David Lynch’s MULHOLLAND DRIVE explained

Once again (after Lost Highway) David Lynch has created a film that operates on the plane of reality and dream, mixes real threads and real memories with the projection of feelings, imagination and...

Karolina Chymkowska

28 July 2023

David Lynch's MULHOLLAND DRIVE explained

He uses symbols and archetypes, referring to the subconscious of the viewer who leaves the cinema and looks at the surrounding world with a feeling of surprise, as if some significant transformation took place in him during these two and a half hours in the cinema hall. Compared to Lost Highway, the story of the events on Mulholland Drive is intimate, complete, and although not linear, it is orderly. It has its careful external construction and is arranged according to all the laws of logic, although – beware! – dream logic.


Mulholland Drive accident - Bar talk - Betty arrives.

Even before the opening credits, we see a group of people dancing – it must be the sixties, the madness of rock and roll and swing. The shadows of these people seem to have lives of their own; although they seem to faithfully reflect the dancers’ movements, they seem to have a slightly irritating delay, which introduces an element of disharmony and nervousness.
Then a pale, luminous image of a young beautiful girl crystallizes. The girl with trust and hope looks at some distant point, imperceptible to us. You almost want to hear some triumphant, uplifting music playing in the background, so much of the scene is filled with a sense of victory. The girl is accompanied by a couple of elderly people who are equally concerned. Then we see the shot on the pillow, the camera circling over the bed, alternately losing and adjusting focus. The movie begins…

mulholland drive laura harring in front of the mirror

A young, dark-haired, carefully made-up girl in an evening dress is driving an elegant limousine. The limousine pulls to the side of the road. But that was not the purpose of the trip; girl, concerned, protests. The driver points a gun at her and tells her to get out. At that moment, the limousine is hit by a car full of amused young people.

The girl manages to survive the accident. He staggers forward as he descends Sunset Blv. He falls asleep in the bushes. She is clearly nervous, confused and lost. Voices wake her up. An elderly well-groomed woman with delicious red hair directs a chauffeur carrying luggage to the car. Taking advantage of the owner’s moment of inattention, the girl sneaks into the house, where she is huddled on the floor under the table.

Two men are talking in a bar. One is younger, anxious and nervous, the other is older and keeps a little distance. The younger tells him about his dream in which they both find themselves – the place is the same, Winkie’s bar, and the atmosphere is filled with irrational, eerie fear. “Suddenly,” says the boy, “I realize what is causing this fear.” There’s a man in the back of the bar. He has a terrible face – a face you’d never want to see again. But it’s just a dream – all you have to do is go to the back room and see for yourself that there’s nothing there. They do so too. However, from around the corner emerges a ragged man with a terrible face, half an Indian shaman, half a demon… the one who dreamed it screams and faints.

mulholland drive demon

Airport. A sweet blonde, the kind that always becomes school stars and dates the captain of the football team, says goodbye to her traveling companions at the airport – a pair of nice old men. They wish her happiness in this city of dreams, so that her dream of being a star – or at least a good actress – will come true. As if by magic, a taxi driver appears, takes her luggage to the car, simply – the big world!

We see an old couple in a taxi. They’re laughing their heads off, looking like people who’ve pulled off a great joke. They laugh… but at whom? At Betty – that’s the fair-haired girl’s name – or maybe… at us?

From Betty’s conversation with the concierge – a painted, elderly eccentric – we learn that she has come to occupy the apartment of her aunt, a movie star who has left. Betty, excited as a child, runs around the house until she reaches the bathroom and stops dead – someone else’s clothes on the floor and a naked stranger in the shower! Betty falls into a terrible confusion. Sorry, my aunt didn’t warn me that someone would be here… but the strange guy in the shower isn’t very communicative. He just mumbles that there has been an accident…. Above the mirror, we see a Gilda poster with Rita Hayworth smiling.

mulholland drive naomi watts

At the same time, mysterious types are still looking for “that girl”. Our good friend appears – the gray eminence from the room with curtains, known to us from Twin Peaks. The phones are ringing – one of them is picked up by a massive bull-necked man, only shot from behind. This scene is almost unambiguously associated with Quentin Tarantino, Pulp Fiction and Marcellus Wallace. The shot is almost identical. Finally, the phone rings in a room with a lamp with a red shade on it. But no one picks it up.

