Whaddaya mean, "We don't know about the box"?

Readers deliver a dizzying spectrum of interpretations of the mysterious goings-on in David Lynch's sexy, scintillating "Mulholland Drive."

Published October 26, 2001 11:37PM (EDT)

The article "Everything you wanted to know about 'Mulholland Drive,'" by Bill Wyman, Max Garrone and Andy Klein, generated a big batch of letters, as viewers tried to piece together the sensational film's puzzles against the interpretation provided in the story. A sampling is below, in which persuasive and provocative new interpretations of the film alternate with ... rather more far-fetched ones.

The original article, incidentally, has been revised and updated. Readers are warned that major plot points of the film are discussed in detail in the letters below.

The writers wish it noted that the remark, oft-disparaged by readers who wrote in, to the effect that "We don't know about the box" was a joke. The box was discussed in the subsequent question.

The original stories:

Everything you wanted to know about "Mulholland Drive"
The scary cowboy! The mysterious box! All that sex! We answer all your questions about David Lynch's latest outrage -- the weirdest movie of the year.
By Bill Wyman, Max Garrone and Andy Klein

"Mulholland Drive" -- Salon's original review
The ultraweird director's horrorshow look at Hollywood has a malevolent movie industry, debauched actresses and lots and lots of steamy lesbian sex.
By Stephanie Zacharek

The letters:

Bill Wyman, Max Garrone and Andy Klein do a good job of explaining David Lynch's great new film, but they leave a few blanks that I think I can fill in.

First off, the writers say they "don't know about the box." The box in Diane's fantasy (or delusion, or hallucination) is based on the blue key that the hit man leaves for her to tell her he's done the job and killed Camilla. When she asks him what it opens, he laughs (probably because it doesn't open anything and he thinks it's a stupid question, but she piles on the portent in her fevered state). As she has done with countless other things in her fantasy, Diane turns something of grave discomfort for her into a mysterious, almost supernatural thing that is loaded with menace but has nothing at all to do with her killing her ex-girlfriend (the avoidance or denial of which motivates the whole thing). And yes, the locked box ends up representing the concealed truth and reality of things.

The "monster" from the dream-within-a-dream shows up a third time: the neighbor who comes by muttering about someone's being in trouble at least looks a lot like a cleaned-up version of that nightmare vision, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that it was the same actor.

Finally, it's a mistake to say that the old couple may be Diane's parents. It is clear from that first scene that they are strangers she only just met on the plane, which is important because it is our first indication that her sunny reality is somehow askew. They are the main representatives of her fantasy of innocence: nice old people immediately recognize this perfect Betty as a sweet, innocent girl and wax grandparental.

-- Alexander Rubens

Thank god Bill, Max and Andy explained "Mulholland Drive" to me because when I saw it, I thought I didn't like it. Now I see I just wasn't doing my homework. It was my job to infer the deep and meaningful symbolism inherent in evil lesbians, powerful cowboys and tiny old people, therefore coming to the now embarrassingly obvious conclusion that it was all a dream.

Of course! It must be a dream if bad dialogue is being delivered badly! It must be a dream when one plodding, soul-sucking scene has nothing to do with the next. You especially know it's a dream when the dreamer lets her lesbian lover have her own dream during it! That makes it perfectly clear. Now "Mulholland Drive" is my favorite movie of all time because I realize the director actually factored me, the viewer, into its plot! I was supposed to provide it! Thanks, Mr. Lynch. You make me feel smart.

-- Karen Kilgariff

Wanted to let you know that I enjoyed your explanation of "Mulholland Drive" if for nothing else but you actually came extremely close to my interpretation. After hours of debate with friends, it's good to see that I'm not necessarily crazy.

One thing that is clear to me though is the significance of the mobsters. I believe that they are really a red herring in the story. In Diane's warped mind her rationalization of how somebody with her talent can be denied recognition in Hollywood is the evil influence of this ominous organization working behind the scenes. She has to blame somebody.

I'm going to see it again this weekend to try to work out some other issues.

I've got issues!

-- Bruce Bridges

OK, so what about the box?

The blue box glows just like television, especially in the demon's hands as he turns it in the light. What if the blue box, the box that contains the narrative of Diane's masturbatory fantasy, is a television container that shows us what it was that ABC-TV wanted from Lynch? Or, on a less literal level, television as a happier, revised story, as opposed to the darker provenances of the movies (the scary opening video-type stuff reinforces this divide).

-- Josephine Park


-- W. Knoll

This movie was the most fun I've had at the cinema for a long time; the article was a perfect complement.

However, I believe Diane becomes the homeless person in the alley behind Winky's Diner -- a metaphorical death.

As for the "box" it is a reference to the feminine belief that "no man can do us like we do ourselves!" The sex is what made Diane crazy.

-- Madeline Pinelli

I liked your analysis about how to interpret "Mulholland Drive."

I just feel you guys might have missed something significant, which is Diane's neighbor. Betty and Rita knock on the neighbor's door (number 12) because that's the address number listed in the phone book for Diane. The neighbor informs them Diane "switched" apartments and now lives at number 17.

