Why Mulholland Drive is still my all-time favourite film.

This review contains spoilers

If you know me, chances are I’ve probably mentioned David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive to you and how much I love it.
I must have been 16 the first time I watched it. I discovered it through “The 100 Scariest Movie Scenes of All Time” on Retrocrush,
a website owned by American comedian and writer Robert Berry. It used to be one of my go-to sites for film reviews and,
at the time, funny pop culture articles. For a long time, the shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho claimed the No.1 spot. 
However, in 2007, it was replaced with the Winkie’s Diner scene in Mulholland Drive.


I had never heard of Mulholland Drive. Or David Lynch, for that matter. I found a clip of the scene on YouTube - and I was blown
away. 
I thought it was genius. In this scene, minor character Dan tells his friend Herb about a dream he had about the diner. He
remembers being terrified because there was a man hiding behind a wall at the back of the building, with a face Dan hoped he
would never see “ever, outside of a dream”. Herb and Dan then go to investigate the back of the building. Even though you know
exactly what’s going to happen, you still feel every ounce of dread Dan is feeling as he slowly walks over to see what’s behind the
wall… I knew then that I had to watch the rest of the film.
Ten years later, I still think that Mulholland Drive is a captivating and fascinating experience. It’s a mesmerising dream, a terrifying
nightmare and an unsolved mystery.

The film’s main plot line focuses on a mysterious brunette (played by Laura Elena Harring) who can’t remember who she is after
surviving a car crash. She introduces herself as Rita, after seeing a poster of the Rita Hayworth film Gilda, a subtle clue about her
character’s nature in the second half of the film.
Betty (played by Naomi Watts, undoubtedly the film’s standout performance) is a bright-eyed aspiring Hollywood actress. After
finding Rita, who had sneaked into Betty’s aunt’s apartment during her absence, she begins trying to help her work out what
happened on the night she lost her memory and who she really is. Meanwhile, a second storyline concerns Adam (played by Justin
Theroux), a film director who is forced by two mobsters - and a mysterious cowboy -  to cast an actress named Camilla Rhodes in
the lead role of his upcoming film. Later on, after Betty finds a blue box which Rita opens with a blue key that she had found in her
handbag, everything suddenly changes.

After Rita opens the blue box, we see Naomi Watts wake up in the apartment that Rita thought was hers. Watts is now playing
Diane Selwyn (Rita thought that this might have been her real name during the film’s first half). She is a failed actress, who is left
empty and heartbroken after her lover Camilla Rhodes (who Laura Elena Harring now portrays) leaves her for Adam. Diane attends
a house party hosted by Adam and has to watch as he dotes on Camilla. Camilla even kisses the actress who portrayed Camilla
Rhodes in the film’s first half (Melissa George, who looks a lot like Naomi Watts incidentally). In the next scene, Diane meets a hit
man at Winkie’s, showing him Camilla’s photo resume and handing over a stack a money, presumably with the intention of having
Camilla killed. The hit man shows Diane a blue key, almost identical to the one used to open the blue box, saying to her “When it’s 
done, you’ll find this where I told you.” When Diane asks the hit man what the key opens, he just laughs at her. Later on, possibly
that night, we see the man from Dan’s dream (credited as “The Bum”) behind the wall at the back of the diner. He has the blue box.
After dropping it, two tiny figures, an elderly couple who Betty had met at Los Angeles airport in the film’s first half, emerge from the
box. They are shrieking with high-pitched, hysterical laughter. We see Diane sitting on her sofa. The hit man's blue key is on her
coffee table. We then hear a knocking at her door. It gets louder and louder. The miniature elderly couple crawl into her apartment
from underneath the door. Diane is then chased and terrorised by the couple, now their original height, who continue shrieking with
laughter as she screams. Diane finds a gun in her bedroom, points it to her head and kills herself.

After several viewings, it became clear to me how the film’s first half could be interpreted as Diane’s dream. This is already a very
popular theory; it’s even mentioned on the film’s Wikipedia page. Betty is clearly an idealised version of who Diane wants to be.
Her wholesome, one-dimensionally cheerful nature almost has the creepy, robotic quality of a Stepford wife. It’s also worth
mentioning that the very first time Betty sees Rita is while she is naked in her aunt’s shower. Rita is injured and helpless, the
antithesis of Camilla in the film’s second half - and Betty’s sexual attraction to Rita could have been present from the very beginning.
The distinctions between Betty and Rita almost seem blurred at times: Rita becomes convinced that Diane Selwyn is her real
name. As mentioned earlier, the actress who plays Camilla Rhodes during Diane’s dream looks a lot like Diane. During an audition
Betty attends, her co-actor (Chad Everett) leers at her. He tells the director “I want to play this one close, like with the other girl” who
he describes as having black hair. Camilla/Rita of course, is a brunette. This blurring of identities is especially obvious when Betty
gives Rita a blonde wig to wear after they find a dead body (Diane’s?) in Diane’s apartment. This suggests that Diane longed to care
for Camilla and maybe even take control of her - but I think you could also interpret these moments as Diane’s underlying jealousy
of Camilla’s success and how much she wanted to be just like her.

