Download analysis


A Multi-Layered Analysis of Mulholland Dr. (by Alan Shaw)

Basic Narrative  | Background & Motivation  | Diane Selwyn Story | Symbolism & Metaphor  | Scene by Scene Analysis  | Lynch's 10 Clues  | Conclusion


1. Pay particular attention in the beginning of the film: at least two clues are revealed before the credits.

The opening scene is the psychedelic dancing of the Jitterbug contest. I believe this is a true memory of Diane's although it is somewhat jumbled because I think that her mind is being affected by some type of drug she has just been taking. Images of herself and her grandparents become superimposed on the scene of the dancing. However, the image of her with her grandparents is hazy and not very stable, while the image of her alone is very stable, as is the image of the dancers for that matter. It is only when she tries to remember that her grandparents were at the event that the image gets blurry. I believe that this is a clue that the grandparents are not very stable, or that their relationship to her is murky. In fact, I believe that this is a clue that she is having trouble dealing with the memory of her grandparents and is in fact repressing some truth about them. She wants to remember them as smiling and supportive of her during this important moment in her life, but she is having trouble doing just that. Therefore, the smiles on everyone's faces are masking some deeper issues.

A second clue to the mystery surrounding the movie is the fact that we are looking from the perspective of Diane right after the Jitterbug scene. Therefore we should interpret the following scenes as coming from her point of view and involving issues that revolve around her state of mind.

A third clue, that might also be considered to be an extension of the second clue, is that when we see through Diane's eyes that she is putting her head down on a pillow, we are being shown that she is entering a dream world. Other clues about the fact that the first three-quarters of the movie are a dream are presented to us from within the dream. But this clue gives us our earliest indication of that fact.

2. Notice appearances of the red lampshade.

There are three appearances of the red lampshade, with the second appearance being very brief and potentially representing simply a look-a-like red lampshade. The first appearance of the lampshade occurs when Mr. Roque begins the chain phone call near the beginning of the film. He is trying to use what appears to be a call girl network to get a particular woman to come to him. The woman he is calling is unknown to us at this time, but the red lampshade is symbolic of prostitution, which gives us some evidence of her connection to the call girl profession. This becomes increasingly clear when we see the second appearance of the red lampshade.

The second time that we see the red lampshade is when a prostitute, a hit man and a pimp are walking around a corner after leaving "Pink's" hotdog establishment. The red lampshade is in the window of an antique store they are passing by. Other red objects are also in this scene, like a passing fire/rescue truck, a red rose, a red pole that acts as a phallic symbol, and a red garbage can. With all of this red symbolism it seems certain that the inclusion of the red lampshade was no accident here. And, as I have mentioned in my fuller analysis, the movement of the prostitute away from Pink's after the appearance of certain phallic symbols in this scene seems to show how the innocence represented by the color pink was lost to Diane after some sexual act during her childhood. This then led to her involvement in prostitution, as indicated by the prostitute in the scene. The red lampshade's presence in this scene reemphasizes that the red lampshade is associated with the issue of prostitution as well, but it is most likely a reference to call girl prostitution because of the earlier scene that shows the red lampshade next to a telephone.

The third time that we see the red lampshade is during one of Diane's flashbacks after the fantasy is over. When we see Diane pick up the phone near the red lampshade, we realize that this is the same phone that was called at the end of the chain call that Mr. Roque initiated earlier in the movie. And in both this scene and the earlier scene there are the same number of cigarette butts in the ashtray and the lamp is turned on and oriented in the same way. The matching details identify Diane as the call girl that was being called in the fantasy, but those same details also identify the one calling her who served as her hairy-armed pimp. And since it was Camilla who made the call in real life, this gives us evidence that she was acting like Diane's pimp at times, setting her up to sleep with important people in the Hollywood movie business. I've explored this evidence in more depth in my scene by scene analysis, but I think it is important to note here that the hairiness of the Hairy-Armed Man's arm is symbolic of Camilla's hairy mane, which she uses so seductively, in essence, to strong-arm those whom she seduces.

3. Can you hear the title of the film that Adam Kesher is auditioning actresses for? Is it mentioned again?

The title of the film Adam Kesher is auditioning actresses for is "The Silvia North Story," and yes it is mentioned twice. Once during the audition with Adam in the fantasy, and once in the real world by Diane at the dinner party. However, there is also another phrase mentioned twice that is like a title of the movie Adam is directing in the fantasy. The phrase is "An open mind." This title-like phrase was mentioned twice in the fantasy during the boardroom meeting, both times by Adam's manager, Robert Smith. When Adam says to him, "What are you talking about?" he replies, "An open mind ... You're in the process of re-casting your lead actress and I'm... We're asking you to keep an open mind." You can interpret the first time he says "An open mind," to be his giving Adam the movie title as his response. And you can interpret the second time he says the phrase to be his telling Adam that they are trying to keep him on as the director of "An open mind." This second title indicates that "The Silvia North Story" is really just another name for Diane's "open mind," which these different personas are trying to direct. There are also other issues that connect the name "Sylvia North" to the name "Diane Selwyn" as I have explained in other sections of my analysis of this film. And these other connections lead to the same conclusion that "The Sylvia North Story" is really "The Diane Selwyn Story," at least from the point of view of Diane's "open mind" during her dream.