In the third part we see the neighbor coming to Diane's apartment to pick up her dishes. The way they behave and interact suggests that they were a couple that broke up.

I don't know where that leaves Camilla ... She might be just a beautiful fantasy and the real relationship was with the more ordinary neighbor.

I think that the homeless guy is a proxy for death. The nerdy guy is probably sick and makes his doctor meet him in the diner. The nerdy guy might have heart problems and has a premonition that he's going to die soon. (He sees that monster in his dream and his doctor frightened and worried for him.)

I think the blue box is Betty/Diane's or Camilla/Rita's "soul," the key is the "key to her soul." The monster/death ends up with the blue box, that suggest she died. (Again it could be either Betty or Camilla -- they both die.)

-- Uwe Hoffmann

Interesting exegesis, but I've got a question.

Doesn't it seem probable that Lynch developed the pilot along moderately conventional lines -- for him -- and added the fever-dream notion later? The setup: a tale of two women, the amnesiac and the chirpy innocent brought together by fate, mystery, and coincidence. The threat: Someone wants the amnesiac dead! The secondary characters: the sympathetic cop, the young director, Coco the landlord, the scruffy hit man.

Sure, it sounds a little mundane, but nothing Lynch does is ever mundane, and it's not hard to imagine the series to follow. (As I recall, Lynch and [co-screenwriter Mark] Frost were kicking this idea around during the second season of "Twin Peaks.") It's hard to figure out how the fever-dream idea, not to mention the suicide of one of the protagonists, would ever fit into a television pilot. More likely, Lynch, in a pretty amazing bit of sleight-of-hand, took that pilot, turned it inside out -- well, turned it into a dream -- and the result ended up on a larger screen than originally intended. Which makes another kind of sense if you think about it. Lynch's work, all of it, seems to reside in dreams, and "Mulholland Falls," The Movie, only makes that a little clearer than usual. But what do I know? I'm still trying to figure out where the chewing gum fit into "Twin Peaks." Cheers.

-- Harley Peyton

No one can see "Mulholland Drive" without asking questions. I was pleased to see you, at least, attempt to bring some order to such a phantasmagoric vision. I do have a few notes that you might find of interest.

1. The heart of the film is the struggle to understand the relationship between Betty/Diane and Rita/Camilla, not only their relationship to each other, but also each one's relationship to their alternate selves. I personally believe that many readings are possible but one that I have not heard mentioned is that they all represent the same character. Most great films about Hollywood, or about filmmaking in general, make use of the confusion between an actor or actress and the roles that they play. I think it is possible to read Betty/Diane/Rita and Camilla as the same woman separated not only by stages of her career but by the different characters she is called upon to portray. With this in mind I believe that the sexual nature of their relationships can then be seen to address the narcissistic aspect of acting. Not only is she masturbating at the end of the film, but indeed all the sex in the movie is masturbatory!

2. Along similar lines it is also worth mentioning that many possible readings of the film are opened up if one considers the possibility that any particular scene might well be a scene within a movie, within the film itself. This idea of shifting frames of reference is common to most films about filmmaking and is clearly illustrated in Betty's audition scene with Chad Everett. We have an actress in a movie pretending to be another actress auditioning for a movie within the larger film. Is Mr. Everett portraying an actor or is he supposed to be himself? Try thinking about the film while keeping in mind that any particular scene, or indeed any particular character, could be a part of a film within the film.

3. It was my impression (I have only seen the film once so far) that the monster behind the diner, that the unknown man has his dream about, was actually the soothsayer woman, whom you refer to as Betty's "aunt's weird neighbor." She was certainly charred to blackness but she was not some random homeless person. I think?

4. You referred to the old couple that accompanies Betty at the airport as perhaps being her parents. The film certainly leads us to believe this until they separate in the airport and mention something about how nice it was to travel together. You forgot to note that even before their ominous and tiny return at the end of the film, they are seen laughing in the back of the limo as if some part of a great conspiracy against Betty.

5. The cowboy has many possible interpretations. A primary one for me is the large role that cowboy films played in early Hollywood. Not only did the cowboy image contribute to Hollywood's success but it was largely manufactured by Hollywood! Not to mention that Lynch's cowboy is clearly non-realistic, much more like the singing cowboys that the film industry invented and that had no basis in reality.