The dream’s subplot in which Adam is forced to cast Camilla Rhodes in his film could be Diane’s subconscious way of justifying
Camilla’s success - as something beyond her or anyone else’s control.

I think it’s also worth talking about The Bum’s role in all of this. If we interpret the events that occur in Diane’s dream as following
dream logic, perhaps that infamous diner scene could represent Diane’s deep-rooted feelings of dread and fear. Maybe she
anticipated her eventual downfall. This is supported by the fact that The Bum shows up later when he drops the blue box and the
elderly couple emerge from it to find Diane. I think the film’s final scene is a hallucination; the elderly couple had wished Betty luck
with her acting career after she arrived in LA. It was her feelings of failure, shame (the couple laughing at her) and guilt from the
death of Camilla that lead to her taking her own life. A new thing I picked up on from my most recent viewing is that The Bum is
actually played by a woman (Bonnie Aarons). During the film’s final moments we see a brightly lit shot of Camilla and Diane happy
together, superimposed over LA’s skyline. This is then followed by a close up of The Bum’s face. We can see that The Bum has
blue eyes, like Diane’s. Is he (or she) the embodiment of everything Diane is afraid of becoming?


However, despite all my reasons for thinking that the first half of the film is a dream, the more I think about it, the more I find myself
wondering whether or not the second half of the film really is supposed to be interpreted as Diane’s consciousness. Diane’s dream
features several dissolve transitions and at times feels amateur film-esque; the film is noticeably overexposed, giving the shots a
dreamlike glow, and the handheld camerawork makes it almost feel like a home movie. This is contrasted by the second half’s
mostly stationary shots and Diane’s dark, dreary apartment. Furthermore, the dream follows a linear narrative, but the second half
doesn’t. The second half begins after Camilla’s murder (the blue key is on the coffee table and Diane’s neighbour tells her two
detectives are looking for her), followed by Diane and Camilla kissing on the sofa before Camilla abruptly ends the relationship,
which then leads to Diane watching as Adam kisses Camilla during the shooting of his film. This half of the film also uses
unfocused shots that slowly come into focus as scene transitions. Is Diane still asleep? Or are these vignettes of her life flashing
before her eyes as she takes her own life?

There are still so many questions I have about this film. To this day, I still don’t know if The Cowboy's character is supposed to have
any deeper significance (in the dream he warns Adam that he’ll see him once if he does good and twice if he does bad. In the
second half of the film we see him again twice). Not to mention the small-headed man who eavesdrops on all the conversations
concerning Adam casting Camilla Rhodes in his film. Or the mysterious blue haired woman who sits in a box above the stage of
Club Silencio.

I know a few people who haven’t had good experiences watching this film; arguing that they found it too confusing or weird for
weirdness’ sake.
To me, Mulholland Drive is like a Rubik's Cube. As soon as you feel like you’ve got a grasp of the film’s true meaning, you notice
something new, which complicates any interpretations you might have had. But that is why I love Mulholland Drive and always find
myself coming back to it. Regardless of whether this is your first viewing or your tenth, it has such a unique, seductive atmosphere;
with its dreamy, hazy shots of LA and that magnificent score by Lynch’s long-time collaborator Angelo Badalamenti. Without fail,
I always notice something new each time I see it and it lingers with me for the rest of the day - two signs of a truly great film.

Mulholland Drive was originally conceived as a TV series, intended for the American ABC television network. However, the network
was unhappy with Lynch’s pilot episode and chose not to include it in its schedule. Objections included the nonlinear storyline and
the ages of Harring and Watts (whom they considered too old). The script was later rewritten when Lynch decided to transform it into a
feature film. We can only speculate what a Mulholland Drive TV series would have been like.

According to an interview with David Sterritt, David Lynch insisted that Mulholland Drive “does tell a coherent, comprehensible story”. On the other hand, Justin Theroux once mentioned that Lynch “loves it when people come up with really bizarre interpretations."

Regardless of whether or not Mulholland Drive was rewritten with a “coherent, comprehensible story” in mind, or deliberately left as an
unfinished project, with many loose ends that could have been developed further, I am reminded of the Club Silencio scene which
takes place before Diane “wakes up”. Betty and Rita watch as a sinister MC repeatedly says “No hay banda!” “There is no band.”
“Il n'est pas de orchestre.” Acts including a trumpet player and a singer seemingly perform live, but are then revealed to be miming
along to a tape recording. Perhaps this scene epitomises what Mulholland Drive is all about. As audience members, we desperately
look for meaning and logic in what we see. Maybe we are convincing ourselves that we can make sense of the experience, when really
there is no band. It is all an illusion.

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