4. An accident is a terrible event... notice the location of the accident.

The terrible accident in the fantasy occurred on Mulholland Drive at around the same location that Diane got out of the car in real life to walk with Rita up the "secret path" to the house of the Hollywood director, Adam Kesher. There are many clues that we can find in the connection between the fantasy and the real life scenes at the accident's location that point to the conclusion that both are about a terrible metaphorical accident that Diane suffered during her trip up the road to a Hollywood career. As I have explained previously, Mulholland Drive is a pretty important road to Diane because it leads up a hill where important people in the movie business live. I have even likened it to Mount Olympus, because the people living on that hill are like movie making gods as far as Diane is concerned. It was during her attempt to travel up this mountain in a symbolic sense that she met Camilla. And that turns out to have been a terrible accident. It led to Camilla putting her on a "secret path," which was really just a path that promoted Camilla's career using Diane as a pawn that Camilla was willing to pimp. In this way, Camilla helped kill off more of Diane's already low self-esteem. Simply put, meeting Camilla turned out to be "a terrible event" in Diane's life.

5. Who gives a key, and why?

Keys open things, and in Diane's life there seemed to have been only one person who was really interested in trying to help Diane open some doors. That person was Diane's Aunt Ruth. In the fantasy, the aunt sent her key to Diane through Coco, a maternal caretaker at Havenhurst, a place for the Hollywood hopefuls. As I mentioned in my analysis, the name Havenhurst indicates that some that came there found a haven while others found a hearse. So the aunt's help to Diane was not a guarantee of success. And it all was symbolic of what happened in Diane's real life. In reality, it was with the aunt's help that Diane came to Hollywood. But because her aunt had died before Diane could get there, Diane had no real support when she arrived. And without her aunt's guidance, the City of Dreams turned out to be Diane's hearse.

The hit man also gave Diane a key that opened something that was disastrous for Diane as well. The hit man's key opened up a Pandora's box of overwhelming guilt and evil demons from her past that Diane could not handle. He had warned her that there was no turning back, but she was unable to understand the nature of the self-inflicted wound she was about to deliver upon herself, even as she lashed out at Camilla.

Keys can also be understood symbolically as ideas or information that enhance or open up a person's understanding of an issue. For Diane, both the aunt's key and the key involving Camilla were connected to a person who was dead. In a sense, both of these keys ended up revealing that Diane's dream was dead because of the tragic course her life took. And in the end, it was only in death that she could finally find peace of mind for her troubled soul.

6. Notice the robe, the ashtray, the coffee cup.

After the fantasy portion of the film is over, Diane wakes up and goes to the door to deal with her neighbor who has been knocking. Her neighbor has come for the stuff that belongs to her that was left with Diane after they had switched apartments. One of those things was a piano ashtray. So the neighbor comes in to collect all of her things, including the ashtray, and then leaves, after which Diane goes into the kitchen to make some coffee. She suddenly sees a vision of Camilla, who is not really there, and we discover that this was a progressively more forceful flashback from what happens next. At this point, Diane is wearing a dingy white robe with a dingy white nightgown on underneath. Once her coffee is ready, Diane heads to the couch with her coffee cup in her hand. But as she gets to the couch, once again she sees Camilla, but this time she is lying topless on the couch, and something strange has happened to the coffee cup Diane was holding, the robe she was wearing and the ashtray that the neighbor took earlier. Diane suddenly has a glass in her hand instead of a coffee cup, she is topless and wearing cut off jeans rather than a robe and a nightgown, and the piano ashtray that the neighbor had just taken is back on the coffee table. The fact that all of these things changed is an indication that Diane is experiencing a flashback to an earlier time that is forcing her to relive that moment. Many more similar flashbacks follow, and it is important to recognize these non-linear shifts in time as memories in order to correctly interpret the narrative.

Interestingly enough, there is some other important information revealed to us by different instances of robes, ashtrays and coffee cups in the movie. The plain pinkish robe worn by Betty is contrasted with the regal red and black robes worn by Rita to show that Diane lacked the glamour and star-quality of Camilla. At different times we see that there is an ashtray full of cigarette butts near the phone and the red lampshade that shows us that whoever used that phone had a perhaps hidden smoking habit. Then when we see the prostitute smoking the same kind of cigarettes in another scene with a red lampshade in it, we realize that since the prostitute represents Diane, it must be Diane who had this smoking habit when she was dealing with her activity in the call girl business. And the coffee cup that is in Diane's house is very similar to the ones being used at Winkie's, suggesting that Diane worked there at some point, probably before her call girl experience, and she took at least one home with her. These are all interesting clues that give us pieces to the overall picture of Diane's history and the situation she faced.