-- Charles Rainey

Great job on the "Mulholland Drive" explanation. I'd reached many of the same conclusions, but am indebted to you for explaining the creepy homeless guy and the slapstick shootout with the pony-tailed guy and his larger female neighbor. However, I think I can also offer you a slightly plausible explanation of the mysterious mafia men who force Adam to choose Camilla for his movie:

OK, so we've accepted that the first two-thirds of the movie are Betty/Diane's fantasy, either masturbatory or upon dying (a sort of "Jacob's Ladder" cum "Sixth Sense" thing). Part of this idealized history she creates, then, must include an explanation for why Rita/Camilla succeeded when Betty/Diane didn't -- succeeded in being happy, finding true and lasting love, getting the big role. So Betty/Diane imagines a vast mafia conspiracy, the likes of which she probably did glean from the movies she watched growing up in the '70s and 80s. Mysterious men, under the directives of another mysterious midget in a wheelchair, are the only reason that Betty/Diane was stuck in a bit part in the '50s period piece that Rita/Camilla starred in, and that brought her and Adam together. The blond Camilla we see singing -- about whom Adam is forced to say "This is the girl" -- is really just the brunet Rita/Camilla, transmogrified via Betty/Diane's imaginings. Adam stares at Betty/Diane after he says it, as though he would, if he had agency of choice, have chosen her. Betty runs away from his gaze in her fantasy, perhaps unwilling to acknowledge the implausibility of this scenario.

This is why we see a series of phone calls regarding the mandatory choosing of Camilla for the part. The chain of phone calls ends with Betty/Diane's phone ringing, and not being picked up. It's a visual clue to us, the viewers, that Betty/Diane is the last in this pyramid scheme of Hollywood behind the scene operators. She's the godfather of this mafia of her dreams, because it is she who imagines and creates such a conspiracy. The phone goes unanswered because Betty/Diane is unwilling to acknowledge that she is, indeed, the one and only creator of such machinations; the viewers themselves only make the connection hours later, when we see another shot of Betty/Diane's phone.

Two questions that it would be interesting to explore: After Rita/Camilla zooms into the blue box (or whatever it is that happens), and Betty/Diane follows her, we hear a thumping sound of something falling onto carpet, and see Betty/Diane's aunt walk into the room, look around for the cause of the noise, and then leave. Is this still Betty/Diane's fantasy, or is it the reality of the last third of the film? In short, what the hell just happened?

And the second: In "Lost Highway," the conduit for Bill Pullman's metamorphosis into Balthazar Getty is watching an ancient light on the ceiling of his cell turn on. This same light seems to flicker on right before Adam meets the Cowboy, it flickers off once the cowboy disappears. Assuming this light still signifies a transition from reality to imagination, what are the implications of the Cowboy? Does Betty/Diane imagine him as Adam's own delusion, using the unknown-to-her symbols of a previous Lynch film?

-- Katherine McLoone

Great article on "Mulholland Drive." This -- and the "Memento"article you did last summer -- are the type of film discussion I would like to see much more of, both here and in general. Of course, we first need the right movies to discuss.

Lynch's "Lost Highway" deserves this type of serious consideration, too, but reviewers were quick to dismiss it as incomprehensible. Yes, it was a bit of a mess, but -- like Mulholland Drive -- some thought and discussion can bring out some of the film's themes, and make some sense out of exactly what was happening.

Two additional comments on "MD":

First, I read the "grouchy neighbor" as Diane's ex-lover. This might explain her grouchiness, and the fact that they "switched apartments," and that Diane still had some of the neighbors belongings (which the neighbor grouchily reclaims, while checking out the place to make sure she got everything). Just a thought.

Second, there seemed to be four "controlling" god-like figures in the movie: the cowboy (who gave explicit directions to the director); the dwarf (who never gave a complete answer, and who seemed to be sporting a full-grown man's body); the homeless man (the nervous guy at the beginning said he was "controlling everything," and of course he holds the box); and, to a lesser degree, the Silencio woman who ends the film.

No real explanations here, just some things I noticed. Thanks again for the great article.

-- Tony Grima

Your writers on the "Mulholland Drive" analysis said they "don't know about the blue box." Here's an interpretation:

The hit man is leaving Diane a blue key. the blue key becomes a blue box in Diane's dream -- it is the answer to who is trying to kill "Rita."

Another interesting twist -- i thought that at the beginning of the movie (during the "Gap ad,") the washed-out shots of a smiling Diane include her parents in the shot -- who are also the old couple that eventually terrorize her. I took that to represent her parents' judgement of her -- her feeling terrorized, in the end, by how she has not lived up to expectations ... .

-- David Goldberger

Thanks for your analysis of "Mulholland Drive." I was able to fill in several gaps in my own thoughts about the movie. There's a few things I'd like to add.

A small thing: Your description of the hit man scene where he kills the long haired guy seems a bit off. I think this scene takes place after Rita has been killed and the hit man guy is covering his own tracks. The black book (which he has when he sets up the hit) links him back to the crime. I'm not sure how the two know each other though?

But most of all, I'd like to comment on the box-monster/street-person idea and the key/Silencio idea.

  • The box-monster/street person is DELUSION.

  • A street person is a symbol for an IRRATIONAL life.

  • The monster/street person makes the nervous guy GO UNCONSCIOUS

  • The riddle of who (the FANTASY of) Rita is, is tied to the box

  • The key/Silencio is TRUTH/DEATH, in other words, the realization that fantasies are just that.

  • And Silencio is where Diane and Camilla have a cathartic experience and Diane's fantasy begins to END.

  • The fantasy key opens Rita's box (nice sexual metaphor, too) and Diane's FANTASY ENDS of her perfect life with Rita.