This is the girl! - Don't be afraid, I'll help you - Button man - Who is Diane?

While the taciturn girl falls asleep on Betty’s aunt’s bed – we now know her aunt’s name is Ruth – Betty calls her aunt. But her aunt doesn’t know any dark-haired girls, and she didn’t let any of them into the house. He advises you to call the police as soon as possible.

So Betty asks the girl – who introduced herself as Rita – what the truth is. And she finds out – the hypothetical Rita lost her memory in an accident and doesn’t know who she is, and she chose her name inspired by a Rita Hayworth poster. Betty is excited about this movie-like situation. He suggests looking into Rita’s handbag, looking for identity papers. But there are no papers, only a blue key and fifty thousand dollars. Rita only remembers going to Mulholland Drive. Betty encourages her to call the police and ask if there has been an accident in that area. After much persuasion, Rita agrees to the idea. And indeed – the accident on Mulholland really happened.

Two women are drinking coffee at Winkie’s Bar. They’re served by a waitress, wearing a Diane name tag on her chest. “Diane Selwyn!” exclaims Rita “Maybe that’s my name?”

mulholland drive laura harring naomi watts

Arrogant director Adam Kesher makes a movie. However, to his great displeasure, he discovers that someone wants to decide for him the casting of the main role. The powerful and influential Castigliani brothers want a certain Camilla Rhodes to star in his film. As we learn later, this is also the wish of the boss from the room with curtains – if Adam does not decide to accept their terms, the team will be disbanded and everyone will lose their jobs. Adam doesn’t want Camilla Rhodes. Adam wants someone from the premier league. In a fit of anger, he demolishes the Castigliani brothers’ car and returns home. There he discovers his wife in bed with the pool cleaner, who, to make matters worse, beats him up. Humiliated, powerless, Adam hides in a flea-infested hotel room. There, however, more bad news reaches him. His account was wiped to zero and the film crew was disbanded. The secretary persuades him to talk to a mysterious cowboy, the only person, as she claims, who can help in this situation. Adam thinks it’s ridiculous, but he goes to the meeting. Cowboy gives him double advice. He draws the director’s attention to the fact that attitudes are often shaped by events, and adds that he should settle for one small “this is the girl” line – in relation to Camilla Rhodes. “If you listen,” he says, “you’ll see me again. If you don’t, you’ll see me twice more.” Then he disappears as mysteriously as he appeared. It seems that the offer made to Adam is the one we already know from The Godfather – a classic offer that cannot be refused…

mulholland drive cowboy

Rita and Betty find the address of Diane Selwyn in the phone book. They decide to pay her a visit. But before that, Betty has her first audition, which was arranged by her aunt. He rehearses his role with Rita, playing it casually and conventionally. However, once she gets to the actual audition, she becomes a different person. She is sensual, dangerous, disturbing. Everyone is impressed by her talent and the power she gave to an average scene straight out of a cheap romance novel. The casting specialist present on the spot decides that she has found a real pearl and without delay leads Betty to the room where Adam Kesher conducts auditions for the main role. Their eyes meet. The air smells of future fascination. Adam also seems surprised, as if he did not expect such a phenomenon in his doorstep. This is the moment when everything is decided – the performance of Camilla Rhodes begins. Kesher reluctantly delivers the prearranged “this is the girl” line. Betty – terrified of suddenly discovering how late it is already, runs out of the room shouting “I have to go – I promised a friend”.

mulholland drive justin theroux

Another scene with clear Tarantino connotations. Conversation of two men in the office. They laugh as they tell each other about the car accident. One of them shows a black notebook – he calls it “the history of the world in numbers”. The other, as if waiting for it, pulls out a gun and kills him. Then he has to remove the witnesses he turned out to have, and on top of that, the alarm goes off. Unlucky. However, he takes the notebook and runs away.

