s movies, I find, become significantly less complicated when you stop asking “What does it mean” and start asking “What is it about?” Significant difference? Well, a little bit. Lost Highway is about a man who murders his wife and is forced to take on a different identity in order to come to terms with it himself. The multiple identities allows him to uncover his own motivations (the wife was involved with mobsters), confront his guilt (the Mystery Man always lays it out on him, “You invited me” “You: Who the fuck are you?”) and also escape his own head, which is split amongst various impulses (shown from the beginning). What does it “mean”? Well, the symbolism is open to interpretation. Eraserhead is about a man who has premarital sex with a woman who gives birth to a drastically premature baby. What does it “mean”? Well Lynch says he was struggling with industrial society, one commentator points out that the baby looks like a deformed penis and is penis-guilt, another says it’s about the fear and alienation of giving birth for the first time…. All have their logic.
It’s not that meaning is so open that it can mean anything, but meaning is what is found. Lynch is actually one of the best operators of that mode, and he’s created, at this point, a personal visual grammar that gets more and more recognizable each time he makes a movie (Woops, there’s those red curtains again…). The keys he mentions don’t seem to be really “the keys” but some of the more specific visual notes he had in mind, whereas others work as well for the same end (after all, if those keys were the only important ones, then the movie wouldn’t need to be as long as it was!). For instance, when Diane is at her audition—lay this on Naomi Watts underappreciated acting skills, but for one shot we see two characters, actors, becoming someone completely different, and the shot holds on this moment as if escaping into another movie for a little while. This shot alone, without even worrying too readily about what the dialog actually is and just paying attention to the performances and the length of the take, shows that identity for actors is mutable and expressive of underlying passions in the people who could almost fall into their characters and disappear if the camera never cut. Lo and behold, that one single shot became an entire movie later with Inland Empire.
So sorry Lynch, I’m not gonna go with a checklist and mark off each thing you’ve listed to “understand” your movie.
I feel like part of the issue with Mulholland Dr is, as complete as it is and how much it does work as an individual movie, it was still supposed to be a television series and not all that was put into it got to be fully developed. So Lynch may feel it is more necessary to draw attention to the parts that he was able to take and finish with as opposed to the parts (like the Cowboy, anybody?) that really needed some more development. The scene at the Silencio marks the line between what was developed for the series and what became the movie, and that modal change is felt, at least by me. I think Mulholland Dr. is a great save, but not his most fully functioning movie (whereas others seem to really like it because it starts off a lot more accessibly and more slowly delves into the subconscious, as opposed to others like Lost Highway and Eraserhead that just start with the weirdness from the beginning).
Thanks Ben for digging up the IMDB stuff.
Anyone want to take a stab at the appearances of Betty/Diane’s creepily happy parents at beginning and end of film and what it symbolized?
@ ROSCOE: Come on! You didn’t think it was just a teeny weeny bit fun?
@Lester: Cool opening credits. I liked the lip-synch scene. The rest is self-indulgent shite.
:-( Well, ok. I can see your argument about the self indulgence, but that’s just Lynch. I just got a kick out of that Cowboy, though. Part of the adoration I have for Lynch is his bizarre hokiness.
Yes thanks Ben.! I had tried to figure the clues out myself while watching but have never actually done any kind of researching on the internet..very cool stuff. Anyway, all you haters on here with your moronic comments can go take a flying leap, ya bunch of asses. lol.
I love this film but I don’t get the obsession some people have to ‘solve’ it. It can not be solved. It’s a film experience where you intuitively grasp the meaning, but it can’t be explained in ‘real world’ terms.
I think the clues Lynch provides in the dvd case are just to give people some general guidance on the things that have more meaning then others.
@Lester, I don’t really see that “self-indulgence” is particularly Lynch, and that’s what I found so annoying about MULHOLLAND and the follow-up, the slightly less ghastly INLAND EMPIRE. He’s got two strikes now, if he blows it a third time he’ll be off my must-see list for good.
At least I’ll always have ERASERHEAD to remind me of why I used to value David Lynch.
@ L WEST: I do believe this is one Lynch film that can be explained in “real world” terms, as you say. The theme of murder over jealousy and Hollywood as a machine that chews people up and spits them out resonates, but I do agree with you that some things must be left to our own interpretaions, which is characteristic of Lynch’s work. Whether Lynch provided the clues as a way to help viewers piece together a work that may have been left too cryptic to its course alteration (TV series to feature film), or whether he did it on a whim just to be fun, who knows? One thing is certain: It was totally uncharacteristic of him to do that. He’s a guy that HATES discussing his films, therefore, him pointing fans in a direction to help them interpret or analyze his film just seems so un-Lynch-like. Either way, I embrace it. I just go with the flow, as I’m sure Lynch does as well.