  • The key appears when Camilla is KILLED by the hit man.
  • It is also interesting that the final word of the movie is "silencio." To me it is almost the same message of Spike Lee's "School Daze": Wake Up! The movie talks about the price we pay for our fantasies. The only reasonable thing to do when we are faced with the price we pay is to WAKE UP.

    Thanks for listening!

    -- Jamie Schardt

    I have some comments to add to your analysis of David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive."

    I would like to mention a running theme in Lynch's films. An inappropriate relationship between a younger person with an older person. Like Spielberg's recurring theme of orphan's or lost children in his films because of his felling of abandonment when his parents divorced, Lynch may be trying to reconcile something from his past.

    In "Eraserhead," the mother of the main character's girlfriend makes a sexual pass at him. In "Twin Peaks," there is implied incest between Laura Palmer and her father, and the resort owner and his own daughter. You'll remember in "Blue Velvet," Frank Booth calls himself daddy as he abuses Dorothy Vallens. In "Mulholland Drive," Diane may have been acting out a scene in her audition that actually happened to her. The movie's director and talent agent may represent her parents, who seem enthusiastic about her, but are indifferent to the content of her audition scene of statutory rape.

    You may note that there are no children in Lynch's work (except for that spooking child magician in "Twin Peaks"). The only child in "Blue Velvet" is being held hostage by Frank Booth. Even the high school girls in "Twin Peaks" are not children, but full-grown women, implying that sexual activity robs people of their childhood. The recurring theme of an outwardly innocent and happy world with a dark sinister secret is consistent with child sexual abuse.

    Might be an interesting article about Lynch's films and sex abuse.

    A couple of other notes:

    Where did Diane get the fifty grand?

    Probably some from her aunt, probably some from hooking. That is probably how she met the hit man.

    The audition practicing with Rita shows how lousy Diane thinks Camilla's acting is.

    -- David Castenson

    The theory that "Mulholland Drive" is a composition of dreams and fantasies has been the dominant one in the press lately. It's thoroughly Lynchian, and it does makes a modicum of sense. But to me, there's something about that hypothesis that feels too easy, too incomplete. Especially when you glibly pronounce, "We're not sure about the box."

    Here's my theory. The blue box is the portal between two parallel universes -- a motif not without precedent in Lynch's oeuvre (remember the evil Agent Cooper in "Twin Peaks"?). Although the box represents the only direct access to each universe, each character retains vestigial memories of their parallel universe counterpart. Betty and Rita, for instance, fall into such an easy, trusting friendship since they are each subconsciously familiar with Diane and Camilla's relationship. Rita recalls the name "Diane Selwyn." Adam even seems to recognize Betty at the audition.

    For me, the linchpin of the movie is that audition scene. The cowboy and the mobsters are omniscient, otherworldly characters intent, for reasons I can only speculate, on reversing the universes. They don't care about Adam's movie so much as they need him to send a subliminal message -- "This is the girl" -- to Betty. As soon as he utters it, Betty recognizes the blonde Camilla on stage as "the girl" who kissed the brunette Camilla at Adam's party, and she suddenly runs off. By the time she finds Diane's corpse, the discovery of the box is inevitable; through various memory triggers, Betty becomes persistently drawn toward "the other side."

    Both the bedroom scene and the Club Silencio scene take place in a realm between the two universes. Betty and Rita channel the sexual attraction between Diane and Camilla, but keep the passion dreamy and idealized, in accordance with how we've seen them thus far. Crying in the theater, their identities finally collapse as easily as Rebekah del Rio's voice dissolves into tape recording. They have nowhere to go but sideways.

    Here, we may notice the movie is constructed, as with "Lost Highway," like a Möebius strip. In one of the last scenes of the movie, we see Diane arranging a murder with the hitman -- the same murder that goes awry in the opening scene. And there is a peculiar symmetry in the old people's appearances. In the final moments, they're a downright demonic presence appearing to end Diane's life; flip back to the beginning, and they're a kindly couple helping Betty start hers. If you doubt that the blue box is a portal, remember that the old people appear to literally escape from the box in miniaturized form before attacking Diane.

    My final take is this. Suppose Camilla really dies in the car crash, but the cosmic force of Diane's simultaneous death is enough to resurrect the two as Rita and Betty, innocent new Angelenos. But suppose the powers that be, such as the cowboy, are so alarmed by this cosmic disruption that they will do everything they can to restore the women's original identities. Suppose the story then keeps circling on and on, eternally.

    -- John Cunningham

    The homeless man as the custodian of the blue box has its parallel in Lil, the women dressed in red near the beginning of "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me". Attached to her dress is a blue rose. The murder investigation that drives the plot is described as a "blue rose case" by detectives, but when one of them asks for a more concrete meaning, he is told that it can't be divulged.

