Mulholland Drive is one of the more famous roads in the Los Angeles area. The road is named after William Mulholland, the man who brought water to Los Angeles at the expense of the Owens Valley. Built in the 1920s, as Los Angeles was expanding under its newly-found (stolen) water, the highway was created as a scenic drive, intended to be similar to the Blue Ridge Parkway of the Shenandoah Mountains (thanks Ereneta).

The road begins at PCH to the east of Malibu, where it quickly ascends a steep canyon to the top of the rocky backbone of the Santa Monica Mountains. From there it twists and turns along this ridge, offering many scenic views of the ocean to the west and the hilly country to the east. After a while it travels along the edge of Malibu Canyon State Park and continues to the east.

Somewhere along the way, between Malibu Canyon and the 405 freeway, the road loses its pavement. Supposedly, this area is off-limits to the public, although I have not tried to access it. Also inaccessable are fire roads associated with Mulholland farther east, near the Hollywood sign. East of the 405, Mulholland meanders through mansions in the Hollywood Hills before eventually landing near Universal Studios.

Update: The section of Mulholland between Topanga Canyon and the 405 freeway is indeed accessible. However, it is closed to automobile traffic (with the notable exception of the lucky few, like myself, who work for the Park Service). Anyone is free to hike, bike, or ride a horse along the road, which offers excellent views of the Valley and Topanga State Park.

Film directed by David Lynch, creator of TV series Twin Peaks as well as the films Dune, Blue Velvet, The Elephant Man, Lost Highway, and The Straight Story, amongst others. Originally pitched as a TV series to ABC; upon its rejection, France based film company Studio Canal provided funding to complete shooting. Using material from the show's pilot, the film was completed and released on October 12, 2001.

The film is reminiscent of the Coen brothers' The Big Lebowski, as well as Lynch's own Blue Velvet and Lost Highway. This is my own personal favorite of Lynch's works, as it has been the most intellectually rewarding and stimulating.

Warning: Some spoilers below. Do not read ahead if you haven't seen the film.

My interpretation of the film is as follows : First off, Betty, Diana, and the blonde Camilla are all one character, representative of talent. Rita and the brunette Camilla (played by the same actress) represent beauty. The first half of the film is a day dream of Betty, who at first naively thinks that talent is all one needs to get by in Hollywood. Betty sees herself as both talented and beautiful. This combination is represented by the blonde Camilla (notice the audition scene, where Betty watches herself - this is comparable to the masturbation later in the film).

Rita, or the real Camilla, begins the film with amnesia. Both she and Diana believe that beauty and talent can merge. This results in the film's lesbian sex scenes, which at first appear quite inappropriate. Talent also tries to show beauty that she is dead, by leading her to the rotting corpse. After the "shift" in the film, the silencio scene, we actually find that it is talent who is dead. After the shift, the movie is similar to a very realistic nightmare

At this point, Diana is dichotomized into a success (the dinner party) and a failure (Diana as prostitute at Winkie's), both of which are equally plausible, and both of which yield only unhappiness. The love scenes get much more dramatic and surreal, until finally they end altogether. We find that, in Hollywood, beauty wins.

Talent tries to fight back, however. She hires the hitman/cowboy (who represents Diana's simplistic sense of justice - note that he works for the gansters, who guarantee the blonde Camilla/Betty a role) to kill beauty. The film at this point loops back chronologically to the beginning, where the gangsters attempt to kill Rita. The teenagers represent the mindless masses of pop culture, who allow beauty to forget that she has no talent and rescue her from death, setting the story in motion.

Finally, the sketchy parts. Winkie's represents the real, existentialistic (existentialism) version of Hollywood, and the two men who talk at the beginning are the totality of people. The hobo represents our new, modernist (modernism god/existentialistic force, and the blue box is entropy/time/age, something which destroys both talent and beauty.

All of these things make up a commentary on the facade which is Hollywood; an empty, untalented, pretty picture.

In retrospect, I have no idea why this movie reminded my of The Big Lebowski (I think the Cowboy and the humor). Just thought that I'd mention that.

My real reason for this little addition is to comment on the idea of the ending being a flashback. Not to say that I disagree with Edame or Walter, but rather I just wanted to point out that in Lost Highway, one of Lynch's other surrealistic romps, the movie indeed is on a continual loop, in a way which can't be explained as a flashback.* Now, this is a different movie, and so this really shouldn't affect interpretations, but I just thought that I'd mention it.