Then there is a scene of him talking to a prostitute in the street. He asks her if there’s a new girl around, maybe a little battered… the prostitute denies it.

Rita and Betty go to visit Diane Selwyn. Rita is afraid of everything, everywhere she sees mysterious men lurking for her. There is a woman living at Diane’s apartment number who says she and Diane traded apartments – but she has lost sight of her neighbor for a few days. When knocking, women say, no one answers. The window is open, however, so Betty slips inside and lets Rita in. There is a terrible smell in the apartment. Its source is the decomposing body of a dark-haired woman in a black evening dress lying on a bed. Rita panics and starts screaming. At home, still in a state of shock, she tries to cut her beautiful black hair. Betty stops her and, in a calm, gentle tone, offers her help. Together they choose a platinum wig for Rita.

Silencio club - Cry for your love - Blue box - Wake up beautiful!

mulholland drive laura harring call

Betty asks Rita to spend the night in her bed. The bed is big, she argues, and the couch isn’t comfortable at all. Rita agrees and slips naked into Betty’s bed. Unexpectedly, the women get closer. Betty asks Rita if she’s done it before… Rita says she doesn’t know, “and you?” – “I want to do it with you,” says Betty. And adds “I fell in love with you…”.
At night, Rita wakes up full of anxiety. He repeats in Spanish “silence… no orchestra, no music… silence…”. She asks Betty to accompany her and together they go to a mysterious club called Silencio. From the stage fall the same words that Rita repeated before. Everything is an illusion, repeats the announcer. You think you hear singing and music, but it’s all recorded. Illusion! And here is the wonderful Rebekah del Rio!

Rebekah del Rio comes onto the stage and her performance begins. The incredibly emotionally charged song “Llorando” – about loss, about suffering, about crying for lost love – has an extraordinary impact on both women. They’re both crying, and Betty is trembling as if in mad fright. The song reaches its climax, Rebekah sings with all her heart… and suddenly she faints on the floor, and the singing, which was only an illusion, continues…

mulholland drive laura harring naomi watts silencio club

In Betty’s purse, out of nowhere, there is a blue box. At home, Rita tries to match a blue key from her purse to it. Surprised, she discovers that Betty has disappeared…; opens the box, there is a moment as if we, the viewers, were sucked inside. Aunt Ruth peeks around the corner, the same Aunt Ruth who left Betty’s apartment, the same one who warned Rita through the demented old woman who knocked on Betty’s door one night…

Cowboy peeks into an apartment we’ve been to before – we know it’s Diane’s. “Wake up, pretty,” he says.

They are looking for you again - This must end - Do you know my mother? - I have money - Blue box again - Silencio...

A sharp knock on Diane’s apartment door. A disheveled, tired, “crumpled” blonde girl gets out of bed, in whom we recognize Betty, not without surprise – but how changed! She looks like she just got up from an all-night binge. She reluctantly opens the door. A neighbor stands in the doorway, the same one who gave information to Betty and Rita earlier. She came to collect her things, including an ashtray. She takes it from the table with a blue key on it, slightly different from the one we saw earlier. She tells Diane – as she calls the woman we know as Betty – that they’ve been looking for her again. Diane takes the news without emotion. Her whole figure screams: go away! The neighbor leaves. Diane starts making coffee. And suddenly she sees Rita beside hem, smiling. “You’re back!” she says happily. But that’s just an illusion, an imagination. Then we see Diane carrying the coffee to the table, but she comes to her carrying a drink, which she puts on a table with an ashtray on it and Rita naked on the couch. Not really Rita, but, as it turns out, Camilla. However, she does not allow Diane much. She informs her that they have to end it. This news terrifies Diane, who tries to force Camilla into submission. However, she resists. Diane is in no doubt to blame. “It’s about him, isn’t it?”

mulholland drive laura harring naomi watts in front of the mirror

We are on a movie set. The director is none other than Adam Kesher. The crew is in the middle of filming a kiss scene in a car. In the role of lover – Camilla. But her partner keeps making mistakes, so Adam decides to show him how to play the scene himself. Suddenly, he starts kissing Camilla for real… and Diane watches helplessly.

