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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

The Diane Selwyn Story

With this as a backdrop, I can begin to outline what I believe to be Diane Selwyn’s chronological story line in Mulholland Drive as revealed with complex plot devices and veiled imagery throughout the movie.

Diane at the Jitterbug contestBoth the mother and father of Diane Selwyn died when she was very young, so she went to live with her grandparents. Tragically, at some point during her childhood she was sexually abused by her grandfather. Diane's grandmother eventually found out about the abuse and she made Diane the scapegoat, and told her never to speak of it again. The damage this did to Diane was enormous. From that point on, Diane always believed there was something wrong with her. However, she had an aunt named Ruth who still believed in her. Her aunt lived in Los Angeles where she had a successful career working in the movie business. Her aunt became an inspiration to her, giving her hope that she could one day escape her circumstances and make it in the same world in which her aunt lived. And because her aunt knew that she had this goal, her aunt set aside money in her will for Diane that would go to help Diane pursue her dream.

Although Diane tried to repress the memory of the abuse, her relationship with her grandparents never recovered, and Diane did not feel loved by them. But when she got older, something happened that helped to produce a new and more pleasant dimension to their difficult relationship. When Diane was a young adult, she won a Jitterbug contest in Canada. Her grandparents were very happy about this and they seemed to suddenly believe in her again. It was as though she could win their love back as long as she was a star. They even encouraged her to pursue her dream to go to Hollywood. And then her aunt died, and Diane flew to Los Angeles with the money she received from the will.

Diane arriving in L.A. Her aunt had worked as a casting agent, but Diane wanted to be an actress. Her childhood had been so horrible that she fell in love with the idea of being able to become someone else during a film. This led her to decide that in principle her focus was on becoming a great actress, instead of a star. But deep down she also hoped that stardom would follow, because that was what held the secret to making people love her. However, as an unknown all alone in Hollywood she had trouble getting any acting roles, big or small. After a period of time, Diane was becoming very discouraged and her Aunt's money was beginning to run out. So she moved into room #16 at the Park Hotel. It was a cheap hotel in a rundown area of Los Angeles. She also got a job as a waitress at a Winkie's diner. But the money from Winkie's was not enough even though where she was living was not very expensive. When she could no longer pay the rent, Cookie, the manager of the hotel, visited her one night and let her know that she was going to have to pay him somehow.

She became desperate, and someone told her that she could make some fast money by joining a call girl operation. One thing led to another, and Diane agreed to be placed in the pimp's black book. She gave in because her previous abuse as a child made her feel like there was something inevitable about being treated like a sexual commodity. Her self-esteem was devastated by this turn of events in her life. She began a habit of smoking when she was going out with her Johns. Yet, her bills were finally being paid. Eventually she quit working at Winkie's and moved out of the Park Hotel into a nicer place at 2590 Sierra Bonita, Apartment #12.

Woody and Camilla Even while she remained in the call girl business, Diane continued to pursue her dream of becoming an actress. And finally it seemed like she might get her wish. Someone named Wally Brown, who was an old friend of her aunt's, agreed to let her tryout for the lead part in a movie he was having made. The movie was called "The Sylvia North Story" and it was not a major production, so lesser known actresses were being given an opportunity to audition for the lead. The film was about a young woman who had suffered through sexual abuse in her childhood. Getting the part meant everything to Diane since it had a connection to her own life story. And, of course, finally becoming an actress would give her some deeply needed validation and it might even free her from her dependence on the call girl business. Sadly, the director of the movie, Bob Brooker, was not impressed with her so she did not get the part. The woman who got the part was named Camilla Rhodes, and she won the audition by playing the role more seductively than Diane. Diane was impressed with Camilla's ability to heat up what she thought was "such a lame scene." With a glow of admiration in her eyes, Diane told this to Camilla, and the two became good friends.