* Perhaps this statement is too rash. Walter's interpretation of Lost Highway is that it too ends in not a flashback, but time travel. This is something I hadn't thought about (I don't have an interpretation of Lost Highway), and so will stop attempting to constrain other's interpretations so foolishly.

I have to say that upon watching this film for the first time, I was utterly confused, yet hopelessly drawn to trying to figure out what the hell was going on. It was like something in the recesses of your imagination, not quite formed but you know it will come together.

I read some theories and interpretations (including Minderbender's) located around the web and decided to go and watch it again the next day, to see if anything made more sense this time.

I would suggest that you not read ahead if you haven't seen the film, there are spoilers to follow.

While I admire Mindbender's interpretation, the symbolism is not something my mind can easily process. With this in mind I'll share a more literal interpretation, which, for me at least gave me some semblance of understanding.

First of all, let's look at the last third of the film (pretty much everything after the blue box is opened). For many people, this is where it goes from plain 'weird' to full-on surreal. You go from having a vague idea of what's going on to being turned upside down, characters are different people all of a sudden for example.
Let's just imagine for a second, that instead of this part of the movie being the end, and turning the truth on it's head, what if it was in fact the beginning, and the only truth in the whole film?

We have the hopeless Diane, a seemingly failed actress and now jilted lover of the cruel Camilla. Try to look back on those scenes and remember the people she meets as she is humiliated at Camilla and Adam's engagement party. Bitter and enraged she hires a hit-man to kill Camilla, who says he will leave a blue key with her when the job is done.

Now let's go right back to the beginning of the film, past the Jitterbug opening scene (how did Diane realise she wanted to become an actress?). We are shown a few seconds of blurred imagery and heavy breathing, before we seemingly rest onto a red pillow. Why is that exactly? We are going to sleep, into a dream world. The next two thirds of the film is basically Diane's dream, wish fulfillment on how her life should have been. Instead of a failed actress she is Betty, a peppy would-be starlet waiting to be 'discovered'. Rita/Camilla escapes what could be described as an attempt on her life, and becomes completely dependent on the incredibly talented Betty.

If you remember the party scene, you will find that many of the people that Betty meets during the film are the people from that party. They are incorporated into her dream in various roles.
There's the seemingly vast conspiracy to cast an unknown blond called Camilla against the director's wishes. The bumbling hitman who can't do anything right. The cowboy, whom is only glanced at fleetingly, but has a large role in her dream. This is all Diane's wish fulfillment being acted out on her own private screen. There are various clues during the film that hint to Diane/Betty that she is dreaming, but she glosses over them (Betty and Rita calling the D. Selwin in the phonebook "Feels strange to be calling yourself.")
The most noticable is Club Silencio, this is her subconcious telling her in no uncertain terms that she is dreaming ("This is all, a tape"). Her uncontrollable shaking is signifying that she has 'woken up' in a sense (lucid dreaming?) and has realised what is going on. Shortly afterwards she disappears completely and we are snapped back to reality.

That is only a vague outline, highlighting a few points in the movie. There are countless more 'clues' and references that appear to validate this theory throughout the film, and half the fun is watching it again to spot them.
I didn't want to ruin the fun too much, just to get people going, to play it back in their heads and see how it all ties in. It's isn't the only theory and I'm sure there's no 'right' one.

It's a film I'll be watching for a long time.

If there's anything you feel I might have missed or that I should address to make this writeup clearer, just let me know.

I just received my copy of Mulholland Drive on DVD and it came with an insert with some 'clues' to the movie. I think they were originally published in The Guardian but didn't include them at the time in case I was stealing their copyright or something.
It reads as follows:

David Lynch's 10 Clues to Unlocking This Thriller

  1. Pay particular attention in the beginning of the film: at least two clues are revealed before the credits.
  2. Notice the 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 occurences surrounding the man behind Winkies.
  10. Where is Aunt Ruth?

After the lights went down in the Chelsea Clearview Cinemas on 23rd St and 8th Ave, QXZ and I were, for no apparent reason, treated to the big-screen spectacle of Britney Spears' Pepsi commercial. Now, we're both big fans of the young woman. We've seen her live, and bought all her CDs and DVDs. But as she sang the words, "Just enjoy the ride. Don't need a reason why," it struck me how foreign this philosophy was to me. I need reasons for every damn thing I do and see. And by gum, I find them.

