If you’re reading this then I assume you’ve seen the film and are just as puzzled as I am.
I highly doubt that anyone will ever know Lynch’s true intentions or plotline, however, he did leave us to solve the mystery however we see fit.
Here I’m going to provide some interpretations of the film, based off of what I received after viewing it.
Perhaps the most popular interpretation of the film is that Diane loses her girlfriend Camilla and a leading role in a Hollywood picture. Out of despair and jealousy, she hires a hit-man to kill Camilla. Three quarters of the film are Diane dreaming of a perfect world, where she is a successful actress and Camilla needs her love. The last quarter of the film portrays that everything previous was make-believe, and as a result of guilt from killing Camilla, Diane kills herself.
While this view may indeed be true, I highly doubt it’s that simple. This film uses so many different layers, from the way the picture is filmed from right to left or vice versa, to the colors in the background, to the objects in the scenery and the sequence of shots. I noticed that Lynch frequently leaves a cliff-hanger within each scene, while quickly changing to the next scene which contains a completely different, and seemingly unrelated character. In a sense, I feel that the entire storyline, dream or not, is connected, and when he cuts the scene with one character and moves on to the next, these characters are somehow intertwined.
He also uses music, time periods and the setting of Hollywood in order to set a tone. The idea that Diane is dreaming all along makes sense because during it, everything seems all too perfect (such as Diane’s overly chipper attitude) AND all too unreal (mob men demanding an actress be cast in a film.) When we get back to reality, the scenes are noticeably grittier, with less color.
The movie being made by director Adam is “The Sylvia North Story,” and it seems to take place in the 60s. What I was surprised that no one has pointed out so far, is why the blonde Camilla Rhodes (the one in Diane’s supposed fantasy,) is at the dinner at the film’s conclusion wearing a sixties outfit when everyone else in the film seemed to be dressed modernly. In addition, when Betty and Rita go looking for “Diane,” they see a woman in a 60s outfit with short blonde hair approaching the apartments carrying suitcases with a man in a suit; no other character fits this profile other than the blonde Camilla. Keep in mind that the whole premise of the film is that a young wannabe-starlet leaves California and moves to LA in hopes of becoming successful; this is something that men and women have been doing for decades. Rita also gets her name from a Rita Hayworth poster… Which brings me to my first interpretation…
Starting from the end of the film, at the dinner party, we see many of the characters that eventually come to play in Diane’s “dream”: the Cowboy, Coco, the mobster guy, and what appears to be the janitor, who got shot in Diane’s dream by the hit-man. Here, we see the “fake” Camilla kiss the real Camilla, and they both shoot a mean look at Diane. When Diane arrives, Coco walks out and says “There she is!” and seems to be looking at Diane, although they supposedly haven’t met before. Then, in a truly strange line, Diane says “I’m sorry I was late.” This whole scene was so bizarre that I eventually thought this was some kind of Hollywood heaven; or a place that people go who’ve died in some way because of fame and fortune.
While this scene appears to be a flashback in Diane’s head of the events that led her to kill Camilla, notice that when Diane is arriving to the party, she is driving in the same limo (with the same music) as Camilla did in the dream. Therefore, we shouldn’t be quick to dismiss this as a fantasy. At the end of this scene, Adam makes an announcement: “Me and Camilla are going to be…” The shot ends, and we are led to believe he said “married,” which is why a distraught Diane leaves the table abruptly. However, the next shot is Diane talking to the hit-man in Winkies. Therefore, the end to Adam’s sentence could easily have been “murdered.” In this sense, this “Hollywood Heaven” could be a metaphor for how fame and fortune have a cost, and since the beginning of film, there have always been casualties. Moreover, there will always be people throughout history playing the roles of a director, a deceitful actress, a failed actress, and those who worked behind the scenes but never got credit.
Also, remember that the film starts out with the jitterbug, which has nothing to do with the film except that Diane supposedly won a jitterbug contest, which she says was “like to acting.” If this was set in modern-day times, I highly doubt that Diane would be jitter-bugging, which again reinforces the idea that perhaps these characters are from another era, scattered along the Hollywood timeline. There are also subtle hints that all these characters have lived at one point in time, but in the film it is merely their past lives intertwining.