The parents when they appear at the beginning are creepily happy because they speak to the stressful and disturbing nature of “living up to expectations” when such a optimistic and passionate young woman is trying to become, you know, A MOVIE STARBANGPOP! It’s a dream that gets handed down with big, vacuous smiles that then becomes haunting and unhinged as it’s let out of the bag of a virulent hobos dreams and starts to infect the decay of hope inside yourself, until you’re spinning spinning spinning in your room not able to escape their grins and you shoot yourself in the face to end it all.
@Lester Hmm. I see Lost Highway, Mulholland and Inland Empire all having a similar device of people inexplicably becoming someone else with no explanation. This to me is pure surrealism (also used by Bunuel in ‘Obscure Object of Desire’) and simply can’t be explained in ‘real world’ terms…
…unless the ‘it was all just a dream!’ or ’she’s insane and we are seeing the world from her POV!’ which I don’t want to accept as explanations. Too reductive and simple.
Drawing by numbers? No, thanks. I agree with Polarisdib that David Lynch diminishes his own film. I privilege directors who can let a work speak for itself, and am not willed to follow these instructions.
Any effort to “explain” the movie is pure nonsense. Lynch, as always, made it deliberately cryptic and open to virtually any interpretation. In fact films don’t have to comply with common sense and logic. Bending the rules is so much more fun. Lynch does that all the time and I think he gets a kick out of the frustrated attempts to decypher his works.
“At least I’ll always have ERASERHEAD to remind me of why I used to value David Lynch.”
AND HIS SHORT FILMS :)
“…unless the ‘it was all just a dream!’ or ’she’s insane and we are seeing the world from her POV!’ which I don’t want to accept as explanations. Too reductive and simple.”
Insanity in text is never insanity, and the reductiveness and simplicity of it belies its usefulness for semiotics. Insanity in real life is simply not as interesting as in stories: stories project social concerns, untrustworthy narrators, themes of authority, and conspiracy theory onto the faces of the insane, even in documentary (thinking of Wiseman’s Titticut Follies here). EVEN if we reduced Mulholland Dr. to “She was just dreaming about this chick she loved who stole her job”, it doesn’t change the nature of what could be read into the text using Lynch’s symbolism. For instance, I read commentary on Hollywood glamour and the destructiveness of fame from two pieces of content, the interview and the parents’ appearances, even when Lynch tries to direct my attentions to specific narrative devices that specify the relationship between the two women.
These things can be talked about because the content is there to be engaged with, even if the movie is operating on a surreal level that sort of upsets our expectations of narrative and thematic meaning. That’s why “trying to get Lynch” can be so annoying, when just sitting back and “experiencing Lynch” tends to be more useful. However, “experiencing Lynch” can give you stuff to discuss, logically and in words, that can help people “trying to get Lynch” “get it” by referring to the content and showing an association between symbols. As I mentioned, he has also developed his own codified language that viewers become more fluent in with each progressing movie. Ultimately, you can understand him, but you’ll start to do so in his own language. It becomes harder to express that language to others, so that difficulty makes it seem as if there’s less value in discussing his works thematically.
At least give him some credit, it’s at least as sophisticated as this:
No hay banda.
@ POLARISDIB: “The parents when they appear at the beginning are creepily happy because they speak to the stressful and disturbing nature of “living up to expectations” when such a optimistic and passionate young woman is trying to become, you know, A MOVIE STARBANGPOP! It’s a dream that gets handed down with big, vacuous smiles that then becomes haunting and unhinged as it’s let out of the bag of a virulent hobos dreams and starts to infect the decay of hope inside yourself, until you’re spinning spinning spinning in your room not able to escape their grins and you shoot yourself in the face to end it all.”
“For instance, I read commentary on Hollywood glamour and the destructiveness of fame from two pieces of content,”
seriously though, who the fuck wants to see a creative artist like Lynch ‘comment’ on such prosaic topics? When a guy like Lynch starts delving into such boring subjects, to me it’s a sign the well is dry imo.
The basic plot is very simple. It’s the part we see at the end, and the first part is a dream of hers created by her mind inventing a scenario Camilla could have possibly survived the hit she placed on her. I went more into detail in another thread, but that’s the one sentence reduction. The main plot is hardly the point of the film. The film presents a Hollywood automaton which does what it wants, and everything we see is illusory. Nothing is the product of anyone’s free will. Chasing the ‘Big Hollywood breakthrough’ is a cutthroat process that has little to do with talent or fairness, and if you fall into the trap of basing your self-worth on making it, you’re going to destroy yourself.