This film was nominated for Golden Globe awards for Best Motion Picture-Drama, Best Director, and Best Screenplay, though it did not win any of them. David Lynch was nominated for a Best Direction Oscar, which he predictably did not receive. This was the reaction of Los Angeles Times and Newsday film critic Brian Lowry upon hearing that both the New York film Critics Circle and the Boston Society of Film Critics had each named it the year's best picture:

"Their endorsement reflects the ultimate example of intellectual hubris -- the assumption if you don't understand it, it must be brilliant. Because, trust me, as someone who saw the 90-minute prototype back when ABC officials first did, the film was stitched together with less of a blueprint than Frankenstein's monster, abandoning any of the coherence the TV series contained and serving up a surreal mishmash in its place."

A cursory scan through the American critics' opinions on reveals exactly what Lowry is talking about: A yawning lack of symbolic interpretation and analytic digging. Yet this does not prevent these people, who have degrees in watching movies, for Christ's sake, from raving. I agree that this film is a roundhouse kick to the heart. It left me useless and aching for hours. It would be amazing even if you left your left brain at home. But here is where Lowry errs, for there are riches to be mined, if you take the time.

The last half hour of the film, shot months after principal photography with French funding once it was agreed the project could be stretched into a feature film, is inarguably different in tone, murky and sharp, cruelly flitting around, teasing you with arousal then punching you in the gut with shame and revulsion. At the very end, there are either several violations of laws of physics or someone has gone insane. You hope it's not you. Most see this and give up. Not me. I got it tagged and bagged, baby.

Of course this is just one subjective interpretation, and I can't prove it. And of course there is a degree of "That weirdo Lynch just does whatever he thinks is cool and creepy. There's no plan." Of course these theories will not fit 100% perfect. Of course. But just hear me out. Okay. Enough ado.

I'd seem a bit brighter if I'd posted this before edame's excellent writeup above. He's very close. The important factor he isolates is this: The end is a flashback. It takes place before the beginning. When we went into the box, we went into the past.

But wait, you say. Betty wasn't there in the past. And why is she Diane? Was she always Diane? HUH???

No, no, no. You're making things too complicated. You're falling for a red herring. What you witnessed is one of the oldest conventions in drama. Sophocles used it and Martin Lawrence still uses it. It's so simple none of these critics saw it coming. Ready?

One actress is playing two roles.

Where did I get this wack idea from?

It's in the damn credits.

Go to and check it out yourself. Naomi Watts... Betty Elms/Diane Selwyn. Two different people. If it were a psuedonym there would be no need to list both. Now, if you believe me, the obvious question is WHY?

Well, because even though they're two different characters, they're really pretty much the same character. They both came to LA with the same dream. Diane was just like Betty maybe a year ago, maybe five. Hollywood has chewed her up and spit her out by now.

Movies work in a way books don't. Books are just words. You can create your own involvement in your head. Movies need you to get involved with the emotions on that person's face. If you don't care, you're not there. If Diane was played by another actress, you'd be all "Look at that crazy bitch! What's up with that?" But since you have a previous attachment to the person, you feel you know her, you don't judge her the same way. She's not evil, no one is. You know that it was the town that broke her down.

And without that identification, without that heartbreak and confusion, the last half hour just rotely answers your narrative quandaries, like the detective at the end of Psycho. Why did Diane kill herself? Who hired the hitman? What's Camilla's story? Who cares? Shame on you. Lynch knows what really matters. This isn't a dry parlor game. It's about your feelings, which can still be twisted and spun no matter what you think. Thoughts are a luxury of the fat and weak. Movies hit you in your reptile brain.

And movies is what this whole animal is really about. There's a reason why this is set in LA, and not New York or Chicago or anywhere else. The silencio scene is the key to whole enigma.

(While I'm at it: The blue key represents the money. The box is not a physical object. It is Rita's memory, it is the secret of what happened. Follow the money. That's how you'll find the assassin and the motive.)