    Like the homeless man, Lil never speaks but is an obvious signifier of something that cannot be verbalized into meaning. (As the homeless man is literally black, Lil is literally red, her hair matching the color of her dress and shoes. A single field of pure color makes each figure uncanny; they appear human but are finally unknowable.) As with the blue box, Lynch often fills the screen with the blue rose, attached to no character's point of view and given a mysterious life of its own. For Lynch, the color blue in general seems to hold unknown depths; it's something that can be seen but not fully understood. There are the obvious examples of Dorothy Vallens' blue robe that fills the screen in the title credits of "Blue Velvet" (Dennis Hopper's fetishistic attachment to it is never explained) and the intense blue light that floods over Laura Palmer and Agent Cooper in the Red Room from an unknown source at the enigmatic conclusion of "FWWM."

    -- Darrin Sullivan

    One thing I might mention that in the last part of the film, the waitress at Winky's is named "Betty," which raises the question of whose dream the first part of the film represents. Yes, it makes sense that it is Diane's fantasy, a dream that she awakes from after the box is unlocked. But the camera deliberately fixes on Betty's nametag (in the scene where Diane is arranging the hit), which makes me think of two related possibilities:

    That Diane has taken that name for her character in the first part of the film in the way we take everything we experience as material for our dreams. Or, that the first part of the movie is actually Betty the waitress's dream. How many aspiring actresses go to Hollywood only to end up waiting tables? The waitress could be another casualty of the system. At her own big audition, she didn't turn into a seductress as "Betty" did -- she didn't give that extra ten percent. She didn't pander to the desires of the leading man (and Chad Everett was sleazy), so she ended up shlepping coffee and hash browns, dreaming of what might have been. And she is the only character in the film that would have known about the Monster/Homeless Guy in the alley behind the place.

    Does this make sense? I've only seen it once (so far), but I think you'll get the point.

    -- Rob Codey

    One of the little nuances that you left out of your explanation was that, at the beginning, that camera doesn't just go over the red sheets, it falls into the pillow, and blacks out. Either indicating that Diane is going to sleep and having a dream, or you are seeing her point of view before just before she kills herself.

    But if your explanation holds up (which with Lynch's hard films, the more you try and explain it, the less you really understand, very Zen) why/how does Diane dream that Betty and Rita find her dead, decomposed body?

    Then, why does the cowboy visit her body twice? Once looking freshly dead or sleeping, once decomposing. Did she imagine that she didn't do what he told her to?

    Finally, do you think Rita escaped the car crash, or was it wishful thinking? Or was there are car crash at all ...

    -- Adam Vadnais

    First off, thanks you for providing such a primer! It is a great service to your confused readership. Thank you also for the tidbit on Angelo Badalamenti ("plays the espresso-drinking movie exec at the beginning of the film"), a good piece of trivia for longtime fans. (The coffee motif again?!)

    So ... Why did Rita feel the "need" (Betty says "I know what you need to do" after Rita first attempted to cut her hair) to don a blond wig after discovering (Diane's) corpse?

    And why did the dream sequence include the discovery of the corpse of the woman who's dreaming it?

    The guy in the restaurant who is scared to death by the bum (within the dream, yes?), he is perhaps a comment on young "creatives" in the industry but he seems gratuitous in terms of plot. Any ideas?

    And was it just me who thought -- upon watching Rita wander away from the crash -- of Ronette Polaski stumbling back into town, catatonic and nearly naked, at the opening of "Twin Peaks"? Consider the character played by Sherilyn Fenn, traumatized by the car crash in "Wild at Heart" as well!

    -- Robin M. Tovey

    Just saw "Mulholland Drive" and I must say you all put your heads together and made sense of most of it. I gave myself up to it with this "explanation": The box is the intangible dividing line between lives we might live and the one we are living. When the key went into that mysterious box, the women both found themselves in an alternate universe, a parallel life. I think you can see one life is as valid or real as the other. What could be more Hollywood than this? I wish he would give us a third and fourth alternative! I suppose I just can't take it as seriously as your reviewers.

    -- Mary Jane Gore

    I found your analysis/dissection of "Mulholland Drive" adept and virtuosic, but I have a fundamental problem with one of your central conceits: That the entire first two-thirds of the film -- the section I have started referring to as the "romantic" part -- is, essentially, Diane's dream.

    One of the elements that has most attracted me to Lynch's work (I am a fan) is his ability to create films that make absolute sense, but on their own terms. I find the desire to attach such conventional devices as dream sequences and clearly defined point-of-view a common reaction to Lynch's work, but I don't think it yields the greatest rewards from the films. Framing the "romantic" first portion of the film as a fever dream or fantasy of Diane's undercuts the brilliance with which Lynch constructs parallel realities, and misses the crucial distinction between conventional movie logic, and the altered logic that Lynch employs to deconstruct those Hollywood cliches, totems, and devices.

    I think that forcing "Mulholland Drive" to conform to linear narrative logic of any kind is unhelpful, although, again, I found your attempts to do so impressive. The importance of these puzzles in Lynch's work is that they are, perhaps, unsolvable, and that is the very point. This deconstructionist approach is what allows the film to reach heights of brilliance in image and mood that are nearly unparalleled in contemporary American filmmaking. "Mulholland" plays by its own rules, like all of Lynch's puzzle films, and to read it by any other set of criteria results in a lessened sensory and emotional experience.

