It is the Donnie Darko sort of movie and I’m very happy that I saw it. I like these kinds of movies where you think you know what is going on for a while but then you realise that you know shit and by the time end credits roll in, you have a thousand theories and no convictions.
In short, it is an artistic delight.
So, of course, I have heard of David Lynch and I can name a lot of his movies even though I have never watched any. This is my first and I’m excited for everything else on the list. I love Naomi Watts a tad bit more than Laura Harring here because she went from being Betty to Diane Selwyn really well. Laura was just supposed to be ‘herself’ all throughout the movie, I understand, but still, Naomi Watts just killed it (pun intended).
At first the slow, deliberate kind of direction confused me and I had mixed feelings for the first half an hour or so. But then as the story unravelled (or got complicated), I understood why the long scenes with deliberate emphasis on details are so important here. I’m sure after I’ve watched all of Lynch’s works, he is going to be one of my most favourite directors ever.
I’m going to skip the story commentary thing because the story doesn’t need any commentary. You don’t even know what the story is – you can just come up with many theories and keep enjoying yourself. Hence, everything else that follows is just what I thought of it (possibly edited at later dates when I think of something new).
So initially, this seemed to me a story about Rita and the aim is to find out who is she and what is going on with her, but once the blue box opens, the realisation hits that it is all about Betty aka Diane Selwyn. I think that’s of central importance and that is the basic thing which just goes on to explain everything else in the movie.
Now the next important thing to me, which is what I really thought about, is whether Diane really loved Camilla or did she just want to be Camilla. Because seeing as she basically takes over Camilla’s life in the alternate reality (I’m of the view that the events in the first half are not just a ‘dream’ or drug induced delusion – more on this later), I think she did what she did more out of wild jealousy of Camilla’s life than out of a broken heart. Diane is a small time actress, fancies herself in love with a big name actress who just plays with her feelings and in the end Camilla ‘puts’ her in her ‘place’ by inviting her at the party where her engagement to the popular director is announced – that is her breaking point. Which is why everything starts at the Mulholland Drive (stopping at the Mulholland Drive when the car shouldn’t really have been stopping there).
In Diane/Betty’s alternate reality, the director who is her love rival, Adam, is persecuted and he hates Camilla Rhodes because goons are making his life hell forcing him to cast Camilla as a lead in his movie. I like the little moment when Betty and Adam’s eyes meet at the set but then she runs away. I think the point of this was to make Adam hate Camilla even before he knows who she is. In the alternate reality, Betty keeps the original history of Adam where his wife cheats on him with the pool man. However, in Betty’s world, Adam also gets knocked around a bit and people are ‘out to get him’ and his whole project will get shut down if he doesn’t cast someone he is forced to – and doesn’t want to. In this world, Camilla Rhodes is the girl who is one of the other female lovers of the original Camilla. Why? Because Diane probably saw her as another one of the failed actresses and she wanted Camilla to be her (aka a small time failed actress) who nobody would cast unless they were threatened to. In that moment where Adam looks at Betty and turns back again to check her out, it feels like a man-woman-attraction kind of moment and I think that is what Betty wants to be – someone who is going to attract anyone who sets eyes on her – again, just like Camilla.
Throughout the movie, I had this one question – why Mullholand Drive? And if the movie is named Mulholland Dr, then I think the starting point of everything should be Mulholland Drive and for that, we need to look to Diane. She gets off at Mulholland Drive, an unexpected stop (“We’re not supposed to stop here”) and that party changes everything for her. She ends up hating Camilla Rhodes more than anyone else in the world and blames her for everything that has gone wrong in her life.
Seemingly, she wants her dead.
It was my first impression that Diane in the Twinkies at Sunset Boulevard is talking to a hitman who will kill Camilla Rhodes. But now I think that she was just going for something more – she was making a deal with the devil where she wants her life changed.
“Are you sure you want this?”
“More than anything else in this world.”
So what is it that Diane Selwyn, the failed and heartbroken actress, wants more than anything in this world?
She wants to be Camilla Rhodes (or does she love Camilla more than this? More on this later).
And that is what the devil gives her – an alternate reality where Diane isn’t Diane, where Diane is Betty – an aspiring actress who is bound to be successful and where “Rita” is in love with her and wholly dependent on her (or ruined – more on this later).
And again, when he gives her the key, he tells her,
“When it is finished, you will find this where I told you.”
“What’s it open?”
The devil laughs.
Why is a hitman handing over a key to his client when she doesn’t even know what it opens? Possibly because he is not a hitman and he is the devil and the deal is that Diane get Camilla’s life.
Who is the one who finds the key? Rita. But only because Betty prompts and forces her to check her purse. Rita has no idea who she is and she hasn’t even checked her purse. But Betty forces her to and after all the money, she finds the key.
The fact that there is so much money there – what does that signify?