Even though Camilla had gotten the part, it was a low budget movie and Camilla was still struggling financially. So Diane and Camilla decided to become roommates to share their living expenses. At some point, while living together, they went from being friends to becoming lovers. For Diane, who had only had extremely bad relationships with men, Camilla became a fixation. She loved Camilla deeply and to some extent, because of her low self-esteem, she began to want to become like Camilla. Camilla got good reviews for her sexy portrayal in "The Silva North Story," and was eventually offered starring roles in other low budget movies. Unlike Diane's career, Camilla career was actually moving forward. And although she did not love Diane, she thought of Diane as her number one fan and enjoyed living with her. However, Diane's fixation was growing into an obsession.

Diane and lamp shade Because of their relationship, Diane asked Camilla if she could try and get her roles in some of Camilla's movies. Camilla said she was willing to do this, but there was a catch. Diane would have to sleep with some of the movie executives. After all, Camilla reasoned, Diane was a call girl, and even Camilla was willing to do this once in a while. In this way, Camilla revealed that she was an opportunist and she became like a pimp to Diane, arranging for her to sleep with important men in order to promote Diane's career in small ways, while in more serious ways also promoting Camilla's career. Although unhappy about this, Diane would do anything to be in a movie and she would also do anything for Camilla. Diane continued to profess her love for Camilla, but Camilla never reciprocated.

This arrangement went on for more than one movie. Then Camilla finally got a lead role in a more mainstream film being directed by Adam Kesher. Because it was a mainstream movie, Camilla finally had enough money to pay for her own place. So she moves out of Diane's apartment, although Camilla does not officially break up with Diane yet. However, Diane is still devastated, and she begins to get very depressed about being alone in Apartment #12. At some point, Diane begins to see a psychiatrist because of her depression. Since Diane is so depressed in #12, the psychiatrist hoped that maybe moving to another apartment would help. Diane had a friend who was a neighbor named L. J. De Rosa, who is living in Apartment #17. De Rosa had witnessed how depressed Diane had become after Camilla moved out. And so when Diane asked De Rosa if she would be willing to switch apartments with her, De Rosa agreed to do so out of compassion. However, De Rosa was not entirely happy with the apartment switch because she saw that Diane was still in a relationship with Camilla, and she thought that was really the cause of Diane's problems.

Doorway scene Camilla was still actively pimping Diane, and she got Diane yet another small part in the film Adam was directing by having her sleep with an executive named Luigi Castigliane. Adam had recently gone through a difficult divorce and he and Camilla hit it off. Moreover, Camilla and Adam began seeing each other, even while Camilla and Diane were still in a relationship. At times, Adam and Camilla would show affection for each other even on the movie set. Diane could not help but feel jealous about this, but she was hopeful that her relationship with Camilla would survive. After all, Camilla had stayed with her for a long time even though they both had been involved sexually with her men during that time. However this logic did not turn out to be sound. Camilla began giving Diane hints that she was ready to break up with her. And then one day when Camilla was visiting Diane at Apartment #17, while the two of them were making love, Camilla told Diane that they must end their relationship. Diane got upset and then tried to force herself on Camilla. That just made things worse and Camilla became more insistent that it was really over. Diane got hysterical and then threw Camilla out.

Soon after the breakup, Camilla tried to repair the friendship for reasons that were not entirely clear to Diane. Camilla invited Diane to come to a dinner party at Adam's house, and she told her that Luigi was going to be there. Diane wondered if this was just more of Camilla's same old stuff, pimping her to the movie executives. Yet, Diane was still in love with Camilla, and she could not help but want to see her again, even though she was afraid of how she would feel when she saw Camilla with Adam. Diane's fears made her very hesitant, so even though she said she was coming to the party, when a limousine came to take her to the party she could not get herself to go to the car. After a while, Camilla called her and once again convinced her to come. As we learn later, Camilla planned to use the party to announce her engagement to Adam, one of the big shots in Hollywood, and she wanted people like Diane there who were in her circle of devotees, so they could see her latest moment of glory. Camilla probably also wanted her devotees there so they would talk positively about her to the other big shots at the party, since Camilla was always focused on using others to promote herself.

