Decoding David lynch’s Mulholland Dr

The David Lynch film ‘Mulholland Dr’ is regarded as a classic and rightly so. It requires many re-watches and reveals a little more with each new watch. I went from hating the film to it becoming my favourite film of all time.

While difficult to watch, Mulholland Dr rewards the attentive viewer, allowing plenty of scope for fan theories.

I haven’t read that much in the way of fan theories about Mulholland Dr but upon my most recent re-watch, I felt a certain clarity about what is going on in this nonlinear story.

If you haven’t seen the movie, be warned, I will be going heavy on the spoilers.

In a nutshell, what we see on screen is a Lynchian ‘stream of consciousness’ from the perspective of the main character in the movie who is Diane Selwyn, played by British actress, Naomi Watts.

Although Lynch is known to be a mysterious and evasive storyteller, I find he can be pretty ‘on the nose’ at times. Take for example the Sunset Boulevard sign more or less at the start of the film. Lynch, who plays a character in Twin Peaks called Gordon Cole (a character from the Sunset Boulevard movie) references one of his favourite films with this street sign.

I noticed some glaring references to something ‘not quite being right’ in Mulholland Dr from the opening scenes. The film begins with a jitterbug competition where we see Diane as herself, something we return to much later on in the film.

In the first crucial scene, ‘Rita’ has a gun pointed at her before another car crashes into hers. The car crash is a plot device that allows ‘Rita’ aka Camilla Rhodes to enter into the consciousness of Diane Selwyn.

The infamous Winkies diner scene with Justin Theroux is Lynch’s deadly premonition. This is the beginning of a nightmare that plays back in Diane’s head throughout this story.

In the ‘This is The girl’ scene with Adam Chester, mafia-like characters coerce Adam to accept Camilla Rhodes as the lead for his new film. Here, Adam is a proxy for Diane’s desires. She wanted to be the lead actress. She projects the idea that Adam is bullied into accepting Camila. He goes home and finds his wife with another man, his finances are cut off and he receives a threat from the mysterious cowboy.

When later on, Diane as ‘Betty’ makes it to the audition and Adam reluctantly utters the words ‘this is the girl’, she runs away because she knows she doesn’t belong in this space.

Diane’s idealistic dream.

Throughout the first hour or so of Mulholland Dr, ‘Rita’ (Camilla) occupies Diane’s (Betty) apartment as an unwanted stranger in a kind of fugue state Once the audition scene finishes, we immediately jump, without explanation to a scene where Betty (Diane) and Rita (Camilla) try to locate the residence of (the real) Diane Selwyn.

The body in the apartment and Club Silencio.

In a terrifying scene, Betty and Rita discover a dead body in apartment 17. This eventually leads to the Club Silencio scene. Club Silencio notably resembles the red room in Twin Peaks and has a variety of bizarre characters not unlike the dwellers of the red room.

As I understand it, Club Silencio is a culmination of Diane’s regret at ordering the hit on Camilla What we see for the first half of the film is a dark fantasy where Diane attempts to own the narrative. Camilla enters this fantasy and slowly reclaims ownership, drawing Diane back into the reality of her actions.

Transitioning from one dream to the next.

The scenes between the dead body in the room and the key in the blue box scene appear to be transitional as we move from one ‘dream’ to another.

Camilla’s revenge and the unpleasant truth.

At first, Diane as Betty tries to repaint her life and position herself as a magnanimous helper to a helpless Camilla or ‘Rita.’ Other characters, such as Coco show disdain towards Rita but as the layers peel away in this dream, the roles are completely reversed.

The truth reveals itself In the third act of the film, Diane appears out of place, sometimes to the point that she’s not even there at all.

The scene in Adam Chester’s house is very telling. Camilla, who leads Diane by the hand to Adam’s luxurious house, teases and torments Diane while Coco treats her with the disdain that she treated Camilla in the first act. Diane then finds herself compelled to blurt out her failures. Camilla has fully taken back control of the story and this is where we get one of the few, if only glimpses of reality in the entire movie.

Diane sits in Winkies with the hapless hitman, consumed with jealousy, she pays to put a hit on Camilla. Justin Theroux stares on in abject horror before we flash to the final stages of Diane’s psychosis. We then return one last time to Club Silencio where Diane and Camilla came face-to-face after death.

The regret and jealousy of Diane.

The whole story is the gradual peeling back of a false narrative, the mind projection of a failed actress. Throughout the story, flashes of reality break through the false construct until it (reality) becomes unavoidable.

Are Mulholland Dr and Twin Peaks in the same universe?

Lynch has a tendency to re-purpose content from previous films and TV shows. He uses the same actors, possibly because they understand him well and are able to convey his ideas.

I definitely see a lot of similarities between Mulholland Dr and Twin Peaks: The Return. There are obvious similarities such as reoccurring actors like Justin Theroux who coincidentally plays a very similar role in The Return. But there’s another very big similarity between both these Lynch productions

The bitterness of failure and regret.

Mulholland Drive iss Diane Selwyn’s vision of how things should have been. Twin Peaks: The return appears to be special agent Dale Cooper’s projected desire to rewrite wrongs. In both these stories, there is a sense of failure

Diane’s idealistic dream comes to a horrible end where she is confronted by her crime and ends her life. Agent Cooper seems to get things right until he doesn’t. The doppelganger is defeated, BOB is destroyed and Cooper escapes the black lodge. He then does something that on the surface seems logical but ultimately fails.

After overcoming insurmountable odds, Agent Cooper goes into the past and tries to save Laura Palmer from death at the hands of her father. This goes horribly wrong.

The final episode of Twin Peaks takes place in a different reality with different versions of the characters in a sparse, lifeless landscape that exudes dread and terror.

Cooper seems confident right up to the end as he takes ‘Carrie’ (formerly known as Laura Palmer) to the place he knows as the Palmer household. But there is no Sarah Palmer in this house. In the closing scene, Cooper appears lost and confused, as if waking up from a slumber. We end on a terrible cliffhanger with our heroes in a state of limbo.

Both Mulholland Dr and Twin Peaks: The Return are challenging pieces of work with grim, anxiety-inducing climaxes. Both stories tell a tale of scratching beneath the surface of idealism to discover a less than savoury truth, the truth of human error. There is a cautionary tale of how circumstances lead people to make sometimes irreconcilable mistakes.

I’m not saying I’ve cracked the code to Mulholland Dr. This is where the story takes me right now. If you enjoyed this read, please reblog, share on your socials and leave a comment. Thanks for reading.

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