    -- Jonathan Scott Chinn

    This is in response to your thoughtful analysis of "Mulholland Drive": The lack of attention paid to the blue box disturbs me, because it's such a stark and memorable image. I feel it should be similar to the Circle of Sycamores in "Twin Peaks," a strange place where surreality meets the world. But that's too easy, and that it's the end of the dream sequence made sense to me when I saw it a second time. But since Lynch is dealing so much with themes of Hollywood, and he has some contempt for television but also conjures some soap-opera type moments, I think that symbol is loaded. "Blue screen" + "idiot box" = blue box.

    Could it also speak to the end of Hollywood's golden era? Before TV took over and began its evolution into trash, where decent and thoughtful shows like "Peaks" are cancelled, and potentially amazing serials like "Drive" never even make it to the plate? Does Diane/Betty serve not only as a archetype for women in Hollywood, but for Hollywood itself?

    Also, that the dirty monster/vagrant man is presumably the keeper of the box after it sucks up Rita. He's living off of the waste of society, much like TV lives off the waste of film (actors, directors, etc. always want to get into film). Anyway, I'm just making this up as I go now, but what I really want to say is what makes Lynch's oeuvre so much fun is that each viewing elicits something new to ponder alone or discuss with friends, and it's nice to see respectable critics play fan-boy and shed their thoughts on this. I'd love to see a follow up to this piece that allows further theories to enter into the equation. I think anyone who's seen "Drive" would love to read it. Thanks, and keep up the good work. I read Salon every day, even before the paper.

    -- Jonathan Mahalak

    Thank you for a very lucid explanation of the Mulholland dream. I've always loved Lynch's films for the atmosphere, the visuals, and the sounds -- but rarely am I able to figure out, on my own, the logic behind his plots.

    One thing I had missed, but which your writers made obvious, was another of Lynch's references to "The Wizard Of Oz": that many of the characters in the third act had been reimagined in the preceding dream (the grouchy neighbor; the waitress at the diner; the director and his mom; the woman Camilla kisses at the party; the cowboy; her aunt).

    "You were there ... and so were you ..."

    -- Jeff Calvin

    One thing that I'm surprised about is that none of the reviews of "Mulholland Drive" have mentioned are the many similarities to Quentin Tarentino's "Pulp Fiction." Consider: Both films play with time, and are essentially bookended by scenes in diners in which horrifying things happen or revelations are made. Both films contain scenes of hit men doing their work, with comic/horrific results as their plots go awry. Both films have retro dancing (the opening titles in "Drive," the Jackrabbit Slim Scene in "Pulp Fiction"). Both films have a mysterious box, the contents of which seem to contain the souls of major characters. Both films have brash professionals boldly defying organized crime figures, with potentially deadly results. Both have fringe characters with one word names (Wolf, the Cowboy) that major characters turn to in frantic times.

    The connection, I think, may be that both films are playing with Hollywood conventions. While "Pulp Fiction" is a celebration of many of Tarantino's b-movie influences, Lynch seems to be taking that approach to a darker extreme, while using some of the concepts that Q.T. made famous in "Pulp Fiction." Whereas "Pulp Fiction" has an airtight plot, however, "Mulholland Drive" is much more open to interpretation as to what exactly happens. I think those are the strengths of the films in their own way.

    -- Timothy Ryan

    Thanks for a very thorough analysis of "Mulholland Drive," one that helped me solidify my own thoughts on the movie. One quibble: I think that the thematic center of the film is not Betty's audition -- which hints at issues of identity and the trustworthiness of filmed "characters" -- but the Club Silencio scene. There, the MC tells the audience that what they're watching isn't real, but a series of recorded impulses. "Betty" and "Rita" (sorry for the annoying quotes, but I can't think of any more accurate way to name them) hear his warning, but still can't help but get emotionally invested in the torch singer's Spanish- language rendition of "Crying"; they start crying as well. Then, when the torch singer passes out and they realize that they've been listening to a tape (a "hoax," I believe the MC says, although maybe it's "trick." I don't have the script in front of me) Betty starts convulsing. In a few minutes, she disappears entirely.

    How to talk about this? Of course, by your (well-reasoned) interpretation, this all takes place as part of Diane's dream, and perhaps this is just a warning that what we're watching isn't "really" happening. I like to think about it this way, though: The entire film involves filmmaking in some way, movie conventions, and the distance between filmed image and "reality." (I won't list examples here; I think you do enough of that in your fine analysis.) In this scene I think Lynch is applying the same critique to his own film, the one we're watching. His MC tells us that what we're watching is fake, these characters aren't real, they're filmed. Our emotional investment in them -- like the heroines' investment in the torch singer -- is the result of a hoax. (Interestingly, this sequence follows what might be considered the emotional climax of the movie, the love scene between "Betty" and "Rita.") To prove it, he makes one character disappear for a minute, only to bring the actress back in a different guise. This reminded me very much of the last 100 pages or so of "Gravity's Rainbow," when protagonist Tyrone Slothrop dissolves completely only to pop up again in various, half-baked personae.