The phone rings, the one left unanswered at the beginning of the film. This time Diane in an elegant dress takes the phone. Camilla’s voice is heard on the other side. It gives her the address on Mullholland Drive where she is to go. Diane is driving a limousine, but at some point it stops – just like when we saw Camilla-Rita in it. And she, herself, emerges from the darkness, smiles at Diane and takes her hand, saying that they will take a shortcut. We get to Adam’s house, where a party is taking place. Adam introduces Diane to his mum – and his mum is none other than Coco, the concierge.

Diane tells her story of how her aunt left her money in her will, how she appeared in the background in Camilla’s films. Camilla and Adam seem to be about to announce their engagement. Camilla is approached by a girl we previously knew as “that girl” and kisses her passionately on the lips. Diane’s humiliation is absolute.

mulholland drive laura harring naomi watts kiss

Scene at home – Diane masturbates violently on the couch, crying hysterically as if self-gratification is some kind of punishment and causes her unspeakable suffering.

We see her order a man known to us from the scene in the office and conversations with the prostitute to remove Camilla Rhodes – actress. She pays him the same amount that was previously in Camilla’s (Rita’s) purse. The man is carrying a black notebook. And he says that payment means that the order can no longer be undone. He informs her that after completing the task, he will let her know with a blue key. A waitress comes to the table with a “Betty” name tag. Diane naively asks what this key opens. The man starts laughing spasmodically, and we see that there is someone else in the bar – the one who told the dream about the scary man in the back room.

We also see this man. He’s probably homeless. He holds a blue box in his hands and releases two small, raging creatures from it. These are the old couple who wished Betty-Diane good luck at the beginning of the movie. Diane sees them jumping around her, laughing like madmen. He falls into hysteria and insane fear. As a result, to escape this horror and insanity, he kills himself.

Last scene. Woman on the balcony in the theater. She puts her finger to his lips and says: Silencio…, ordering us to be silent.

And WTF is this about?

Immediately after leaving the cinema, you feel confused and lost in a tangle of threads. Only after some time there is a chance to sort out the confusion and come to constructive conclusions. This is the explanation.

mulholland drive


The first part of the movie is Diane’s dream. The dream continues until Rita opens the blue box and the cowboy says the words “wake up pretty.” However, it’s not just Diane who dreams – the viewer also dreams not realizing it’s an illusion. As in a dream, we are convinced that we are seeing reality. Diane’s subconscious is encoded with images that appear in dreams in other than real roles: Adam’s mother, Coco, is a concierge. The man she saw at the bar shows up. She herself bears the name of a waitress from that bar. The cups she has at home are on the coffee table.


In a dream, Camilla – Rita is helpless and dependent on Diane – Betty for everything. She accepts her help, is grateful for it, responds with feeling to feeling. Diane is on top. She gets the role and recognition effortlessly, she is admired and everyone loves her. It has everything Camilla really had.


Camilla Rhodes is named after the real Camilla but has the face of the girl who kissed Camilla at the party. It symbolizes double theft – the fact that Diane lost the role and the fact that she lost love. However, as she imagines, she did not lose the role because she lacked talent. There was some external, top-down manipulation behind it.

In Adam’s dream, Diane encounters only unpleasant things. His wife cheats on him and humiliates him (although in reality we know that the divorce has brought him only benefits), he is stalked by some dark characters, he loses all his money. On the other hand, Diane wants to be recognized as an extraordinary and fascinating creature, not Camilla. Hence the audition scene where they look deep into each other’s eyes.

mulholland drive laura harring naomi watts


It’s not just remorse that haunts Diane. She is afraid of revenge. She imagines people who would like to get her as unreal, powerful figures straight out of mafia movies. When awake, she lives in an atmosphere of danger, she transfers this feeling also to sleep (the neighbor says that they were looking for her again, and for some reason they switched apartments).
The phone at Diane’s house rings, she doesn’t pick it up. But someday she will pick up. They’ll find her someday.


The moment before waking up. Diane is on the verge of discovering that everything is an illusion. Just as Rebekah del Rio’s experiences were only recorded on tape, her happy love is an illusion. She is afraid because in a moment she will cross the threshold behind which there is a truth about which it is better to remain silent.


The box is a gateway between dimensions. It symbolizes the transition between reality and sleep. The blue key symbolizes the death of Camilla, who belongs to the waking realm – that’s why the key opens the box. Changing of tis appearance is Diane’s attempt to escape the truth of what she’s done. The fact that Betty disappears when Rita opens the box has two meanings. First of all, since Diane actually did it – killed Camilla – sweet, non-existent, helpful Betty no longer exists. There is only the truth and Diane – the criminal. Secondly, the fact that Camilla and Aunt Ruth are in this room together is an indication that they both belong to another dimension already.

laura harring justin theroux mulholland drive


It’s probably a space-time warden, an angel, or if you prefer, a kind of Charon guiding you to the other side. His angelic mission, however, is problematic, because he is a being clearly indifferent to the moral dimension of acts committed by people. He is an observer and commentator. The fact that he looks the way he does is only due to the fact that Diane noticed a similar bizarre figure at Adam’s party.


It symbolizes the judgments of destiny. That’s why the hired killer must get it. Diane’s act ultimately rules out her future, and she would like to believe that that future was fame, love, career, recognition… obsessively returning to the notebook may also mean that Diane wants to change her destiny. But it’s too late – the notebook fell into the wrong hands.


They symbolize Diane’s happy past (perhaps even her parents) that has degenerated and forgotten – which is why we initially observe them as nice old people, then we are surprised to see them laughing madly. They accompany Diane’s death because they personify her remorse (they belong to the world of the Diane she once was and whom she betrayed).

mulholland drive blue box


It is a demon that symbolizes Diane’s transition to the dark side and her ally with the dark forces. It reminds her of what she has become. It is he who holds the box, the gate between dimensions.


It’s hard to tell exactly what it means. Perhaps secrets from Camilla’s past that Diane knew?


Hated by Diane because that’s where her humiliation began. It was from here that the death of her hope began, and that was where her hatred for the woman she loved so much was born. Diane’s revenge is not calculated and cold. It is a desperate reflex of a loving and deeply wounded heart. A reflex for which she had to pay the ultimate price.


It’s like a modern image of an obol that was placed under the tongue of the deceased so that he could pay the ferryman in Tartarus. This is also evidenced by the key – a symbol of death. These two things connect for Diane with the person of Camilla and hence their presence.

DKNY Bag in Mulholland Drive


In Diane’s dream, her aunt is alive, but only left. Only a few elements prove that she is gone forever: a beggar-looking neighbor who comes with a warning (undoubtedly a kind of medium, a symbol of Diane’s shame and regret in front of her aunt, perhaps she would also like help from her, but knows that she does not deserve her – the neighbor only warns Camilla – Rita, and keeps a clear distance towards Diane – Betty). The second clue is what Rita says about Aunt Ruth: she describes her as a person with beautiful red hair. After the death of a loved one, we often associate it with one element that defines it well: for example, we mention that our grandfather’s pipe smelled beautiful, or that … our aunt had wonderful red hair. The third clue is the appearance of the aunt when the box is opened.


The last scene of the movie. The woman puts her finger to her lips and orders us to be silent. How to interpret it? Is it so that we beware, because our life can also be an illusion? Or is it a perverse drawing of the viewer into a conspiracy and an order to remain silent about what he has seen? Or is it a sign that nothing is as it seems? Or maybe just a reminder that “the show must go on”?


Lynch has created an unusual film, because it appeals to the most intimate desires, feelings and moods. He touched things that are better left unsaid. He showed that there is a key to the darkest secrets we carry in our hearts. And he also showed that you have to respect love as well as value its strength.

Karolina Chymkowska

Karolina Chymkowska

In books and in movies, I love the same aspects: twists, surprises, unconventional outcomes. It's an ongoing and hopefully everlasting adventure. When I don't write, watch or read, I spend my days as a veterinary technician developing my own farm and animal shelter.

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