In the dinner scene, Diane explains that she met Camilla on the set for the “Sylvia North Story,” and someone says, “Camilla was great in that!” to the disdain of other members at the table. Therefore, it seems that everyone but Diane recognizes that the film was made in years previous, and she is still perplexed as to where she is and what’s going on. What’s more so, when Betty auditions and meets Linney, the redheaded casting agent, Linney tells her that she has been married to director Bob for ten years. This could be a parallel of a past and future life of Diane or Camilla, or pretty much any actress who lived long enough to marry a director. In the dinner scene, Diane notes that the “Sylvia North Story” was directed by Bob; not Adam. Linney also says that Bob’s film will not be made, again fusing together even more confusing elements.
Also at the beginning, we see an old couple which Betty supposedly met on the plane. We see them drive off, smiling creepily. We then see them at the end as little people, who eventually frighten Diane to the point of suicide. Many saw this as a sign of her lost innocence and guilt over killing Camilla. However, I found it interesting that in the scene with the two men at Winkies (where the man dies of fright,) there is a shot of an elderly couple sitting behind the two men. We later see the homeless man (or monster) drop the blue box, which contains Diane’s fears, and the little old people come out. In the dinner scene, Diane tells Coco that her aunt died and left her money; she says this uneasily, and if you look at the redheaded man to her left, he looks down at the table, suggesting that he, as well as everyone else at the party, knows she is lying.
From the start, I wondered why Lynch would show a fading image of Diane with two old people and then Diane by herself. This led me to believe that Diane somehow committed murder for money, which is why she leaves Canada and comes to L.A. If she killed her grandparents for their inheritance, this would explain why she is haunted in the end by them; her greed got her nowhere. This would also explain why Aunt Ruth seems to be virtually non-existent. She comes home and finds nothing to be different with her house, suggesting that Betty and Rita never existed and never lived there. Furthermore, Lynch makes a point to show Aunt Ruth’s helper having trouble stuffing a heavy box in the trunk of the cab when she’s leaving for Canada, perhaps portraying that Diane killed someone, and literally was taking over their life and residence. When Diane gives the hit man money, only a small wad of cash is shown, and it looks more dirty compared to the fresh bills Rita pulls out of her bag earlier. When Rita does this though, there is one stack that subtly has a red stain on it, suggesting that this money is tainted.
As I mentioned previously, all of the characters seem to be intertwined, or playing the roles of each other simultaneously. Take the scene where Adam comes home to find his wife in bed with the pool man. Personally, I expected Adam to take out a gun and shoot his wife and/or the pool guy. Instead, he pours pink paint on her jewelry. In this sense, instead of a typical movie scene where the husband leaves with blood on his hands, Adam leaves with pink paint on his hands. This persuaded me that perhaps Diane walked into a scene like this in her life in Canada, which would explain her abandonment issues. It also suggests that maybe her and Camilla were not in their own relationship, but were having an affair while Camilla was still with the director (Reinforced by Diane in the end when she says “It’s him isn’t it?”, after Camilla tells her they should stop seeing each other. In addition, at the dinner party, Adam doesn’t seem to acknowledge or even know that Diane lusts after Camilla. )
If one of the members of this love triangle walked in on their lover cheating, surely this would cause jealousy, and perhaps even blood to be shed. Perhaps this is merely a sign that Diane will end up killing both herself and her lover.
Afterwards, Adam checks into a motel (something a killer would do when trying to hide out,) and a man tells him that he’s “maxed out,” and “whoever you are hiding from, they know where you are.” This could be a parallel to when Diane’s neighbor stops by and tells her the police have been looking for her. Either way, when we next see Betty/Diane, she is wearing a pink robe.
Next, a woman named Louise comes to Betty’s door and says “Who are you? Someone’s in trouble…” This is the first time we see Betty truly startled, especially when she notices how scared Rita is. This portrayed to me that Diane’s guilty conscious was beginning to seep into her dream (if that’s what it was.)