    You prove, pretty convincingly, that this film can be explained rationally, that you can piece together the plot in a way that makes sense. But I think this is falling into the Club Silencio trap a bit, and I think that Lynch -- like Pynchon -- wants us to live on that razor's edge, where if we try hard enough we'll be able to find a way that these proceedings make sense to us, but where we also fear that if we do so we'll somehow be shortchanging the experience. Think about the last shot in the film: the woman in the balcony whispering, "Silencio." That's a line that drew derisive laughter when I saw the film, but I think it makes the case that what we've seen shouldn't be taken as any more real than the dream that makes up the first two-thirds of the film.

    -- Jason Tanz

    Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Since seeing this movie I have spent the last two days scouring the web, reading web boards, etc. all in a vain attempt to glean whether anyone else understood this movie as the desperate fantasy of a failed starlet. Lynch's movie is one of the best to come along in years, and your review rises stridently to the same level. The cynic in me fears that both of you will be dismissed -- even vilified -- by those who don't like to chew their entertainment before swallowing. Lynch probably couldn't care less, and you should take heart in knowing that at least one person considers your review the best in recent memory.

    -- Peter Leichtfuss

    I very much enjoyed the interpretive piece on "Mulholland Drive," especially since the reading of the film you advanced was the most similar to my own that I've yet encountered. Still, I don't know about your reading of the Silencio Club scene. A number of phrases, in particular, jump out at me as slightly problematic. You argue that the scene features a "focus on sound, as opposed to image" and that Lynch has a tendency to "conflate sound and image." Certainly, Lynch is a master of sound (pay particularly close attention to the first 10 minutes of "The Straight Story"), and the Silencio Club scene draws specific attention to sound as a concept. Still, though, the cinematic effect here is achieved precisely through the union of sound and image. The close-up of the singer pulls us right out of the diagesis of the film. Within the diagesis, the singer is not actually singing. And to get all "meta" on the film, the performance we're watching is nothing more than the record of a sound and an image. Yet it nonetheless manages to be powerful precisely because of that union of sound and image. As soon as the image is gone (when the performer collapses), the cinematic moment is lost and Lynch's point is made.

    All of this leads me to my larger consideration here. To some extent you're right to suggest that Lynch uses the scene to reveal the "ultimate emptiness of the reality that film purports to give us." At the same time, though, I feel that Lynch goes to great lengths to demonstrate that its illusory nature does not necessarily make film any less powerful or immediate. The performer is not singing, and yet her performance still causes her to collapse. In other words, there may be no there there, but the illusion is no less powerful -- viscerally and emotionally -- because of it. I actually believe the Silencio scene to be the centerpiece of the film, and I think that despite the overt focus on sound, the scene functions as a compelling analysis of the nature of cinema as illusion and fantasy.

    So, those are my thoughts (based only on one viewing). Still, you wrote one of the best pieces on this film I've encountered so far.

    -- Chris Wisniewski

    Many reviews that mention David Lynch's original concept for "Mulholland Drive" as a TV show seem to wonder just what he was thinking. In his defense, having read the TV script, what he might have been thinking was to have a "Twin Peaks"-like show with elements of discovering Rita's past and uncovering her mystery, while showing the character of Betty as someone discovering the dark sides of L.A. and Hollywood. In the script, there was barely sex, let alone between the female leads, and whatever he put together on film, he did so to make an original and complete storyline. The TV show, no matter how unusual, was very simply a good nighttime drama with a Lynchian twist. I suspect, just what the network ordered. All Mr. Lynch may have been thinking was to do his usual intriguing job.

    -- Rebecca Cioffi

    Who's Camilla? I know, she turns out to be Rita, so who's the blonde then? The one that the director was forced to give the part to? If she's an invention of Diane's dream, why does she kiss the other Camilla at the dinner party, just as she's about to announce her engagement to Adam? Is this also a dream?

    And if all of the scenes between the opening sequence with the jitterbugging and the moment the cowboy wakes Diane up are a dream, why the backstory with Adam and his wife and Billy Ray Cyrus (the pool guy)? Is she dreaming that, too? Why would she bother to do that? Especially since Adam mentions the pool guy at the dinner party. This part must be real ... right?

    And what's with the cowboy, anyway? A product of Diane's dream, obviously, maybe representing to her the evil that must've made Adam pick Camilla for the part over her ... OK, fine. But what's with the ominous warning ("You'll see me one more time if you do good ... ") that never pays off?

    Who's the seriously creepy lady in the balcony that gets the last shot in the movie? What is "Silencio" representative of?

    I realize that it may not be good form to ask too many of these kinds of questions about a David Lynch movie. In fact, after my first viewing of it, I was ready to let the whole thing go, and chalk it up to nonsense, the way I was forced to do with "Lost Highway," which makes not a goddamn bit of sense no matter which way you look at it, and displays contempt for the audience's expectations more than anything. I don't mind having my expectations subverted, but contempt is rude.