David Lynch should release jigsaw puzzles and let the real artists carry on with the film directing.
@ JIRIN: I’m in agreement with you. I don’t know why so many say this film is beyond interpretation. It’s one of Lynch’s more straight-forward films, surrealistic as it may be. It only took two viewings before I had this same analysis buttoned down.
“seriously though, who the fuck wants to see a creative artist like Lynch ‘comment’ on such prosaic topics? When a guy like Lynch starts delving into such boring subjects, to me it’s a sign the well is dry imo.”
Aha. Two reasons for why one might want to see it (when, for instance, it’s just opinion if the subject is boring or not).
1) As mentioned, Lynch has developed his own language, and that language was well developed by the time Mulholland Dr. came out. Part of the fascination isn’t simply just the topic itself, but the artist’s engagement in it. In this case, Lynch takes his multiple identity in revealed underground fascination ( Blue Velvet , Lost Highway ) and points out how violent, dangerous, and above all schizophrenic Hollywood can be. The topic becomes, then, purely Lynch.
2) Sure, everyone makes a movie about how bad awful Hollywood is and the American Dream grumblecoptor snuff bucks, but Lynch’s fascination is in the schizophrenic personality of the dream itself, and how the mere act of wanting to become a “famous actress” is almost an invitation to destroy identity and reason (by the way, this movie does come after a woman in Hollywood set out a hit on another actress to get a job. I forget the details, but my coworker told me about it so I’ll ask him and bring those details back). This is not a topic that I would consider prosaic, as the divide between personality and actions is incredibly fluid and dynamic, as is the divide between overworld and underworld.
^^to me the film just felt stale,and all the visual ideas were rehashed from better films he made in the 80’s and 90’s. Critics loved it because it was easier to follow than Lost Highway or Fire Walk With Me. nobody can engage with the idea of celebrity in an interesting way anymore imo. not lynch, not anyone. it’s done for me.
M.Drive felt like a Lynch best of reel without any great moments of its own. if that makes sense. i preferred Inland Empire, because at least in that instance, the film felt somewhat different, even if it didn’t always work.
Again, Mulholland Drive was supposed to be something bigger than it became. It is more like a good save than a complete representation of what he was trying to do. However, if it doesn’t work for you, I’m not going to argue that point. I think he manages to pull of his own message and style despite the circumstances, which is where I find it most interesting. Beyond that… meh.
Inland Empire is, in fact, an experimental film. It wasn’t meant to be a whole movie at first, but a collection of shorts shot with video in the collaborative “on the spot” mode, that eventually started having similar themes and ideas running through it that Lynch finally decided he’d just bridge together and create a full work out of. I agree with you, despite its parts that didn’t work, it was different and interesting. Again, back to personal filmic language, it’s like he had established the grammar and then let himself babble on with it for a while just to see what came out.
When you put all of lynch’s clues together it means one thing: she’s dreaming. her dream ends when the cowboy tells her to wake up. the cowboy is just some curious guy she saw walking by at the dinner party where she decided she wanted Camilla dead. Isn’t that how dreams work? Random people and events that we remember from our day make their way into our dreams in unpredictable and often undecipherable ways? In reality, she feels scorned by Camilla, and she feels the whole world is against her. So she puts a hit on Camilla. The guy gives her a key to tell her when the job is done, which we see on the coffee table when Diane wakes up, meaning the dream she had probably didn’t happen long after she got the key. Her guilt and emotions are eating at her, which is where the dream begins (time jumps around in this movie, if you haven’t noticed). When the phone rings in the house, she then flashbacks to the call she received from Camilla that prompted her to go to the dinner party. When her parents appear to terrorize her, it is a representation of how ashamed of herself she is. Her anxiety is also building to a crescendo, since she knows that detectives are on to her, since the girl she switched apartments with tells her they came by. Isn’t that what happens when you do something very wrong, and you realize people are onto you? Your own shame and anxiety start to boil over? The sequence after she shoots herself is just the remnants of her consciousness floating away.
It’s a really messed up movie the first time you watch it, but don’t say it doesn’t make sense. Lynch isn’t kidding when he says the movie does, in fact, have a coherent plot. All of the “nonsense” in the movie happens during her dreams. That is how dreams work, weird shit happens that we can’t explain. They are just some of the many hints that she is, in fact, dreaming.