7. What is felt, realized and gathered at the club Silencio?

Diane's Betty persona felt the reality of the sexual abuse that Diane experienced as a child and apparently repressed as she got older. This reality was felt through the Club Silencio magician's thunder and lightning show that caused Diane to go into shaking spasms that seem to mimic what a child might go through while being raped. I explored other evidence of Diane's history of sexual abuse in my in-depth analysis. Another thing that the Betty and Rita personas felt in Club Silencio is the extreme sorrow of the Crying song, which expresses the tragedy of unrequited love, a tragedy that Diane was living through in the real world.

Both the Betty and Rita personas come to realize that everything they were experiencing was an illusion. However, as their realization is focused on the fact that they may not be living in the real world, our realization as the viewer should go deeper. We should begin to understand the bitter disappointment that Diane experienced when she realized that for her there was no aunt, there was no Hollywood career, and there was no love. And because of the symbolism behind the blue haired woman, we should see that Diane is beginning to realize the Camilla did not survive the assassination attempt, any more than Abraham Lincoln survived his. And indeed, it is a signal that a dream is coming to an end when the characters of the dream begin to realize that they are not in the real world. After the magician's performance is done, he vanishes, as the Betty and Rita personas will also do very shortly, after they return to the aunt's apartment.

And finally, what was gathered by the Betty persona was the blue box, which suddenly appeared in her purse. Both Betty and Rita seem to understand immediately that this means they are to get the blue key and open the box. They seem to know that this will clear up a major mystery concerning Rita as well as the one surrounding Betty and her spasms. And they go forward with their plan to open the box even though there is a look of fear on both of their faces as they contemplate what their fate will hold.

8. Did talent alone help Camilla?

Camilla was extremely talented at using her sensuality to seduce others. In the world of movie making this is an especially important talent, because even if "playing it close" is inappropriate at times, as it might have been in a movie about child abuse like the Sylvia North Story, it will still generate a desirable affect on the viewers. Viewers tend to fall in love with the sexy actress, even if she is bad news, as both Diane and Adam can attest, as can Wilkins, the guy who said Camilla was great in the Sylvia North Story. But this was not the only secret to Camilla's success. Apparently, Camilla was willing to sleep with directors and to encourage other actresses like Diane to sleep with movie executives, all in her efforts to make it to the top. And, as her engagement to Adam apparently indicated, her plan was succeeding.

9. Note the occurrences surrounding the man behind Winkies.

The "man" behind Winkie's appeared three times. The first time that we see him is near the beginning of the movie when Dan goes behind the Winkie's diner to find out if he is real. Dan is literally scared to death at the very sight of him. The next time we see him is right before the ending, when he is putting the blue box into a bag. With Diane's fate "in the bag" so to speak, he then drops the bag and after a few moments we see a miniature version of Diane's grandparents coming out of the bag, and apparently out of the blue box, laughing like demons. Then the third and final time that we see the man from behind Winkie's is after Diane has shot herself and blue smoke has covered her bedroom. As the movie is coming to an end, we see the man from behind Winkie's superimposed on top of the smoke. And then we see his face fade out while Diane's face fades in. This last appearance of this "man" is especially instructive because with the connection between his face and Diane's face we are being told that this monster is yet another persona of Diane. And so we realize that it is not a "man" at all. He is a she. In fact, the character of this beast is even played by an actress by the name of Bonnie Aarons, which is stated clearly in the credits of Mulholland Drive. This female monster from behind Winkie's is Diane's dark, twisted and baneful persona, and it is ultimately the face of her guilt. This is the side of Diane that was firmly in control of her when, while at Winkie's, she said to the hit man that she wanted Camilla dead "more than anything in this world." Seeing the face of this guilt is what caused Dan to die. And indeed, such a ruinous side to Diane would not be fit to show itself in the regular world. This brooding and vindictive wickedness is more comfortable being shunned and hidden in the back alleys of Diane's mind. There is even an arrow on the side of Winkie's in Diane's fantasy that points away from the alley, warning any who will listen not to venture back there. But even from there the monster was still successful at becoming the persona who was able to direct Diane's life in the end, and inevitably drive her to her doom.

10. Where is Aunt Ruth?

Aunt Ruth represents Diane's hope for a life full of love and success in Hollywood. We can infer this because of what Diane says about her aunt at Adam's dinner party and because we see what appears to be a loving picture of Diane as a child with her Aunt in the fantasy. However, in real life Aunt Ruth had died before Diane came to Hollywood, and in the fantasy she travels to Canada just before Betty arrives on the scene. In other words, Aunt Ruth is just out of reach. Never there to give Betty any guidance on how to make her dream come true. And since Canada is to the north and heaven is up above and up is always north on a map, we can say that Aunt Ruth also represents what Glinda did to Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Aunt Ruth is Betty's good witch of the north. However, Glinda actually meets with Dorothy on two occasions in the Wizard of Oz, right when Dorothy first gets to Oz and just before she leaves. However, in Betty's case, Aunt Ruth left right before she got there, and arrived the second time right after Betty left. Diane's was a fantasy that never had much hope because she never had the love and support that Dorothy found on her journey. Like Diane's dreams of love and success in Hollywood, Aunt Ruth was dead before Diane even got there.