J. Hoberman in the Village Voice nailed the central theme of this scene. I can understand how this is not immediately clear to those of you who haven't spent years studying this sort of thing. He says:

"Mulholland Drive's most frighteningly self-reflexive scene comes when Betty and Rita attend a 2 a.m. performance—part séance, part underground art ritual—in a decrepit, near deserted old movie palace called Club Silencio. The mystery being celebrated is that of sound-image synchronization, which is to say cinema, and the illusion throws Betty into convulsions."

This scene is about you and the actors you've spent the last hour and a half with. No hay banda--There is no band. This is a recording. No matter how much you care, it isn't real. She or anyone could drop dead. It's okay. We can fix it in post. The machine must roll on. The machine cannot afford to care.

Betty is what we think of as a good honest person. This realization never hit her before. Her tears don't matter to the girls upstairs. They aren't in it for the dreams or the pathos or the chameleonic thrill or even the joy of storytelling; all they see is dollar signs. She sees that she could carve out a whole fake kingdom here and have nothing left but an echo.

Rita's problems are worse. The first genuine human contact she could remember opened up the floodgates of her past. When she lost her memory she gained a soul, and now she knows that's incompatible with success. Heartbreak can't be your way of life if you're heartless, but now it's too late.

There was never any identity switching for Rita or Camilla. That was the life that Rita had before her "accident". Camilla is just the name of the next young starlet. It doesn't matter who.

The little teeny elderly couple is a reminder of the life Diane could have had. Commitment. Loyalty. Trust. She knows she's stuck in the wrong parallel universe, and she took her only way out.

The filthy man behind the dumpster is fear itself. In a town with a polished sheen, this is the form fear takes. He is all your nightmares. He holds them all within.

Those kids swing dancing at the beginning are... are...

Dude, I have no idea, honestly. I need to see a good popcorn movie.

Mulholland Drive: Work of Pure Genius

A few months ago, I rented David Lynch's Mulholland Drive and -- wow. What can I say? Just from watching that one parody of Twin Peaks on the Simpsons, I assumed that David Lynch was just a madman who made no sense and got paid to do it. But now that I've seen Mulholland Drive, I realize that he is, in fact, one of the most prominent geniuses in America today.

A lot of people (and I used to be one of them) will tell you that David Lynch is just exploiting the phenomenon of post-modernism to make his movies seem brilliant when they're really garbage. The thing is that these people are all intelligent folks who have seen a lot of movies that are widely recognized as good. That's the problem. To truly appreciate David Lynch, you have to throw away all traditional conceptions of what is "good" or "acceptable" or "logical." David Lynch defines his own conception of "good." A lot of people would say that David Lynch's "good" is synonymous with everyone else's "bad." Where I come from, we call that being an artist.

And Lynch is an artist. Allow me to refer you to a portion of Mulholland Drive where Lynch suddenly causes all the characters to change which roles they're playing. A lesser director might have indicated what had happened in some way, but not my David. He knows that his audience has already stopped trying to analyze, or "understand", his movie and are now just sitting back and allowing the glorious pictures to float through their heads. When I walked out of the movie, I felt as though eight dollars and three hours of my life had been wasted, but now I realize that money is no price to pay for the wisdom that David Lynch imparted to me.

What is that wisdom? I don't know if I could describe it to you easily. I think you'd have to see Mulholland Drive before you could truly understand the nature of the movie. You don't know how we all "change roles" when confronted by a "Blue Key" and then have crazy encounters with "homeless men behind dumpsters". You don't realize that THE COWBOY is watching over all of us and waiting in the Hollywood Hills for us to pour paint over our wives' jewelry and then slowly go insane.

Sorry. I got excited.

I idolize David Lynch's writing, to the point where I've begun writing a screenplay that imitates his style. Here's an excerpt:

SCENE: Argyle Foster's apartment.  He is
present with his good friend Damion Hall, with
whom he has just enjoyed a rousing dinner. We
hear the sound of a stampede of buffalo above.

I could have sworn that she was on fire when
I pushed her over the cliff.

DAMION clutches his head between his elbows
and stands up.

I have the strangest dreams... dreams of
fiction interspersed with reality like a fine
woven blanket of madness.

DAMION dies.

ARGYLE walks up to his body, checks for a
pulse, then calmly walks out the door. He
pushes a magic button on the wall and turns
into a leopard that calmly stalks away
through the hallways.