    After reading the Salon piece and seeing "Mulholland Drive" a second time, almost everything makes sense. That's a pretty shocking thing to say about a Lynch film.

    So I wonder, does it all makes sense somehow? Or did Lynch take me to the very brink of understanding every event in this movie, and leave me hanging?

    I suspect the latter, but if anyone can shed some light on any of my questions, shoot.

    -- Kenan Hebert

    Loved the Wyman, et al., article, and here are some of my thoughts on the movie. The first part is a dream/fantasy of Diane Selwyn's, which she is awakened from by her neighbor's knock on the door. It is her "wishful thinking," a way to recast her sorry situation so that Camilla loves her again. She has paid for the hit, but wishes that something would go wrong and Camilla would show up at "Aunt Ruth's" apartment where she would meet "Betty," and they could start anew, with Camilla's memory erased. It is a girlish fantasy, full of romance and intrigue. Diane dreams that the hit has gone awry, and that Camilla shows up carrying the money and key that the hit man had been carrying, thinking she was carrying her own purse. And the hateful Diane was lying dead and rotting all the time, Betty's old and shameful self.

    Rather than see her Camilla as calculating and unfaithful, Diane imagines how "the system" manipulated Adam into selecting a different "Camilla" for the part -- the other woman whom Diane saw kissing her Camilla soulfully at the party -- and this way Diane erases any relationship between Adam and her Camilla. She imagines also that Adam was immediately attracted to her, to Betty, the astonishing young ingénue, but that Betty was true to Rita and ran off to be with her, leaving Adam to his disastrous predicament with the tawdry "Camilla."

    The blue key in her dream is mysterious and unrecognizable until it is used to unlock the box, which contains Diane's horrible, unthinkable reality, a reality where she has paid for her lover's murder. We flood through the box into reality in Diane's room where she is waked up by the knocking. The deed has been done, because the real blue key is there on her coffee table.

    The old couple she imagined as rooting for the fantasy Betty come to mock her fantasy, and she shoots herself in desperation to turn off their voices.

    The wretched monster of a man behind Winky's is actually the man who told the other man about his dream of the horrible monster. The "monster" is the embodiment of his fears about himself, of all our fears about our hideous, shameful selves, including Diane's, and he holds the blue box of Diane's reality, who had in fact manifested her own most fearsome monster self by killing her lover.

    As to your comment about the hit man's black book, he said, before he shot the long-haired guy, "So that's Ed's famous black book." But I didn't hear "Ed" referred to anywhere else in the movie, did you? The book appears to be a thread, showing the hit man during a previous hit, before Diane hired him to do Camilla. Her dream of the messed up murder of the long-haired guy is part of her wishful-thinking fantasy that he was actually incompetent, hence she could dream that his hit on Camilla had gone awry, which allowed Camilla to come back to Diane/Betty in her dream/fantasy.

    -- Ellen Gwynn

    One comment, and forgive me if I'm a little vague but I saw it during the film festival, and have not yet gone back to refresh my brain:

    At some point in the movie, I believe soon after "Rita" puts on that blond wig, the gals get ahold of Diane's phone number and decide to call her. There is a scene of the two of them hovering over the phone receiver, and Betty laughs and says something like, "It's weird to be calling myself."

    The comment makes sense in the context of the film at that moment, but later, of course, you see its significance after Betty has "become" Diane. I suppose you could say that it is the part of Diane that knows she is imagining this whole scenario, making the joke that she is calling herself ... because she is.

    Anyway, loved the "Mulholland" piece. Hope you follow up with more.

    -- Veronica Ambrose

    You guys pretty much said all that needs to be said about the blue box when you mention that Diane "repurposes images from her reality and incorporates them into her fantasy. The blue key is repurposed as the bizarre art-deco looking key in the fantasy of course, but so too is her question to the hit man repurposed: "What does the key open"?

    In her fantasy I believe she creates a vessel for the key to open -- this becomes the blue box. Also, it's no coincidence that Betty/Diane finds the blue box in the portion of the film that argues for illusion. Her fantasy is breaking apart and the real world elements that comprise it are coming into sharp focus.

    I also believe this is why Betty begins shaking so violently during the performance -- as if she is being roused from her fantasy prematurely. When the two women finally return home to use the key in the box, Betty disappears suddenly -- presumably because the collision of these two events is too powerful a reminder of the deed the real Diane set in motion. The exit Lynch orchestrates for the Betty character is perhaps a little too restrained to be typically Lynchian, but I'm actually quite pleased that he didn't overplay it.

    If that's not at least a partially satisfying answer, I don't know what is ... Hmmm. In any case, great article. Thanks.

    -- Darby McDevitt

    Thanks for the article. A response based on the "I have no idea" answer to the blue box question:

    Given the morphing symbolism of dream imagery, aren't the blue box and the blue key the same object? The blue key becomes the ultimate symbol of the capture and corruption of her innocence ... a sort of Pandora's box in reverse for the dreams and realities of Hollywood.

    -- Daniel Barnhart

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