When the money first makes an appearance, it made me think that Rita was paid for something bad she did and then they wanted her dead, too, but she escapes. But the money now, is just a red herring. It seems important if we consider that Rita is the central character in the story. But once we realise that Betty/Diane is the main actor here, the money is insignificant. What is really important is the key. The devil has kept his part of the deal and the key appears. This could be something that the devil was referring to – but then again, things are not so simple.
The ‘finding of the key’ by Rita and Betty scene is preceded by the seemingly irrelevant scene where the blonde guy with heterochromic eyes (the hitman/devil) kills people for no discernible reason except that he might be a sociopath. He kills the long dark haired guy who tells him about the car accident. They laugh over it and then he confirms the ‘black book’ is the book which has ‘the history of the world in phone numbers’ and kills the guy. Diane Selwyn is first ‘discovered’ by Rita and Betty in a phone book. Once they discover Diane, it is when everything slopes along the down curve again.
In her ideal alternate reality, Diane Selwyn should never have made her appearance. But this is what the devil gave her. And this is what the devil was laughing about. When the blue box is opened, the alternate reality will cease to exist. Diane will be ‘back’ in her miserable life and she will be dead for real.
The characters which appear sinister in the story, the whole ‘mafia’ people forcing Adam to cast Camilla Rhodes, aren’t really sinister.
But the old couple who initially ‘bring’ Betty into her alternate reality, who seem harmless at first, are truly sinister. They are seen escaping the blue box after Betty has made her deal with the devil and then they also creep into Diane’s house and scare her until she kills herself. I think the ‘old couple’ mark transitions in the reality. When the scary black woman figure in the alley behind Twinkies lets them loose, that is when the story ‘begins’ so to speak. ‘Rita’ has her car accident and ‘Betty’ enters this world. The old couple is going to have a lot of fun watching everything go to hell and that is why they are laughing so scarily.
Again, ‘cowboy’ seems sinister when he is first mentioned (although, of course, Adam laughs at him), but he is not really bad. He is there to make sure that Adam does what Betty’s alternate reality needs him to do because that is the only way he is going to get out of it alive. If he does not do what ‘they’ want him to, he can possibly die. ‘Cowboy’ is there to save Adam because, really, Adam did nothing wrong. He is just caught up in this alternate reality as an accident of sorts.
Also, maybe Diane’s deal with the devil involved ruining Camilla Rhodes completely because the devil is asking around the streets for Rita/Camilla – in the worst case scenario, Rita would be a prostitute because she has no idea who she is and she needs to fend for herself. But she did end up getting a purse full of money so maybe the money is not a red herring after all. Maybe that is why, initially, the ‘mafia’ is ‘searching’ for Rita, too. They want to ruin her.
But Rita, instead of being ruined, ends up with Betty. Maybe Betty/Diane was really in love with Rita/Camilla because even in an alternate reality where she might have first planned to have her completely ruined, she ends up falling in love with her. And that is where everything in her deal with devil changes.
Betty/Diane was supposed to be a successful actress and Rita/Camilla was supposed to be ruined. But even in this alternate reality, Betty loves her. So she helps her find who she really is.
And they come across the dead Diane Selwyn. (Why did the neighbour not recognise Betty as Diane?)
And Rita is chopping off her hair. Why? She wants to hide. She thinks someone is out to get her and kill her. She wants to change herself so that she is not recognised. However, this is where the whole thing is going unbalanced. Rita looks like she is turning into Betty with the blonde wig. Rita originally is Betty – a successful actress. Rita hasn’t been ruined. Rita is slowly returning to the ‘original’ reality.
Hence, the trip to the bizarre club.
I have no idea what was sung but the woman with the blue wig is again, a marker of reality transitions. The blue box appears in Betty’s purse and when it is opened, everything goes back to how it was.
Diane got her alternate reality but having got a taste of it, she is driven completely mad. Again, we see the blue key (blue like the wig of the woman in the club) and actually this is the end the devil was referring to. He gave her an alternate reality where Diane could have been Camilla Rhodes. She is taken to the fateful audition where Adam is forced to cast the Camilla-he-doesn’t-want. The casting director tells her that she has a real shot at the role. Diane/Betty could have used Adam to become a famous actress like she wanted to be. Adam definitely has eyes for her.
But she doesn’t.
Betty leaves because she has made a promise to Rita she needs to keep. Again, even in her gifted alternate reality, Betty ruins her chances for Rita/Camilla.
And things end up the way they do.
Maybe Betty really loved Camilla more than she thought and maybe it is not just the failure of herself as an actress but her broken heart that leads her to eventually kill herself.
So, yeah, this is my interpretation of this movie and I suppose I’ll modify it as more things come to me. But for now, let me just say how thrilled I am that I got to watch this movie and enjoy thinking about it so much.
At the end of it, I feel very sorry about Diane. She reminds of people who are born to ‘endless night’ as the lines in William Blake’s Endless Night go: