I tend to think that the Cowboy assumes the role that he does in the first 2 hours of Mulholland Drive as a result of Diane's experiences at the party in the second half of the film. At that party, 3 important events occur in this respect: Adam speaks of his separation from his wife, we see that Adam is now with Camilla and on the brink of announcing their engagement, and we also spot the Cowboy as another guest at this party.
It is my guess
that it is this chain of events which makes Diane associate her negative
feelings towards Adam (having taken Camilla away from her) with the shadowy
figure of the Cowboy, and turn him into Adam's fantastical tormentor during
the first two hours of the film. In a certain light, the mayhem visited upon
Adam by the Cowboy and his ex-wife during the first 2 hours of Mulholland
Drive can be seen as Diane's revenge fantasy against him.
Why did we see the Cowboy twice?
The Cowboy tells Adam to pick the right girl, remarking "You will see me one more time if you do good. You will see me two more times if you do bad."
I would suggest that there is a time lapse at the party where/when we see them (again) at the dessert course. The cowboy is on his way out. Certainly, he could have met with Adam during or between other courses. As he is in Adam's house, that would seem to be a visit in my book.
There is one point that could be added: Betty, Diane's dream persona is not present at the corral scene, so if the cowboy's pledge is made to Diane (as well as to Adam, to whom it surely must be), then it is made to her as the dreamer. So the woman/body on the bed doesn't have to see him in order for the pledge to be fulfilled, since Diane as the dreamer does. - (jro)
Wrong girl in the room
Yet, in a malevolent way, the Cowboy and his ominous partners are only doing what they think is in the best interests of Diane. The Cowboy explains that he believes Diane's sad life is the result of a sad attitude. Since Diane believes more in Camilla than in herself, Camilla is the one becoming the star. To them, the logical solution to this is to get rid of Camilla. In their view, if Camilla stays, then Diane is doomed.
The Cowboy's last statement about one or two more visits explains this when you look at what happens at the end of the fantasy: He enters Diane's room smiling, saying to the "Pretty Girl" in the bed that it is time to wake up. But it is not Diane in the bed, it is Rita/Camilla. In the Cowboy's logic this is bad. Or, more to the point, something bad happens because of it. Diane is still obsessed on Rita/Camilla because she is in her bed. The wrong woman is in the room, just as Louise Bonner had told us earlier. There are going to be terrible consequences because of this. The scene fades out, and then back in. The Cowboy is now appearing for the second time and he is no longer smiling. As he leaves the second time, we now see on the bed the image of the Diane Selwyn from the dream, and she is dead and the fantasy comes to an end. - (Alan Shaw)
Separate appearances in the doorway
Now we can finally interpret the Cowboy's words to Adam about the significance of seeing him one more time or two more times. Of course, his words were meant for the Diane in her Adam persona, not for the real Adam, so like everything else in the fantasy, the words apply to Diane and not to Adam.
In this scene there is a strange fade to black that happens after we see the Cowboy one time. This means we are seeing him more than once if you count seeing him before and after a fade out as two times.
I think the
figure of the Cowboy is pretty important in the movie and here is my theory:
The Cowboy, who appears only in Diane's dreams and hallucinations is her
father. She was molested by him as a young girl (very usual for Lynch) and
sees him as the most powerful person in her dream universe. I'm sure he was
the God (not a kind loving force, but an unstoppable juggernaut that owns her)
to the small child that he molested. At the same time he was her father. So
when she makes Adam go through what she went through, the scene at the corral
arises from her mind. The Cowboy acts as a fatherly figure to Adam and gives
him advice. At the same time, much like in an act of molestation, he completely
takes control of Adam's life.
Related: The Cowboy representing the abuser
Camilla in the doorway/Cowboy in the doorway
Camilla may actually be sympathetic and really wants to help Diane when Diane's rejected her and expelled her from her sanctuary. Maybe Camilla wants to warn Diane about something but Diane won't listen… until the Cowboy appears. There's the visual/symbolic connection there between the last vision of the Cowboy before Diane awakens and when she sees Camilla one last time, the sound of an opening door precedes the image of the Cowboy and Camilla standing in the door way… the Cowboy lets himself in and out, Diane pushes Camilla out as she's trying to stay in. Opposing forces, Diane's mind going out of whack, fantasy mixing with reality… - (civilsavage)
I feel the role
of the Cowboy has been widely misunderstood. He appears somewhat sinister, but
this is because he represents an empowered and awesome archetype within
Diane's personality. He has an innate authority. His conversation with Adam is
her internal dialogue. He proclaims simple, profound truth: "Attitude
Determines the Course of Life". He makes Diane (as Adam) repeat this
lesson, but she cannot grasp the significance. Then he tells her to submit to
destiny, to detach from petty worldly ambitions and desires - to let the other
girl get the role – and to ride his buggy through life, and beyond, with him
as driver and guide.
The corral speech
The Cowboy's words to Adam, about a buggy and the one that is driving it, refer to the concept of fate reminiscent of the Greek stoicism. This school of philosophy advocates absolute determinism and employed such example as the following:
"That just as a dog, supposing him attached to a car, if indeed he is disposed to follow, both is drawn, or follows voluntarily, making an exercise also of free power, in combination with necessity, that is, fate; but if he may not be disposed to follow, he will altogether be coerced to do so."
And the same, of course, holds good in the case of men. Stoics
would say, the free will of a man consists in his attitude towards
what is inevitably to happen. The task of the wise man is to realize nature (and
hence fate) and to align himself in order to be happy. Rebellion only leads
The Cowboy stands for fate that drives the buggy of life. He is clinical and, by his absurd appearance, a character of no specific qualities (fate is faceless) – unlike the bum behind Winkies, who is the devil and god at the same time. Together they present the execution of fate. - (Frank Wittchow)
Related Theory: Fate and Reincarnation
During the dream sequence, the Cowboy appears at the corral to Adam amidst electricity surges. In earlier Lynch works, this was used to show the presence of something supernatural. The Cowboy seems to be the antithesis of the DARK MAN or the MONSTER MAN. If he were some sort of supernatural guide, it makes sense that he wakes up Diane at the end of her dream. Because basically, the end of Diane's dream is the end of her life. - (jonviglione)
Evidence of the Cowboy's "godliness" - (guystr09)
1. Adam must go to the top of the mountain to see him. He goes because he is told that the Cowboy is the one that has the control over his fortunes.
2. When the Cowboy arrives, the light comes on ("Let There Be
Light"), when he leaves, darkness
And speaking of oddness. I thought for one moment that the Cowboy was an angel and brought "Betty/Diane" back to life at the whim of the cosmic string pullers. - (Ralph Wiggum)
Related Theory: A reordered sequence
There are "Diane is pregnant" theorists among us. Couple of points of evidence; two conversations that Diane/Betty have with Coco, two specific lines of dialogue:
Coco: "If there is trouble in there, get rid of it!"
And an odd connection between Coco's advice to get rid of trouble and what Louise Bonner says to Coco: "That one is in my room and she won't leave. I want you to get her out. I want you to get her out now."
If Diane is pregnant - and this could possibly relate to the sexual abuse theory - then this would be one of the things weighing heavily on her mind, and would manifest itself in the dream. My proposal was that The Cowboy could be related to a pregnancy testing kit. If you see two blue lines you are pregnant (you did bad), if you see one blue line you are not pregnant (you did good). Seems pretty far out, I know. But it kinda makes sense if you stop and think about it for a minute... - (blu-riven)
Interesting trivia facts about some Cowboys and 6980 - (richdubbya)