I like to think that I'm getting closer to what David Lynch sounds like (brilliance, that is), but I know that this screenplay still makes a little bit too much sense. Do you see how Argyle and Damion are friends and they're in the same apartment? David Lynch would never have made a mistake that stupid. If two of his characters didn't know each other, he'd think of something incredible for them to do! Maybe they'd each murder a man on a boat sailing through the Caspian Sea while gleefully singing "Yummy Yummy Yummy," by Ohio Express.

At this point I'd like to deal with some common misconceptions about David Lynch.

Misconception #1: David Lynch's movies don't make any sense.

Wrong. You make too much sense.

Misconception #2: Mulholland Drive just had that lesbian sex scene to give the men who were agonized by the movie something to tide them over.

Wrong. That lesbian sex scene (Don't ask me who was in it, I can't keep track of those characters) was critical to the integrity of the movie. I'd explain why to you, but I'm really not sure who those women were.

Misconception #3: Mulholland Drive is a festering pile of shit that David Lynch regurgitated from other nonsense crap that he wrote and then slapped together for the big screen. In doing this, he made millions of dollars without ever exuding a single drop of artistic integrity.

I don't think I even need to dignify this with a response.

Probably the best compliment I can give David Lynch is that he is not all that original.

It was only two days ago, having moved to a new city, that I felt myself in a new apartment, without internet, wondering what to do next. I went to the Goodwill to get some lamps and maybe some curtains, but also found on the DVD shelf, a copy of Mulholland Drive. The cashier was strangely competent. I was biased at first, because she was also very elderly, and I was worried I was going to have to deal with a slow or clumsy cashier. But she knew what she was doing: she asked me whether I had checked the DVD for scratches, and I had not. She checked it and it looked okay: I thought of making a little joke about how little that would matter with a David Lynch movie, but then thought that that joke was a little too high concept for an interaction at a Goodwill, especially mumbling through masks. So I went home, and in my empty apartment, luggage still strewn on the floor, decided to watch Mulholland Drive. At least the beginning, I thought, if it got boring I could always do something else.

The first thing that I noticed was that something was off about the dialogue and interaction. Characters facial expressions, body language, and expressions felt just slightly off-putting. I was thinking of quoting the dialogue of the second opening scene, where we meet Betty coming into Los Angeles, and where she shares some well-wishes with an older woman she met on the plane. But there is nothing overt that jumps out at me about why it seems wrong: it just does. For some reason, most scenes in this movie seem stilted, unnatural, even wooden. There is some weird plot shit to be sure, but even when there isn't, the entire feel of the movie is just off. In what might seem like blasphemy to many film connoisseurs, the closest comparison I could make is Tommy Wiseau and The Room: this is just not how normal people act or talk.

There are many guesses about the plot of this movie. My own guess, that I came up with after finishing watching it, sitting on the empty floor of an apartment without internet, around midnight on an unseasonably hot September night, was not that far off from the consensus view of the plot. I have one other guess about the meaning of the plot, that seems to be outside of the consensus view, but not too far outside of it. There is also some agreement that certain aspects of the plot are aspects of the film-making process, and the change from the original plan to have this as a television show, with different subplots. One of the film's most iconic scenes involves two characters who are not named, have no established relationship, and have no bearing on the rest of the plot. We can say this is an artifact of the production process, but it still works: just one more unsettling thing to draw the viewer deeper in.

And this is why I said that the best praise I could give to David Lynch was that he was not all that original. The plot of this movie is not that original. The consensus view is that it is the tale of a jilted lover, told through an extended dream sequence. "Romantic jealousy, but it was all just a dream" is the work of a hack. The plot is not what makes it a Lynch movie. The feelings and textures he can engender in at least some viewers is what makes it a Lynch movie. David Lynch managed to take a cliched plot, fill it with wooden, unnatural acting, led me along for two and a half hours...and left me wanting more. I can't promise similar results to everyone watching this movie: it was perhaps me being in a liminal place, in the middle of a year that has changed the world. Maybe it is the reputation of Lynch that made this movie: if it was not credited to him, I might have just taken it for dullness and incompetence and dropped out thirty minutes in. But for whatever reason, it did work. Some combination of performances and images managed to alter my mind to the point where, by the end of the movie, the improbability of it had soaked into my brain, and made everything seem different.

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