Secret path In fact, Camilla was so interested in having someone like Diane there, who she still thought of as her number one fan, that Camilla waited outside to escort Diane to the party herself. She wanted to surprise Diane, so she waited behind a tree a little bit down the hill on the road that leads up to Adam's house. She had arranged for the limousine that was taking Diane to the party to stop there and to let Camilla walk Diane the rest of the way up through a secret pathway. When the limousine stopped on an empty stretch of road on Mulholland Drive, Diane was initially afraid. But when she saw Camilla come to her from behind a tree, she was intrigued. All of the drama only served to make Diane begin to believe that maybe Camilla was interested in reconciling with her after all. Diane did not know about Camilla's surprise announcement for later that night, and so she went in to the party wearing her heart on her sleeve, desperately hoping that she and Camilla would soon be back together.

Camilla and Adam were extremely affectionate toward one another at the party, and Diane became increasingly uncomfortable. Then Diane saw Luigi, who noticed her as well. Luigi stared at her, clearly thinking about getting together with her again. And then, unexpectedly, a woman that looked somewhat like Diane, walked over to Camilla and kissed her on the lips. And worse yet, Camilla kissed her back passionately. Up until that moment, Diane had been able to hope that even if Camilla stayed with Adam, it was possible that Camilla and her could still have an intimate relationship with each other. But Camilla's kiss with this other woman showed Diane that Camilla was not coming back to her. Camilla had replaced Diane with this new woman in her life. Diane was stunned. And then, Camilla and Adam announced their engagement, while giggling and laughing. Now Diane was completely devastated. In her heart, Diane feels that she should never have come. She should never have picked up the phone when Camilla called earlier that night. But she did and now she is unable to cope with her feelings for Camilla any longer. At that moment, Diane's love for Camilla turned into hatred.

Diane at Winkies Soon after the party, Diane contacted a hit man. She arranged to meet him at the nearby Winkie's. She brought a picture of Camilla and thousands of dollars for the payoff. Apparently she was able to save the money while working as a call girl. The hit man told her that when the deed was done he would leave a blue key for her somewhere in an alley behind the diner, since this is where the contract on Camilla's life was arranged. Diane's anger had driven her to this, and her mind was becoming unstable. She kept getting fixated on different things that she saw at the diner. From the hit man, to the money, to the blue key, to the nametag of the waitress who served them. She even gets fixated on the face of a man who appeared to be a customer at the cash register. He just happen to looks in her direction after she stares at him as she was shown the blue key.

Some time later, Diane found the blue key behind Winkie's in its appointed place, and she brought the key home and placed it on the coffee table. Camilla was dead. Grief overcame Diane and she went into the deepest depression she had ever experienced. She began sitting or sleeping in her apartment for extended periods without answering the phone or the door. At some point she is told that two detectives wanted to question her, so she became extremely afraid. Overwhelmed by both grief and fear, and becoming suicidal, Diane takes some type of drug while in her bedroom, and then fell into a deep sleep. While asleep, she entered into a remarkable fantasy that revealed how her mind was trying to cope with everything that had happened. Unfortunately, the fantasy ultimately failed to help her deal with her misery and she woke up no better off than when she went to sleep.

Diane on couch As the fantasy came to an end, she was awakened by the sound of someone knocking loudly at her door. This time she opened it and found that it was her neighbor, De Rosa, who had come to pick up the rest of her things that were left there after they had switched apartments. When De Rosa saw her piano ashtray on Diane's coffee table she picked it up, returning Diane's thoughts back to the blue key that was also on the coffee table. When De Rosa leaves, Diane can do nothing but think of Camilla. She begins remembering the passion and excitement that Camilla brought to her life, and she started to experience flashbacks of the events that led up to the those last fateful days. It had only been three weeks since she moved into Apartment #17, and now Camilla was dead, and everything seemed more messed up and tragic than before. Camilla was gone forever and Diane had gone from simply having a poor self-image to now completely despising herself. She felt that she did not have any reason to live anymore.

At some point Diane again hears someone knocking at the door, very forcefully this time. She imagines that it is her grandparents who are the ones who started all of her troubles in the first place, coming now as demons to haunt her. She hears someone she imagines to be Camilla screaming in horror. She gets terrified, and the demons begin chasing her. They are chasing her to the bedroom, the place where her childhood abuse took place. Screaming, as she is completely losing her mind, Diane takes a gun out of her dresser drawer and finally kills herself.

Symbolism & Metaphor