The next scene is seen by most as utterly random, yet I feel it held the most significance. (Remember that I mentioned previously how elements of Adam’s character come from Diane’s subconscious.) The cowboy says that Adam can ride on the buggy with him if he changes his attitude and recasts the blonde Camilla in the lead role; “the rest of the cast can stay.” Adam is the director in the film, and Diane is directing her dream, which could then make the Cowboy her conscience in a sense. The Cowboy is telling her that she can keep dreaming and giving people certain roles in her dream, but she can’t keep imagining that Camilla is Rita; Camilla has to be “recast” because death is already coming to her, and Diane can’t take back what she did. However, she can still “do good” by trying to make reparations for what she’s done, at the very least attempting to call off the hit since she obviously feels so guilty. By “riding in the buggy” with the Cowboy, Diane doesn’t have to die either, if she chooses to make amends. She sees the Cowboy two more times (even though the last time supposedly happened previous to her dream,) because she continues playing out the fantasy. The overhead light going on was a sign that Diane should have paid attention, but she didn’t.
Another significant scene is where the two girls are practicing lines. The entire script they are reading from could easily have been a conversation that Diane and Camilla had in real life, or perhaps it was a conversation between Coco and Diane or Diane and Adam. The dialogue mentions passion, blackmail, someone being someone’s “best friend” and someone coming back, after they were expected to leave. Perhaps Diane came back to the party after she left; the cigarette gesture at the end is also something an old-time actress would do. Either way, it seems two of the characters in the film conspired in some way to commit an sinful act. Also, when Coco finds Rita in Betty’s apartment, their conversation seemed like a veil to a conversation that Coco would have with her son (Adam) after finding him in bed with a woman other than the one he’s supposed to marry, OR Coco was confronting Camilla, telling her to “get rid of” Diane before her son found out about the affair.
The phone rings in the beginning and ends on someone with a red lampshade. Later we see that Diane answers, and it’s Camilla telling her her ride is outside. This is also the call that, in the beginning, was going out to inform someone of Camilla’s whereabouts, as she was supposed to be dead. When Diane shoots herself, the table next to her bed is not the same table as the one seen when she answers Camilla’s phone call. Also notice that the phone by the red lampshade is noticeably more outdated than the other one. Also notice that when Diana kills herself, the room goes up in smoke, and the distortions begin again, suggesting that this suicide was also fantasy.
Other things to Note:
When the two men get up from the table at Winkies, their food disappears instantly, as objects often do in dreams.
The cops in the beginning find pearls in the back of the limo; the blonde Camilla is seen wearing pearls in her resume photo.
On her way to her aunt’s house, Diane says the address is Havenhurst, but clearly it was on Sunset Blvd.
Coco says, “Just call me Coco, everyone else does,” to Betty AND to Diane.
Betty’s aunt’s kitchen sink seems to be a fancier version of Diane’s dirty one.
After Betty says “I’m in this dream place now, you can imagine how I feel,” Rita bangs her head on the painting behind her, startled (perhaps because she is almost dead in real life as Camilla.)
“This is the girl” is what Diane says to the hit-man in reference to Camilla; this is also said by the mob men, the director and the cowboy, in regards to the girl Adam must cast.
When Rita tries to cut her hair, Betty places the scissors on a book called Tout Paris, which essentially is a manual of phone numbers and references for French art decorating.
Rita Hayworth was actually Hispanic; as the film goes on, Camilla/Rita begins to speak Spanish.
Aunt Ruth leaves Betty a red/black robe, which is mostly worn by Rita. Betty wears a pink robe; Diane wears a cruddy-looking white one.
The futuristic blue key had a triangle on it, (perhaps suggesting a love triangle between Diane, Camilla an Adam.)
The hooker in the film is also the waitress who is wearing the “Betty” nametag. The hooker gets into the hit-man’s blue van, which is also seen riding in front of the old couple when they leave Betty.
When Betty and Rita call Diane, the real Diane (Betty’s voice) is on the answering machine.
Questions I still have:
The hit-man refers to the black book as “Ed’s” before killing the other man; who is Ed?
Rita says she remembers going to Mulholland Drive, but does that mean that’s where the accident happened?
Was Diane’s neighbor just a neighbor doing her a favor or a former lover?
Was Diane mentally instable? (She appears more like a drug-addict than a burnt out starlet.) Did she become a hooker in order to make money, and if so, did her “aunt’s” money ever exist?
Overall, this film brings a specific quote to mind:
“Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned / Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.”- William Congreve (the quote being later popularized by William Shakespeare.)
Feel free to share your thoughts.